Although abscesses are common, sometimes identifying one requires a little bit of detective work on the part of the farrier.
Many horses are so lame that they won’t even put weight on the affected foot, while others may walk with a pronounced limp, says Henry Heymering, a member of the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame.
“I want to see the horse walk so I can see not only which foot it is, but how they’re putting the foot down,” explains the Frederick, Md., farrier. “If it’s an abscess on the outside of the foot, the horse will try to walk on the inside and vice versa. But if it’s at the toe or the heel, they may just walk on the toe.”
After identifying the affected foot, Heymering starts looking for clues in the sole of the hoof.
“I’ll clean the hoof, and then look for any possible entrance, puncture wound or a break in the white line that allows bacteria to get into the hoof and get trapped,” Heymering says. “I’m also looking for a bulge in the coronet band or any particular heat that might be on one part of the foot or the other. With hoof testers, sometimes a horse with an abscess will respond anywhere you use them, but sometimes the hoof testers can help locate the abscess.”
Be cautious and methodical in applying your hoof testers to different parts of the hoof. If you end up testing a “hot” area, the horse may react violently and pull back, says David Ramey, an equine veterinarian in Los Angeles, Calif.
“The areas near an abscess tend to be very sensitive to hoof testers, and sometimes even to thumb pressure,” Ramey says. “Sometimes it doesn’t take much to tell you where it hurts.”
In addition to using the hoof testers, use your eyes to search the sole of the foot for dark lines, small spots or other insults to the sole.
“When I’m looking for an abscess, I’ll look for dark spots or punctures or fractures in the white line, and then use the hoof testers to try and pinpoint the area,” Heymering says. “That gives me a better feel for what I’m looking for. And then if I see a crack or a dark line in the white line or the sole, I’ll try to probe it with a small bone curette or even a sharp horseshoe nail.”