What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Rope Burn on Pastern or Lower Limb or Leg


The natural response to a horse feeling pressure anywhere on its body is flight. Sometimes a horse may trap a lower limb in a lead rope, or panic when restrained in hobbles. If the horse has not been trained to yield away from pressure, they struggle violently against it, causing the rope to slide rapidly against the skin. A wide groove or abrasion on the rear of the pastern can result - a rope burn.

These injuries are usually uncomplicated and will resolve on their own with time, but they are initially very painful. Initially the skin may appear undamaged, but usually swells within a few hours and may sluff off after several days. In some severe cases, important structures like the digital flexor tendon sheath may be injured.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If there seems to be pain, swelling or lameness.
    • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the lameness is mild.

your role


What To Do

Assess the horse for lameness at the walk. Assess the severity of the wounds. If the injury is anything more than a superficial scrape, or if your horse is lame for more than 12 hours, call your vet to discuss this problem. If you notice swelling ascending up above the rear of the fetlock, it can also be an indicator of tendon sheath involvement, which may require aggressive treatment.

Meanwhile, gentle cleaning with a cold water hose, or mild soap and water, dabbing dry, and light bandage placement with an antibiotic ointment dressing may help. If you are on the trail, consider standing the horse in a cold stream for 10 minutes prior to drying and placing a light bandage.

What Not To Do

Do not assume that all scabs and crusts on the rear of the pastern are from rope burns. There are several other common causes that may need to be ruled out if the condition seems to worsen rather than heal. These are more common in white haired/pink skinned lower limbs.

your vet's role

Your vet assesses the area, considers the degree of lameness, and determines whether the problem is straightforward or complicated by involvement of the important anatomy in this area.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When do you think the injury happened?
  • How did the injury happen?
  • How lame is the horse?
  • How severe does the wound look?
  • Which limb(s) are involved?
  • Do you notice swelling in the area?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

Very Common
Less Common
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP