Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Bruised sole

A bruised sole is very common in horses. Both shod and barefoot horses are susceptible, and they can range from minor bruising that heals quickly, to more severe bruising causing lameness which may need veterinary attention.

What is a bruised sole?

A bruised sole refers to the damage caused to the sensitive structures within the horse's foot following trauma or injury to the sole.

When a horse bruises its sole, it damages the blood vessels underneath the sole which causes bleeding (haemorrhage). In severe cases a haematoma, like a blood blister, may form between the sensitive tissues causing pressure between them and the sole. The sole doesn't expand like the skin does, so the pressure that builds up causes pain.

What causes a bruised sole?

The most common cause of a bruised sole is usually when a horse treads on a stone; this doesn't usually cause any serious problems, but other more serious causes such as poorly fitting shoes or constant hard work on hard or stony ground can cause more serious long-term problems.

Horses that have thin soles are also more likely to be predisposed to bruised soles, as they don't have as much protection between the ground and the sensitive structures within the foot. Dropped soles are another conformational defect that can predispose horses to sole bruising.

Although uncommon, poor shoeing can also cause sole bruising.

How do I know if my horse has a bruised sole?

More often than not a simple small bruise will go unnoticed until a few days later when you might notice a slightly reddened area on your horse's sole, this is where the bruise will have formed. Small bruises don't tend to cause lameness and your horse would only feel the bruise if your vet or farrier was to use hoof testers on the area.

Larger bruises may cause sudden lameness, which is generally only seen in one limb; in cases where your horse becomes lame, you should call your vet.

How will my vet know my horse has a bruised sole?

If there is no obvious bruise on the sole already, your vet will examine the horse's foot with hoof testers to pinpoint the area that is bruised. Your horse will react to the hoof testers when they are squeezed over the painful area.

It is possible that your vet may want to nerve block your horse's foot to determine the pain is in the sole before going any further.

Once your vet has determined that the pain your horse is experiencing is in the sole, your vet will most likely pare the sole with a hoof knife to reveal the bruise. This will enable the bruise to be treated effectively.

It is important to establish that the foot pain your horse is experiencing isn't a foot abscess as the signs are often very similar. If an abscess isn't found and treated promptly, infection can spread to the bones and sensitive areas of the foot leading to all sorts of complications.

How can a bruised sole be treated?

If your horse isn't lame the best course of action is to allow your horse a couple of days box rest to ensure the bruise doesn't get any worse, then resume normal turnout and ridden exercise.

If, however, the bruise has caused lameness and your vet has had to pare some of the sole away to reveal the bruise, the foot will need hot poulticing which should be changed every 8 hours for 24 hours, following this the foot should then be bandaged for protection until the bruising has subsided. Your vet may also prescribe some anti-inflammatory drugs, such as bute, to help reduce the inflammation within the foot.

During this time your horse should be rested until it is fully recovered.

If pain and lameness persist, your vet may consider taking an x-ray to ensure there are no other underlying problems, such as a pedal bone fracture.

How can I prevent sole bruising?

If your horse has conformational defects such as thin, dropped soles or flat feet, then it may be worth considering using protective pads to prevent the problem from reoccurring. Your farrier will be able to advise you on the best type of padding for your horse.

Thin soled horses may also benefit from treatment with a topical hoof hardener. It may also be worth reviewing your horse's diet as this can adversely affect your horses feet.

Avoid working your horse on hard, uneven or stony ground, especially if your horse has conformational defects.

And, although it sounds obvious& pick your horses feet out at least twice a day to remove stones and other debris, and ensure you use a fully qualified farrier to trim or shoe your horse.

Remember, no foot, no horse.