From Endurance to Dressage
Saturday was Speedy's birthday. I don't ever do muffins or treats, but I do like to give him a good grooming or take him for a ride. As I ducked through the fence to give him his daily Prascend pills, I immediately noticed the wonky step. Honestly, this horse is so transparent that I can spot an abscess as soon as he takes a single step. Really and truly my first thought was well that's a sucky thing to have happen on your birthday. I even said it out loud.
So, I assembled my abscess kit and brought him over to the tack room. Speedy was so lame that I actually wondered if he has an abscess in both front feet. When I say lame, I mean grade three at the walk. I have seen some horses who refuse to even take a single step when they have an abscess. Fortunately, Speedy will always walk out, but he'll do it with a pretty big limp. This round was no different.
I was pretty sure the abscess was in the right front, but I picked out all four hooves anyway. It has never happened before, but it's always possible that there is just a big rock stuck in the frog. I also felt all four hooves as an abscess can heat up a hoof pretty good if it's really infected. Fortunately, Speedy's all felt the same. When I picked out the left front, he started to fidget a bit which told me that bearing weight on the right front hurt.
When I use the hoof testers to locate a tender spot, I start by applying light pressure in a circle around the sole. If I don't get a reaction, I apply heavy pressure. Sometimes, a horse will flinch just because you applied a lot of pressure suddenly. By starting with light pressure, I'll get an honest reaction rather than one created by startling the horse. In Speedy's case, light pressure was enough to cause him to jerk his foot forward. Even though I got a positive reaction with light pressure, I tested a second time just to confirm the location of the abscess - medial bar.
Even though we have had massive amounts of rain, things dried up pretty quickly which meant Speedy's sole was pretty hard. I don't have a very good knife - by design as I don't want to take out too much sole. With only a few swipes of the knife I was able to uncover the track of the abscess. it started out as a thin line which I followed, paring out more sole bit by bit. Within a few minutes I was able to release the tiniest bit of green puss. It wasn't much, but it was enough to know that I was in the right spot.
After opening it just that little bit, I let Speedy rest on it while I waited for any more pus to drain out. Once I was sure that it had drained as much as it could, I set about applying my poultice. I use Numotizine which is a drawing agent. With a scoop of the stinky stuff packed into the sulcus of his frog, I wrapped the telfa pad in place with brown gauze and then topped that with a few rounds of vet wrap. I applied a few layers of duct tape to keep it all in and apologized for the crappy birthday present.
On Sunday, Speedy was slightly less lame and his appetite was just as good as ever. Abscesses don't do much other than make him feel like he has a rock in his shoe. This afternoon I'll pull the poultice as my farrier will be out on Tuesday. Hopefully he'll be able to clean up Speedy's foot a bit more, and with a little luck, the abscess will drain more easily.
Not a very good 19th birthday party. Sorry about that, friend.
I can't tell you how many times I've had a friend call or text to ask what I thought about an overnight lameness. If there is no heat or swelling or obvious wound, I always say that it's probably just an abscess. Are you sure? is usually the response. I never say this, but no, I am not sure, but given the symptoms, it's the most likely answer. So far, I've yet to be wrong. When it's my horse though, that sense of certainly is a lot less certain.
So ... I am pretty sure Izzy has at least one abscess, and likely two.
A little more than a week ago, we got more than half a year's worth of rain in one night. Everything was either flooded or soaked. Izzy had a lake in his paddock. If there wasn't standing water, there was mud. Everywhere. While the standing water disappeared entirely within three days, the wet ground did not. By Tuesday, Izzy was very lame. On Thursday, my farrier came out, but he couldn't find an abscess, and Izzy stood politely for his feet to be reshod in the front, trimmed in the back. On Friday, despite being markedly improved, I poulticed the hoof that was the most sore at the walk.
Given that I get so many questions about abscesses, I thought I'd share my process again.
Step 1: Have an arsenal of supplies at the ready.
My abscess kit includes hoof testers, a hoof knife, hoof pick with a brush, scissors, vet wrap, brown gauze, Telfa pad, duct tape, and Numotizine.
Step 2: Check for sore spots with the hoof testers and knife.
With a bit of practice, anyone can use a pair of hoof testers. It's a good idea to try them out on a sound horse when it's not an emergency to get an idea of just how hard you need to squeeze. Speedy is super reactive to hoof testers, so I always know right away where his abscess is. Izzy didn't flinch a bit this time which made it impossible for me to diagnose the exact location of the abscess.
Since he was walking with a pointed toe and swinging his foot wide, I could tell that he didn't want to bear weight on the medial heel. This suggested that the abscess is on the bar to the inside of the hoof. Before using a hoof knife, it's a good idea to get at least a little training from your farrier or vet. Having done that many times with my own vet, I feel confident in paring away at the sole as I dig for an abscess. For this particular abscess, I dug at what looked like the tell tale black lines of a track, but it didn't lead me to the abscess. Given how soft Izzy's sole was, I abandoned my search and decided to let the poultice do the work for me.
Step 3: Apply the Numotizine with a Telfa pad.
I like to scoop out the Numotizine with a Telfa pad. First of all, Numotizine stinks, and if you get it on your hands, it seeps into your skin and smells bad for several hours, sort of like when you chop onions. I also like to use the Telfa pad because it keeps the Numotize in place while you attach the the rest of the bandage. I scoop out a small handful using the Telfa pad like a glove. I press it down into the sulcus of the frog, the crevice along the edge of the frog that attracts dirt. If needed, I'll also spread the Numotizine across the entire sole. You need enough to pack into the sulcus, but not so much that it oozes out.
Step 4: Wrap the hoof in several layers of brown gauze.
For a horse that is really sore, you can first add a diaper or other padding under the brown gauze. In all of the many years that I've dealt with an abscess, I've yet to have a horse that sore. Usually, paring away some of the sole will offer a tiny bit of relief. And if I can actually drain the abscess, the relief is instantaneous for the horse, much like getting a splinter out of your finger. You don't need much brown gauze; it's just there to hold the Telfa pad, and any extra padding that you've added, in place.
Step 5: Wrap well with an elastic bandage like Vet Wrap or Co-Flex.
I typically use less than the entire roll. The elastic bandage is not what's really holding the whole thing together. Most of the time, I have a left over roll from a previous injury, so I'll use that first. Then, if needed, I'll open a new roll and wrap it around a few times. I like to start at the heel and do the outside of the foot and then start angling the Vet Wrap so that I cover as much of the center of the foot as possible. I want to hold the Telfa pad and brown gauze securely in place so that the Numotizine doesn't leak out.
Step 6: Secure it all with duct tape.
This is the most important step. If it is cold or wet, your duct tape isn't going to be very sticky, and the whole thing is coming to come off. If you can warm up the duct tape by letting it soak up a bit of sun or put it in your car near the heater for a few minutes, you'll have better luck. Unlike my vet, I don't use the strip method. Duct tape is cheap so I wrap the hoof like I did with the gauze and Vet Wrap. I go around and around the foot, changing my angle so that I cover the hoof entirely. Then, I start cutting strips to layer a row across the foot and a row going with the hoof. When those two layers are complete, I do several more wraps around the permitter of the hoof starting at the heel. Using this system of wrapping, my horses almost never lose the poultice until I am ready to take it off.
And that's it.
If you've done it well, you should have a secure boot that will allow the poultice to draw out the abscess. I generally leave the possible on for two or three days. On the third day, I cut the boot off, and repeat the lameness exam. With Speedy, I generally poultice two or three times. His abscesses seems to be deeper in the hoof and take about two weeks to resolve. Izzy hasn't had very many, but in the past, his have tended to resolve quickly.
Over the weekend, I free lunged him in the round pen to assess his degree of lameness. On Saturday, I thought he was about 98% sound both directions. On Sunday, it looked as though the other foot was a bit tender. Tonight, I'll pull the abscess and free lunge him in the round pen again to see if a new poultice is warranted. One thing to consider when doing a poultice like this is that it can heat the hoof up, so it's not something I would leave on forever. Removing it every couple of days to check on the foot is a good practice.
Hopefully it will continue to look better each day, and then before I know it, it will fade away.
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.
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%: