One of the most common causes of sudden-onset lameness in horses is an abscess.  These occur when bacteria invade a horse’s hoof, and the horse becomes lame when the infection reaches the sensitive structures of the foot.  Besides showing varying degrees of lameness, a horse with an abscess will be sensitive to hoof testers or percussion and may have lower leg swelling or an increased digital pulse.

A hoof abscess is a common and painful localized infection behind the hoof wall or sole. It’s kind of like a “zit” on the hoof.

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Causes of an abscess:

  • A bruise
  • A puncture wound
  • “Quicking” with a horseshoe nail
  • Hot-fitting a shoe on a very thin sole
  • Management factors such as wet or dirty stalls
  • Poor hoof balance/conformation

Horses with hoof abscesses are often severly, sometimes “three-legged,” lame.

Abscesses are relatively quick and easy to treat.


  • Swelling in the affected leg
  • Localized heat
  • Reaction to hoof testers
  • Malodorous drainage (usually black or gray) or evidence of a “tract”
  • Increased digital pulse


  • Clean the foot.
  • Locate the entry wound, if there is one.
  • Soften the hoof capsule with Epsom salt foot soaks and/or poultice bandages to encourage rupture or drainage, if recommended by your vet.
  • Your vet or farrier might us a hoof knife to follow the tract and relieve the painful pressure.
  • In some cases, your vet might prescribe anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics.
  • Keep the foot wrapped and protected from debris entering and causing further infection. Some people trim a disposable diaper to fit the bottom of the horse’s foot.
hoof wrapping made easy
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The abscess will “blow” or “pop,” sometimes out of the hoof’s sole or through the coronet band, giving the horse near immediate pain relief.

Continue to bandage the foot with an antiseptic until drainage ceases and the wound dries. Kee the foot clean until it heals.