Preventing heel bulb injuries in horses

What are heel bulb injuries and how can you protect your horse from this common issue?

Heel bulb injuries are common among horses. This area of soft tissue in the hoof is prone to damage from kicks, entanglement with wire fencing, stab wounds from protruding objects, and countless other hazards. Any lacerations or cuts should be treated seriously, as infection can become life threatening. Let’s take a closer look at heel bulb injuries and what you can do to prevent them.

A peek inside the bulbs

Located at the back of the hoof, heel bulbs are areas of soft horn tissue with a cushion of connective tissue on the interior side that provides the bulbs with springiness and flexibility. This delicate, pliable horn contains a large amount of water and sweat glands, and is extremely sensitive to external damage. Stress on heel bulbs can even be caused by the hard plastic of certain hoof boots, bell boots or other equipment. Needless to say, it’s essential to understand the delicate nature of this area in order to protect it from harm.

Underrun heels – a contributing factor to heel bulb injuries

In a properly functioning hoof, the frog’s collateral grooves extend past the heels outside the curves of the bulbs. If they are within the curves there is a contraction, often accompanied by underrun heels. With this condition, the heel distorts inward and under the hoof, rather than slanting outward toward the back. Contrast this to a healthy hoof, where the heel is on an angle away from the toe, constructing a larger weight-bearing platform, thereby better accommodating the horse’s weight.

Unfortunately, underrun heels are a common disorder, and any heel pain forces the horse to change his gait by creating an unnatural toe first landing. The appearance of a contracted, underrun hoof is so typical that it’s often considered the norm. The hoof looks long and narrow, particularly towards the back half. The heels look like they pinch together (squeezing the bulbs and frog), and curve in like hooks towards the frog creating a v-shape instead of a straight line. The collateral grooves on either side of the frog are not in a clear line and fall within the heel curve. As a result, inflamed and excessive soft bulb tissue protrudes out from the heel area. These require protection until the issue is resolved.

Babying those bulbs

In order to prevent heel bulb injuries, work toward re-establishing proper hoof form, correct function, and good quality blood circulation. Movement, hydration, appropriate trimming, hoof protection, adequate nutrition and inclusion in a herd environment can provide your horse with both the physical and emotional elements to expedite healing. Soft padding will provide comfort and protection while working to improve the situation. Some hoof boots provide appropriate padding to this delicate area.