Capped Elbow

...and on the eighth day God created the horse in perfect image, to romp, graze, gallop, play and make manure wherever it darn well pleases, in divine grace.

“Olecranon Bursitis,” also known as Shoe Boil or Capped Elbow, is a squishy, soft swelling at the point of the elbow on the horse, due to trauma. (1)

There are several reasons that trauma occurs in this area: 1] Not enough bedding in the stall, 2] the shoe is hitting against the elbow of that same limb while the horse is being worked, 3] the horse is hitting himself there while stomping his foot to fight flies.

This trauma can also occur with horses that are shod with caulks or have weighted and elevated shoes, or with horses that are shod with the heel of the hoof being left too long. (2)

Sometimes Capped Elbow is not noticeable at first, since swelling does not develop until after repeated trauma, but sometimes it develops instantly and grows rapidly in size.

Skin inflammation and peeling fragments of skin tissue are a precursor to Capped Elbow.

It can be discovered during routine grooming and the swelling can be palpated with the hand.

The first order is to determine how the elbow is being traumatized. The issue must be addressed and the cause removed.

If the trauma is not too large or the skin broken, a daily application of topical NSAID, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or a DMSO mixture combined with corticosteroids, may be all it takes to treat this. (3)

However, if the problem has been allowed to continue to the point where it is severe, the Veterinarian should be called.

The Vet will palpate the area, and possibly drain the lesion. It will then be injected with corticosteroids.

Even acute cases, if caught and treated in time, may only need one injection.

If the trauma has been left to continue, fibrous tissue may have formed. The tissue may only respond to repeated injections of corticosteroids.

The other option, if this fails, is surgical removal. (4)

An aid used in the healing of this trauma is to change the angle or change the shoeing method, or custom-fit special shoeing to the horse.

A round “doughnut” cushion roll can be attached by leather and buckle just below the fetlock.

This will limit flexion and cushion bumping due to the heel hitting the elbow. (5)

There should always be bedding in the animal’s stall; no one should have to sleep on concrete or plain dirt floors. I have seen Capped Elbow on animals that don’t have bedding and are sleeping on the hard floor.

Rubber stall mats purchased at Tractor Supply can help cushion the hardness of - See Mats page 17

Mats - from page 13

floors, with shavings or straw on top of them. Bedding also helps keep the animal warm during the cold winter months.

Flies can be kept to manageable levels by proper stall cleaning each day. Fly spray or wipe can be applied to the animal, and large cans of barn spray are helpful, also.

The animal should be able to relax in its stall and to eat its meals in peace.

You know how annoying flies can be at a summer picnic, that droning just drives me nuts-- just imagine them in hordes, pestering your buddy while he’s trying to eat. Stomp, Stomp, Stomp.

Capped Elbow is treatable, if caught early, and correcting the problem is just good horsemanship to me.

The aforementioned article is meant as a guideline and not Veterinary analysis.

Consult the Vet is you suspect your horse has serious elbow trauma/Capped Elbow, and remedy flies and lack of bedding.

The send off is the same as always, in the immortal words of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, “Happy Trails to You.”

1-5: “Horseman’s Veterinary Encyclopedia,” by Will A. Hadden III, DVM