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Missing splint bone

From: Alicia

Dear Jessica, I have never seen this question discussed anywhere, even in your wonderful archives. Have you ever heard of a horse that is missing a splint bone? Not just missing but that has had the splint bone removed by surgery????? I have been looking at a horse to buy (maybe) and I really like him a lot. He is a nice mover and my instructor has looked at him too and thinks he would be good for me. BUT. He is a TB and was on the racetrack for a year, and broke his splint bone. The vet operated on his leg and cut off the splint bone. Then the next year the horse was racing again a couple of times but he didn't do real well, but his owner thinks it wasn't because of the splint bone. So they took him home and trained him as a hunter, and now I am thinking about buying him. My question is, do you think the story could be true, and if it is, would he still be okay to buy? My instructor says that the leg will always be weak and he might break down jumping so I should probably jump him over low jumps only. The leg doesn't seem to be weak and I watched the horse's owner ride him over a course of four-foot jumps, but will it get weak later? I can't see where the operation was done and I can just feel a tiny lump under the skin. Do you think they could be mistaken about his history? If he really did have his splint bone removed, would he still be okay for me to ride and jump? He seems to be doing okay now, but it just sounds weird and now my instructor has me worrying about the weak leg. Help! I really like this horse but I won't buy him if you say not to. Alicia

Hi Alicia! Yes, it's actually not all that uncommon for a horse to have a splint bone removed surgically. And no, a successful removal shouldn't affect the horse's soundness in that leg - except to improve it. Many show horses have had splints removed surgically, not because they were interfering with the horse's movement or comfort, but for cosmetic reasons - the lumps detracted from the smooth lines of the horses' legs.

Splint bones are the two narrow bones attached to the sides of a horse's cannon bones. They aren't actually useful bones; they just sit there most of the time. Horses can and do work all their lives without anyone noticing their splint bones - unless something goes wrong, and the horse develops a "splint", which is an irritation of the bone, usually the result of overwork and too much concussion. The splint will cause pain and lameness when it is fresh, but eventually the inflammation goes down, the pain disappears, and the horse is left with a perfectly functional (but perhaps bumpy) leg. Problems arise when a splint is in an inconvenient location - too near a tendon or a ligament or a joint - and can actually interfere with the horse's movement. Young horses put into hard work - at the racetrack, for instance - are particularly prone to developing splints. A youngster that hits himself hard in the leg with his opposite foot, as youngsters are prone to do, can develop a splint - that's one very good reason to put protective boots on the legs of young horses in work.

Most splints, even if the splint bones are actually broken, don't cause problems for the horse. If a splint does interfere with movement, or if the horse's owner doesn't want to see a lump on the horse's leg, most owners will choose to have the splint surgically removed. The horse is anaesthetized and the splint itself is removed (either the lump on the bone, or the bone itself) together with the periosteum - that's the bone "cover" that contains cells that can produce more bone! Once everything is tidy and the wound is closed, the veterinarian will put a pressure-bandage over the cannon bone, and the horse's owner will be told to keep the horse on stall rest for a few weeks, then gradually increase the horse's exercise over the next few months. What's amazing about this operation is that when the horse's leg has healed, that's the end of the story! There's no weakness and no additional chances of a breakdown because of a missing splint bone (remember, those bones don't actually do anything - except, on occasion, cause trouble).

I assume that you'll be having this horse checked by your vet before you make your final decision. Talk to your vet about this, preferably with your instructor present so that s/he won't have to feel concerned about the horse's leg. If all the other signs say "Green light- GO!" then you've got a horse. ;-)


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