From Endurance to Dressage
On Monday, Speedy's newest girl came out for a ride. Speedy's abscess hasn't cleared up 100%, but he was sound enough for a trail ride. This horse loves to play so much that a short trail ride is better than most any other medicinal thereapy. On Friday, I had reapplied a fresh poultice and then turned him loose to graze. Instead of grazing quietly while nursing his tender toes, Speedy gave me the look, flipped his tail up, and gaily cantered off down the dirt track to the west of the pastures. When he reached Izzy's end of the fence, he saucily spun around and did an extended trot past me as if to say I still got it!
With a bit of adreniline coursing through his veins, he wasn't a bit off. In fact he looked pretty darn good. By Sunday afternoon, Speedy was sound at the walk and only grade two lame at the trot. I messaged Brooke and asked if she wanted to do a trail ride. She happily agreed; it didn't matter to her whether it was a lesson or a trail ride. She was happy to have any horse time.
With the weather threatening to turn sour at any time, we opted for an earlier ride rather than later. As it was, by about 2:00 it stared to pour, so we chose wisely. I rode Izzy before Brooke came out, and I was pleasantly surprised. I had read on some Facebook page something about fiddling with one's hands - that even a little is too much, so I rode with that intenion in my mind. Every time Izzy braced or popped his head up, I resisted the urge to pull his head back into my atmosphere and instead put my leg on. It's amazing what correct riding can accomplish.
I finished my ride on Izzy just as Brooke was arriving. I tied Izzy up and pulled Speedy out for Brooke to groom and tack up. While she has ridden as a kid and adult both, it has been a decade or so which means she's a little rusty. It doesn't help that I like things done just so. Brooke is still working on mastering the Blocker Tie ring, and the girth for a dressage saddle can be a bit overwhelming with all of its keepers and buckling system. This time, she asked if she could take some photos to serve as a reminder. That's a girl after my own heart.
My plan for the ride was to first circle the ranch. If anybody was going to come off - that included me as well, it would be a lot easier to deal with a loose horse and a potentially sore rider if we were still on the property. As it turned out, Izzy was such a jerk that after circling once, I jumped off, ran into the tack room, and grabbed a whip. We ended up doing a second loop before heading out onto the nieghboring properties.
Izzy never really did straighten up, but I know Brooke enjoyed herself despite his Tom foolery. The first time we made the loop, we startled the horses next door who were in a three-sided, run-in shed. The pinto popped out which scared the bejesus out of Izzy who spooked which startled Speedy. I gave a laugh as both Izzy and Speedy shot forward as though the starting bell at the track had just rung. To her credit, Brooke sat the spook quite well and had Speedy stopped within a single stride.
Hearing her laugh made me feel a lot better about venturing off the property. Speedy is rock solid in the arena, but out on the trail he can be much spicier. The day was blustery with dark clouds hovering as they threatend to let loose their moisture. It was perfect weather for spooking and shying, both of which Speedy did. On our way headed back home, he saw some black weed blocking cloth flutter in the wind. I heard Brooke give an audible oomph as Speedy slammed on the brakes.
Later as we crossed a natural channel that feeds the river on really wet years, Brooke gave a delighted whoop as Speedy tried to launch as he crested the top of the channel. He has always enjoyed the down and up whoop de doos. Sometimes he gets particularly excited which can be a bit scary when he launches on the uphill side. Knowing he was feeling quite sassy, I had both horses enter the wash at a diagonal and then we turned at the bottom to climb back up at another diagonal approach. I didn't feel much like hitting the dirt either.
We finished up right at the forty-five minute mark. After untacking, I checked out Speedy's poultice. It was mostly still on, but after closer inspection I decided to pull it and rewrap it. As I did. he yanked his foot back with an irritated expression. Once I got all of the Numotizine cleared out, I could see that a bunch of Numotizine was matted in his fetlock hair, the more I pulled the more annoyed he became. After using my fingers, a comb, and the scissors, I realized that what he needed was for all of the hair to be cut away so I pulled out my clippers. What I saw was the very tiny beginning of a bandage rub. Sometimes the "cure" causes a new set of issues.
After putting the hoof testers back on and not getting a reaction, I decided that after fourteen days, it was time to let nature take its course. I opted to leave his foot naked with no more poulticing. The poultice had done whatever it could do. He walked off just fine without any obvious soreness. The tiny bit of soreness that he had shown might even have been from the gunk matted in his fetlock hairs combined with the beginnings of the bandage rub. I felt confident that he was just fine.
For now, Brooke is scheduled to come back out on Saturday. I know Speedy will be happy to see her.
It's been a minute since Speedy has had an abscess. I had to look back at past blog posts to see just how long. March of 2021 was the last one he had. This abscess seems weather related as opposed to past abscesses which were related to his PPID, equine Cushing's disease. PPID lowers a horse's ability to fight infection.
It has been raining off and on here for several weeks which is really unusual. In the best of weather years, we receive about six inches of rain. In the month of December alone, we saw 1.69 inches which was was, according our local meteorologist, 154% of normal. And the rain hasn't stop in January. It's only the 6th, and it has rained almost every day this month. All of that means that we are dealing with a lot of mud, more mud than usual.
We were gone over the New Year's weekend which meant neither horse got out. They don't actually need turn out as they live on large sandy lots, but Speedy detests the mud. Most of his sandy lot is pretty dry despite the rain except for right next to his shelter. The ranch owner reported that he paced back and forth under his shelter while I was gone, grumpy that he couldn't move as much as he would have liked.
All of that pacing back and forth, pivoting on the same foot over and over, is a great way for a gravel to find its way into the hoof. The result in a horse who has a reduced ability to fight infection is an abscess. When I went out on Tuesday, the first day back from our weekend trip, the moment Speedy took a step, I knew he was sore. Once I had him haltered and walking on dry ground, it was very obvious that he was grade three lame.
I've dealt with so many abscesses over the past five years that they don't worry me anymore. A horse who presents as three legged lame with no obvious wound probably has an abscess, and in Speedy's case, it's a sure thing. I led him over to the tack room, evaluating his stride on the way. He definitely took a harder step on the front right, which is the foot that usually abscesses, but a heavy stride on the right should mean lameness on the left.
If a horse is in a lot of pain, he'll usually avoid bearing weight on the abscessed hoof. Often times, the horse will point that hoof forward or even rest on the toe of the hoof. Since I am not a vet, and since Speedy doesn't hurt enough to clearly show which hoof it is, I always check both feet. When I put the hoof testers on the right front, I couldn't get a reaction no matter how hard I squeezed. When I picked up the left hoof, I knew right away that it was the abscessed hoof. His foot was hot to the touch. As soon as I put the hoof testers on, he jerked his hoof back immediately.
I pulled out my hoof knife and gently scraped away the mud and debris. Since his feet have been wet for several weeks, it was easy to flick away bits of sole as I searched for the track line of the abscess. It was easy to find. I dug out a small patch of sole on the lateral side, away from the body, but not enough to drain the abscess. Near the white line, I did see some red which indicates blood, but that's not an area that typically bleeds that close to the surface. I knew that I had found the general location of the infection, but I couldn't open it up enough to drain.
For undrained abscesses, my vet recommends poulticing with Numotizene. I first cleaned away all debris from the bottom of the hoof and then packed a handful of Numotizine over the entire sole. I wrapped that with brown gauze, and then wrapped that in vet wrap and Elastikon (only because the ranch owner had some extra on hand). I finished the whole thing off with layers and layers of duct tape. If Speedy is pretty sore, the bandage will last 2 to 3 days, which it did. When he starts to feel better, he'll do a lot more walking which wears away the bandage.
Just opening up the sole a little bit helped relieve some of the pressure. He was already walking with less pain once I pared out some sole and wrapped it. A drained abscess can heal in just a day or two, but with Speedy, it usually takes a week to ten days before he is completely sound. Hopefully he's nearly pain free when I head out this morning. Either way, I am sure he'll need to be wrapped for a few more days.
Abscesses are nothing if not annoying.
As promised, here is how I wrap something really low on the leg.
#1 - Get it Clean
First clean the wound as well as possible. For this wound, I've been using baby shampoo and then toweling the leg dry. I also squirt Betadine on the wound just before wrapping to prevent infection.
#2 - Soak with Saline
Since the wound is only about the size of a quarter, I am cutting the hydrophilic foam pads into fourths. Use a clean container for some saline. Press the foam down and squeeze gently so that it absorbs the saline. Since the container is clean, and I don't need a sterile solution, I just snap the lid back on after I am finished, adding more saline as needed.
#3 - Cover with a Hydrophilic Foam Pad
Place the saline soaked pad directly over the wound. I like to use brown gauze to hold the pad firmly in place. It doesn't do much good if the pad slips off the wound. If you're worrying about applying the gauze and elastic bandage too tightly - a legitimate concern, use a roll of cotton sheet bandage between the pad and the brown gauze so that when you pull everything tight, the cotton will prevent the gauze and elastic bandage from pulling too tightly. I did not use cotton.
#4 Wrap with Elastic Bandage
Dr. Tolley likes to create a twist to "anchor" the elastic bandage which keeps it from sliding up too much. I don't have a lot of success with this technique, but it does slow the creep-up. If the horse is shod, try to get the elastic bandage between the bottom of the hoof and the shoe. This also keeps the elastic bandage from creeping upwards.
#5 - Cover it Smoothly
Finish applying the elastic bandage, leaving it pressed smooth without anything to grab the tail end of the bandage which could cause it to loosen and unwind.
#6 - Duct Tape
I like to finish off the bandage with a layer (or 5) of duct tape. Use caution though; duct tape doesn't breath, bend, or flex very well. You obviously don't want to apply it to hair, but it will stick fairly well to a dry hoof. The instant it gets wet (or cold) however, it tends to slide off.
#7 - Bell Boot Cover
Depending on where the wound is, I like to add a bell boot. For a hoof abscess, I don't use a bell boot because I don't bandage very high up the pastern, and I don't need a rub on top of an abscess. Since this wound is below the pastern, and since the pastern is well protected, I use a bell boot to discourage chewing at the bandage. Chew stop also helps.
#8 Repeat as Needed
Be prepared to rewrap daily if the horse is a walker. Horses in pain tend not to do much walking which will keep the bandage in place for another day or two. Izzy isn't in any pain, plus, I am riding him daily which means I pull it off in the morning, ride, and then reapply.
This method will get the wound healed, but it does take persistence, patience, and lots of duct tape - the more the better.
We're having a dry year in Central California. I don't know why that's so surprising. It seems as though we are perpetually in drought status. We even have levels of drought because we're never not in a drought. It rained three weeks ago, and Izzy developed an abscess. It rained again on Wednesday, and Speedy developed an abscess.
My horses live in sandy pastures which means that their feet are always very dry. When it does rain, we get very little mud but that sudden moisture on dry feet creates the perfect conditions for an abscess to develop. If it rained more often, their feet would adapt to the moisture level. With such infrequent rain though, abscesses are not a surprise.
As it was pouring rain and pelting hail on Wednesday afternoon, I saw Speedy take just one wonky step before he and Izzy both bolted at the sound of hail plinking on the tin roof of their shelter. There was no way I could deal with the foot in those conditions. There was also rolling thunder and rivers of water running everywhere. Had he been sliced open with blood flowing freely, I would have found a solution. Since I knew it had to be an abscess, and since I knew he wasn't in that much pain, I left it until the next afternoon knowing that the ranch owner would call if he took a turn for the worse.
On Thursday morning, the ranch owner confirmed by text that Speedy was lame on the left front. I wasn't able to get out until the afternoon, but before even checking on him, I assembled my abscess bucket. With Izzy's recent 11 day abscess, my supply of materials had taken a hit, but I had since reordered more Numotizine and vet wrap, so I was well stocked. There was no mistaking the lameness, but just to be sure, I had Speedy jog out two or three steps. His head bobbed nearly to the ground. Yep, left front.
I picked the hoof clean and put the hoof testers on. The reaction was immediate, but what concerned me was that he tested positive anywhere I touched his sole. It's hard to know where to focus if you can't find where the abscess is located.
In the past, I've taken heavy criticism from readers over my willingness to take a hoof knife to the sole of my horses' hooves. That's a job for the farrier I was told. You don't know what you're doing I was told. I hear you, but I disagree with you. My vet and I have a very good relationship, and he has taught me how to tackle an abscess, so I don't even hesitate when I know that's what I've got.
Most abscesses, but not all, occur at the bars. Knowing this, and knowing that Speedy's hoof was sore on both sides, I used my knife a bit like a hoof pick and flicked away a bit of sole on both sides of his frog. Puss immediately flowed from the medial side, the side closest to his body. Using my thumbs I pressed the sole of his foot at the hole and watched as more puss oozed out.
Normally, per my vet's instructions, I poultice for 48 hours with Numotizine to draw the abscess out. Each time I take the poultice off, I use the hoof knife to try and open it up a little more to allow the abscess to drain. I typically find it within a day or two. When Izzy abscessed, I found the track line, but not the abscess itself, so rather than keep digging, I let the Numotizine do its job. Slowly. I think it's more humane to find the abscess and drain it which reduces the pain immediately, but in Izzy's case, I just couldn't find it. Thankfully, he wasn't terribly lame.
In all the abscesses I've treated - and it's a lot, this is the first one that drained so quickly. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I contemplated just walking away and letting it continue to drain on its own. I also considered poulticing it anyway to see if that would draw it out more thoroughly. There was a third option, the one my vet recommends once the abscess has been opened up, but since there wasn't really a big hole, I didn't know if that was what I should do. I gave him a call.
That was the third day in a row to talk to Dr. Tolley, but he picked up right away. I explained what I was looking at, he asked a few questions, and then he gave me his directions. He wanted me to open up the hole by about a half an inch deep to give the abscess plenty of room to drain. Then he wanted me to pack it with gauze soaked in Betadine (something I keep on hand anyway as previously recommended by him) to help kill any remaining infection.
For the first bit, Speedy tolerated me making the hole. I wasn't sure I could get it deep enough - my knife isn't as good as Dr. Tolley's are, and Speedy's hooves are HARD. The closer to the back of the hoof I went, the more painful it became. Think about digging out a splinter. Out on the edges it's not too bad when you poke around with the needle, but get right at the base of that sliver, and OUCH. I gave Speedy rest breaks and cookies, but I could see he was losing patience with me. I got it as open as I could, and then decided to wrap it and let the Betadine kill the rest of the infection.
I packed the hoof with Betadine soaked gauze, and then did my standard hoof wrap. Like always, I unclipped his lead rope and let him wander at will. He was markedly improved, and spent the next half walking around the ranch grazing and rolling in a sandy spot he likes. He even took the opportunity to pee out on the lawn. Even though he wasn't miserable beforehand, he clearly felt much better.
By Saturday, he was sound at the walk but still lame at the trot. His head didn't bob to the ground like it had on Thursday, but even the most inexperienced observer would have been able to see it. I rewrapped his hoof, but since he was still pretty reactive to the hoof testers, I dug out a tiny bit more sole and then packed it with a Numotizine poultice instead of the Betadine soaked gauze pads. By Sunday, he still trotted out lame, but much less so than the day before. I'll check it again today, and hopefully, he will be better still.
The thing with an abscess is you can only do what you can do. They just need time to heal.
Or at least I hope so ...
Izzy first showed some soreness two weeks ago today. I couldn't pinpoint its cause right away, but by Tuesday, I knew it was a lameness issue. By Wednesday I knew it was an abscess. I am normally pretty good at detecting where the abscess is, but this one threw me for a loop. I knew where he tested positive with the hoof testers, but it must have been deep because I simply couldn't find it with the hoof knife.
My options were to poultice until it popped out or went away, or I could have hauled him to the vet. After a week of agonizingly slow improvement, I did call the vet only to be told to press on and keep doing what I was doing. That wasn't necessarily what I wanted to hear, but why ask if you're not going to follow the advice you're given? I continued poulticing.
I changed the poultice every other day. For each change, I scraped the hoof clean, reapplied the hoof testers, and poked around with the knife. First Izzy was lame at the walk, then he was less lame at the walk, until finally, he was sound at the walk. Then he was lame at the trot, less lame at the trot, finally sound at the trot; on a straight line. Then he was lame at the trot on the lunge line, less lame on the lunge, until finally, he looked normal on the lunge which is never all that pretty anyway.
On Saturday, twelve days after first feeling something was off, I was finally able to saddle up for a short let's see how you feel ride. To my relief, Izzy felt great! On Sunday, he was a rocket; no surprise since he had done nothing for two weeks. Would the abscess have cleared up sooner had the vet dug it out? I don't think so because then I would have had to wait for the hole to fill in. He now appears sound, and there is nothing left to wrap or bandage.
Either way, hauling Izzy to the vet hospital or poulticing day after day, wasn't cheap. While I keep my medical kit very well stocked, nearly two weeks of poulticing made a big dent in my abscess kit. I hate that I even need an abscess kit, but Speedy's PPID (Cushing's Disease) has shown me the value of keeping the right supplies on hand.
I was on my final roll of duct tape, my Numotizine was getting down to the bottom third of the container, and my mountain of elastic bandages had turned into a glorified hill. Running out of bandaging and/or poulticing material is a sure-fire way to induce another abscess or worse. I restocked everything.
Hopefully the abscess is really and truly gone. In my experience, they can appear to be resolved, but once the horse is put back to work, the inflammation returns, and you're stuck doing it all over again.
If that does happen, at least my materials have been restocked, and I'll be well prepared.
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: