From Endurance to Dressage
When It Rains, It Pours (Abscesses)
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.
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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%: