The Relationship Between Hoof Quality and Recurring Hoof Abscesses

Horse lying down

Hoof Abscesses can seem to appear overnight. Yesterday your horse showed no sign of pain, and today he can barely put weight on his foot. If you have never had a horse develop a hoof abscess, count yourself lucky. They can be extremely painful, often leading to severe lameness. Some horses suffer from recurring hoof abscesses that develop frequently.  Although hoof abscesses can be attributed to either the horse’s environment or the health of the hooves, they are often the consequence of a combination of both factors.

The environment is one of the first things that should be looked at if your horse is suffering from regular hoof abscesses. Bacteria can enter the hoof through a sole puncture wound or bruise, a hoof wall crack, an old nail hole, a white line separation, or from nailing a shoe.

A sole abscess is usually the result of a puncture wound from a nail or other foreign object. Bruising of the sole can also predispose the hoof to a sole abscess. Sole abscesses are common and usually break out at the sole surface. Occasionally the abscess will track under the surface of the sole and break out in another area of the sole.

Hoof wall abscesses often develop from foreign material, such as a small pebble, that enters at the white line area and migrates upward through the laminae. Small stones, sand, or gravel can also penetrate through hoof defects such as hoof cracks, crumbling hoof wall, or old nail holes and carry infection. The resulting abscess is often referred to as “gravels” or “gravelling”. The infection created by the migrating pebble will often break out at the coronary band, and with luck the abscess fluid will push out the foreign object.

Prior to opening and/or draining of a hoof abscess, the associated inflammation and fluid is trapped within the rigid confines of the hoof capsule. Intense pain occurs from the building pressure on the sensitive tissues. The pain often leads to reluctance or refusal to bear weight on the affected foot. The affected foot will often feel warmer than usual.

The incidence of hoof abscesses increase when the environment is wet and muddy. Wet conditions and unclean stalls are breeding grounds for bacteria that can create hoof abscesses. Also, the excess moisture will soften the hoof wall and sole making it easier for the bacteria and/or foreign material to penetrate into the hoof capsule.

Look at the environment surrounding your horse. Does your horse spend a lot of time in wet and muddy conditions? Are your regularly cleaning stalls? Does your horse walk on rocky pastures or gravel roads? Reducing your horse’s exposure to these kinds of environments can help reduce the chances of a hoof abscess developing. There are also preventive measures you can take to help protect against these environmental conditions.

  • Regularly clean and maintain your horse’s hooves daily. Remove any foreign material from the sole and around the frog.
  • Feed Farrier’s Formula® on a long-term basis to provide nutrients important for the horse’s immune system and to build a denser hoof wall and sole, increasing the hoof’s resistance to infection.
  • Apply Life Data® Hoof Clay®, a non-caustic antimicrobial packing, to fill in hoof wall cracks, wall defects and old nail holes. If barefoot, apply the clay directly to the white line to block foreign material and bacteria from penetrating.
    • Do not use cotton balls to pack hoof defects or open abscess tracts. Cotton balls leave fibers when removed. These left-over fibers can lead to infection.
    • Do not pack or wrap the hoof with any material that will block oxygen.
  • Apply Farrier’s Finish®, a topical hoof disinfectant and conditioner, to kill bacteria and regulate moisture balance.
    • In wet conditions, add two tablespoons Epson Salt per 16 oz. bottle of Farrier’s Finish® and apply to the hoof wall and sole surface. The product will not only disinfect the hoof capsule, but will also help harden the softened hoof wall and sole to increase the hoof capsule’s resistance to microbial invasion.
    • Ensure the hoof topical is non-caustic. Using caustic materials such as turpentine or formaldehyde can block oxygen and damage healthy tissue.
  • Maintain a regular farrier schedule and ensure hooves are being trimmed properly. Too much time between trimmings will allow the toe to grow out excessively thereby stretching or separating the white line. A separated white line predisposes the horse to gravels.
  • Maintain a proper body weight. The extra weight of an obese horse can place stress on the hooves, stretching the white line and “pancaking” the hoof wall. This weakens the hoof structurally and makes it vulnerable to microbes and foreign material. If your horse is overweight and suffers from recurring hoof abscesses, getting the weight under control could be the first step in the right direction.


[Bob Hill’s horse “Bo” suffered from frequent hoof abscesses. Using a combination of Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength and Barn Bag®, Bob was able to improve Bo’s hoof quality, reduce his weight, and stop the hoof abscesses. You can listen to his full testimonial here.]

There are many factors that affect hoof quality. Genetics, the environment, and nutrition all play major roles. We have already discussed methods you can utilize to protect the hoof from environmental factors that cause hoof abscesses; however proper nutrition also plays an important role in helping prevent hoof abscesses.

A healthy hoof has a denser hoof wall and sole, and is more resilient to microbial invasion and infection. Also the healthier hoof will have less hoof cracks, splits, and other hoof defects for foreign material to enter through. Feeding Farrier’s Formula® can improve hoof health and increase the resilience to these invasions both structurally and by improving immunity. Farrier’s Formula® contains ingredients such as zinc and vitamin C that support the horse’s immune system.

Consult your farrier and/or veterinarian on treatment if you suspect an abscess. Your farrier or veterinarian will work to draw out the hoof abscess with a poultice or to open and drain the abscess. In the case of a gravel, if any foreign material remains within the hoof wall either the abscess will not resolve or it reoccurs on a regular basis. Foreign objects trapped under the hoof wall will usually require a procedure to open up the hoof wall directly over the gravel.

It is also important to protect and disinfect the exit wound. Once the drainage has stopped, packing with Life Data® Hoof Clay® and regularly applying Farrier’s Finish® will help protect the open wound and keep out any unwanted material.

If you have any questions on utilizing Life Data® products to help treat or prevent hoof abscesses, feel free to contact us at 1-800-624-1873 or by e-mailing us at cservice@lifedatalabs.com.


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Read Our Last Blog, “Hoof Health Takes Patience”