If you go to the barn and discover that your horse will not bear weight on one leg, a hoof abscess may be the problem. Dr. Steve O’Grady says in the Remuda publication that an abscess is an accumulation of pus underneath the sole or inside the hoof wall, and just a few drops of pus can be extremely painful to the horse. There are many causes for acute severe lameness, but a hoof abscess is the most common. Many clients call us thinking their horse has a broken leg or other severe injury that turns out to be a hoof abscess.
Your horse should always be examined by your vet if there is any lameness. Hoof pain can be diagnosed with hoof testers by applying pressure on the sole. If it’s positive, this tells the vet there is a problem in the hoof but does not tell us the cause. Your vet will examine the foot closely for signs of a puncture or opening at the white line that could allow an abscess to develop. If an apparent abscess is not found, sometimes x-rays are required to rule out other causes of lameness, and sometimes an abscess can be seen on the x-ray.
Although punctures are certainly possible, most hoof abscesses develop from dirt or other material contaminated with bacteria that enters the area under the sole at the white line. Horses with founder or those that do not have their feet trimmed regularly have a widened white line that makes them susceptible to an abscess. Treating these abscesses involves opening the area at the white line to allow drainage. Making an opening in the sole requires much longer to heal. If your horse becomes acutely lame, an abscess may be the cause. Whatever the cause is, calling your vet is the best option.