When Horses Remodel their Paddocks…

Do you know what I mean?

We’ve all been there.  You setup the pasture or paddock one way only to discover an hour later that precious horsey wishes to eat in THAT corner…  Or, you mistakenly place the waterer in exactly the best spot for rolling.  I’m sure you’ve gone out there and noticed your favorite bush all bent up and barren on one side as it becomes a scratching post.  Or, my favorite, your trusty steed creates bends in the gate that allow her leg/head/hoof to reach all the way through mo’ betta.

I guess I’m used to those kinds of everyday equine remodels.  When I see these types of upgrades, I just smile or shrug.  I know there is nothing I can do to stop it short of policing them 24/7.  Besides, I can relate.  I remember moving into new apartments when I was in college.   You always want to paint or move stuff around so that you can make it your own.  I understand this.  Go ahead, my faithful companion, make the living quarters work for you.

But today, Remi didn’t just remodel, she got her contractor’s license.


Remi is my BLM mustang rescue.  She is 10 years old and smart as a whip.  I’m sure that surviving in the wild honed her skills, but I never knew she was so ingenious.

Here’s what I think precipitated her remodel.

Remi hates to have anything above her head (helicopter flashbacks?).  I’ve noticed that when I throw the hay over the fence, she flinches and pins her ears.  She didn’t flinch or pin her ears when I put the hay through the rails, but she does if I throw the flakes over the fence.

Unfortunately, I now have to throw the flakes over the fence because Remi lives with ‘Bodhi the Bulldozer’ and he thinks he is an apparition.  As apparitions have certain qualities, he thinks that he too can just walk through solid objects, like fences.  Actually, he can… hence the newly triple strand hot-wire fenceline.

And, since the fence is now hot-wired, I don’t want to get near it.  So, I no longer place the flakes between the rails, I throw them over.

Remi has been upset about this for a while now.

Pre-Remodel... that is Remi in the background pondering.


I didn’t actually understand the process.  Yes, I was watching her slow and methodical deconstruction of these two small wooden rails; but I thought she just needed more snacks during the day…  My solution was to feed her a little bit all day long.  So, I did.

Yet, the deconstruction continued.  First she would nibble one side, then the middle, then the other side.  Then, back to the beginning – like an equine electric typewriter.  Chink, chinkitychink, chink and Return!

I thought maybe she had an ulcer so I gave her some remedies.  Nope.  No ulcer.

Chink.  Rippity rip, chink, chew, pull and spit.

Little by little, my furry hammer-swinger attacked these short rails with the tenacity of a pitbull.  Gnaw.  Gnawgnaw.  Never give up.  Never give up.

I continued to scratch my head.  Why was she doing this?  And, it was only her.  Bodhi had  no interest in apprenticing under her.

And, it was only in this one spot.  The entire right side of the fence has only one strand of wire.  She could have created her new construction anywhere.  But, she chose right there and only there.


There is only single strand hot wire all the way down the line on this side... but no chew marks anywhere.


The spot she chose was directly under their favorite large tree which provides shade and a high spot in the ground.  They like to eat there because it is sheltered and not muddy.

Perhaps she picked this spot because she likes it there and why not chew while in your favorite spot…  This seemed logical.  But, in my experience, chewers chew continuously and they chew indiscriminately.  Remi was chewing here and only here.

And then she was done.  Voila!  She had created a fence window.  The top rail was in place, but the bottom two rails were gone.  Poof!  Instant viewing.  But, this was odd.  She couldn’t escape through it.  She couldn’t see anything better since the tree was in the way.  It didn’t provide any shelter or comfort… Why did she create this hole in the fence?

Remi standing in front of her handywork


When her design recreation was finished, I stood there and pondered its existence.  I had no idea.  She seemed very pleased with her work and would run over every time I was near her fence window.  I started to think that she was a bit excited about it.  Odd.  This was eerily weird to me.

After a while, it was feeding time so I left the hole and wandered off to the barn, still cocking my head in that Scooby-Doo way.

I went about my feeding chores as I always do.  Part of me is on auto-pilot as I mechanically feed while looking for any equine abnormalities or bleeding spots on my horses.  As I was in front of Remi and Bodhi, instead of chucking the hay over the fence, without thinking, I used the newly created fence window to gently place the hay in front of the two eager faces who presented exactly there.

Wha?  Slowly I noticed what had just happened.  Slowly it was becoming clear…

“Hmmmmmm.  This is actually a very convenient way to feed here.  I don’t have to throw anything overboards while the wind blow back half of the flakes.  This window is right at my arm level and this is totally easier for me to place the flakes in front of Remi and Bodhi.  It is like a hay window.  It is as if she created a… hay window.  Hey, waitaminute!…”

I instantly but unwittingly used it as a feeding window

As I stood there, admiring her work and watching them eat, it occurred to me that Remi had not backed up or flinched or pinned her ears when I placed the hay.  She was calm and eating comfortably.  I looked at her and the light was finally fully illuminated in my head.  OMG.

It was her idea, I think, to create a food chute for the stoopid human to use in order to quit throwing the hay over her head.

Her remodeling solution was so simple and so obvious.  Why didn’t I think of that?…

And, she trained me to use her hay window immediately.

Smart girl.  I wonder what she can do for my kitchen…

Smarty pants...

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Hoof Abscesses.

Monday, December 13th, 2010 | Filed under Medical

Of course I know what abscesses are… They are nasty migrations of infection that open up and drain.

Norma has one on her coronet band.

I also know that abscesses are often associated with laminitis and wet weather.  I know that you soak an abscess and that they are really painful.

But, when I had to think about abscesses since I was now dealing with one, I realized that there was so much I didn’t know…

What creates an abscess in a hoof?  Why does wet weather make more?  Why does laminitis promote them?

I never bothered to find out about abscesses because I had never known one before.

But, now I had met Mr. Nasty, head-on.  So, I needed to educate myself.  I asked my vet and Mr. Google to kindly explain ‘abscess’  to me.


My vet is young and sharp and fresh and willing and wonderful.  He also has a very clinical mind that speaks from a place of booksmart that eludes me.  Luckily, he is able to translate for a simple lay person like myself.  So, after we found the abscess and did our Hallelujah dance, I asked him WHY.  Why does an abscess usually follow laminitis?  What creates an abscess of the coronet band?

(We are not addressing any other kind of abscess.  For example, pigeon fever creates horrible abscesses…  Or any foreign object that impales and enters a horse may come out in an abscess.  We are only speaking of the hoof kind of abscess.)

OK, so my vet said that when a horse has laminitis, the laminae separates, ever so slightly, from the hoof wall.  During this process, bacteria can migrate up into the hoof.  If one is lucky, the bacteria is battled by the horse’s immune system.  The immune system sends out a bunch of white blood cells to encapsulate the bad things in a nice river of fluid (pus – OK, I said it) which protects the body from the invader.  This nasty boat of gunk now knows it needs to exit the body so it migrates around until it finds an ‘out’ point.

The laminae separating from the hoof wall which allows bacteria to enter

If the horse is lucky, that out point is his sole.  With gravity in its favor, the nasty boat flows down the junk river and escapes out the bottom of the foot.

But, if you aren’t as lucky, the nasty boat takes a turn up river and pushes itself up the hoof wall until it reaches the sensitive coronet band where it explodes out the side like an angry boil.

The reason this is so painful, well, as my vet explained it, goes something like this:  (in his words)  Imagine that you have sunburned the bottoms of both of your feet (laminitis) and then you grow a huge blood blister under your toenail beds.  Between the blistering pain of the soles of your feet and the huge pressure of the “blood blister” (abscess), the pain is almost unbearable.


An example of an abscess in the hoof wall


Another way a horse can get an abscess is if he steps on a stone and either cuts his sole (hence opening another area for infection) or if he causes bruising.  Sometimes a stone bruise can turn into an abscess as it heals.  However, stone bruised abscesses usually come out the sole.

Another cause is wet ground.  It isn’t the wet ground, but more that continuous wet ground softens the hoof.  That softened hoof is more easily penetrated.  And, as we all know, that soft hoof is mucking around in not-so-clean mud.  The bacteria in the not-so-clean mud enters the soft hoof and you get abscesses.  This is why Fall is called Abscess Season.

Another obvious cause of an abscess would be a nail or any other type of puncture.  Ouch.  Hopefully your horse had his tetanus vaccine.

It is smart to clean out hooves often, especially in wet weather…  And, of course, it is smart to clean out hooves often anyway because then you can watch for bruises and cuts and softening or whatever else might go wrong with the hoof.  I know, I know, who wants to clean out a mucky, gucky hoof in rainstormy weather?  I know I don’t.  But, it is better to catch bad stuff like thrush or (heaven forbid) canker, laminitis or an abscess EARLY.

Imagine if that hole was created in your foot pad...


Laminitis is very complicated.  It could be caused by any number of factors and the complications can be numerous and from all sides.  Abscesses are abscesses.  They are very painful but once you know what you are dealing with, you can most often fix them.

We were doing a Hallelujah dance when Norma blew the nasty boat through her coronet band channel locks because we couldn’t understand why she was still so painful in her left front.  Since laminitis is so complicated, yet her foot wasn’t showing signs of sinking, we couldn’t come to a solution.  Once we found the abscess, all became clear.  Now we had an explanation and a process.


According to my vet and Mr. Google, usually one can test the hoof by applying pressure with hoof testers or by just using strong fingers.  Imagine if you had a blood blister under a toenail.  Someone could push on all the other toes and foot – you’d be fine – but press on the bad one and you would jump and slap the person, maybe.  Well, that is what it is like for a horse when you use hoof testers.  “Does it hurt here?”  no.  “OK, does it hurt here?”  nope.  “Here?” nada.  “How about…?  AAAAGHHHHHH!    You get my drift…

Once you know, kind-of, where the abscess lies, you can treat it.

Sometimes you can even see the abscess in the form of a blood spot or black spot (dark blood) on the sole.

But with Norma, she didn’t show any more pain with the hoof testers.  Her entire hoof was sensitive, but no one spot was really painful.  We didn’t see any bruising or dark spots on her sole.  We had no idea that she had a huge abscess brewing deep inside.

Sometimes you don’t know they are there until they burst.

How it looks while healing


Soak it.  Draw it out.  Help the body get rid of it.

Mr. Google had a billion recipes for poultices and soaks.  I’ll get to those in a minute.

My vet told me (I called him when I discovered the abscess exit point) to help it drain as best I could… the first thing I should do was to  soak her foot in warm water, Epsom Salts and Betadine.  Easy.  Except she wouldn’t let me soak her foot.  And, if a donkey doesn’t want to do something, she won’t.  (Remember, the donkey put the ‘stubborn’ in the mule…).  So, I called him back.  He then told me to make a poultice out of the Epsom Salts and Betadine.  Put that on a clean cotton swab and wrap that.  I did.  But the abscess was very stubborn and was not draining rapidly.

So, my vet came out and gave me Animalintex pads.  These are so cool!  First of all, they are inexpensive (Yay!) and fairly easy to apply.  The idea is that they are prepared with the drawing agents already embedded into the cotton.  They have a plastic face that helps create heat (helps create more draw) and a plastic bottom that protects the ingredients.  All you have to remember is “shiny side down”.  It is easy.  First you cut the pad according to the type of abscess you have (sole or coronet band).  Then, you soak the pad and squeeze out the excess water.  Finally, you position the pad (we put ours on the coronet band and longways down her hoof wall and then under her sole to hopefully draw out the abscess through the sole as well).  If you are lucky, the equine will allow you to affix the pad with adhesive, elastic vet wrap.

You should have seen my vet apply the poultice pad…  One, two, three DONE!  I felt like I was watching calf roping… Grab, pull, wrap, tie and Ole!

You should have seen me do it.  The wrap looked like the rodeo clown applied it.  Yeesh.  But, it was on there.  Norma was much more obliging to the vet than to me…

Anyway, you change the pad every 24 hours even though the pack says every 48.  Fun.  But, better than watching your horse suffer laminitis and not know why…

Imagine the pressure of an abscess slowly traveling up the laminae


OY.  I cannot even imagine the pain associated with digging out an abscess.  Maybe a better term would be “puncturing” the abscess to help it drain.

I know farriers do this often and I’m sure that is fine… but I’d rather have my vet do it so that pain could be addressed and infection could be watched.   In any event, puncturing the abscess does relieve the pressure and allows the infection to drain.  The sooner it is gone, the better.


Oh my word… When I asked Google about poultices, I read so many recipes, I felt like Julia Child.  I learned about every drawing agent under the sun from Linseed and Wintergreen Oil to Slippery Elm — the homeopathic remedies abounded.  Dr. O’Grady (a known vet specializing in hooves) said:

“Another useful form of poultice is a combination of wheat bran and Epsom Salts (2 parts bran and 1 part salts). This poultice is cumbersome but has certainly withstood the test of time. Packing the foot with Ichthammol or a combination of Ichthammol and glycerin is also used frequently with good results reported.”

He also suggests using disposable diapers as a foot covering and then wrapping the diapers.  I liked that.  Easy, Clean and they already have sticky tabs!


My parting thoughts are to keep the horses feet healthy and hard.  Hard feet help prevent any cracks in the soles/hoof wall that would let in bacteria.  Watch for stone bruises or injuries.  Keep betadine, Epsom Salts, elastic wrap and diapers on hand.

But, my biggest and best advise would be to practice wrapping the hoof with a slippery something.  I swear, trying to get a very sore hoof wrapped in a slippery poulticed pad with an elastic wrap in the works is like trying to keep kittens in a basket.  So tough.  I swear I must have dropped the poultice pad in the shaving half a dozen times.  When I’d grab for the pad, I’d invariably drop the starter part of the elastic in the shavings as well, which rendered that piece useless.  So, I’d wet and clean the pad, again, re-start the elastic and try again while Norma was pulling her foot away from the very weird sensation she had never felt before – over her incredibly painful spot that I was pressing against.  It was like a three ring circus.  When it was finally done I almost cried.  Norma almost cried.  But, we ended the event with a treat so she almost forgave me.  Of course, she is a donkey so she will never forget… and that makes me so eager to do it all over again in 24 hours.  Not.

HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth… if you like this, please pass it around!

INSTANT KARMA DO-GOODING! Our December Bucket Fund

HELP AND GET A PAYBACK!!   Donation Gift Certificates are here (link)!  Yup, if you donate to help Tullie (the burned horse), Gump (the ugly horse), Dixie (the starved and sick horse) or the Wild Mustangs/Burros (the gathered horses), you can now get  “A Donation has been made in Your Honor” certificates to give as gifts!  You can give them to coworkers, family, friends or even in lost pets’ names… for this Holiday Season. Yay!  INSTANT KARMA!

Riding Warehouse
Your purchase with Riding Warehouse through this link helps the Bucket Fund!

Supporting The Bucket Fund through Amazon Smile
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HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!