Last Updated on February 26, 2022 by Allison Price
Should you contact the vet if your horse is experiencing a blemish? Make the right decision by being informed.
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“Your horse’s really rough.” This was a text message I received from a trainer after leaving my mare, 8 years old, with him for a few weeks. I thought to myself, “I know,” and sighed. She had attached photos of her massive splint on her right front leg and an old scar on the left side. “Don’t worry,” she texted back. “Those are both old and neither one is a problem.”
How did I know that I didn’t have to rush to the barn just to take a look? Because I know every one of my horses bumps and lumps. I know where they are, what caused them and how long they have been around. It was also a pleasure to see this trainer be so conscientious. It was reassuring to know that she would be alert if my horse had a new marking.
How attentive are you to your horses’ health and condition? Did you ever notice a bump in your horse’s saddle? Do you know what it is and if it needs veterinary attention? Yes, I would guess so.
This article will give you a guideline to the 10 most common bumps and lumps that horses may experience, starting at the tip of the horse’s nose and ending at his feet. These bumps can be very annoying and I will tell you how to identify them, what to do about them, and whether or not you should worry. First, I will ask you five questions about the concern-causing blemish.
Questions before calling the Vet
Before calling your vet if you spot a bump or lump on your horse’s body, you should ask five questions. These answers will help your vet determine if you should be concerned.
Question #1 Where is the lump? Like most things, the location is important. You should describe the location of the lump on your horse’s skin as accurately as you can.
Question #2 How many years has it been around? This one is simple. It’s much easier to find a new problem with a horse than with an old one, especially if it hasn’t caused any problems in the past. Be sure to inspect your horse before you groom him.
Question #3 How consistent is it? Gently squeeze each lump that you notice. If it feels hard or squishy, tell your vet.
Question #4 – Does it hurt when you touch it? Or apply pressure to it with your fingers? It’s more likely that a painful lump will be a problem than one which doesn’t cause pain.
Question #5 Is your horse lame if it’s on his leg? Watch him jog on the longe line. If he is unable to jog due to a lump in his leg, it’s likely that it’s serious and should be checked.
10 Common Lumps and Bumps
Let’s now take a look at ten of the most common lumps that you might encounter. We’ll begin at the top and move backwards.
Teething Bumps (Eruption Cysts).
The location of these bumps is They are located on the lower jaw between the nose and the throatlatch. These bumps can be found on both the upper and lower jaws at once, though they could be larger than one.
What is it? These bumps are common in young horses, usually between 2 and 4 years of age. They are caused by pressure from permanent or “baby” teeth pushing out the deciduous teeth.
How to look and feel: Teething bumps can be about the same size as a walnut, or slightly smaller. They feel very hardy and bony.
Do not worry: If your horse falls within the appropriate age range, and the bumps don’t hurt when you squeeze them hard enough, it shouldn’t pose a problem. Some horses will have baby teeth, or “caps”, that are hard to remove. These bumps can get enlarged and painful from excessive pressure. To relieve pressure, your vet might recommend that you remove the stubborn caps and allow permanent teeth to come in.
Abscessed Submandibular Lymph Node
Location The submandibular Lymph Nodes are located between the lower jawbones of your horse.
What is it? The lymph node becomes a pouch containing pus (made up of bacteria and white blood cell) when the lymph node gets clogged.
Feel and look: The lymph nodes are usually a small patch of bumps and lumps. It is important to get used to the way this area feels on your horse during a day. A lymph node that has abscessed will feel like a hard, round lump. It’s similar to a ping-pong or golf ball under your skin. Sometimes the abscessed lymph node may enlarge and cause soft swelling. Some people may feel it painful or it may become a headache.
Do you need to worry? Call your veterinarian if you suspect you have an abscess. Most abscessed lymph nodes involve a benign bacterium which is unlikely to cause serious problems. Your vet can either drain the abscess or open it to speed up the process. There is always the possibility that the bacteria could be more serious, like streptococcus Equi, which can cause strangles. In this instance, it’s safer to be safe than sorry. Call your vet.
Where: Most commonly, these bumps will appear under your horse’s saddle. They may also appear under the saddle area, in the cinch, or anywhere else that tack and gear touch his skin.
What is it? Pressure and friction cause tissue layers to become damaged deep under your horse’s skin. Pressure bumps are formed when dead and damaged tissue combine to form.
How to feel and look: Pressure bumps can be firm, ranging in size from a quarter of an almond to a full-sized one. They are easiest to identify if they’re located in areas where saddle pressure is concentrated, such as under the seat or on the side of the withers. These bumps are not likely to cause any discomfort for your horse.
Do not be alarmed: These bumps could indicate that your tack isn’t fitting properly. It might be time to check saddle fit or outfit your horse with a pressure-distributing saddle pad. These bumps can become larger or lose hair and cause discomfort for your horse.
Location Seromas can appear anywhere on a horse’s body. However, the most common places are the middle of the chest or on the upper leg of either side of the tail.
What is it? A seroma refers to a fluid-filled sac formed after direct trauma such as a kick by another horse. It may start as a bruise or hematoma that then reorganizes to a seroma over several days.
Feel and look: A seroma is like a water balloon. If you don’t push it, it won’t cause any discomfort to your horse. It can be painful, hot, and hard to notice if it occurs during the hematoma phase.
Do not worry. Most seromas can be treated with patience and time. Although a large seroma may be removed by your vet, this could lead to more serious problems such as infection.
Location Ventral edema will appear in the middle of your horse’s stomach.
What is it? A fluid accumulation under the skin which has settled to the bottom of the horse’s core due to gravity. Most commonly, the fluid is caused by inflammation in the body. Fluid can also accumulate from more serious conditions, such as liver disease or heart failure.
Feel and look:Ventral Edema is usually a lumpy feeling that feels hard but can be pushed on with your fingers. Pitting edema is also known as this and can feel similar to bread dough. Ventral edema can become a large lump and spread to the lower part of your horse’s abdomen.
Do you need to worry? A very small amount of ventral swelling is not usually a sign of serious illness. It’s especially important if it becomes smaller over time. To rule out other serious conditions, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if it persists or becomes large.
Location Spilts can be found in the inner or outer leg of the front or hind legs. However, they are more common on the inside side of one of the front leg, between the knee and the fetlock.
What is it: The small, splint bone runs along the back and sides of the cannon bones of your horse. They are located between the knees and the fetlock about two-thirds of a mile apart. If the ligament between the small bones and cannon bone becomes stressed or the bone suffers direct trauma, a splint bump may develop. Calcification of the tissues is what causes the bump.
Feel and look: A “splint” is a bony, hard bump. A small amount of soft tissue swelling can surround a fresh splint. Splints can be as small as a raisin, an almond, or as large as a walnut.
Do not worry: New splints can lead to lameness lasting from days to weeks. If the calcification is located towards the middle of the leg, a large splint could cause damage to the suspensory nerve. If your horse is unable to walk, call your veterinarian. It is unlikely that a cold, old splint will cause problems.
Ringbone lumps form in the middle or front of the horse’s pastern. This is not to be confused with normal bumps that occur inside and outside of the pastern joint.
What is it: Ringbone occurs most often due to pastern joint arthritis. As the body attempts to stabilize the painful joint, bone proliferates and forms bumps.
Feel and look: A hard, bony bump. A ringbone bump is about the same size as a grape or almond when it’s first noticed. However, it can grow to walnut-size with time.
Do you need to be concerned? The quick answer is: Yes. Many horses with ringbone can become very lame. These bumps should be noted and treated immediately. Your vet may request radiographs to assess the area.
Location If your horse has a lump or bump in his cannonbone area, it could be an injury to one or more of the flexor tendon.
What is it: Torn fibers in the tendons can cause bleeding and fluid accumulation. This fluid can cause a lump. Scar tissue can form if a tendon injury has been sustained for a long time.
How to feel: If you press down on a tendon, it will become firmer and more sensitive to pressure. A tendon injury from the past may feel almost boney and not sensitive to pressure.
Do you have to worry? Call your vet if your horse develops a sensitive bump on the tendon, especially if they are lame. An ultrasound can show you if your tendon has been damaged and, if so how severe. It is important to know what the horse’s legs look like every day.
Location Scars may cause lumps or bumps all over your horse’s body.
What is it? When an injury heals, it may leave behind disorganized tissue known as “scar tissue”. Scar bumps that occur over bones may be particularly prominent.
Feel and look:Scars can feel a bit stiff and ropey. They are not sensitive to pressure in most cases. You can trim the hair to assess the skin beneath if you are unsure about the bump. There may be evidence of an older wound or old suture tracks, which will confirm that there is a scar.
Do you have to worry? Be aware of your horse’s scars. Problems are rarely caused by old scars. A trainer or barn manager might ask you if there is a bump that should be considered.
Location Tumors can occur anywhere on your horse’s body, just like scars. If your gray horse is a , be sure to pay attention to the rectum, tail and sheath areas as these are where melanomas most often occur.
What is it? A tumor refers to a large number of cancer cells. There are many types of equine skin cancers. Your vet must collect a sample from the tumor (using a needle, or cutting out a small portion) and submit it to a laboratory to be examined under a microscope.
How Tumors Look and Feel: Tumors come in many different forms and it can be difficult to describe.
Should you worry: If you find a lump or bump on your horse that’s new and doesn’t fit any of the other common bump descriptions, watch it carefully–especially if it seems to be growing. Your vet can help you determine if further testing is needed.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!