The sole is the insensitive protective undersurface of the horse’s
foot in which are the highly vascular (rich in blood supply) and sensitive
(rich in nerve supply) tissues (laminae) which connect the hoof to the
What is a bruised sole?
Bruised soles are one of the most common causes of lameness in both shod
and unshod horses. Injury to the sole may cause damage to the sensitive
structures underneath and this results in ‘bruising’. The
result is often damage to the many tiny blood vessels underneath the sole
and consequent haemorrhage (bleeding). This may either resolve quickly
and cause no further problems or may result in the formation of a haematoma
('blood blister') between the sensitive tissues and the non-expandable
sole. The pressure caused by this ‘blister’ on the sensitive
tissues causes pain and lameness. Even if a haematoma does not develop,
there may be sufficient damage to the laminae of the sole to result in
pain and lameness.
What are the most important causes of bruised sole?
Any accidental injury to the sole of the foot can result in a bruise.
Treading on a stone or another hard object is probably the most common.
Other causes of sole trauma are poorly fitting shoes and excessive work
on hard ground, especially when unshod. Foot trauma is predisposed by
thin soles in some horses.
How is a bruised sole diagnosed?
Most commonly, the horse may become suddenly lame or may appear to recover
but be lame again the next day. The lameness usually affects one leg only
and pain can often be located by a farrier or veterinary surgeon with
pressure carefully applied with hoof testers. Once the area of sole pain
has been established, sole paring over this area reveals a visible bruise,
i.e. a reddened area of sole. In some cases, the strength of the pulse
in the heel arteries (digital pulse) may be increased, when palpated with
a finger, and the feet may appear warm to the touch.
How is a sole bruise treated?
The horse’s shoes are first removed and then the sole is pared over
the bruise to relieve weight-bearing pressure, although excessive paring
should be avoided in thin soled horses or the pain may be worsened. A
poultice and protective bandage is applied to the foot. The poultice is
removed after 24 hours and the protective bandage is replaced for a further
48 hours. The foot is then trimmed and shod when the foot is no longer
How can sole bruises be prevented?
All horse's feet should be regularly trimmed and shod by a qualified farrier
and should always be picked and thoroughly cleaned out before exercise.
Exercise on uneven and stony ground should be avoided, particularly for
thin soled horses.
Protective hoof pads are sometimes used for thin soled horses. These are
layers of rubber or leather that are fitted between the foot and the shoe
so that the entire sole is covered in an attempt to prevent bruising of
the sole. They should be used with care since they are often at best ineffective
and at worst detrimental. Pads may exacerbate the effect of uneven ground
because they effectively bring the sole closer to the ground surface.
Also, stones and other objects may become trapped between them and the
sole. Pads prevent the essential daily task of thoroughly inspecting the
solar surface of the foot and frog.
A foot abscess (infection) can cause a similar type of sudden lameness
with focal pain. Solar abscesses also commonly occur in horses and in
such cases the abscess must be found, drained and poulticed without delay
or serious complications can occur.
If sole pads are to be used, shoeing horses with pads is a job for a specifically-experienced
Call the Hospital if your horse does not make satisfactory progress, i.e.
is not significantly more comfortable, within 48 hours.
The material contained in this website is presented for information purposes
only . The material is in no way intended to replace professional veterinary
care or attention from a professional veterinary surgeon.
The advice given in any of our web pages cannot be used as the basis
for a diagnosis or choice of treatment.
Clyde Vet Group advises that you should always consult a veterinary surgeon
about any queries with animals under your care.