Merck Manual

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Pet Owner Version

Saddle Sores (Collar Galls) in Horses


Stephen D. White

, DVM, DACVD, University of California, Davis

Reviewed/Revised Oct 2019 | Modified Oct 2022
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This skin condition of horses is caused by the constant rubbing of poorly fitted saddles and harnesses. The area under the saddle of riding horses, or the shoulder area of horses driven in harness, is frequently the site of injuries to the skin and deeper soft and bony tissues.

Saddle sores, horse

Saddle sores, horse

Signs vary according to the depth of injury and the presence of any secondary infections. Sores affecting only the skin are characterized by inflammation; redness; the presence of bumps, cysts, or blisters; and finally skin tissue death. Frequently, the condition starts as an inflammation of the hair follicles; the follicles may become filled with pus. Affected areas show hair loss and are swollen, warm, and painful. The pus dries and forms crusts. Advanced sores are called galls. When the skin and underlying tissues are damaged more seriously, abscesses may develop. Severe damage to the skin and deeper tissues results in skin death. If the sores are not treated (and the cause corrected), deep abscesses, scarring, and localized loss of feeling may occur.

Identification and elimination of the offending portion of tack is more important than any other treatment. Wounds and inflammation of the skin of saddle and harness regions are treated as any other skin wounds. Absolute rest of the affected parts is necessary. During the early or acute stages, astringent packs are often prescribed. Chronic sores and those superficially infected may be treated by warm applications and appropriate antibiotics. Hematomas (pockets of bloody fluid) should be drained. Dead tissue should be removed surgically. If infections are present, antibiotics will be prescribed.

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