Dressage Today: Abscess
Dressage Today | 2006
Q. I have a 3-year-old Oldenburg that just got his first pair of shoes and
pads. He was lame on a front hoof for two weeks. I worked with my vet and
farrier to get my horse some relief and sound. We were treating an abcess
at first, then figured it was a stone bruise. Hoof testers reveled a sore sole in
No bruising or blow out yet. The vet nor the farrier could not come to a
decision, abcess or bruise. The vet recommended that we put shoes and pads
on my horse because my horse is lame, his soles are low, needed cushion
and time to heal. He was 100% sound after the shoes and pads were put on
"Should I be concerned about putting shoes on a horse that young?"
How do I know the difference if nothing develops?
A. The difference between a sole bruise and a sole abscess, as you found
out, can be difficult for even the best veterinarian to diagnosis. That fact
that your horse is now sound should be of great relief.
Before I answer specifically your questions you need to have a basic
understanding of a bruise and an abscess.
A bruise on the bottom of a horse's foot is the result of a trauma or insult to
the bottom of a horse's foot. Cells die, capillaries are damaged and they leak
small amounts of blood. The blood stains the insensitive sole and makes a
red spot that won't be seen, on the ground surface of the sole, for several
months. One or two more trims may be needed before this stain grows down
to the ground surface and is noticeable.
A foot abscess is a fluid filled pocket that develops between the sensitive
and insensitive sole. The fluid filled pocket is created by trauma to the foot,
puncture wound, bruise, etc. More cells dies, releasing fluid.
In addition, there is a colony of bacteria that naturally reside in the horse and
that bacteria localize in trauma sites. As scavengers they consume dead
material with gas and fluid a byproduct of their existence.
When a horse places weight on the hoof the fluid performs a hydraulic
action, mechanically separating the sensitive and insensitive sole. This
tearing is the pain.
To better understand they dynamics of what is occurring in the horse's foot
with an abscess place a drop of water on a piece of glass. Then place
another piece of glass on top and watch how much the drop of water spreads.
This is the hydraulic action that occurs in the horse's foot.
The fluid is seeking a route to exit, or blow out as you called it. The weakest
section of hoof is the connection between sensitive and insensitive
structures. If the farrier or veterinarian does not pare out the sole and make
an exit point for the fluid to drain then the fluid will continue to tear the
connection until it either exits the bottom of the foot, the heel/bulb area or
out the coronary band.
As you can tell a bruise may or may not lead to an abscess. There is no way
for the veterinarian or farrier to predict the course of the bruise.
The answer to your question, "How do I know the difference if nothing
develops?", is you won't.
There is one other lameness that can create pain in a specific area of the sole,
mimic an abscess or bruise and not have a "blow out". That would be a
hairline fracture of the coffin bone, usually in the wings.
This is a relatively common occurrence and nothing to be alarmed about.
The bone will heal perfectly in six weeks and the only time there are
complications are when the fracture is in the coffin joint. Since your horse
went immediately sound with a shoe and pad you can safely rule out joint
These extremely small fractures can be very difficult, if not impossible, to
detect on a radiograph. The horse would react to hoof testers placed on the
sole, about two-thirds toward the heels. The lameness would mimic a bad
bruise or an abscess.
As you can tell a bruise, abscess and a hairline fracture of the wings of the
coffin bone will all present in a similar fashion. Shoeing with a pad would
be an appropriate remedy.
Shoeing two and three-year old horses is a very common practice in the race
industry and futurity horses in cutting and reining world. Warm bloods
mature a little slower because of their size but shoeing at three should not
create any problems for you or your horse. Your three-year old should be
trimmed and shoed every six weeks until he is late in his four-year old year
and the shoes should be set full. This will prevent the feet from being
constricted and not allowed to grow to their full potential. He will then be
able to go a full eight weeks between shoeings.