Injured Withers


“I feel sick inside for the mistakes that were made with this horse. Is there anything else I can do to help clear this up and ease his discomfort?”…


Thanks for your response to me a few weeks ago about the gelding with a sore on his withers (fistulous withers or a nasty saddle sore?)  He was healing beautifully until we put his winter blanket on. It was an awful thing to do, since there must have been an open spot or crack in the wound that’s allowed bacteria to enter from the blanket. We pulled it off a day later, and have since found heat in the area as well as redness and swelling. It’s obviously infected. We’ve been rinsing the area with cold water for 10 mins daily, as well as keeping the wound clean and protected with a softening lanolin creme. The area around the wound is hot to the touch but mobility doesn’t seem to be decreased.

He is currently getting a shot of 35ml penicillin daily (on day 2.) To date there has been no improvement and the swelling has gone down, but the heated area has increased. Also, the scab has fallen off and it looks like a blood blister underneath it. No pus yet. Appetite is good, eyes are clear, no sign of fever or lethargy.
I feel sick inside for the mistakes that were made with this horse. Is there anything else I can do to help clear this up and ease his discomfort?


Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:



I’m glad to hear that he was recovering, but sorry to hear of the relapse. It sounds like you are proceeding appropriately with the therapy. I suggest that you try to find a blanket with a more open withers, if you haven’t already. These usually are “cut out”, so that there is no coverage of the withers whatsoever. Also, you might try a type of underwear for blankets. These are very thin, slick, and tight-fitting, and usually cover only the shoulders/armpit, and have a “girth” (velcro) to hold them in place. Or, you could try a slinky (or sleezy), but make sure that it covers the withers. These will usually fit tight enough that there will be little to no motion, and they are slick enough that blankets just glide right over them, minimizing or eliminating pressure sores.


“After a recent trip packing in the mountains he developed a blister on his withers. “…


I have a 12 yr old QH gelding that we use for trail riding and as a packhorse. After a recent trip packing in the mountains he developed a blister on his withers. The saddle used was new and was not fitted to this horse. Furthermore, this horse has mutton withers and is quite pot bellied. The blister was slightly tender and in 4-5 days dried out, leaving what looks just like a blister you or I would get from an uncomfortable shoe. The dried skin on top is peeling away and revealing pink healthy skin beneath. The blister itself is somewhat tender, but there is no swelling in the spine or around the withers. No pus, foul smell, or heat – he was given a shot of long acting penicillin and the blister is cleaned daily with a syringe of warm water. I have also been keeping the area moist with a lanolin based antibiotic ointment. We have heard several explanations for this blister – it’s fistulous withers, it’s some “pine” condition (never heard of it), the horse is crippled… etc. What could this be? I suspect this is a severe saddle sore but I’m not sure. The horse’s mobility has not been affected and the horse has not been worked since the blister appeared. Any light you could shed on this would be great. If the horse can no longer be packed that’s fine, but I certainly want to avoid crippling him permanently.


Dr. Kimberly Gryl’s Answer:


From your description, it sounds like just a blister, and I don’t expect that it would cripple him permanently.  However, blisters under the saddle will take him out of work until they *completely* heal.  After that, they may be prone to re-blistering, as the scarred skin is never as good as the original skin.  The hair in that region will likely grow in white.  I recommend that before you use him again, find tack that is fitted to him, and he may need a breastplate or crupper (or both), to prevent slipping.  Even fitted tack may move forward or back, and can still cause rub sores.


“Today I noticed a slightly swollen area on the right side of her withers”…


Just bought my mare 6 weeks ago.  Today I noticed a slightly swollen area on the right side of her withers.  She is obviously cranky when you ride her.  I did a pre-purchase check on her and I know this wasn’t there then… I think her saddle fits fine. There is no bite mark, scrape or any other signs of injury?  Any ideas?  She is a 15-year-old quarter horse HYPP N/N


Dr. Jack Sales’ Answer:

Hi Laura,

The swelling you describe could be any number of things, but the most common possibility would involve a blow or bruising of the area. Making sure that the saddle does not put undue pressure over this area would be very important. If it does, you should not ride with a saddle until the swelling goes away and there is no more pain in the area. Another possibility would be a condition called fistulous withers, which is an infectious condition that can sometimes affect horses and comes up for no apparent reason. If it is this problem, the swelling will get worse and worse no matter what you do and finally it will break through the skin and drain pus, just like a boil. If the swelling does not seem to be going down on its own, in the next few days, I would have a Vet take a look at it. I wish I could be of more help and good luck. Dr. Sales

3 Responses to "Injured Withers"
  1. Donna says:

    I have a 6 year old gelding with a very high wither. We have tried several different saddle pads and now saddles. Last weeeknd his wither became sore again (using a very expensive thick pad) so the next day he felt fine and I rode a different saddle. It too caused severe irritation at this point, so much that his skin flinches like he’s got a horse fly on him or something. We put some wintergreen essential oils on it and he got a few days off. Rode again and same thing. He has never been sore from the trainer riding him until two days ago. I have determined it to be the pad and am switching back to my pulled wool pad. My question is, what can we do to alleviate this soreness? He is to the point where he anticipates that you are going to touch it and gets quite irritated, we did put a poultice all over his back and wither yesterday. He allowed it to be done but later got very irritated again. There are no blisters visible, or palpable, he does have a dry spot there like one one about to start but never did. Any other suggestions? Could ulcers also present like this? He is very flinchy when you try to touch him.
    Thank you in advance.

  2. Duane says:

    I recently taken my horse hunting with me and he got a sore on his withers(used wrong saddle blanket), it’s right in the center of his back so now that he’s on pasture he rolls on it pretty much every day I’ve tried all the ointments and sprays I can find he just rubs them off … Any solutions ?

  3. Cli Kenny says:

    My horse has a cut on his withers and its infected. I tried putting salt and water on it but is is just not working
    Do you have any thing I could do to clear this up fast
    Cliodhna Kenny


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