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Copyright 1999-2004 by Holly A. Covey. All Rights Reserved


Save The Hoof, Save The Horse

By Holly Covey

"I want to thank you for your wonderful e mail regarding hoof abscesses. We have now taken off the shoes and are meticulously cleaning and bandaging as you advised. Desi is so much better and more comfortable. We can see holes in her sole but nothing much is draining out yet. Yesterday for the first time in ages she was able to bear weight on her left [worse] hoof and raise and hold up her right hoof. She is also a lot less sore on her hind end. I am really, really very grateful. Thanks a million, Carolyn"

This is quite a long e-mail, I'm sorry to go on so. But I thought it might help you and I wanted to be sure and give you as much detail as I could. Sounds like you've got an abcess in that foot and you need to get that shoe OFF. It's keeping in the infection and you could lose the horse's sole if you don't get it where you can treat it.

There's no sense soaking it with the oakum packing and full pad on, the beneficial effects of the epsom salts won't get into the bad area. I work with tons of bad feet everyday! But I caution you to check what I'm telling you with your vet. ANYtime a horse is lame it is serious, especially with oozing pus. This horse could lose the entire sole of the its foot and founder if you don't get on it and I don't understand the shoer and vet not being more concerned, especially if it's bad enough for antibiotic treatment.

You are on the right track. But an abcess requires fixing from INSIDE (antibiotics) and OUTSIDE too.

You can take that shoe off yourself, you don't need a blacksmith to do it, get a hammer, a screw driver with a flat head, a pair of big pliers. Set yourself up near where you plan to wash the foot, because once you get it off, you need to LIMIT walking her around on it, as dirt will get in it and make it worse.While she's standing, pry up the clinches with the screwdriver and hammer, you may have to hold the foot in your legs like the black smith does. As soon as you get the clinches up, tap the shoe back against the hoof to get a little bit of edge up on the nails so you can grab with the pliers or claw end of the hammer. Pull the nails out one at a time. Rest if you have to, but don't put that foot down if it's half done, she'll just step the nails back in. Nippers work best. Work out the nails then pry the shoe up off the sole. Don't break up the wall if you can, and work from one side around to the other, prying up 1/2 at a time and it should pop off, you can pull the remaining nail or two out by grasping the shoe by hand.

Now you've got it off, look at the sole carefully. You might see a big abcess, a small pinhole, or nothing but a black sole. The abcess hole on the coronary band outside might also exit pus into the white line of the wall next to the sole. It might be hot to the touch, or mushy looking and feeling. Don't cut into it or scrape it, WASH it first in warm water. You're probably not going to get hot water at it first, it probably HURTS. Just run the water over it and let her stand in the bucket, clean it with your hand or a washcloth. Wash it when you can get the water running on it with IODINE soap, or anti-bacterial soap if you have it. Lots of water.

Now that it's cleaner, Look for soft spots or holes that pus comes out of. That's infection big time and you've got to get it dried up and stopped. Soak twice a day in hot epsom salts, as hot as you can get her to stand in. Start with lukewarm and add Hot to it. 1/2-cup or so of epsom salts to a gallon, that's strong but you need it strong. 20-min. or so. If she won't stand, pour the epsom salt water into a baby diaper like a Pamper and tape on the foot and tie her up for 20-30 min, keep pouring hot water in the Pamper. (The next size up from newborn usually works fine.)

Next, after the soaking. Dry the foot with a towel that is CLEAN. Wipe with clean paper towels and throw away afterwards. Wash your hands, too, you don't want to spread that infection. Apply some iodine or something that will DRY those holes up. Plenty of it, squirt it right up in the hole as far as you can. Even quicklime that you use in a stall is OK. The idea is to disinfect as much as you can reach, the infection increases itself so you try to stop it from growing.

CAREFULLY bandage it up after the iodine. Even if no holes in sole, iodine it to keep it hard and clean. You've got to plug the holes with cotton balls soaked in iodine, then wrap the foot in thin cotton or gauze next to the surface (that just keep the balls in the holes), then cover the whole foot with poultice inside and out, at least 1/4-inch thick layer.

The easy way to do this is take a roll of plastic wrap. Roll out about a 2' piece, without cutting it off, fold it back on itself, back and forth, you will need about 10-15 thicknesses. Now you have a flat layered piece of plastic wrap. Place three BIG daubs of poultice right in the middle and smear like tuna salad on a sandwich. Lift up her foot, wrap the whole thing around it. You've covered the outside. Now take one daub of poultice (I use big cheap wooden spoons or your hand) and place in the sole over the cotton ball or gause. Take one more piece of plastic and cover, wraping it all around the foot once or twice, then cover the whole thing with the cut-off end of a plastic feed sack for outer protection. Tape it up with duct tape or electrical tape.

Have EVERYTHING to hand once you start, as you cannot put the foot down or bacteria will get in it. Now she may need to be confined or tied up with this one so she doesn't kick it off. Being in a stall is best but if she's out with others, or if you isolate her she gets excited, better just throw everybody some hay and see if you can't get them to stay quiet and not run around too much or pen up. If you don't have poultice, you can make it with clay, a little wheat bran or flour, and epsom salt, I haven't made it in a while, I use the commercial mix usually. Change the dressing once a day or twice if you have time. You should see the infection start to dry up within two days or so using this method. The key is to keep it clean and use the right combination of soft and wet, hard and dry.

We want to DRY up the infection, and harden the foot so the soft, mushy tissue isn't fuel for the infection to spread, and we want to clean the foot. One caution: you may have to cutout a portion of the foot to let the abcess out. ALWAYS use extreme caution. DON'T let anyone "carve" on that foot too much, horn is very hard to grow out and takes a lot of time. One swipe with a sharp hoof knife can cost you 6 months of growth, so try and drain this out without paring away too much. But it's very hard to tell without seeing it what is exactly going on, I just hope explaining my method will help.

List of Supplies:



Anti-bacterial soap or iodine soap

Hot water, sponge or paper towels

Dry hand towel for you

Gauze wrap of some kind


Duct tape

Corner of plastic feed sack, cut so that it can be wrapped around the foot

Cotton Balls



Plastic Wrap (Walmart house brand works great)