Ringbone and Sidebone Problems Explained


Although these two types of conditions are often referred to be the one in the same, they are actually quite different.

Let’s start with how they are similar. They both affect the foot of the horse and both are a calcification of the bones or the joint area of the feet. That is about where the similarities do end.

How they are different now comes into play. In most cases “Ringbone” is a condition that can appear at the top of the hoof, in the area of the hairline, and is usually caused from an injury, excessive concussion and can be from improper conformation. It can happen due to an injury, excessive shock and concussion, it is a natural occurrence in older horses and in some cases some horses have a tendency to inherent the condition.

“Sidebone” appears in quarters area of the hoof capsule (hoof) and is the solidifying of an internal part of the foot called the “lateral cartilage”. This condition appears to basically come from either being inherited or is seen mostly in carriage or driving horses and comes from insufficient care being taken in the lowering of the shafts after they are unharnessed. The shaft could be dropped and hit the outside of the foot in the area of the quarters too many times and cause injury to the lateral cartilage over time.


“Ringbone” is the name given to the situation that appears at various points of the lower leg of the horse. What does happen is that calcium deposits, that are sometime referred to as “bony deposits”, attach to the specific parts of the lower leg structure of the horse.

Ringbone is usually and most likely caused by an injury or from excessive work that leads to excessive wear to the specific areas of the lower leg that are affected.

This situation can arise from a strain to the ligaments of the lower leg, possibly a strain or pressure on the various joints of the lower leg, additional possible reasons are cuts that can be received from wire or other similar materials and even something as simple as the constant banging of feet against a fence or corral over a prolonged period of time.

Another point to consider is that of conformation faults that put excessive strain and pressure on specific joints. Horses that are classed as “base wide” put strain on the inside edge of their feet as they stand and support their body weight. When a horse is classed as “base narrow” the strain and pressure is to the outside of their feet as they stand and support their weight. If there is an additional complication, as is most often the case, such as being “toed-in” or “toed-out” there is additional stressed placed on the joints in a second and possible third area of the lower leg.

Ringbone can be divided into different types and classifications; the first that we will discuss will be referred to as “false ringbone”. This type of ringbone is referred to, as a false situation due to the deposit of “calcium” is on the sides and in some cases the front of the center area of the long pastern bone.

The next classification of ringbone that we will look at is that of “high ringbone”. High ringbone is when the calcium growth happens at the base of the long pastern bone and the top of the short pastern bone. After a period of time these deposits will expand and continue to develop until they have included the area of the joint between the two mentioned bones. Once that this happens there will be quite a bit of soreness and eventually restrict the flexing of that particular joint.

The third type classification that we will discuss is that of ringbone that is referred to as “low ringbone”. This has appeared to be the most common of the different ringbone problems. Low ringbone is somewhat similar to the previous type mentioned except that the area that is affected is the area of the lower end of the short pastern bone and the upper area of the coffin bone. This can be and is, in most cases, the most severe of all of the types of ringbone. This is considered the most severe due to the restrictive manner of the area of the leg that is affected. Unlike the other areas of the lower leg that has the availability of soft tissue to allow for the addition of the increased mass area that is created by the addition of the calcium growth, this particular area is restricted by the harder tissue of the hoof wall to restrict the allowable expansion that is allowed in other parts of the lower leg. The additional calcium growth room creates pressure and then pain in the affected area of the foot. The calcium build up in this specific area appears to be on the front of and the sides of the bones that degree it is in its progression.

Shoeing for this type of problem has to be done in a manner that will allow the foot to operate more comfortably. Since we will come up against restriction or even a loss of flexion ~ a mechanical method of allowing the foot to operate more efficiently and properly can be accomplished by the creation of a roller motion action by rounding the toe and raising the heel to allow for less restriction in the roll over portion of movement of the foot and less pressure and strain on the affected joint and/or the tendon or ligament.


Before we can correctly define what “sidebone” is we must be aware that it does not actually affect a bone ~ it is the condition that happens to specific tissues within the foot capsule. The specifically affected cartilages are the “lateral cartilages” that are located inside of the foot just below the hoof wall structure and situated between that specific structure and the coffin bone. There is a lateral cartilage located on both sides of the foot and measures approximately three inches in length and about one-quarter deep on most saddle type horses. The lateral cartilages are more developed in the front feet than the rear feet. This cartilage is located just below the hairline just above the area of the heels and the length continues into the area of the quarters of the foot.

When the condition of sidebone does happen to a foot it can be from inheritance conditions such as poor conformation or an injury to that specific area of the foot.

The actual “sidebone” condition is a hardening or “calcification” of the lateral cartilages. As previously mentioned this condition can come from poor hoof care techniques or conformational faults, but there are additional factors that can lead to this condition happening.

The pain that is created will be quite acute due to the fact that a soft tissue member is, in essence, being turned into a bony-like structure. This is being accomplished in a confined and unyielding area of the foot capsule. Since the lateral cartilages are now being calcified and is being done in a manner that also enlarges the area that the lateral cartilages require to occupy within the foot as well. It would be like cramming a size-four foot into a size two shoe and to just keep pushing that larger foot into the shoe and never being able to let up on the pressure pushing the foot into that smaller shoe until it was made to fit.

The treatment of this condition starts with rest and the stopping of all work schedules. Next we must make sure that the foot is balanced correctly and allowed to support the horse properly. In addition, the heels of the foot need to be trimmed in a manner that will allow for the greatest amount of frog pressure to be realized.

Proper determination of the condition needs the use of radiographs (x-rays) to eliminate that the condition that is being suffered is not a possible fracture to the wings of the coffin bone. Other possible problems that might need to be eliminated are; gravel, sole abscess or “pedal osteitis”.

Until next time “Ride for the Brand”.