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Digital Subscriptions > Horse Illustrated > Jan 2020 > Don’t Obsess Over Abscesses

Don’t Obsess Over Abscesses

Identify and treat this common ailment with advice from a vet.

Many horse owners have had the following experience: you put your perfectly healthy horse up for the night and the next morning, he walks out of the stall three-legged lame.

A nightmare scenario, right? Whoa, there. It may not be as bad as it appears if your veterinarian or farrier determines the problem is a hoof abscess. Hoof abscesses are a frequent occurrence in horses, and although they can seem dramatic, they are relatively straightforward to manage.


A hoof abscess starts when environmental bacteria gain access into the hoof capsule.

The most common way that bacteria does this relates to fluctuating moisture in the environment. When the ground is dry, hooves become hard and somewhat brittle. This causes small fissures (cracks) to develop in the sole. When the ground becomes wet, the hoof acts like a sponge and softens, further opening these small cracks. Bacteria in the environment can take advantage of these small breaches in the otherwise impenetrable hoof wall and invade the tissue inside.

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