My older gelding suddenly came up very lame this past Monday. He has done this more times than I can count, due to his arthritis and his overall joint sensitivity, so I was not concerned in the least. I followed my usual program of a gram of bute for two to three days expecting the normal healing progress to occur. Instead, on Tuesday morning the lameness was not any better. In fact, I was afraid it was a little worse and I began to start going through the potential causes. He stood very cautiously on his front end and walked very lightly on his toes. I was nervous it was founder. However, this is not spring and there is absolutely no lush grass. No grass, in fact. He also gets little grain for breakfast and dinner. I have heard of horses developing Laminitis when they ate grass high in sugar in the fall, but I still had my doubts. I kept this in the back of my mind until it could be ruled out. After another day of lameness, I decided to call the vet. I text messaged one of our vet friends and asked if she’d be available that day and explained the situation. “Is it an abscess?,” she asked. OMG. Why hadn’t I thought of that? Of course, my mind always races to the worst prognosis, when in reality it made so much more sense for it to simply be an abscess. I cancelled my vet appointment and decided to treat his hoof for an abscess before dropping a lot of cash to have the vet come out.
Here’s what I did:
1. I first determined which foot had the abscess. Sometimes it’s easy to see which foot is affected, but in this case they both looked strained. However, upon further examination, I found that his front left hoof had considerable more heat and an elevated pulse. You can find the digital pulse of your horse by lightly touching the side of his foot, halfway down his pastern. I also was able to feel the pulse between the bulbs of his heel, on the backside of his hoof.
2. I made a warm water bath of iodine and Epsom salt. I put enough salt in the tub to the point that no more would dissolve.
3. I soaked his affected hoof for 20 minutes, and I gave him some hay to occupy himself with so he would standstill.
4. Then I waited.Take a book, or a magazine. Trust me. It gets boring.
5. After 20 minutes, I dried off his foot with paper towels and packed the hoof with a poultice. This was a store-bought poultice, but you can also just make your own by combining iodine and Epsom salt until it forms a paste. Make sure the hoof is as clean as possible before you put this on. You can see some manure on his shoe from where he set his foot down momentarily, but the actual sole was clean.
6. I then covered the hoof in baby diaper. This is the best trick EVER. They are fantastic to keep in your first aid kit for times like this. I used a size 5.
7. Lastly, I covered the hoof in vet wrap for durability.
I planned on repeating this process later in the day, but when I went out to feed him in the evening he was loping and bucking! I pulled off the diaper and though I didn’t see an obvious area where the abscess had drained, it was completely evident that the abscess had come to the surface and drained on its own. That’s the cool thing about abscesses; soundness is restored almost immediately after the abscess bursts. The next day, I had my farrier look it over and sure enough, he found a hole under his shoe, near his white line, where it had drained. He packed it with more poultice and covered it with cotton before replacing the shoe again.
***Please keep in mind that I am NOT a veterinarian. This is how I’ve learned to treat abscesses from my own experience and research, and under the guidance of vets and farriers. If you are at all concerned your horse is foundering, go ahead and call the vet. Founder and abscesses can look so similar. When in doubt, call a professional.