Mallenders and Sallenders
Table of Contents
What are Mallenders and Sallenders?
Mallenders and sallenders is a little-known condition affecting draft breeds, specifically those with feathering on their legs. Hyperkeratosis, or over-production of keratin, causes thickened scabs to appear on the back of the knee and the front of the hock joints. These scabs can crack, causing painful sores that are at risk of secondary infection. While there is no cure, mallenders and sallenders can be treated.
How Mallenders and Sallenders affect Horses
Many people have never heard of mallenders and sallenders. These two similar-sounding words are from the 1700-1900’s and are seldom used today. They basically mean the same thing—thickened, crusty, scabbed skin on horse’s legs. Once they appear, they can be difficult to get rid of. Described as cracks in the skin over the knee and hock joints, the skin re-opens as the joints flex, making the scabs difficult to heal. Mallenders refers to this skin condition on the front legs, and sallenders is the same condition but affects the rear legs. A more recognizable name for this condition would be describing it as “a variety of eczema around the knee of a horse’s foreleg or hock.1”
Mallenders presents on the rear part of the horse’s knee. Generally found where there is a bend in the knee, one source described the symptoms as “a scurfy eruption. 2” Sallenders is the same condition, but on the front part of the hock in the rear leg.
Equine Evolution & Anatomy
This condition is little known and the sources of information don’t always agree. It’s important to fact-check sources and ask questions; if something sounds wrong, it might be—Always consult your veterinarian if you have questions. Never try home remedies that you wouldn’t put on your own skin; when in doubt, check with an equine vet.
For example, one website recommended mixing red oxide of mercury with yellow paraffin, then giving the horse a laxative followed by tonics. This is not recommended in modern day medicine—please do not follow advice like this on the internet! A laxative is not going to help heal a leg wound; if anything it will dehydrate your horse and increase the risk of colic.
During the course of research for this article, another source incorrectly confused mallenders and sallenders with ‘chestnuts.’ Understanding basic equine anatomy can help you diagnose problems, communicate with your vet, and weed out misinformation.
Horses have evolved over thousands of years; the oldest equines had five digits. Modern-day horses have just one; the hoof. Digits one and five are completely lost; two and four form splint bones in the leg which eventually fuse to the back of the cannon bone4. The chestnut and ergot are two spots of rough skin growth without hair on the horse’s legs. These were theorized to be missing toe digits but this has been disproven.
A horse has four chestnuts. These are patches of thickened skin on the inside of the legs (both front and hind) where no hair grows. The skin may appear dry. In some cases, it can accumulate to the point that it makes a “horn-like projection.3” Usually, the thickened skin sloughs off naturally. Sometimes, it needs a little help. This extra material is easier to remove when it is wet and softened, such as after a bath. It should peel off with minor pressure from your fingers; when in doubt, ask an experienced horse person for help. You should never use tools to attempt to cut off the extra skin—you could accidently cut into healthy tissue. If unsure, some farriers will trim chestnuts for you.
This is an example of an overgrown chestnut; it needs to be trimmed. Due to the size of this one, it may be advisable to ask your farrier for help.
Another similar skin growth is called an ergot. Most horses have ergots—some have four, others two, few have none. Ergots are a similar texture to chestnuts, but on the bottom of the fetlock joint. You can also use your fingernails to peel these away; it’s easier when they are wet and softened. Don’t twist them—there are a lot of nerve endings in this are of the leg and you could do soft tissue damage. You could also ask your farrier to trim these as well.
What Causes Mallenders in horses?
The cause of mallenders and sallenders is excessive keratin production (hyperkeratosis), however the root cause of this overproduction is unknown. Keratin is a fibrous structural protein and the building block for hair, skin, and hooves in horses. This condition presents most frequently in draft breeds or breeds with feathering on the legs, as this extra hair growth requires additional keratin. Too much keratin, however, can lead to a horse developing mallenders and/or sallenders. A few of these breeds include:
This condition is more common in breeds with this genetic characteristic
How to Treat Mallenders and Sallenders
While there is no known cure, these conditions can be treated and managed. Treatment can vary depending on severity and owner preferences.
Wash the Area
Wash the area to keep it clean. You need to minimize the possibility of a secondary (bacterial or fungal) infection.
Apply a topic ointment to keep the area from drying out and cracking further. Moisturizing properties are important when selecting a product.
Several horse owners recommended baby oil or Vaseline as moisturizing agents.
Another recommendation is Equiderma Skin lotion; this should remove buildup and help address underlying issues.
Don't Pick the Scabs
Don’t pick the scabs—let the ointment soften them so they fall off on their own.
Adjust their Diet
Some sources recommend using a feed supplement to boost the body’s immunity and help with the healing process. Feeding a probiotic can help aid in digestion and overall health of the horse. Always do your research on supplements, especially probiotics! Pre and probiotics are sensitive to heat, so certain manufacturing processes can render the supplement ineffective.
Fortunately, this little-known condition doesn’t affect a large number of horses. While there is no way to effectively prevent mallenders and sallenders, it can be treated and managed. Always consult your veterinarian to confirm diagnosis and put together an effective treatment plan that will work for you and your horse.
Collins Dictionary https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/sallenders
Biology Online https://www.biology-online.org/dictionary/Sallenders
Wallace Monthly https://books.google.com/books?id=BN1IAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA105&lpg=PA105&dq=mallenders+and+sallenders+definition&source=bl&ots=XkkMefzXBi&sig=ACfU3U3UkZta4XEcFXqyJsraOS4EfG0QCQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiQitiMt83nAhWHQs0KHQIoCFc4ChDoATABegQIChAB#v=onepage&q=mallenders%20and%20sallenders%20definition&f=false
The Horse; Equine Evolution: https://thehorse.com/149565/where-did-horses-extra-toes-go/
Pro Equine Groom: Chestnuts and Ergots https://www.proequinegrooms.com/tips/grooming/chestnuts-and-ergots
Equine Evolution diagram: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Equine_evolution.jpg
Owner-recommended treatments: https://forums.horseandhound.co.uk/threads/mallenders-best-treatment.708427/