DEALING WITH ABSCESSES
As alarming as it is when your horse suddenly turns up almost three-legged lame, an abscess—a pus-filled pocket that forms when bacteria penetrate into the soft tissues inside the hoof—is one of the more benign diagnoses: Usually, it can be treated readily, and the horse returns to work in a week or two. Still, any injury to the interior tissues of the foot needs to be taken seriously and addressed promptly.
If you suspect your horse has a hoof abscess, call your veterinarian. Once the diagnosis is made, the treatment is fairly straightforward—the goal is to encourage the pus to drain. “The abscess needs to break out and drain, and always looks for an area of least resistance, which is generally the coronary band or out through a separation of the white line at the sole,” says Mike Pownall, DVM, of Campbellville, Ontario. “I poultice the foot in a wet diaper or Animalintex poultice. The constant wetness will soften the foot and help the abscess to drain.”
If an abscess does not resolve itself on its own within a few days, call in your veterinarian. “When it’s hard to get an abscess to break out and drain, the veterinarian may block/numb the foot so the horse isn’t feeling pain, and then have someone longe the horse,” says Julie Bullock, DVM, of Huddleston, Virginia. “Sometimes exercise and movement creates just enough pressure in the foot to help bring it to a head and pop out a little quicker.”
If all else fails, your veterinarian may opt to cut into the sole to create a channel for drainage, although that can complicate healing. “I always prefer using a poultice to paring away the sole to create drainage, because that leaves a hole in the sole,” says Pownall. “I rarely do that, because often the hole that is created causes more problems than the abscess, because it takes longer to heal and fill in again.”
Once the abscess has begun draining, it’s a good idea to continue with the soaking and/or poulticing to draw out all of the pus. It’s also important to protect the opening from further infection. “At first you can just put a bandage on the bottom of the foot, to protect it between treatments,” says Gail Conway, DVM, of Comanche, Texas. “Some people use a treatment plate that can be easily removed. This will protect the foot and it can be taken off for treatment.” Other options for protecting the foot while it heals include applying a regular hoof pad or using a boot.
Once the horse is sound again, it is usually OK to resume riding, as long as you take precautions to protect the foot. Let your horse ease back into more intense
work as the tissues in his foot continue to heal. “The horse will tell you when he’s ready,” Pownall says. “You don’t want to start out galloping around because there is still some damage there.” minimal shoes.”
Other measures for protecting a horse against stone bruises include applying one of the commercial products meant to help toughen the sole. “We tend to believe they help,” says Goodness. “Essentially, these are chemicals that dry the sole and keep it from becoming soft. We don’t know how much this helps, but it may be beneficial for certain horses.”
Wet, muddy turnout conditions soften hooves and predispose them to bruises. Avoiding mud is impossible at certain times of year in many areas of the country, but you can take steps to help keep your horse’s feet dry. Bringing him into a stall each day can give his feet a chance to dry out, and laying gravel or even rubber mats in turnout areas can offer him a respite from standing in the muck.
Hoof supplements, especially formulations that include biotin, are another measure that may help strengthen a horse’s hoof walls and soles---along with maintaining good general health, nutrition and weight. “Most of the time when we see a horse with a stone bruise it’s a flat-footed overweight horse,” Conway says. “Everything you can do to promote hoof health and stronger feet is all part of prevention.”
Painful, “ouchy” feet are no fun for your horse, or for you, when you have to limit your riding. But by taking steps to protect his hooves from the effects of hard impacts, you can make the most of your summer days in the saddle.
BREAKOUT: Treatment of hoof abscesses initially focuses on encouraging the pus to drain.