Tuesday 17 April 2018

Teach Me Tuesday: Abscesses

Please teach me: How prevalent are hoof abscesses in horses? What factors make them more or less common in your experience?

This is a topic that I have searched on the internet and read articles about but I still feel like I am missing information that the blogger community may be able to help fill in.

Here's the deal: in blogland I feel like I read about one of your horses developing an abscess every other week. I read about them derailing show and riding plans and they seem like a big PITA, but they are also generally written about in a "abscesses just happen, fact of life" kind of way. This is 100% not an accusation as to be honest I know that many of these horses get a better standard of care than mine does; however, in 22 years of riding and 18 years of horse ownership, I have never encountered an abscess in person (universe, please do not take this as a challenge). Why? Am I just insanely lucky? Is there something about the climate or soil type here, the horses I have owned, type of riding I do, etc. that makes them less prevalent?

Maybe we can do an informal study by all answering the following questions:

How many years of horse ownership do you have? 18
In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 0
Breed of horse? Anglo-arab for 14 years, Grade paint/QH/TB for 4 years
Shod or barefoot? 2 years shod, 16 barefoot
Indoor or outdoor board? Outdoor, sometimes pen, sometimes pasture
Type of riding? Primarily dressage now
Average rides/week? 2-3
Climate type? Cold semi-arid
Soil type? Brown loam
Any other foot issues? None currently but have dealt with founder and thrush previously

Please teach me about your abscess experiences. And for anyone dealing with one now, I'm sorry for your luck, I hope you have a smooth and quick recovery.


  1. How many years of horse ownership do you have? 12, 10 years of multi-horse ownership (from 2-7, currently own 4)
    In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 1 hoof abscess and 1 frog abscess (that we wouldn't have known about if the farrier hadn't popped it during a trim)
    Breed of horse? OTTB (hoof abscess), Andalusian (frog abscess), also have owned QHs, Aztecas and a NSH
    Shod or barefoot? Primarily barefoot although I think the OTTB had front shoes when he abscessed (it was 2009 so I'm a bit rusty on the details)
    Indoor or outdoor board? Stall board with 10-15 hours of turnout a day in a paddock
    Type of riding? Dressage now, although when the OTTB abscessed, we were primarily jumping
    Average rides/week? Oh god, this is impossible for me to calculate over the course of time with so many horses haha
    Climate type? Mild-type humid subtropical
    Soil type? Clay
    Any other foot issues? One Azteca had caudal heel pain and wore therapuetic shoes in front. The OTTB has the stereotypical shitty TB feet so when he was in work, he needed front shoes. As a retiree, he is fine barefoot.

    1. That's a very low incidence of abscesses considering the number of years and horses! Thanks for the data

  2. as best i understand abscesses (which, is kinda limited), they're basically hoof zits. and as with any zit, some hooves are more prone to them than others. my arabian mare had great feet and never had any issues, but my ottb has softer feet and has the occasional abscess.

    basically what happens is some sort of irritant gets in the white line of the hoof and creates the abscess. conditions that change from dry to wet to dry to wet can lead to more abscesses bc the hooves expand and contract depending on how wet or dry the ground is, making it easier for stuff to get up into the white line. non-environmental conditions that can create an abscess include trauma - like when my horse stepped on a nail, that injury introduced foreign objects (like dirt) up into the hoof that brewed into an abscess (aka a zit).

    as for your questions, my answers below:
    10-20hrs turnout daily depending on season
    dirt? idk haha

    1. oh, abscesses can also be mechanical sometimes. like if something is going on inside the hoof (like a founder or something) or the angles are all wrong, the hoof can get into a chronic abscessing situation bc there are unnatural pressure points causing damage and aggravation.

    2. Thanks for the reply and data set :)

      I do know all those basics of what causes abscesses and your explanations match what I have read in articles and horse care books, but I still feel like there's more to the story. Last year in particular there was some insane wet/dry cycles in my area and my horse and few others I know did have a bit of a stretched white line, and were standing in not super clean conditions (wet/dry cycles made scraping the manure from the pens difficult). Theoretically, that sounds like prime abscess conditions but that wasn't the case. Then on the other end of the spectrum, you and some other bloggers seem to get more than your share of abscesses (obviously the nail is a separate scenario), it just doesn't seem fair and I'm curious about what other factors are at play.

    3. i would hardly claim to have gotten more than my fair share when my horse (an ottb with typical soft ottb feet) has had one (1) in the past two years aside from the nail injury lol

  3. My farrier swears sand is a terrible choice for paddocks and causes abscesses when the sand grains get in the white line. Obviously, that's horse specific but moving my mare off sand worked - never had an issue again.
    Years owned horses: 20
    Abscesses:5? Of my own. Been a long while since one of my own got one, but the barn I work at its pretty common - maybe 4 a year out of 15 horses.
    Breeds: Welsh Cob, GRP currently. Previously a TB/percheron and a couple of appendix QHs. Oh, and a QH/Arabian.
    Barefoot mostly. Front shoes in summer if needed.
    Outdoor board. Paddocks with shelters always.
    Type of riding? Everything, with lots of trail riding too.
    Rides/week: 4-6
    Climate: Wet!
    Soil: Mud right now! Mostly Road base paddocks, grass pastures.
    Issues: lots of horses here with varying degrees of thrush or white line. I'd say its more common than not. The wet ground does us no favors.

    1. Interesting about the sand! I thought sand would be better for reducing the moisture and bacteria (but I guess that might be better for thrush than abscesses). Is there sand footing in paddocks at your barn where you said abscesses are fairly common? I always think of our soil as fairly sandy because we are half desert but no barns here have actual sand as paddock footing.

  4. My experience it depends a lot on the horse as an individual (some are just more predisposed probably genetically), like Emma said using the zit analogy works. Some people are more prone to zits than others, I know some people who have just the most amazing skin and only wash with water and eat junk food, but if I washed with water and ate only junk food my face would be freaking the worst.

    My last two horses never had abscesses, Carlos got them all the time that it felt it was always. How often, don't remember but I can tell you they occured less when I A) got a better farrier and B) we switched to autowaterers which caused his stall to be dry all the time (he loved knocking buckets over). He also had terrible feet genetically.

    1. That makes sense when you put the zit analogy like that lol

      Interesting how dry stall and better farrier helped

  5. Abscesses are an immune response to a foreign material typically caused by anaerobic bacteria. There are several ways for abscesses to occur but the bottom line is there was a breakdown in the surface of the hoof/frog. All of the pus that appears is mostly immune cells that were recruited to the site of the antigen.

    Stinker has had two abscesses in the last year. I believe it is because of the massive climate change from very wet to high desert and I haven’t adjusted my care protocol quickly enough to prevent the issues.

    When I was a kid we had anywhere from 10-20 horses depending on the location and number of cattle we had. I don’t recall them ever having issues with abscesses.

    Quarter horses and saddlebred
    Mostly outdoor
    Ranch work/dressage
    Anywhere from 2-6 x per week
    Variety. High desert, subtropical, mountains, high plains
    Variety. Currently sandy or rocky
    Stinker has a slight club foot that has not caused any issues

    1. That does make sense that such a big climate change would impact Stinker's feet. Hopefully you are done with abscesses now

  6. How many years of horse ownership do you have? 15ish
    In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 0
    Breed of horse? Warmbloods
    Shod or barefoot? Barefoot except for 2 summers
    Indoor or outdoor board? Outdoor.
    Type of riding? Primarily dressage.
    Average rides/week? 4-6
    Climate type? Whatever Alberta feels like having that day LOL
    Soil type? Not sure, dirt. Some sand.
    Any other foot issues? None.

    I have maybe experienced one abscess, and I only think that because of the mark that is currently growing out on my mare's one hoof.

    I think there are so many things that attribute to abscesses. Soil, overall health, stress, farrier etc etc.

  7. How many years of horse ownership do you have? 11
    In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 1
    Breed of horse? Quarter horse for 6 years, Thoroughbred for 5 years and now a Westphalian
    Shod or barefoot? 11 years shod (Niko is my first barefoot horse)
    Indoor or outdoor board? Stall board
    Type of riding? All-around and hunter/jumper
    Average rides/week? 4-5
    Climate type? Temperate: four distinct seasons, large seasonal temperature ranges, and frequent precipitation
    Soil type? Miamian
    Any other foot issues? Thrush

  8. Thanks for this post as I too have read and wondered about abscesses! We’re relative newbies to the horse scene (my daughter has ridden 4-5 years and we made the jump to owning 1-1/2 years ago.) but never known any horse to have one. We’ve been at stables with anywhere from 10 to 40+ horses of all sizes and breeds. We’re in Manitoba so I’ve kinda wondered if the frozen hell our landscape becomes has anything to do with the lack of them? Most pastures we’ve seen do dry out quickly, but we were at one place (40+ horses) built essentially on bog, but even there, the big school herd on pasture board didn’t have issues that I knew of.

  9. How many years of horse ownership do you have? 10
    In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 0
    Breed of horse? Grade pony cross, Welsh Cob
    Shod or barefoot? Barefoot
    Indoor or outdoor board? Day turnout/stalled at night spring/fall/winter, night turnout/stalled during the day summer
    Type of riding? Dressage
    Average rides/week? 4-5
    Climate type? Cold winters, hot humid summers
    Soil type? Clay
    Any other foot issues? None

  10. *knock on wood* my horses have never had abscesses either! Gina had a stone bruise once, but that's the only hoof problem any of mine have ever had.

    -How many years of horse ownership do you have? Lifelong (31 years)
    -In those years, how many abscesses have you experienced? 0
    -Breed of horse? 3 TBs (currently), 1 QH, 2 QH crosses
    -Shod or barefoot? Typically barefoot, though some have had front shoes over the years. Currently have 2 barefoot, 1 with front shoes.
    -Indoor or outdoor board? Outdoor
    -Type of riding? eventing/dressage/trail riding/foxhunting
    -Average rides/week? 3-4
    -Climate type? Humid sub-tropical
    -Soil type? Fine-loamy, siliceous, active, thermic Udic Argiustolls! (finally putting that soil science degree to work LOL) This is a well-drained sandy loam soil.
    -Any other foot issues? Some dryness and cracking during summers, which tend to be very dry.