Harry Hall has teamed up with Caroline Mosley, a Lecturer in Veterinary Clinical Skills at the University of Edinburgh and the face behind Orange Fox Eventing to show us how to apply a poultice to a horse's leg. In this blog, Caroline discusses how to know when there could be an abscess present and how to poultice a hoof.
How do you know if your horse has an abscess?
"If my horse is showing lameness and I’m worried about there being an abscess, the first thing I do is feel for a digital pulse over the fetlock, if there is one present, I then use hoof testers in the hoof to try and locate where the abscess could be. There could also be heat in your horse's hoof. Feel your horse's hooves often so you get to know what is a normal temperature for them, they might also be more sensitive than normal when you touch their hoof if an abscess is present.
If all the signs point towards an abscess and your horse is shod, the next step is to remove the shoe!"
(How to find your horse's digital pulse. If you cannot find it, ask your vet to show you when they are next at your yard. It's a good idea to get used to trying to find it (it’s really hard to find in healthy legs) so that when you are looking for an abscess, you will be able to tell what normal is for your horse.)
"Now getting the shoe off can be a pain in the butt! I recommend trying to get all the nails out first, don’t try and pull the shoe off with the nails still intact as you’ll rip half of the hoof off this way. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the nail hole lets the abscess drain, when this doesn’t happen it’s onto plan B - hot tub and poultice. It’s worth saying here if you’re struggling to get off the shoe, call your farrier and see if they can come out to help you remove it. They may also be able to dig out the abscess.
In the event of severe lameness and pain, consider whether a visit from your vet is required to administer pain relief as the pressure caused by an abscess can be very painful for your horse.
How does a poultice draw out infections?
Hot tubbing is basically standing your horse's hoof in a shallow bucket of warm water, you can add Epsom salts if you want. Warm water helps to clean the hoof and start the process of softening which encourages the abscesses to pop out. At this stage, have a look to see if there is any evidence up the hoof that may show where the abscess will burst out. You won’t always see something, then it’s on to stage 2 - how to apply a poultice…
How to apply a poultice
This is a technique that causes horse owners a headache sometimes, a simple poulticing technique is explained below and one that is yet to fail!
How to make a poultice:
Scissors for cutting up the poultice
Kettle to boil some water
Clean tray (we use a clean cat litter tray or the lid of a box)
Nappies – size newborn number 3 (4-9kg) seems to be the perfect size for a horse’s hoof. (Don’t buy any expensive ones as the gel in them can get in the way, simple cheap ones work just as well.)
Duct tape – or duck tape as some folks call it. Black or silver, it’s strong and sticky!
The good old Animalintex poultice.
How to poultice a horse's leg:
Firstly boil the kettle.
Remove the Animalintex and cut the size of poultice you need, usually the size of the sole of the hoof or to cover the hole where the abscess is.
Make a duct tape star – to do this find a wall or stable door and stick a strip of tape about 30cm long (shorter or longer depending on your horse’s foot size!), continue this process until you have made a star. You can create a duct tape square instead, but the star seems to fit the foot better and is the way we choose to do it.
Using the boiling water, soak the Animalintex square on the tray/litter tray. You don’t need it to sit soaking in the water, add enough to wet it completely and use the handle of the scissors to flatten the poultice – removing the excess water. Once you can pick it up (it’s very hot so you need to give it time to cool enough!) then take it over to the horse and get ready to apply the poultice to your horse's leg.
Place the tape and nappy so they're close to hand and lift your horse's hoof.
Place the poultice on, with shiny plastic clear side away from the foot.
Then place the nappy on, using the waistband of the nappy place this up and over the heel, then stretch the nappy down and over the toe bringing it back up the front of the foot.
You can place the foot on the floor at this time, or once you are good at fixing it, you can use the nappy tapes to tighten it around the foot to hold it in place.
Then pick up the foot (if you put it down!) and place the duct tape over the nappy as an extra-strong layer to reduce the horse wearing through the bottom. Take each end of the star and stick it down so the tape star fits off the foot like a cover. You can place one more piece across the heel (not sticking to the heel or hair, but stick to the nappy) and one across the front of the hoof over the nappy to help keep it from moving.
We have found this technique keeps the poultice on well, however, if you do have a horse that likes to remove it then a layer of Flex Wrap bandaged onto the foot between the nappy and duct tape can help hold it on better.
If you find it difficult to poultice a horse's leg, ask your farrier or vet to give you a demo, they will be happy to show you and help you. Fingers crossed you don’t need to do it but if you do then hopefully this information will help."