This past winter was bad enough here in New England, with a mid-January through March of record breaking low temperatures and snow fall. But add to that working with my older horse who was suffering from severe laminitis (swelling of the soft tissue that connects the hoof wall to the coffin, or hoof, bone) due to a bad farrier, who had trimmed his right hoof so poorly, it was actually out of alignment. Add to that Cushings disease and insulin resistance and you have a recipe for disaster. His diet had been properly balanced for years, as he developed the IR first, the Cushings only about a year ago. When fall arrived, however, his age and immune system kicked in and sent his numbers sky-rocketing. Once put on Pergolide for Cushings, and once winter set in, which told his body it no longer needed to store so many sugars, everything regulated. But, by this time laminitis had already taken over.
When I bought my horse 11 years ago, he already had navicular (a wearing away of the navicular bone in the heel) from too much stress on his feet as a circuit jumper. As a western rider, I had no need for jumping. The navicular pain was easily controlled with special shoes and remained this way for years. Every two years, I had his feet X-Ray’d to see if the navicular was getting any worse. In 11 years, it has hardly changed and was always much worse on the left side, barely anything and no lameness on the right.
It so happened that last summer I hired a farrier I had heard specialized in “curing” navicular. I could see my horse’s feet getting smaller, with less heel, and it concerned me, plus the farrier I had at the time was so unreliable everyone I knew who was using him had dropped him. So, I decided to go with this new farrier.
I was a bit skeptical when he changed my horse’s feet so completely the very first time he came out. I’m a true believer in taking these slow and easy to see how it works. After only the 3rd shoeing, my horse started to show marked lameness in the right front. I knew his navicular was still not developed in this foot and had more X-Rays done only months before, so it had to be something else. I called out my vet. He immediately questioned the fact that my new farrier had jacked my horse’s left foot higher than his right with an extra leather pad. Everyone at the barn questioned that. The hooves should be even. When questioned, this farrier had many run-around answers. Mostly, he concentrated on saying the hooves needed to be trimmed and raised in the way the horse wears each foot and may not always be even, and that he needed to put the extra pad on the left for the navicular to clear. But, now my horse was going off on the right. My vet had me call out the farrier to remove the extra pad and do both feet even (to which the farrier complained, claiming this would cripple my horse. He was wrong).
That seemed to solve the problem for about a month, and then he was off on the right again. No longer able to care for him properly in the outdoor setting where he was living (with winter coming on), I made the decision to move barns where he would have a stall inside the barn and a small run out. In summer he will have a non-grass paddock. I had the vet out again and he needed to do X-Rays so he pulled the shoes (this was January 19th). What he saw horrified him. Rocker shoes, which bow upwards, caused my horse’s feet to grow with an arc at the bottom (I don’t know about you, but horse’s feet are supposed to be flat at the bottom). The right foot was so poorly trimmed the bones actually did not line up with the hoof wall (see the photo slideshow for X-Ray and other photos). The farrier had actually made my horse pigeon toed on the right foot (the bones were straight but the hoof was not). My horse had started to develop laminitis in this foot as well. Then in the left foot.
Through the winter, I fought the laminitis, which he had in both front feet, worse on the right. I kept him on Bute to aid his comfort from the inflammation and pain. I was at the barn every day, sometimes twice, sometimes all day, thankful I had moved as most of this could be done inside a barn. It broke my heart to see my 21 year old Grey Overo Double Registered Paint/Pinto–a very popular horse to kids and at shows for his loving nature and kisses– in such severe pain he would rock back on his hinds just to remove the weight from his front feet. Surprisingly, he didn’t spend a lot of time lying down, not much more than usual. He fortunately has a high sense of self preservation and always knows when and how much he can do. His bravery through this ordeal was beyond measure. Though I wept with fear for my “son,” the horse that saved my life so long ago, I also knew he was strong and a survivor.
I read about Soft Ride boots, orthotic gel insert boots that relieve pain and pressure during laminitic bouts. I was tired of fighting to tape styrofoam on his feet. So, I ordered the boots. The moment I put them on his feet he was like a different horse! All the pressure was relieved and he could walk, stand square and even run. To me, after months of seeing my baby in such agony, this was a miracle.
Within weeks he was walking so normal, we (the vet and I) decided to try putting shoes back on. This turned out to be premature as he was lame the very next day. Very lame. The day after, the shoes were pulled and he was back in the Soft Ride boots. The vet and I decided, in order to give his feet time to truly grow and heal, we would keep him in the boots until the end of April when it would be time to get back into show shape.
However, a crimp in the plan befell us almost immediately. Once the laminitis was gone, he began to form abscesses in the right foot, the one that had been so messed up from the past farrier. He has now suffered three abscesses in two weeks. The first was near the sole and easily dug out and drained. The second took a week to blow (though we never found where it blew), the third he is still dealing with to this day (it has been almost a week). I have learned a few tricks and facts about abscesses (particularly deep solar ones) during this time;
- Moisture is your friend. Though many people think keeping a horse’s foot wet 24/7 will damage the hoof, in most cases it will not, especially if the horse does not suffer from weak hooves, white line disease or anything that compromises the integrity of the sole/wall bond.
- Moisture keeps the hoof soft so it is easier for abscesses to find their way out.
- Wrap the hoof with Animalintex Poultice pads, wrapping it tight with vet wrap, duct tape and even a plastic bag, then pour hot (about 100 degrees F) water infused with Epsom Salts into the pad. This allows the medicated pad to work, keeps the hoof moist and the medication in the poultice keeps away infection and helps draw the abscess to the surface.
- Once a week, use a heavy bag or hoof soaker (close off tight), mix one part White Lightning and one part Vinegar to form a gas (chlorine dioxide) that aids in healing the foot. This is also good to aid healing in a hoof that has been damaged by laminitis.
- You should always have both farrier and vet at arm’s length during the process, and in touch with one another. My vet and present farrier are close friends and work extremely well together.
- Do NOT listen to every single bit of advice you hear from others, no matter how much they claim it works for “their” horse. Your horse is unique and you need to find what works in your situation.
- Deep abscesses can take time to blow. Keep that horse’s foot wrapped to keep it clean, and MOIST! If I am out of poultice wraps, I will wrap the foot in a diaper, duct tape, then a plastic bag duct taped (or vet wrapped) to the hoof, then I add hot water infused with epsom salts. This will stay moist for at least 24 hours. The natural heat of the horse (along with the plastic bag) will keep it warm.
- Do NOT let your horse’s foot dry out!!!! Once dry, the hoof hardens and abscesses are stuck until the next soaking. This gives little time for the infection to find its way out! Keep that hoof moist, warm and medicated, plus very clean! My horse’s foot has been kept moist for almost a month now with no ill effects. As a matter of fact, it looks terrific! Like moisturizing your face each day.
- Always use water that is about 100 degrees F (I bought a meat thermometer). Too hot and you could scald the horse. Too cold and it does not work as well.
- If it is a cold winter, be very careful to keep warm moisture inside the wrapping… You do NOT want the foot to freeze.
In closing, I want to say that too many people use the old fashioned method of warm water, Epsom salts and a tub to soak the foot twice a day for 20-30 minutes. But you must think. What is happening in between these soakings? The hoof is drying out, getting dirty, or any number of bad things. Keep that hoof WRAPPED and clean as a hospital. Do not allow ANY bacteria to get inside no matter what! Keep it warm and moist (a thriving condition for bad bacteria) and clean. Use poultice pads with very warm water 24/7 (change pads every 2 days, but keep wet). I have used Epsom Salt poultice inside any holes the vet has dug, just in case the abscess wants to exit there. You can also use Icthammol, but it’s useless without an exit point.
One more thing. Movement is good. It helps draw out the abscess. But do not do too much if your horse is in extreme pain. Even a walk up and down the aisle several minutes a day is better than standing still. Movement encourages blood flow. Blood flow can help resolve abscesses.