This has been one of the worse seasons that I can remember for foot complaints in horses. There are several possible causes for the dramatic sudden lameness that owners observe in their horses, but the most common is foot abscesses.

An abscess is caused by bacteria that gain access to the laminae tissue through cracks or nail pricks in the hoof wall. Horses with hoof wall separation due to seedy toe or have laminitis, are particularly at risk. If Clostridium tetani, a common bacteria of horse manure, is the culprit horses could develop the very serious disease tetanus or ‘lockjaw’.

Why are some seasons worse than others? Abscesses are generally related to horses kept on pastures in wet conditions after a dry period; chronic laminitis occurs where there is continual damage to the laminae; recently shod horses that may have had a nail prick into the underlying lamina; or a known history of a penetration of the sole with a foreign body.

Generally, the horse appears profoundly lame in usually one foot. The hoof usually appears warm and the pulse in the affected foot is increased. Swelling may be present and if left untreated, a sinus may form in the laminae and open up over the coronary band. All in all, a very painful experience for the horse.

Treatment involves finding the soft spot in the sole and draining the abscess. I recommend soaking the foot once or twice a day in Epsom salts (1 TB of salt to 1L of warm water for about 10-15 minutes). A poultice is applied with either castor oil or a mixture of iodine and sugar and changed daily. The horse also needs a tetanus vaccination that can be purchased over the counter at your local veterinarian. For a well draining abscess, antibiotics are usually not required. However, there are occasionally some fairly horrible abscesses that required antibiotics and intensive treatment. Discussions with your local veterinarian are strongly recommended. Also, remember the pain relief in the form of phenylbutazone or Devils Claw, White Willow Bark, or Meadowsweet.

Severe acute lameness can also be caused by other conditions including fractures of the pedal bone, navicular disease, laminitis, osteitis, corns (subsolar bruises). Whatever the cause, it is a very painful condition for the horse and needs immediate attention, which may include the services of your local veterinarian.

Several food supplements may improve the health of the equine hoof but is in no way a substitution for veterinary advice. For improving the healthy hoof, I highly recommend adding Rosehips to the daily feed for the high Vitamin C content and circulatory stimulation. Along with Rosehips, I routinely add premium grade organic Australian seaweed meal for trace elements, Brewers yeast for the high Vitamin B content and Dolomite (only if you are not topdressing your padlock with Lime). If you horse has soft hooves, or basically poor feet, I find the use of Comfrey oil (1 c comfrey leaf plus 2 c of Olive oil. Cook in slow cooker for 24-36 hours, strain, and store in glass jars) applied to the hoof once a day results in outstanding improvement of the hoof wall. Do not apply to open wounds.

The old adage is an “ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is definitely true with horse hoof care.

Dr Ruby Petersen

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