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Wrangling on the Range #185

Kicking now - Rope burns




Kicking Under Saddle; Rope Burn

Why does this young gelding kick at riding mates? Also, how to
sooth a rope burn.


My 5-year-old Arabian/Appaloosa gelding is a pleasure to ride,
and usually gets along well with humans and horses. Recently,
though, he's begun kicking at other horses, even his buddy (a
mare), while under saddle. If any horse gets within distance,
he'll kick without warning. Keeping others far enough away can be
difficult when pausing on narrow trails. What might be causing
this behavior, and how can I correct it?


Whenever you see such a dramatic change in behavior, especially
when aggression ocurs without warning signs, consider possible
medical causes first. It's rare for such an extreme behavior
change to "just happen" without an obvious negative occurrence,
such as being trapped and beaten up on by another horse.
If there are medical causes, your gelding's behavior would be
called "irritable aggression" because it's the result of not
feeling well. If you have a toothache, for example, you're much
less tolerant of a small, screaming child at a restaurant than
you would be if feeling fine. If your gelding has a pain
somewhere or is just not feeling well, he could be showing that
same short temper to other horses.
Schedule a good workup by an equine practitioner to look for a
medical or painful cause. Most veterinarians will do a thorough
physical examination and may also want to do blood work if a
medical problem is suspected.
You can help by carefully noting any other slight changes in your
gelding's behavior, such as slower eating or dropping grain
(maybe a tooth problem) or a slower pace coming to the barn (a
mild lameness). No one knows the animal better than you, so some
detective work can be extremely helpful to your veterinarian. The
cause can be subtle and therefore difficult to determine, but the
effort can be rewarding when your horse gets his old personality

BONNIE V. BEAVER, DVM, MS, DACVB College of Veterinary Medicine
Texas A&M University


My 6-year-old Morgan mare got hung up in her longe line recently,
but the resulting abrasion on her pastern didn't look bad enough
to call a vet. It seeped a bit of blood, but I figured I could
treat it myself. Now, almost two weeks later, she's still sore to
the touch at her pastern. The wound has turned black and scaly,
and continues to be pink and raw underneath. Initially I used a
wound-coating powder to dry it out, but lately I've just been
rinsing it to keep it clean. Should I have done something else?
What should I do now? 


Unfortunately, rope burns are common from lead- or longeline
mishaps, like yours, and also from lariat accidents and the act
of tethering horses from the ground (something you should never
do). Pasterns are the most often afflicted part of the horse, and
can be difficult to heal because of their tenderness and
flexibility. Rope burns vary in severity from superficial to deep
wounds torn completely through the skin and into underlying
tissues. If a rope burn doesn't bleed, ice it or run cold water
over it for 20 minutes to cool it down. If it does bleed, call
your veterinarian. Pastern rope burns usually can't be sutured
because there isn't much skin there, the skin's edges are
damaged, and pasterns flex so much. Consequently, rope burns
there must be managed as open wounds, and a vet can provide the
best initial treatment and advice.
It sounds as though your mare's rope burn was moderate, oozing
just a small amount of blood. If it had been deeper, it could've
involved tendons or tendon sheaths (the fluid-filled,
envelope-like structures in which the tendons glide back and
forth). In that case, there would've been a dangerous risk of
infection, and her wound should've been vigorously cleansed and
dressed with an antibiotic ointment, and a support wrap applied
to limit mobility. She'd also have been prescribed antibiotics
and pain meds.
However, even a moderate rope burn can become infected. By two
weeks later, any initial lameness your mare showed should be
getting better, and any swelling should be decreasing. If not, an
infection could be festering. Keep her in a clean environment
that limits her mobility-the less motion, the less tissue
granulation and possible proud flesh. Apply an overthe-counter
antibiotic ointment to the wound once the damaged skin starts to
peel, and continue this through the raw phase - possibly for an
additional couple of weeks. Avoid any caustic topical treatments
or wound powders.
Once the wound finally closes, switch to a soothing ointment
containing lanolin, vitamins A and D, or aloe vera to keep the
fresh skin happy and moisturized. You may need to continue this
for months. Unfortunately, even mild rope burns tend to be quite
painful to the horse; stubbornly form scaly crust while healing;
and usually leave a raised, hairless scar across the area.

DAWN ALVES, DVM All About Equine Veterinary Services Chico,

For much more on wound care, search that phrase at 

Send horse health and behavior questions to
Include horse's age, breed, gender.


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