I think I get it now and I'm so excited!!
I wrote an article last year about abscesses. But I’ve since had an epiphany about them, what causes abscesses, treatment and how to keep them from starting in the first place.
I once thought there were two types of abscesses: The kind that start in the white line and work its way up the hoof wall; and another type, subsolar that start under the sole and work its way up and out the heel bulb or rupture out of the sole.
That’s only partly correct.
Recently I read an article by a farrier who was certain sole abscesses start with stone bruises. The sole doesn’t bruise. The sole tissue has no blood as the farrier suggested, causing bruising. A farrier of all professionals should know that. Farrier’s, vets and trimmers often cut into the sole (even when they shouldn't) and it would seem to me that if the sole could bruise, the result of cutting into it would be a bloody mess.
Some suggest abscessing is diet related, but I don’t think that’s true either.
There is only one kind of abscess. And maybe “abscess” isn’t even the best word to use to describe what is happening, but for now, lets use it because that’s the word we are most familiar with.
Abscesses begin only in the whiteline of the hoof. I’ve only ever seen sole abscess start in the area of the bar. The bars of the hoof are an extension of the hoofwall and the bars have a whiteline, just like the outer hoof wall.
I didn’t put this together until I attended a seminar recently with Swedish natural hoof care practitioner, Ove Lind. Swedishhoofschool.com
So what I used to think was a very complex topic, I now realize is VERY SIMPLE.
When we allow separation of the white line to take place, we are going to get abscessing. Bacteria invade the white line and works its away up the whiteline/laminae until it reaches soft tissue where it can erupt and relieve the horse of pain. Abscesses that start in the outer wall, erupt at the coronet band and abscesses that start in the white line of the bar erupt at the heel bulb.
It’s that simple! Separation of the whiteline allows abscesses to start. Separation is caused by neglect or improper trimming whether a hoof is shod or not.
Shod hooves can abscess. But a shod hoof is locked down restricting flexibility and circulation. That conditions impedes the abscess from working its way to soft tissue were it can erupt - resulting in pain relief for the horse.
Shod horses with abscesses, I know, are very often misdiagnosed with mystery conditions like navicular and laminitis. Translation: Your horse is lame and we don’t know why.
Either the horse is put into corrective shoes, (more constricted) put down, or the shoes are pulled and the horse is put out to pasture where it very often becomes sound again on it’s own. Also a mystery as no one noticed the abscesses finally ruptured.
So now I believe I really get it! Correct and frequent trimming, as well as not allowing the bars to be weight bearing will keep your horse from abscessing. It’s just that simple.
When I hear my horse abscesses over and over again. I know that the hooves of that horse aren’t being trimmed correctly. That’s all there is to it!
Abscesses in the hind hooves often cause so little pain we don’t even know it’s happening until we notice a rupture site at the soft tissue above the hoof.
Or abscesses can be so painful, the leg swells, the joints lock up and the horse can’t put any weight on the hoof for days.
What is the correct treatment? There is none. Once the abscess starts, it must be allowed to run it’s course. It erupts when it gets to soft tissue and the white line it invaded on its way up is now dead and the rupture site must grow out. As for the abscess that starts in the bar, that very often means the horse may lose a large section of bar and sole in the heel area or even the entire sole depending on how much of the solar papillae was invaded.
We have to give the horse time to grow out a new hoof often times, before we see complete soundness again. As this is happening we often see off and on again lameness. No lameness at the walk, but lameness at the trot and this can go on for months even years of the horse isn’t allowed time for the abscess to rupture.
What is the worst thing we can do for the abscess? Dig it out? If we did at something that’s on it’s way up, all we are doing is giving the horse a secondary problem to grow out. And if the dig site becomes deep and wide, more debris is allowed to enter the hoof and possibly cause bone infection as a result.
So when your horse abscesses, make sure it’s barefoot, has time to heal and no digging.
That’s where I stand on abscesses now.
Subsolar abscess: This mare was lame in shoes for years with no obvious signs so she was diagnosed as a founder case. The owner's comment was that she should have been dog food long ago. Sad. We pulled shoes and abscess was allowed to rupture. She was slowly becoming sound again and owner was advised by her vet that natural trims cause abscessing. She was put back into shoes before she had a chance to fully recover. I haven't heard anything about her beyond that, but it wouldn't surprise me if she's been digested by a dog by now.
You can see the rupture site of an abscess that started in the bars, here just above the center sulcus between the heel bulbs. This horse was never shod, but he went too long between trims and separation of the white line resulted. I hate to admit this is my horse and he was a gravel cruncher before I allowed this to happen.
Lesson learned. A year later, he's much improved, but still not the cruncher he was. Boots solve that.
Rupture site at coronet band from abscess that started in the white line. Separation of the white line was the cause. This abscess started at the same time as the one that started in the bar so that tells me there was a large section of separation that went into the bars.
A horse will usually exhibit more pain if the abscess is in the front hoof rather than a hind. The leg and fetlock joint can swell and the no weight can be put on the leg without the horse exhibiting intense pain.
Does this resemble a founder stance? Yes it does. And a huge diagnositc mistake could have easily been made on this horse. Thankfully, I was certain it was an abscess and I was right. He was laying on the ground for 4 days before the rupture. I just allowed him to rest and the abscess to rupture and he gradually recuperated. It's been a long road for this poor guy. Due to the abscess, he foundered in all four feet. A full recovery has taken just over a year.
It's important to note that we probably won't even realize our horse is abscessing until it gets close to soft tissue where it can erupt. That's why digging at the abscess is a mistake. By the time the horse is experiencing pain, the abscess has made it's way so far up the hoof to get past it. NO DIGGING!