A Horse Owners’ Abscess Primer

Abscesses are internal infections of the foot, like a blood blister or a pimple. But because they are internal and there is no room for swelling within the foot, they are excruciatingly painful for the horse.


Abscesses are caused by invasive or concussive trauma to the hoof. They are are more common after extended periods of wet weather because horses’ feet are softest then, and because protective sole has sloughed off.

An abscess usually presents itself after a couple of days of subtle soreness. Suddenly, the horse goes three-legged lame and doesn’t want to put any weight on the affected limb. The foot may feel hot and have a strong, digital pulse.  If you suspect an abscess, contact your farrier and veterinarian.


Before they arrive, it’s a good idea to clean all of the debris off the foot — although not pulling out nails or other objects that may have penetrated the sole. Then soak the foot in warm water with Epsom salts. Do this for at least 30 minutes with saddle horses and for at least an hour with draft breeds.

Don’t worry about over soaking the hoof. The foot will not become waterlogged and fall off. 

The trouble spot itself may be soft and tender. Do NOT dig out that exact spot. When I work with veterinarians on abscesses, I like to leave the sole intact and notch the hoof wall from the side, near the abscess if possible. This lets the abscess drain, but allows…

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