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.

As every horse owner knows, the horse's foot is a very complicated structure. It may not look it from the outside, but within the hoof wall are many elements and sensitive structures that form the foot. Quittor is a condition that affects the lateral cartilages in the foot, however it is relatively uncommon.

What is quittor?

Quittor, also known as lateral cartilage inflammation, graveling and treads, is a condition that involves necrosis of the cartilages following and infection in the foot. It usually affects the front feet and is often seen in heavy horse breeds such as Draught horses.

Historically it was known as treads because teams of horses pulling heavy loads would tread on the sides of each other's feet resulting in injuries to the coronary band above the lateral cartilages which resulted in infection.

What causes quittor?

Quittor is any type of external trauma or penetrating injury to the coronary band area above the lateral cartilages that lead to chronic inflammation of the collateral cartilages within the foot.

In the early stages of quittor, it may present as pain and swelling over the affected region. In severe cases it is characterised by pus discharging tracts (sinuses) from or above the coronary band. Lameness will also be a common factor.

How will my vet know my horse has quittor?

First of all your vet will check for warmth and pain around the affected area and if there are discharging sinuses, these will also be examined.

Lameness is generally intermittent, so your horse may or may not be lame when your vet examines your horse. Lameness usually decreases when the infection discharges and the pressure is released in the foot.

If the condition has been a long-standing problem, your horse may have a slight deformity in the hoof wall that your vet will recognise.

Detailed radiographs can be taken of your horse's foot which may reveal degeneration of the lateral cartilages, infection or sidebone (ossification of the lateral cartilages).

Can quittor be treated?

Initially a long-term course of antibiotics is used to treat the infection, however recurrent infections are common due to the poor blood supply to the lateral cartilages, so the antibiotic treatment doesn't get effectively delivered to the seat of the infection. The infection can also be sealed off to antibiotics by scar tissue which develops as a response by the body to prevent the infection from spreading any further.

Surgery may be necessary for persistent infections to remove all the dead and infected tissue in the foot and to thoroughly clean the infected area. To ensure no infection is left behind, this is usually done under general anaesthesia, so a detailed examination is possible and more extensive surgery performed where needed. It is essential that all dead and infected tissue is removed otherwise the infection is likely to resurface. In severe cases it may be necessary to drill holes in the hoof wall, or even remove a complete section of the hoof wall to allow the infected are to drain.

Following surgery, the wound will be packed with iodine swabs and bandaged to keep it scrupulously clean. The dressing and bandages will have to be changed regularly until the wound is fully healed. Your horse will need to be kept stabled and the bedding kept clean and dry to avoid re-infection.

If your horse isn't up to date with their tetanus vaccinations, your vet will administer a tetanus antitoxin injection which will provide your horse will immediate protection against tetanus. Tetanus, caused by Clostridium tetani, is an environmental bacteria and is commonly found in soil, therefore foot injuries are at particular risk from the disease.

How can I prevent my horse from developing quittor?

Good hoof care is essential in avoiding conditions such as quittor. Regular trimming and/or shoeing to ensure all the feet are balanced and are free from cracks is essential. If your horse is shod, the shoes should fit properly, therefore avoiding any nasty tread injuries.