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.

Leg splinting

Splints are most commonly used in foals to treat flexural limb deformities. This is where one or more of the joints in the lower limb is excessively flexed due to contraction of the tendons at the back of the limb.

What type of deformities are splints used for?

Flexural deformities of the fetlock, knee and coffin joints are most frequently affected. These limb deformities are detrimental to the foal’s growth, wellbeing and future athletic ability, and the more severe deformities can prevent foals from standing and nursing.

In mild cases, the deformity may resolve spontaneously with controlled exercise and physiotherapy. In moderate and severe cases, your vet may advise a combination of medication, splints or casts, toe extensions and surgery.

Why splints and not casts?

Many vets prefer using splints to treat flexural limb deformities as they have several advantages over casts. Firstly, splints are more cost effective. Casting material is expensive, and applying and reapplying casts requires general anaesthesia which also increases the cost of treatment. Splints can be removed and reapplied regularly, with or without sedation. Also, use of the splint or cast will cause forced extension of the affected joint and this can be painful for the foal. Therefore, use of a splint is beneficial as it can be easily removed for a period of ‘rest’ time and then reapplied. The progression of the limb deformity can also be monitored more closely, and any pressure sores can be treated or prevented. As the deformity improves, the splint can be modified, allowing a better fit.

Your vet will choose between splints or casts depending on the severity of the deformity, the type of deformity being treated and other underlying factors.

What types of splints are there?

Splints can be made from a variety of materials including wood, PVC pipe, fibreglass or metal.

PVC pipe and wooden splints are inexpensive and can be sourced easily. The wood or PVC pipe is cut to the correct length and bandaged into place. The main problem with these types of splints is their lack of conformation to the limb. They can be difficult to apply due to the angle of the joint being treated, and there is a risk of the splint moving, increasing the risk for pressure sores to develop. PVC pipe has also been known to bend when excessive forces are applied.

A more modern technique is to mould a splint using fibreglass cast material, although these are more expensive to make. These splints follow the contours of the foal’s leg, providing a good custom fit splint. They need to be made specifically for the foal and the foal will therefore require sedation or general anaesthesia for the first application. As the splint is a better fit, they are easier to apply than wood or PVC splints, and are less likely to move, reducing the risk of pressure sores.

Commercial splints are also available and are usually made from a metal framework. They are a complex scaffold structure and therefore are much more expensive. These splints require specialised training and are usually adjustable to suit each individual foal’s need. They can be easily adjusted depending on the progression of the deformity.

How are splints applied?

Most splints are applied to create uniform tension over the affected joint to encourage relaxation of the contracted tendons and therefore allow the joint to straighten into a normal position. Typically, the splint is applied to the front of the limb.

Splints should be placed over enough padding to protect the skin from trauma. A routine bandaging technique is commonly used, with strong duct tape applied over the splint as a final layer to provide further strength and rigidity.

How often should splints be removed or adjusted?

Several recommendations for splint management have been made through the years. Many of these recommendations follow a ‘timed interval’ approach, where the splints are applied for a certain amount of time and then removed, eg 6 hours on and 6 hours off. The duration of splinting will be dictated by the severity of the deformity, age of the foal and your vet’s own experiences and preferences. This approach allows for side effects such as pressure sores and over-relaxation or laxity of the joint to be recognised early.

Splinted foals will demand increased nursing care and should be monitored closely. Pain and fatigue can quickly result in abnormal nursing behaviour and therefore dehydration. Pain relief will normally be provided by your vet, but foals may also need to be encouraged or assisted to stand, nurse and lay down while splinted. The ability of the handler is therefore also a factor regarding the management used for each case.