Home Care for Horses

Horsemanship Level 4: Vet & First Aid pt III

Last week for this topic we looked at discerning emergency versus non-emergency ailments of the horse. This week we’ll cover treatments of some minor illnesses and injuries.


thrushThrush is a foul-smelling infection that occurs in the grooves (sulci) of the hoof on either side of the frog.  It is usually bacterial, but can sometimes have fungus or yeast present as well.  It most often occurs in wet, dirty conditions, but can sometimes occur in dry areas if the frog is overgrown and dirt and bacteria become trapped in the deep grooves.  You will probably notice the smell before you see the tarry black goo deep in the crevices.

Mild cases of thrush can usually be dealt with by picking out the feet more often and ensuring the horse has clean, dry bedding.  If thrush is neglected it can begin to eat away at the frog and penetrate to the sensitive parts of the hoof, causing lameness.  To treat thrush, have your farrier trim the frog to open out the grooves.  Tack stores have topical ointments that can be used to eliminate the bacteria, but 7% iodine is also quite effective.  Avoid bleach as it can damage the hoof.


A hoof abscess is usually the best diagnosis a horse-owner can receive when faced with a sudden and mysterious lameness. Abscesses are usually caused by a small bit of foreign matter, such as a tiny piece of gravel, working its way into the hoof via the white line or hoof cracks.  A pocket of pus forms, and because the hoof is hard the pressure cannot be relieved (think of having a sliver or blood blister under the fingernail).  If left alone the abscess may eventually break out of the top of the hoof at the coronet band, but that would mean leaving your horse in pain for many weeks.

Tubbing a hoof

The only symptoms are usually an unwillingness to put weight on one foot, and sometimes a bounding digital pulse.  However, when your vet or farrier uses hoof-testers (larger pincers) she can often find a sensitive area and carve out the sole or wall to drain the abscess.  Sometimes the abscess can’t be found right away, and you will need to ‘tub’ the horse’s hoof in a bath of warm water and epsom salts several times a day to soften the hoof and draw the abscess nearer to the surface.

Once the abscess has been opened, you will need to continue tubbing periodically to keep it open and draining.  In between tubbing, apply a poultice to draw out pus and prevent dirt from entering.  Commerical poultices are available, but a pad made of several layers of paper towel held in place with duct tape can serve just as well.  You may also want to apply a ‘drawing ointment’ such as ichthammol to help dry and drain the area.  This is usually necessary for about a week, until the hoof closes and the horse is sound again.

Minor Injuries

Bruises, scrapes, and small cuts and tears do not usually require veterinary care.

Contusions (bruises) are most often caused by a kick from another horse, and you will only be able to detect them from swelling and heat, since the discolouration we experience with bruises doesn’t show under the hair coat.  As long as the horse is not lame or otherwise uncomfortable, do nothing. A stone bruise on the sole of the hoof may require tubbing and poulticing if the horse is lame.

Scrapes can look dramatic but usually heal well if left alone
Scrapes can look dramatic but usually heal well if left alone

Abrasions (scrapes) that remove hair and the top layer of skin are usually best left alone.  If the area is obviously dirty wash it gently.  A large piece of gauze taped loosely over the area can help keep dirt out until the scrape dries, but after that it should heal well enough on its own.

Incisions (clean cuts) on parts of the body that don’t move much will heal well on their own.  If they are over a joint they may require stitches, depending on the size.  Small cuts on legs will usually heal nicely if covered in gauze and then a stable bandage is applied to keep the wound from opening as the horse moves. Unless there is foreign matter directly in the cut avoid washing it, as hosing can actually drive dirt deeper into the wound.  Slow (non-arterial) bleeding will naturally clean the wound, and form a better scab if it’s left alone.  Hosing can also cause proud flesh (granular overactive flesh that grows out of the wound).

Lacerations (tears) are the messiest types of wound, and may require stitches.  However, if the wound is shallow, small, and appears to have no foreign matter in it, covering and then bandaging is usually the best solution.  Whether to call the vet is a judgement call you will get better at making as you become more experienced with horse injuries … as you inevitably will do if you look after horses for any length of time.

Puncture wounds, arterial bleeding, and wounds over joints (especially if clear yellow synovial fluid is leaking) are all clear causes for calling the vet right away.

Upcoming Classes

Friday Clinic: Cross Country

X-C waterExperience the exhilaration of the open fields!  Work on your galloping position and pacing, and take your horse over a variety of cross country obstacles.

Instructor: Jennifer Landels
Prerequisite: Riding Level 2 or equivalent

Friday 8 July 6:30 – 8pm
cost: $60 +gst

Upcoming clinics
Prix Fiore: July 15th

Riding & Horsemanship Classes

Riding & Horsemanship classes run in 6 week series.  There is drop-in space in the current Monday evening series, and registration is open for the upcoming Saturday series.

Mondays 13 Jun – 18 Jul
Saturdays 16 Jul – 20 Aug
Mondays/Thursdays 22 Aug – 8 Sep

Horseback Archery

Robert Borsos will be back on July 17th for another fabulous day of Horseback Archery.  No experience, either with horses or bows, is needed for the beginner workshop.  For the intermediate workshop riders should have their Riding Level 1 and have taken the beginner workshop.  This is the last workshop before Carosella and they tend to fill up, so sign up soon!

Rob archery

Beginner: Sunday 17 July, 10am – 1pm
Intermediate: Sunday 17 July, 2pm – 5pm

Carosella 2016

Three fabulous days of Mounted Combat, Archery and Games!  The dates have been set for September 9th – 11th.  Registration isn’t yet open, but you can look at last year’s schedule to get an idea of what’s on offer, and start planning your training now.

Carosella 2015




Jennifer Landels Jennifer Landels heads up Academie Duello's Cavaliere Program. She has been swordfighting since 2008, and riding since before she could walk. She started the program as an excuse to combine those passions.
Read more from Jennifer Landels.