A diagnosis of pedal osteitis in your horse can be a scary thing. If you have been told this then likely you have had x-rays done, if not, you should get them done. This is one item that is not discoverable without x-rays unless you have a really well trained eye on the subject. Either way, x-rays are important to back up that trained eye and also give you a better idea of how bad it is. Check out our article on why x-rays are important.
To put it in a simple nutshell, pedal osteitis is when the coffin bone has started to reform in a place where it shouldn’t be reforming. This damage is irreversible. It doesn’t mean it isn’t manageable, but getting back to how it used to be is never going to happen. There are a lot of articles on the internet about this and I would always encourage lots of reading, but a practical and simple view of it seems the most helpful to start. It may help to brush up on the anatomy of a hoof for this article.
Take a look at the following x-ray:
If you compare to a normal hoof:
You can see that the coffin bone is reshaping itself. There can be a few reasons why this is happening, and that can be covered in topics like laminitis, founder, the controversial navicular syndrome, shoeing and/or poor trimming practices, but essentially what we are looking at is the horse trying as hard as it can to protect itself. This isn’t damage that was done by something, it’s done because of something and this is the better alternative. Imagine that. The coffin bone is reshaping and other tissues are embedding themselves into the coffin bone because the alternative is worse. This is precisely the horse’s body doing it’s very best to protect itself.
If we look at the x-rays again, we can see also that the hoof wall is very different. The top one has a hoof wall that is not growing parallel to the bone, while the bottom one is. This then causes what many people call coffin bone rotation. To simplify what is happening in a quick explanation, what’s happening here that is causing the bone to reform is that it’s imminently going to go through the sole and hit the ground. When the hoof figures this out, it protects that from happening by removing bone! It then forms itself up top to match the rotation of the hoof capsule itself to be more normal and support the horse properly.
This effect essentially weakens the whole hoof as now you no longer have a dense coffin bone that covers a larger area, and instead can have a very heavily perforated coffin bone that just gets shorter and shorter over time. Once the ski tip is formed up top, you now have a complete inability to grow down a straight hoof wall and will forever have a curved hoof wall. There is nothing that can be done for this outside of major surgery to remove that coffin bone reformation up top. I’ve never seen or heard of this done, I doubt it’s even possible based on what I know of the hoof.
Anyways, while it may not be reversible, it is manageable as you can do your very best to grow down the rest of the hoof walls well, quarters and heels, and manage the front toe as best as possible by providing correct breakover. This will likely mean that the front of the hoof wall is slightly compromised by a thinner front edge, but if your horse has made it to this stage then it’s likely that putting boots on for rides is in your future. That then brings back that protection against rocks, stumbling, logs etc that existed with a strong and firm hoof wall to protect the internals.
In conclusion, pedal osteitis isn’t the end of the world, even in some severe cases it can be managed. If it isn’t managed then it’s not humane to keep the horse around to go through further pain and misery and steps should be taken, but if you’re keen to keep your horse around and spend the time and energy to manage it, it’s very possible. Booting with pads is highly recommended as the sole of the foot will be thinner than normal and not form correctly, like a healthy coffin bone will create. The concussion from landing will cause pain and of course any rocks and protrusions from the ground can either hurt in general, cause bruises, or worse yet puncture the thin sole to damage the internals. Abscesses can then form and they take a long time to heal, recurrence is common. Shoeing a horse with pedal osteitis isn’t recommended as the peripheral edge loading is what makes this condition get even worse.
Managing the issue, in a nutshell, is to make sure a proper trim is done, sole is grown down as much as possible and, on rough terrain, the bottom of the feet are protected. As the foot is a bit unhealthy to begin with, thrush can likely kick in and inflammation can set in sooner or faster than expected in times of great effort by the horse. Galloping, jumping, fast turns etc are all hard on hooves and can cause the condition to worsen or at least create a tender foot due to lack of proper support internally. Consider horses in this case to be more casual and not fit to event at a higher level. To stress the foot even more than it already is will just make it worse and shorten the horse’s life and quality of life.