Soft Tissue Injuries of the Western Performance Horse’s Foot

By Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Nearly 100 veterinarians gathered to discuss how they diagnose and treat soft tissue injuries in the feet of Western performance horses during a table topic at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

Vern Dryden, DVM, CJF, of Bur Oak Veterinary and Podiatry Services, in Lexington, Kentucky, and Brian Beasley, DVM, CJF, from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, in Athens, led the conversation.

They defined Western performance horses as primarily Quarter Horses competing in everything from barrel racing to hunt seat. Soft tissue issues they said they commonly see in these horses’ feet include injuries to the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT), impar ligament, suspensory ligament of the navicular bone, navicular bursa, and collateral ligament of the distal interphalangeal (DIP) joint. They broke the discussion into three parts:

Injuries to the DDFT, Impar Ligament, and Suspensory Ligament of the Navicular


During the initial physical exam of a horse with a foot problem, Dryden said he looks for wear patterns on the horse’s hooves or shoes, watches to see if the horse’s hoof lands toe-first or heel-first when moving, feels for a digital pulse on either the medial (inner) or lateral (outer) side of the fetlock, and applies hoof testers.

Attendees agreed that they then try to localize the source of pain using palmar/plantar digital nerve blocks (in which they inject anesthetic at specific points along the lower limb nerves). Once they know which part of the foot to focus on, they use radiographs, ultrasound, and even MRI to visualize the affected area. Pinpointing the exact cause, however, can be challenging. “Some lamenesses take several days to properly work up,” said Dryden. This diagnostic process is the same for all soft tissue injuries to the foot.

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