As much of the country experiences one of the wettest years on record, it’s taking a toll on horses’ feet. In fact, Dr. Scott Morrison, the head of the podiatry department at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., told Paulick Report that he has seen more cases of retracted soles this year than any year previous.
What is a retracted sole? It’s a painful malady that occurs when a thin-soled horse stands in wet mud, primarily made up of limestone and clay, that, over time, weakens the sole and pushes it upward into the coffin bone. It’s extremely painful for the horse and causes lameness and eventually a fluid-filled pocket that can progress into a subsolar seroma or abscess.
The soil responsible for causing a retracted hoof is dirt mixed with Class-I (pronounced eye) sand or a very fine gravel with hard field clay just below it, which, when wet, hardens like concrete. The soil is common in Kentucky, as well in other areas where Morrison has seen cases, such as Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana.
The first indication of a retracted sole will be when a horse suddenly comes up lame, as the seromas and abscesses affect the whole foot, making it uncomfortable for a horse to bear weight on any part of the hoof. A seroma isn’t evident until up to a week or 10 days, so it can easily be mistaken for laminitis if both front hooves are retracted.
What’s important to distinguish is that horses with a retracted hoof are more comfortable on a hard, flat surface as opposed to most foot-lame horses who prefer a softer surface.
A silver lining of retracted hooves is their treatability. Provided they’re caught early, the recovery is dramatically quick. The seroma or abscess can be drained and sealed with a hospital plate, and sometimes a roller-motion shoe that helps the horse grow a thicker sole while healing, and they should make a massive recovery by the next day.
There are risks involved with a retracted hoof going untreated, such as laminitis or osteomyelitis, so it’s important to be familiar with the issue and how to spot it. But they’re also prevented simply — taking the time to bring a horse in and picked out their feet can go a long way.