Many pastured horses, and even those that are kept in stalls, seem to accumulate small cuts, scrapes, and scratches. These injuries are more frequent, and sometimes more severe, when groups of young, energetic horses are turned out together.
One location where seemingly small injuries can have a long-lasting effect is the coronary band, or coronet. This area, where the top of the hoof joins the bottom of the horse’s pastern, is easily injured when the horse bangs a leg against a fence, rock, or other object encountered in the pasture or stall. If the horse steps on his own foot or is stepped on or kicked by another horse, coronary band injuries can result.
Direct injuries like those resulting from a cut or kick to the coronary band don’t have to be extremely severe to cause a problem that can take months to clear up. Even after the initial wound heals, there may be damage to the growing hoof. Trauma and bruising to the structures that produce new hoof tissue can result in an area of interrupted growth. This may cause a deformity, crack or depression in the hoof wall. A farrier can stabilize the hoof with a bar shoe or other support while the hoof grows out, a process that usually takes 6 to 12 months. Some hooves never will recover completely, requiring special shoeing for the rest of the horse’s life. With other injuries, the deformed section will grow out and be followed by normally shaped hoof tissue.
Some horses get abscesses in the hoof that don’t open and drain through the sole or white line area. The infection produces pus that may work upward within the hoof, finally erupting at the coronary band. This situation is sometimes referred to as a “gravel” because it was once thought that a piece of sand or gravel had become lodged in the hoof, causing the infection. The rupture at the coronet reduces pressure and pain but won’t always fix the problem because bacteria are still present in the channel produced by the infection. A veterinarian can suggest treatments such as soaking the hoof or locating the sore spot on the horse’s sole and paring out an opening to release the infection. Clearing up a gravel is sometimes a time-consuming chore because of the difficulty in reaching the infected tissues. As with other injuries to the coronary band, a gravel may affect hoof growth temporarily or perpetually.