Hoof Problems: Part 1; Soft Soles & Abscesses

Most horse owners have been there…

You go out to ride your horse, and he/she limps into the barn like their leg is broken, barely putting weight on the limb. You immediately assume the worse, and start your detailed check of the limb for heat/swelling… but there is none! You move down to the hoof and sure enough, there is heat/bruising in the hoof.

Assuming there isn’t anything lodged in the hoof, you’re probably looking at an abscess. If you have recently ridden on a gravel road/hard ground, you may also be looking at softening of the soles.

How to tell the difference:

What you’ll need:

– Hoof testers
– Hands capable of noting temperature differences
– Hoof pick with brush

Step 1:

Clean the hoof out thoroughly using your hoof pick & brush. You may want to lightly soak the hoof in a small pan of water to really clean it out, so you know what you’re looking at.

Step 2:

Look for any bruising/discolouration in the hoof. It is usually spread out, coming from the frog (the most sensative part of the hoof).

bruised hoof 1







Step 3:

Check for temperature differences in the hoof. If there is spread out bruising and the sole seems warm to the touch, you’re probably looking at bruised & soft soles. Bruised/Soft soles will “give” when you press down on the sole with your hand. If there is no bruise, or a small bruise, but a temperature difference in the hoof, it’s probably an abscess.

Step 4:

Still stumped? Use your hoof testers to “pinch” around different areas of the hoof. Be CAREFUL, because when you hit a sensative spot your horse may violently put his hoof down. If you find a sensative spot it’s most likely an abcess that still hasn’t surfaced.

hoof testers

If you’re not comfortable with your conclusion, have your farrier come out. If it’s an abcess they might be able to dig it out! If it’s something out, they may recommend hoof x-rays or specialised shoes.




Step 5:

Check the sides of the hoof and coronet band for temperature differences or small cracks/soft spots. Abscesses can come out the top of the hoof too!   Luckily, lameness usually subsides after an abscess is drained/infection treated. Once it has “popped” however, you have to keep the hoof very clean to prevent bacteria from getting in… but you have to make sure you’re not trapping bacteria in as well.

Sounds easy, right?

Let’s move on to Part 2: Treatment & Wraping the Hoof

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