From Endurance to Dressage
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.
Pretty damn slow if you must know. It was a week ago Monday that I first felt something amiss in Izzy's gait. Initially I chalked it up to body soreness from Sunday's ride. By Tuesday, he was clearly more than body sore, but I wasn't 100% sure it was an abscess, and if it were an abscess, I couldn't tell if it was the front right or left. By Wednesday, Izzy tested positive to hoof testers on the right front. I scraped his sole a little bit hoping to find a clear track line, but I came up empty handed. I poulticed and wrapped the hoof for 48 hours.
At the end of 48 hours, I again poked around with the hoof testers and the hoof knife. His reaction to the hoof testers was even more pronounced, but I still couldn't find the abscess with the knife. He was also still lame at the walk. I poulticed it a second time. At the end of a second 48 hours, he was sound at the walk and at the trot in a straight Line. On the circle, he was still lame, but not that lame. I caught him rearing, bucking, and cavorting around as though he were fit as a fiddle. Even so, he still tested positive with the hoof testers. So for a third time, I scraped with the knife and poulticed. That was Sunday.
Yesterday, I called the vet and gave him a quick rundown. Dr. Gonzalez's suggestion was to keep doing what I am doing until I see a trot that I like. He also said that I might not ever see the abscess actually exit since the Numotizine is slowly drawing the abscess out. I did a fourth poultice. This one might be the final one, or I may have to repeat with a fifth, sixth, or even seventh one; patience, grasshopper.
Fortunately, Izzy is not dying, and it is obviously not very painful, but it's still there. Yesterday, he actually started pawing vigorously with the abscessing hoof while I was laying out the poulticing material. He was bored. My farrier is due at the end of the week or the beginning of next week. If the poultice hasn't drained it by then, I am hoping he can find it and open it up.
Fingers crossed I see a beautiful trot out today.
This is not the post I had scheduled today, but sometimes, circumstances change. When I rode Izzy on Monday afternoon, he was sore. I chalked it up to body soreness from Sunday's challenging ride. Instead of working, we spent nearly an hour just walking. He wasn't outright lame, but he wasn't right either.
When I showed up at the ranch yesterday, he was sore in the front. My first thought was abscess. It has only rained twice all winter. The first time was quick and didn't even make mud. Last week's rain though left everything soaked, so an abscess seems like the obvious culprit.
I grabbed my hoof testers and went to work. I was only able to get the slightest response on the right front but nothing on the left. When asked to pivot on his front feet, Izzy could pivot on the left, but was uncomfortable when asked to pivot on the right. In a trot out, the head bob was seen on the left. Even with all of this, it seemed as though he were sore on both front feet. This would not be good.
There was no filling on the left leg and only a faint "softness" on the right, so subtle that your average Joe wouldn't have even caught it. With the ranch owner offering her feedback, I gave the hoof tester a second try. Again, I could get a slight reaction on the right and nothing on the left. When I used the hoof knife, I was immediately able to find what looked like a track line.
During the trot out, Izzy got a little "wild child" and jerked the lead rope from me and cantered gaily off to visit his friends. He was clearly not near death's doorstep. He was willing to carry weight on both feet, but it did seem as though he preferred to keep the right foot in front with the heel ever so slightly off the ground.
Is it an abscess? I don't know, but it's more than likely. I left him unwrapped for the night. I am "hoping" he'll be a little more lame this afternoon so that I can make a better judgement call. If he is obviously more sore on that foot, I'll poke around with the hoof knife to see if I can find an abscess so that it can drain. Either way, I'll poultice for two days, and then have another look. Fingers crossed that it is an abscess.
Better would be to say, fingers crossed that it's gone.
It's been a while since I said anything about Speedy's latest abscess. In this case, no news was good news. Basically, I rode him on a Wednesday, saw him racing up and down the fence with Izzy on a Friday, and then got a text that he was lame on a Saturday.
By the time I got to the ranch that afternoon, this was the day we had gone to Kernville, he looked sound at the walk. Usually, when Speedy has an abscess, you can see it at the walk. He never presents with I've-broken-something-and-I-may-never-walk-again lameness; he just looks really sore. The ranch owner has a pretty good eye though, so if she saw something, there was something to be seen. I jogged him out, and yep, there was a slight head bob.
Unlike any of his other abscesses, I couldn't really pinpoint where it was. With the hoof testers, he was testing positive all around his toe. I used the hoof knife to scrape away some of the loosened sole, and found what looked like an abscess track traveling from one side of his hoof to the other. Without knowing exactly where the abscess was, I opted to simply poultice and see what happened.
Once his hoof was wrapped, I put in a call to my vet to see what he thought. His number one concern was that this might be the early signs of laminitis, so he had me check the other front foot. I got no reaction on that hoof. Speedy was also standing squarely on all four feet without the classic toe point or leaning back to get off his front feet. There was no digital pulse, and his pain level looked to be a zero.
Dr. Tolley said that abscesses in the toe aren't as common as in the bars, although he had just dug out a pretty deep one that week. He felt that poulticing was the right course of action. While I had him on the phone, I asked him about using Ichthammol as a drawing agent instead of the Numotizine that I've been using. It had been recommended by several people. He was pretty quick to tell me that he hated using Ichthammol because it doesn't wash off. That was all I needed to hear.
I poulticed for three days and two nights. When I took the poultice off, Speedy jogged out sound. The next day, he was sore again, so I repeated the poultice. When I took it off several days later, he was sound and has remained so. So was it an abscess? I am not sure. Dr. Tolley thought it could also have been a small bruise. Either way, poulticing was an appropriate treatment.
Of course, while I was poulticing one foot, I was also keeping my eye on the little hole in Speedy's hoof. For those that don't remember, my vet thought it might have been caused by white line disease, but my farrier found no signs of that. He felt it was more likely the remnants of an old bruise. For the first week or two, I scrubbed it clean with a stiff brush and coated it with Tea Tree Oil. Now, it's nearly grown out and hasn't caused any trouble.
But because nothing in life is simple, Izzy came up lame last week too. As I was walking him to the feed room, my spidey-sense noted something was amiss. Izzy didn't sound right. You know what I mean. I've lead this horse about a billion times, so I know what his footfalls sound like. I didn't see anything thought, so I tacked him up. As we walked up to the arena my intuition again said that something was NQR. As soon as I mounted and asked Izzy to talk off, I knew I was right. I couldn't see it, but I could feel it. I kept him walking, trying to pin point which leg it was.
It felt like he was hitting the ground harder with his left front which suggested he was off on the right front, but that didn't check out. I asked for a quick jog and felt a slight head bob, but for the life of me, I just couldn't figure out which leg it was. I started to suspect it was the left hind.
I walked him back and untacked him and called the ranch owner. I needed a second pair of eyes. There was definitely a head bob, and we both felt like it was in the hind. It was actually kind of funny. We both kept trying to reason it out. If his head goes down on the left, it has to be the right. But if his hip comes up on the right, it has to be his ...
Ultimately, we finally dragged out a lunge line. On the circle it was clearly the left hind. Why it took us so long to think of trotting him in a circle is beyond me. I couldn't find anything with the hoof testers, so I poulticed Izzy's foot too - on the same day that I had already poulticed Speedy's!
I wasn't surprised by Izzy's abscess. We've had a really dry month followed by heavy rain. He's abscessed once each winter over the past several years, so this one fit that pattern. And only once have I actually seen the abscess erupt, and that one came out just above his heels. He's typically sore for a few days and then it fades away.
The next day, the ranch owner saw Izzy rearing up on his hind legs as he played with Speedy. He was clearly feeling pretty good. On the third day, I pulled the poultice. I used that day to give everyone a soundness check. Each horse got lunged in the arena at all three gaits, and both horses came up sound. Everybody has been ridden several times since then, and they're both sound.
Now if it would just stop raining for a day or two, we might be able to get back to work.
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%
2022 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2022 Show Schedule
(*) Tehachapi 7/24/22
(*) Tehachapi 8/28/22
2022 Completed …
(*) Tehachapi 5/22/22
2022 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
2 Scores/1 Judges/60%: