Hoof abscess question

Question: I have a 20-year-old TB gelding who, after having unbalanced, cracked hooves, has come a long way with corrective trimming from an experienced and reputable farrier. While his hooves have improved dramatically in a year, he still has slightly flat feet and his hoof wall, I am told, is quite thin.

The problem is that at the start of winter he developed an abscess that needed to be dug out by a vet twice. After the first scraping didn’t provide any relief or results, at the second visit the vet went very overboard digging out the hoof and told me to give him a month of paddock rest until the wall/sole had healed. About two weeks after this my old boy was back on track not limping at all (just had a raw-looking hole!) but I did as the vet said and left him to completely recover for another two weeks.
Then, come spring he has started limping on the OTHER front leg and it appears to be another abscess. I soaked it in Epsom salts and kept it clean and dry and the limping has basically stopped – he is just very tender on hard ground and he isn’t 100% walking evenly. There is a 1cm crack in his sole that has no discharge but seems quite deep, and I am wondering if this is the reason he went lame?
Also how can I prevent (if possible) an abscess altogether – is there a supplement or oil that can help? He has a good diet, excellent foot care and is in good overall health.
Michelle, Northland

Answer: Thanks for your question Michelle and sorry to hear about the recent lameness problems.

Usually when a horse has an abscess brewing, it gets worse until such time as it’s been released. Often the severity and subsequent lameness will increase rapidly. It may be that the crack in the sole is the entry point into the foot for some debris that has been the initial cause of an abscess if that’s what the current lameness issue is.

Alternatively, the crack you see could indeed be the exit point for an abscess. If not immediately identified and treated, the abscess often travels around the foot in an attempt to find a place to escape. It’s common for this to be travel around the solar area but we also see cases where the abscess has tracked up the hoof wall and burst out at the coronary band. We’ll usually notice a discharge from the exit point and if the crack you see is dry then it’s unlikely, although not impossible, for this to be an exit point for a recent abscess.

It sounds like you’re on the right lines when it comes to prevention of abscesses. Ensuring a regular routine for farrier visits, a balanced, suitable diet and paying close attention to the feet is a good start. Anything that improves the quality and strength of the horny hoof may help to further prevent abscesses. This includes the use of supplements and quality hoof dressings. Keeping an eye on the environment your horse is living in may also be wise. In wet conditions, the hoof can become saturated and softer then make it easier for debris to enter the foot.

Unfortunately some horses seem to be more prone to abscesses than others and a horse with flat feet and thin walls could be more susceptible. If this has been another abscess then it may be that you’ve had a run of bad luck recently. A vet should also be called to treat the abscess and it’s important to discuss with them the need for a tetanus booster or other follow up care.

David Hankin Dip.WCF

First published in NZ Horse & Pony Magazine (Ask the Experts), December 2010