There are some horses whose coats are perpetually thick and their skin is especially tough. They seem to be able to live in all sorts of environments and bear few signs of wear and tear. But many horses develop sores on the front of their ankles if they’re stabled on hard ground. These so-called paddock sores are due to the repetitive pressure placed on that sensitive area each time the horse lies down to sleep at night. Over time, open sores can develop because there simply isn’t enough fat, hide or hair to provide a cushion. The unsightly sores may go through a cycle where they heal temporarily only to appear again when the horse sheds its protective winter coat. The surrounding skin thickens, forming a callus and a noticeable blemish. The overlying scabs periodically crack and ooze, which lures flies and invites infection. At this point the condition is known as “decubitus ulcers,” a medical term for pressure sores.
Because of their predilection for recurrence, the best treatment for paddock sores is prevention, especially if you discover that your horse is prone to forming them. If your horse is stabled outside on hard ground, consider adding rubber mats to his corral. Place them where he tends to sleep at night. Horses that develop paddock sores or decubitus ulcers in a stall probably need more bedding. Pay particular attention to horses that are older, in ill health or recovering from an injury. Paddock sores that suddenly appear may be a sign that the horse is lying down more than usual, and you should consult with your vet.
Protective boots that strap around the fetlock with adjustable Velcro help prevent paddock sores. They’re typically constructed of neoprene or denier nylon and then lined in fleece. You can locate them online, in catalogs or at major tack stores. If your horse is suffering from acute decubitus ulcers, first have your vet inspect the wounds and advise you on the best course of treatment to initiate the healing process. No doubt you’ll have to heavily wrap your horse’s legs for a while. Once the sores are safely healed, the protective boots and a softer bed should prevent their return.