Soaking is a primary task when treating a horse's foot for bruises, abscesses and puncture wounds. Yet, you should question the need for soaking and know that if you do, it can be taken too far.

Excessive soaking softens the hoof wall, causing deterioration, says Stephen O'Grady, an equine veterinarian and farrier who owns and operates Northern Virginia Equine in Marshall, Va.

"The wall begins to flake and separate and the loss of integrity allows it to flare or bend outward," says the International Equine Veterinarian Hall Of Fame member. "At the same time, the white line width increases and the sole begins to descend and becomes closer to the ground.

"As the softening process continues, the horse begins to bear weight on the sole, creating another source of discomfort."

When confronting a malady that requires soaking, it's best to keep in mind the primary reason for the treatment.

"Over the years, I have questioned the therapeutic value of this practice," O'Grady says. "Does soaking the foot actually draw infection out, increase circulation or does it just plain soften the foot? In my opinion, the principle indication for soaking feet is to soften hard hooves so that it is easier to pare the sole-wall junction to expose and drain an abscess."

If soaking is used, it should be performed at periodic intervals during a 12- to 24-hour period to avoid undermining hoof wall integrity. The soaks should be quality; meaning, very hot water saturated with Epsom salts for short intervals. If you're looking for a good alternative, try using a medicated poultice.

"The poultice provides a warm, moist hydroscopic environment that stays in contact with the foot 24 hours a day, but does not have the detrimental effects of continuous soaking," O'Grady says. "Moist heat applied to the coronary band may also help an abscess to rupture at the coronet spontaneously."

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