DRILLING FOR BETTER HOOF HEALTH. John Halko has found drilling a hole in a hoof wall at the top of an area that is infected with white line disease exposes the infection to air and helps arrests its development. This hole was intentionally drilled too low. If the infection is higher than the hole, the hole can either be enlarged, or a second one can be drilled directly above it.

White line disease goes by several names. Seedy toe, yeast infection and wall separation are just a few. Not everyone agrees as to the exact cause of white line disease, but it does appear to be anaerobic in nature. Once the affected area is exposed to the air, the condition will usually be arrested and the affected area eventually grows out with the hoof wall.

Treatment Options

Treatment has traditionally been to dig out the infected area with a small pick or Dremel-type tool and then treat the affected area with some form of liquid or creamy chemical. The chemical can be any of the traditional off-the-shelf preparations such as Fungidye, Merthiolate, formalin, White Lightning or various thrush medicines. 

Often, these remedies will stop the progress of the infection. Even very caustic solutions like gasoline or turpentine have some temporary effect. Feed additives have an effect as well.

Dealing With Larger Infections

Sometimes the disease is very advanced or will not respond to traditional remedies. If a relatively large area — say 2 or 3 square inches — is involved, the problem becomes more complicated. Treatment options include removal of the hoof wall over the infected area, soaking the hoof in commercial preparations or meticulous daily cleaning. These will work, but require a lot of effort by the farrier and/or horse owner. Sometimes a treatment causes more damage than the disease itself.

In advanced cases where the depth of penetration is more than 1 inch up the hoof wall or where the disease has gone inward, I find the easiest and least invasive treatment is to drill an access hole at the top of the infected area. Inserting a small probe, such as a nail or wire, up from the bottom of the hoof wall will let you determine the depth of the infection. You can then mark this depth on the exterior wall. This will give one very precise location to drill a small hole.

Airborne Assault-2.jpg

TWO FEET, TWO TREATMENTS. The hoof on the left shows a partial debride. Notice how exposed the interior of the hoof is to potential injury. The hoof on the right shows the same amount of seedy toe. Both hooves should completely heal.

Tool And Bit Of Choice

I usually use a Dremel tool with a barrel-shaped bit (#DRE115). These bits can be purchased at most quality hardware supply stores. The advantage of this particular bit is that it has cutting surfaces on both the sides and face. This allows you to drill straight in and — if necessary — sideways to enlarge the exposed area without changing bits. A plastic sleeve can be slid over the bit to limit the cutting depth and prevent penetration that is too deep. If the sleeve will not allow the bit to go deep enough, small amounts of the plastic sleeve can be removed to decrease its length and allow the bit to achieve deeper penetration. Hoof nippers work great for cutting the sleeve. 

If you find your first hole is not at the very top of the infection, the hole can be enlarged or a new hole can be drilled above it. Small nails or wires can be bent and used to probe the infected area through this access hole. With practice, this entire procedure can be done in less than 15 minutes.

The infection is now exposed to the air and, from my experience, will just about always stop growing. You don’t have to invade the blood supply. Topical dressings can also be applied to assist in stopping the infection.

Key To Success

The key to success is to make sure the access hole is at the top of the infected area.

If the infected area is wide at the top, instead of being a small, tunnel-shaped shaft, you can make a sideways cut with the Dremel tool.

This will expose the entire top area to the air while allowing the hoof wall below the area to remain intact. If a large area is involved, then a support shoe, such as a heart bar, should be applied. Otherwise mechanical founder is possible.

I have been using this technique for over 15 years and have shared it with dozens of farriers. It is the least invasive and most consistently successful procedure for treating advanced cases of white line disease that I have found.

Benefits Of The Method

The benefits are many and include:  

  • It takes less than $100 worth of equipment.
  • Very little hoof wall is removed.
  • The horse can usually be ridden immediately.
  • The procedure usually takes less than 15 minutes.
  • The horse owner doesn’t have to spend too much time treating the area. Just keeping the infected area exposed to the air by picking it out once or twice a week will usually suffice.
  • There is no pain for the horse.
  • There is a very small chance of the horse injuring itself while being turned out in pasture since the exposed area is so small.