Midwest Horse Welfare Foundation, Inc. ----Discussion Forum

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Heather H
Looking for advice on how to treat abscesses.

Recently bought a 10-year-old Arabian horse with my sister. (I'm 30 and had grown up around horses so am familiar with horses - just not abcesses). He's had shoes on his whole life (was shown Arab circuit) but we are trying to get him to go barefoot. Slight club foot on left front but moves okay. His shoes got pulled a couple days after we got him in early August. He wasn't ridden in 5 years so he got sore and seemed off so we gave him a few weeks rest (no riding) in mid September. He had swollen heel bulbs a week ago which I thought were due to Cavallo boots we got for him not fitting right & spinning around. (We had tried them on & lunged him in the boots and he seemed less off than he was barefoot). Thursday last week (Sept. 30) farrier came to trim him again and right away noticed he burst an abscess on his front right leg. When I was out there Sunday I think he blew an abscess on the left bulb of the right front heel too. I read that taking shoes off leads the hoof to detox and abcesses are common. Anyone else pulled shoes off their horse & dealt with this?

Below are photos of the burst abscess. What is the best way to treat it?


I didn't do anything with it last week Friday or Saturday. I soaked it in water & put on Sore No More last night (Sunday). Tonight I soaked foot in epsom salt and then mixed up a recipe for sugardine I found online in some forums. (1/4 cup iodine with 1/2 cup sugar). I put that on both heel bulbs, put gauze over it and then yellow vet wrap and then duct tape to help keep it in place. I plan to get out there every night this week to change the wraps, soak it and put on more sugardine. The horse was cantering around and feeling good on Sunday when we let him loose (barefoot) in the indoor. Previously was moving short, almost stumbling and seemed off on right front when he was just barefoot so the abscess was probably causing him to be off for a week week prior to it rupturing open.


His front left heels almost looked bruised as well...these are not nearly as swollen as the right bulbs were and don't feel very tender to touch or hot. I was pushing on them tonight & the horse seemed fine - not in pain. Not sure if the left front will end up with abscesses too?

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My gelding had a abscess earlier this summer it had already blew open, i had the vet come out she said once its blown out the only thing she would do is soak it in warm epson salt for a week. i asked if i should wrap it she said no cause know its draining you want it to stay open and not covered. vet said just soak for a week and if he was still off then call her back. he was fine after a week. i just took off his shoes for the winter so i will see if he gets another abscess. i never had a horse have abscesses after taking the shoes off. Good Luck

Hi Heather, sorry you are having to go through this. 

It is pretty common with horses who have had shoes on for a long time to go through this period.  Many years ago my horse came to me having had shoes on a good portion of his life, and I went through abscess heck with him for some time. 

One of the really important things is that the hoof trimming is a good balanced trim and he is walking evenly on his feet and it is a good balanced surface.  The feet need to harden up as well.  The sugardine (we just talked about that on this forum too and there is a thread under "hoof poultices" on that) will help harden up the feet some.  It sounds like the boots rubbing may have caused some kind of insult to his heels to cause some problems there.  Did you say he had an abscess blow out of his leg too? 

The soaking is a good thing and will help flush things out.  You want that drained out and flushed and clean.  Do the poultices after you know it's drained out well. 

What did your vet recommend?  I would have your vet take a look and see because it can be hard to give really good advice on the internet without actually seeing what is going on.  But the soaking is a good thing, keeping those boots off that may not be fitting him properly, good balanced trim, and then the poultices to help harden up the feet.  Adding a good biotin supplement can help as well. 

Best of luck on the feet!  Hopefully they clear up soon, it can take some time to get there. 
Sharon Potter
From the pictures, I'd be more inclined to say the boots rubbed sores on the bulbs....very common.  The pics don't look like blown abcesses to me, but again, I'm not there looking at the feet in person.
Going from being shod for a long time to suddenly barefoot can be a tough transition for some horses....and a few horses do need shoes.  Barefoot is great if they can do it, but for me the comfort and health of the horse comes first.  Shod if they need shoes, barefoot if they don't. 
Hope your horse heals up soon...sending healing wishes your way!

Laurie L.
We never wrap when there is an abscess like that.  Soaking in epsom salts and keeping them in a clean environment for a few days is all that is necessary.

Most of our horses that we shoe have no problems for the months that they are without shoes.  We do have one gelding who has abscesses when shoes are pulled, and we keep him shod with pads as a result.  He is comfortable and that's what matters. 

I'm surprised that no one noticed the horse was so off until the abscess burst.  Is that because he was so sore without shoes that it was impossible to tell?  Perhaps our horses are all just babies, we generally have the farrier out so quickly that he has a hard time FINDING the abscess to cut it out!  As a matter of fact, he's actually commented on the fact that either theall 7 horses are babies or we're watching them walk too closely, lol.  But whenever we've called him out, he has found a small abscess.  Then it's generally just a 24 hour soak/clean and they are good to go. 

Hope he heals quickly for you. 
Sharon, that is what we were trying to figure out by the pics too, it just looks like injury, not abscess blown. 

Laurie, that is what I didn't mention about my horse who had a few abscesses....never once did an abscess blow out without him being dead lame from something less than the size of a pea way before it ever came out.  Abscesses are really painful generally.  Again, this leads me to believe maybe these weren't abscesses. 

I also agree with Sharon on the point she made regarding some horses just needing shoes.  Sometimes you will run across a horse who is just going to need shoes, but I wish you luck on your conversion and hopefully he can do well. 
Sharon Potter
Just to give my reasoning behind thinking it's rubs from the boots: How common would it be for two abcesses to blow out on both bulbs of one foot in the same location, with matching irritation on the opposite foot as well?   And as Karen mentioned, abcesses come with noticeable lameness. That, in conjunction with photos that look more like rubs than blown abcesses is what leads me to the boots being the cause.
Heather H
Thanks for the feedback everyone!

To clarify: The horse was starting to have a slight limp and look slightly off every few steps the first week of September so we stopped riding and haven't ridden him since. He was moving shorter typically in his right front leg. We used the Cavallo boots on him about 3 times earlier last week to lunge him for 20 minutes so see if then he was less ouchy than just plain bare feet. The boots seemed to help but he was still taking shorter strides on his front right leg. After taking the boots off, the hair on his leg looked like they rubbed slightly but both heel bulbs were intact, although the boots may have been rubbing them too because they did look dark then.

Last week Thurs (Sept. 30) is when the farrier came out to trim him & said it looked like a burst abscess on his right front. The farrier did point out the boots were round and the horse has has more oblong feet so it is possible the boots were twisting and rubbing on the bulbs of his heels when they were on causing the dark "bruising" look effect. However, the bulbs in that right front were puffy and had heat in them prior to Thursday morning so I think it was abscesses working their way out on that foot and that is why he was off for a few weeks. Plus, he has oozy crud on his heel bulb that Thursday morning which he didn't have Tuesday night so I think it burst Wed. Sept. 29th at some point. It is hard to tell in the picutres. The good news is that he was trotting around the indoor tonight barefoot and wasn't limping at all which makes me think it was an abcess developing for weeks in that hoof & that lead him to being off and now that it burst, he is finally sound.

Shoeing - We do realize that he may need shoes so if the barefoot option doesn't end up working out over the next few months, we know we'll put front shoes back on him so he is comfortable. He is on a regular trimming schedule of 6-8 weeks. He has been on a biotin supplement for the past 3 weeks. Our fall vet visit for shots for the whole barn is getting scheduled for late October but if he ends up going lame again, we'll call the vet to come out sooner to look at his hooves.
Some good observations already made..... the boots may or may not have contributed but the comments of the bulbs being warm/hot, puffy and 'dark', plus crusty all are signs of a boot rub, some are obvious right away and some not. This all may be secondary to a brewing abscess and even though the boots rubbed they probably helped soften the hoof so the abscess could 'escape'. As someone else mentioned an abscess usually presents as '3 legged' (not weighting the leg) until it 'pops' and then immediate relief.....the good news is your horse is sound again and it sure sounds like you are thoughtful in the next steps.
I've looked carefully at the photos and combining that with the history of a show Arab always shod (and probably a big tall foot) I see a hoof that is/has been contracted for a long time. That 'V' shape of the hairline at the heel bulbs is an indicator as is the crack/fissure in the back of the foot and the walls of the hoof are pretty vertical.......all common things with a life time of shoes because the rigid shoe does not allow for expansion of the heel. It's no wonder  horses have difficulty when shoes are pulled.
Often they don't have good depth of strong sole and get bruising of the corium just from moving around on ground the foot isn't ready for...and bingo, abscess. I think Karen mentioned how important a good farrier is and one that appreciates the difference between trimming a foot for shoeing and trimming for transitioning to barefoot can be hard to find.
Good fitting boots can be the answer to our tenderfoot horses.....some are fine on grass but mince over stones. Good boots are about the same cost as one or two shoeings and last a couple of seasons at least. Even some top endurance riders are going boots/barefoot...pretty impressive.


Gaby had the same problem before soaking with epsonsalt was the remedy but if you wait to long you will have to treat with Penicelline!  We soaked her feet 3 times a day and it worked!

Mary H.

We recently went through the abcess "process" with an OTTB here. Man was he sore.  It finally burst (we were soaking daily with epsom salts and warm water) and it was right at the tip of the frog.  Soaked for a few more days and he seems fine now.  A friend told me that she had two horses blow out abcesses on their heel bulbs.  She soaked and then dried, covered with ichthammol and wrapped the foot.  I think these abcesses are the most painful things a horse can have.  Good luck with your horse Heather!

Nikki G
I just want to point out, through my own bad experiance with hoof problems., I had bought a gelding who had been shod because he owner did a lot of barrel racing with him and hauled a lot. She did tell me that when she wasn't running him, she took shoes off, so I did that right away, he didn't need them and I couldn't afford the extra expense. Anyways, when I did run him, he would do just awsome all day, then would randomly start bucking like crazy. I couldn't for the life of me figure it out. I put shoes back on, tried orthipedic saddle pads, got a treeless saddle, you name it I did it. Well finally, after giving him a year off, I had a natural hoof farrier come out and look at his feet. My current farrier had been spending the time to fix his feet, which the previous owner's farrier had ruined, but we had ruled out that as a problem, no cracks, sore spots abcess etc. When the natural hoof farrier came out she instantly pointed out that he had cracks going up the back of all four heels. I had already had the vet check them out and they figured they we're just dry and cracking. She stuck the hoof pick into one of the cracks and he instantly pinned his ears back and got very upset. He ended up having a bacterial infection in all 4 feet. I treated them twice a day with Dry Cow, it's for mastities(sp?) but it works. I now have no problems with him at all.
the bruises that your horses have came from Cavallo Simple Boots. I just ran into the same problem with my horse, although not to the same extent as you. Location and shape of the cracks are exactly as on your photos, accompanied by heating of the bulbs and tenderness. I also noticed rub marks on the backs of the boots. The problem showed after about 5-6 short rides/turnouts and the horse showed no lameness.
Thank you for posting this, good to know I am not alone!
How is your horse feeling now?

Heather H

Thanks Diana for posting. The tender spots heeled and he was sound a few weeks after the post. (And I was able to keep him barefoot and not have to put back on shoes). I haven't used the Cavallo boots since but I do think they were part of problem. I was trying to look online to see if anyone had the same problem I did (bruised heel bulbs) and I did find a handful of comments in a few other horse chat forums. I think the Cavallo Simple Boots are just too round and wide for my horse's hooves.

Hey! Haze went through this exact same thing except on the sole of his foot. He's very flat footed and prone to brusing. We had him shod and then pulled them and he bruised his foot almost immediately afterwards. The first time I delt with it by soaking in warm water miked with epsom salt, much like you did. I was told to put enough salt in so that when you swish it around to dissolve it, there's a tiny bit left that hasn't dissolved (super-saturate it). Then the sugar-iodine patch. Just make a paste (nothing too watery or too dry) and slap her on there. Don't worry about measurements of how much iodine and sugar to use. Then, when you duct tape it, I'd advise to not do it like you have in your picture. When you duct tape the whole foot like that, the pressure, no matter how small you think it is, presses down on the coronary band and cuts off blood flow. That's probably what is keeping it from healing as quick and could cause further problems if you continue to wrap it that way. (I wrapped it that way at first too, and the barn owner hurried out to the barn ASAP and cut it off. She's a vet tech and told me all this stuff I'm telling you.)

The second bruising of Haze's feet was after we pulled his shoes, but he got over that one by himself fairly quickly.

Good luck with the new horse! I hope he's ok!
Thank you for the formula for an abscess. I was able to use it for my Rocky Mountain horse.  I was not sure how to help her, but your information was helpful. Thank you again.
Lisa B.
I found that soaking in Epsom salts was a tremendous relief to my horse. I used rubber feeding bowls from the ag store to soak in. They are the perfect diameter and depth for my horse.

After a twenty minute soak I put on a pair of Cavallo Simple Boots to keep dirt and manure from packing in her hooves and to protect her tender tootsies from stones, etc. She was very appreciative and most cooperative.

Life is good.
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