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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.

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