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Bruised Sole

Bruised Sole

The sole is the insensitive underside of the horse’s foot beneath which are the very sensitive tissues called laminae, which connect the hoof to the pedal bone.   Most of the time the sole protects these sensitive tissues, but sometimes it cannot or does not, which can lead to a horse having a bruised sole.

Bruised soles – what are they?

Bruised soles are one of the most common causes of lameness in both shod and unshod horses. Most people assume that if a horse is shod then they wont get bruised soles; however this is not true!  Injury to the sole can occur even with shoes on – especially on the lovely Cotswold stone bridleways we have around Cheltenham.  It may cause damage to the sensitive structures underneath and this results in ‘bruising’.  The bruising is caused by damage to the tiny blood vessels in the sensitive structures of the sole; this makes them bleed (haemorrhage – this sounds dramatic but it can refer to tiny amounts of blood). Often removing the problem (for example, picking a stone out) and giving the foot a bit of time will lead to complete resolution, occasionally though a haematoma (a pocket of blood like a blood-blister) may form under the sole  – these are often painful! If you’ve had one under your fingernail you will be able to vouch for this. It is the pressure on the sensitive tissues that causes pain and lameness.

The most common causes of bruised soles…

The most common cause of bruised soles we see at Cheltenham Equine Vets would be treading on stones and too much work on hard ground.  But any blunt trauma or injury to the sole of the foot can result in a bruise.  Sometimes poor fitting shoes can cause bruising and pinching resulting in bruised soles, and unfortunately some horses are predisposed to bruising due to thin or soft soles (good old Thoroughbreds for example).

How do we diagnose a bruised sole?

With a bruised sole horses commonly go suddenly lame, some recover quickly and then go lame again soon after.  More often than not one foot is worse, although in cases of too much work on hard ground two or all four feet can be affected. Locating the bruising is done by picking the horses foot up and either your vet or farrier applying careful pressure with hoof testers at certain points around the sole.  Once the area of interest has been found, gently scraping/paring away over the bruise reveals some reddened or purple looking sole (the bruise). Some horses with very hard hooves may not respond to hoof tester pressure however, but this doesn’t necessarily rule out deeper bruising. Other things that may point to a bruised foot (as well as some other conditions…) can include increased pulses to the feet, (ask your vet to show you where to feel for these) and heat in the front of the hoof wall.

How do we treat a bruised sole?

At Cheltenham Equine Vets we may pare away at the affected part of the sole, which will relieve some of the weight-bearing pressure. However we are careful not to pare away too much, especially in thin soled horses as this can exacerbate the lameness.  Sometimes we will recommend removing the shoe, other times we will try to leave the shoe in place to prevent further bruising occurring.  We may also recommend a warm/wet poultice be applied to the foot with a protective and waterproof bandage over the top for 24-72hours (changing them daily), if the horse becomes comfortable then a dry, protective dressing is applied until the farrier can attend to re-shoe the horse or apply a special protective pad to the shoe. Sometimes if the horse is very sore we will prescribe a short course of anti-inflammatory pain relief to make the horse more comfortable during the initial stages.  More often than not once the bruising has settled or the haematoma been released, the horse will become sound.

N.B. Pads underneath shoes should be fitted by a correctly trained/qualified farrier, they do not suit every horse and can make some horses worse by increasing the pressure on the sensitive structures of the sole.

How can we prevent the bruising?

You should regularly pick out and clean your horse’s feet, especially before exercise.  If a horse is unshod, and bruised feet are a recurring problem affecting the horse’s quality of life then we would recommend having shoes fitted by a qualified farrier.

Also generally avoid working your horse on uneven, rocky and excessively hard ground (especially if they are thin-soled…sorry TB owners in Gloucestershire).

Maybe it’s not bruising…

You should always consult your vet if your horse becomes severely lame, some serious conditions can to the untrained eye look like a nasty case of bruising.

Foot abscesses (a pocket of infection under the sole) are another common cause of marked lameness in horses. Again, it is normally in one foot predominantly (there are always exceptions though), and the horse will be painful on correct application of the hoof testers over the infected region.  Occasionally a bruise may subsequently become infected and develop into an abscess.  If an abscess is present, ideally it should be pared out and drained before application of a poultice to draw out the infection.  Antibiotics should be avoided; they tend to predispose a recurrent, deep-seated infection.

If the pain persists then x-rays should be taken to rule out fractures to the pedal bone (the bone inside the horse’s hoof).

Your horse should be up to date with their vaccines; if they are not then even a tiny amount of dirt entering the bloodstream from a small defect in the hoof could lead to a fatal case of Tetanus.  Inform the vet at the time of examination and they will be able to administer a protective vaccine.

Laminitis is another common cause of multi-limb (more than one leg) lameness in horses, predisposing factors for this condition include: breed (native types), age, body condition score (greater than 3/5), underlying health conditions (e.g. Cushings disease), season (spring, summer, autumn) and rarely some toxic conditions. In general laminitic feet should not be poulticed, if you are concerned your horse may be laminitic please contact us so we can arrange an examination with a veterinary surgeon.


If you are treating your horse for bruised feet and they don’t improve significantly over a couple of days you should contact your vets to arrange an appointment, there may be something else going on that requires specialist care/treatment.

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