A is for Abscesses

If you have a horse then, most likely, you've dreaded hearing the word "abscess".

Scenario:  You horse was fine at night-time check. Eating, drinking, walking around with no issues. Come morning, EEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!  Your horse looks and is acting like he's broken a leg.


Check over the horse thoroughly to make sure there are no wounds or hematomas. Feel the entire body for unusual heat. Once you've found there are no presenting "symptoms" other than your horse acts as if he or she is dying ... clean and check the hooves thoroughly.

(a.)   You may feel the hooves and find some heat and maybe a stronger digital pulse than normal.

(b.)   You might push in on the sole and find a soft spot.

(c.) You may even be cleaning with the hoofpick when POOF! the pick goes through the sole and blood and pus squirt out. Your horse will breathe a sigh of release of pain and stand on the hoof without further ado.  And, there's your answer in this event.

(d.)   You find nothing at all out of the ordinary except your horse is dead lame.

However, if your hoof pick doesn't vent an existing abscess there are some thing you can do to encourage the venting (blowing out of an abscess).

Let's talk about what to do if we ascertain the horse is blowing an abscess and what to do after the hoof does vent.

If you find some heat (and possible swelling up the pastern), OR you find nothing at all, there is a good chance that the abscess is seeking out the path of least resistance in order to vent open. In a good, solid soled hoof, this may take some time; even months! While waiting, there are a couple of things you can do.

I'm going to give both traditional actions to take as well as alternative actions one can take after thoroughly cleaning and examining the hoof.

TRADITIONAL:  Call your veterinarian. Usually he or she will advise to soak the offending hoof in a bath of very warm Epsom salts and betadine twice a day for 15 - 30 mins each time until a hole opens and the abscess starts to drain. . After soaking, wrap with a poultice of "Magna Paste" and bandage the hoof. (baby diapers make great combo of poultice and bandage!) Some advocate for giving a gram of "Bute". Some veterinarians will recommend keeping the horse stalled until the abscess has healed.

ALTERNATIVELY:  (this is what we, at PENZANCE, do):  Soak the offending hoof in a very warm activated charcoal bath. Use about 1/8th of a cup to 5 gallons of water. Soak for 15 mins or longer (up to 30 mins) then one can apply one of the following to the hoof and bandage with vetwrap and duct tape:

  1. Activated Hardwood Charcoal poultice
    2.  Montmorillonite Clay/Mineral
     I prefer the activated charcoal poultice but if I don't have charcoal then I will use the Minerals based in Montmorillonite clay.

Administer a few doses of Hepar Sulph Homeopathic Remedy ... up to six doses.

I dissolve the homeopathic pellets in a cup of spring water and will dose with about a tablespoon.via syringe every hour or so for 6 hours.  One can also treat with the dry pellets by dropping 2 or 3 Hepar sulph pellets into a couple of small holes made in a piece of carrot. I've found, however, that the water method is more effective in these cases than the dry administration.

Turn the horse out and let 'em be a horse. The Hepar Sulph USUALLY causes an abscess to burst in 1 - 3 days. After venting the following applies:


After the abscess vents (or is drained by knife by the vet), give any medications that your veterinarian prescribes. Your veterinarian is most likely also going to advise that you keep the abscess vent clean and wrapped. It generally takes about a week or so for this area to heal. No other instructions are usually given concerning WHOLE horse healing and prevention.


Clean the hooves thoroughly.

Spray with a salt water spray made from 1 tablespoon sea salt to 16 ounces of spring water.

Soak the open vented hoof twice a day for a day or two in activated hardwood charcoal bath. (Yep, the same as we do before the abscess opens.)

Again, apply a charcoal poultice OR clay poultice.

OR, what we do here at PENZANCE after spraying and soaking is to put some essential oil healing salve on a cotton ball or some gauze and wrap the foot to help keep it clean. Raw, organic honey can be used as well as PURE Essential Oil mix of Oregano, Frankinsence and OnGuard. Is the abscess if particularly bad, the Oregano, Frankincense and OnGuard is what I will use along WITH the Essential Oil Healing Salve. I will sometimes also use this mix (minus the healing salve) orally by mixing recommended number of drops of each into breakfast and supper food. 

Administer 1 dose of Silicea 200c homeopathic remedy.

Turn horse out as usual.
Leave poultice on for 24 hrs.
Repeat poultice if necessary.

Generally speaking, it usually takes about 2 or 3 days for the abscess vent to be closed and healed over.

While we can't always prevent abscesses from forming there are preventative measures we can take that will help minimize the chances of an occurrence. ...

Make sure the horse gets adequate hoofcare from a skilled, knowledgeable and experienced hoofcare provider on a regular basis of every 4 - 6 weeks for the barefooted horse.

Feed as 'natural' a diet as possible (raw, fresh forages, 24/7 hay, minerals, salt), use an immunoregulator to increase your horse's immune T-cells by over 400%, keep your horse's environment as clean as possible and frequently check the 'grounds' for objects that can cause wounds to the hooves.

Regularly detox your horse to help maintain the healthiest state of his or her system as possible. (We, at PENZANCE, use activated hardwood charcoal in the drinking water for the horses and once a month will administer a homeopathic remedy that is known to detox as well as deworm. We also give specific herbs in their daily 'salads' (fresh, raw forages - veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds) for specific preventatives such as deworming, liver cleanses and individual situations for an individual horse.

As is said, "prevention is worth a pound of cure."

If you are at all interested in a more 'natural' way of treating abscesses or other conditions of your horse please do not hesitate to contact me. My contact information is below.

Canterbury CT, USA
(860) 566-9199


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoof care for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- gwen.santagate@gmail.com or telephone in the US (774)-280-4227 NEW PHONE). For further information please click here:  www.thepenzancehorse.com

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