An abscess is the bodies way of expelling dead material from the hoof. Although painful it is in fact nothing to be feared, let nature run its course and the abscess will take care of itself.
What does this mean for my horse?
Chances are if an abscess has developed, you'll see the symptoms of it before you see the signs. The dead or foreign material will follow the path of least resistance as the hoof pushes it out of the body. While this happens your horse can experience mild discomfort to complete lameness on the affected hoof, dependent on the depth and size of the abscess itself.
How can I recognize it?
An abscess is easy to recognize once erupted, appearing as a horizontal tear somewhere on the hoof, coronet or heel bulb. From this point onwards it's in the past. The greater challenge is to recognize an abscess while it is still beneath the surface.
If your horse has suddenly become tender or lame, check for puncture wounds or bruising, if these aren't there you can suspect an abscess is brewing. Touch the hoof and sole with your fingertips, if either feel hot you can be fairly certain you have a formed abscess you just can't see. Check the digital pulse on the fetlock, if its strong an abscess is almost guaranteed.
If in doubt, call a vet experienced in horsecare - but don't let them cut it out!
How can I help to see this healed?
Now you know your horse has an abscess what do you do next? This largely depends on the type of abscess that has formed. In the case of a hoof transitioning to barefoot it is perhaps the hardest thing of all to do, nothing. To interfere with an abscess before it is ready to come out is to halt healing in its tracks. If you've contacted a vet, confidently decline their request to cut out the abscess. This practice compromises the hoof wall, allows infection to set in, and results in the same abscess reforming at a later date.
However, if the abscess has formed as a result of a puncture wound it is important to be certain no foreign object is still in the foot.
For the comfort of your horse and dependent on the type of abscess that has formed you may consider use of a properly fitted hoof boot.
How can I make sure this doesn't happen again?
Prevention is better than cure. If your horse has developed an abscess you need to ask this question. Why? Especially in the case of repeated abscessing; diet, lifestyle, trim, and boarding should be thoroughly examined.
Diet is a major contributor to abscesses and every effort should be made to bring it in line with NHC guidelines. Inappropriate feed compromises internal health and leads to conditions such as abscessing.
Horses in unsuitable boarding conditions, or those who are not provided freedom of movement are also at a higher risk of abscessing.
Find a skilled Natural Hoofcare Practioner and stick to a regular trim schedule to ensure correct hoof function is maintained and hoof health continues to improve.
Each of these steps go a long way keeping abscesses at bay and work alongside each other. Your horse may still experience an abscess, but the likelihood is greatly reduced.