Whilst we are all used to the knocks and bangs to ourselves and our horses a day’s hunting can bring, one particular problem can turn into something a lot worse if not dealt with properly.
Blackthorn (Prunus spinous) is a perennial shrub common in hedgerows and thickets and particularly common in the West Midlands, the fruit it bears is commonly known as the Sloe, and whilst a bit of Sloe Gin in your hipflask might warm you up out hunting, the thorns that the Blackthorn produces can leave your horse, and even yourself, with painful injuries.
The shrub bears narrow thorns up to 5cm long, which can penetrate a horse’s skin and break off leaving fragments embedded in the tissue. The blackthorn then sets off a chronic foreign body reaction which leads to heat, swelling and pain within hours. If a blackthorn should penetrate a joint or tendon sheath the reaction can be very severe causing extreme pain and joint/tendon sheath swelling and lameness.
To ensure the best success rate if a blackthorn penetration is suspected rapid treatment is vital. If you suspect a blackthorn has penetrated synovial structures such as joints or tendon sheaths then urgent veterinary attention is required.
In most cases the thorn can be identified quickly and then carefully removed with a small pair of tweezers or similar. You must take extreme care to avoid breaking off the thorn tip when removing. It can be useful to clip away the hair around the entry site gently to aid visibility. Poulticing can also encourage expulsion of the thorn from the tissues if the end is not obviously visible or you suspect the tip has broken off in the tissues.
If a thorn should penetrate a joint or tendon this can require surgical intervention to flush the joint and remove the thorn. A veterinarian can use ultrasound examination of the area in question to determine the size of fragment, depth and direction of penetration to allow them to make the best decision regarding removal. Ultrasound is also useful in determining the proximity of the thorn to any vital structures. Blackthorn penetrations into synovial spaces will always cause severe lameness, if the affected joint/tendon sheath is treated quickly then a rapid recovery is more likely.
The only real preventative measures you can hope to take are well fitting boots and, should you be unlucky enough to suffer an injury, prompt diagnosis and treatment will make all the difference to your horse and get you back in the saddle soonest. Only you know if you have encountered possible blackthorn injury and a thorough examination of legs is recommended on return from hunting.