“ My horse has broken his leg!”…WRONG ….he has an abscess. This is a typical summer time call here at the Farriers’ National Research Center and School. The horse owner will see their horse out to pasture, unable to bear weight on a limb, which instills panic. Why are we receiving a vast amount of calls on abscesses this time of year? To start with, horse owners have more time and better weather to be out enjoying their equine companions. With this nice summer weather, also come ideal conditions for abscesses to form. Too much of a good thing is not always that good. If the hoof becomes too dry it will crack allowing bacteria to travel up into the hoof wall and sole. Too much moisture can cause the same thing if your horse stands around in muddy damp areas. With summer humidity, the morning dew is enough to cause a horse’s hoof to become too soft and sponge like. This condition is prime for dirt, bacteria and fungi to be worked through the sole and hoof walls. Once worked in, there is no way out. And, most of the time it will occur in the front hooves. The grime becomes locked in and begins to fester. The fester begins brewing, creating pus and heat from the rotting flesh locked within, causing great pressure against the hoof wall. This is similar to a bruised finger or toenail on you. Anyone having experience with this can testify as to how unpleasant this is. But climate is hardly the only culprit.
Riding a horse over rough, rocky terrain is a leading cause of abscesses. This is enhanced if the horse is not properly shod. Remember, “the main reason for shoeing a horse is to keep the bony column in alignment, so when the foot strikes the ground, the entire bony column including the spine, equally absorbs the concussion.”
If the horse is out of balance the weight will not be distributed equally all around the hoof. This will cause a single area of the hoof to bear excessive weight. If the hoof happens to land on a hard and or sharp object you can bet it will bruise or puncture the sole. Often times the bruising or punctures will abscess. If you are riding your horse barefoot the chances of abscesses greatly increase. Just like most people, most horses’ feet do not strike the ground evenly due to their conformation. This in turn will create uneven wear, which causes the horse to become unbalanced. Riding your horse barefoot will create chipped and cracked hooves, which is another easy way for abscesses to form. If you are in the market for a new farrier it is important to check their certification card and expiration to ensure they are continuing their education in farrier science. An untrained farrier may nail quick, pare out excessive amounts of sole or cut too deeply into live sole creating an environment for abscesses to form.Often the abscess can go misdiagnosed and untreated. A trauma to the coronet band and hoof area such as; rapping a fence while jumping, fly stomping, twisting a shoe, excessive pawing and forging are all capable of creating an abscess.
To see a horse with a full-blown abscess is quit dramatic. Often he will not bear weight on the affected limb. Usually the hoof will be warm to the touch with a rapid pulse. A certified farrier can diagnose the abscess by paring out the hoof and using a pair of hoof testers. Often times the farrier will bore out the abscess to relieve the pressure. Treatment may include warm water and Epsom salt soaks making sure to soak up to the coronet band, ichthamol packed and wrapped both on the sole as well as on the outside of the hoof wall including the coronet band to draw the abscess out. The abscess is just as likely to “blow-out” at the coronet band as it will through the sole. The abscess pus will have a hideous odor; once you have experienced this odor you will recognize it from any other hoof related ailment. A word of caution, do not get the pus on you or your clothing, it is very hard to wash this pungent odor off.
Once the abscess has been drained you should see immediately relief. At this time you must continue soaking the hoof with Epsom salt for several days. This will keep the wound flushed out and draining which will help prevent further infection. Your horse may remain sore and out of commission for several weeks. Often the area around the abscess is tender and it takes time to toughen up and heal.
What can I do to prevent this from happening? Use your certified farrier regularly for he or she is the caretaker of the lower limb. To keep the hoof from becoming too dry or too damp use a quality hoof dressing. If you are unsure about what product is right for your horse, ask your farrier their recommendation. Don’t be a cheapskate, if you are riding your horse regularly, put shoes on him!!
We are pointing to a blown out abscess on a dry, cracked and unbalanced hoof. Note the overall poor condition of the hoof; this horse was being ridden barefoot.
Casey is seen here on Horseshoe’n Time, explaining the process
of boring out the debris from an old abscess
One of our case studies at the FNRC is this Morgan with severe and unattended hoof cracks that caused abscesses in both front feet. Without corrective shoeing this 21 year old cannot walk and is very tender. With shoes he can run,s play and be ridden lightly.
Here we are explaining the importance of balance related to the natural angle, pastern and conformation of the horse with guest farrier Clint Sides of Alabama.
Our school helps owners and the public learn more about every day hoof care and more shoeing topics than you could ever imagine! With the assistance of certified farriers from the BWFA we can also bring all of this information to the Annual Convention.