Managing Thin Soles

So much about thin soles is the trim, providing adequate sole protection while sole develops and getting the nutrition right…

What Is “Normal”???

When you start discussing thin soles, you need to remember that sole thickness varies widely based on age, breed, hoof care history, diet – everything is relative!

According to several vet friends, most “normal” horses have thin soles… 10mm is supposed to be average, but  6-8mm may be more “normal”.

Normal for most horses is quite thin relative to a mustang on soft range! Thick soles like we see in some walking horses and mustangs are not normal for most breeds or horses, and exceptions even exist in the gaited horse breeds… sole thickness varies widely, period.

Thick Sole Isn’t Always Good

I have been able to get a very thick sole to accumulate using Epona synthetic shoes, but it sheds back to “normal” once the horse is left barefoot. My friend Asa, in Las Vegas, hates thick sole because in her arid region, it needs to me trimmed out.

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing.

Rehabbing A Thin Sole?

If a horse has a sole that isn’t worn or trimmed to be thin,  and you leave a more stout wall &/or protect the sole from wear, then feed a better diet (see ! ) and use something like Keratex or Hoof Armor, you may be able to add 1 to 4 mm. Maybe!

In a case where the sole is already a a relatively healthy depth, and the wall height is good, you may not be able to get much improvement.

If a horse has worn his sole thin because his walls have been trimmed or worn short, like most of the thin soled horses I see,  or if the sole has been thinned in the trimming process, you can almost always get more sole to accumulate by tweaking the trim, diet and protection. Here’s my checklist:

  • balance the minerals
  • Feed straight grass hay (take away alfalfa and oat)
  • boot 24×7 or glue on synthetic shoes or boot shells
  • add boots for all exercise if left barefoot
  • change the environment to be non abrasive ; add soft dirt, saw dust, move to a soft pasture
  • change the trim technique to NOT trim sole and to let the walls get to be 1/8 to 1/4″ beyond the sole
  • Try Keratex applied daily.  “Keratex Hoof Hardener is a gentle acting chemical formulation which forms additional intermolecular bonds between molecules of keratin through the process of cross-linking. Keratin is the main protein constituent of horn and is best described as the building block of the horn structure.”
  • Try Hoof Armor “Hoof Armor® hoof protection is an easily applied adhesive coating that Farriers and horse owners alike can utilize to protect their barefoot horse’s hooves against abrasion and wear.”


Again, what is normal for one breed or individual, like a typical Gaited horse or Morgan, would be very thick for a TB or some lines of QH. Sole depth varies. My Marcel, a never shod Arab, has TB type feet, a thinner sole that often needs more protection.

 Should You Worry?

I only worry when the horse is uncomfortable in its living environment.

I used Hoof Armor and glue-on Glove shells on Diana Thompsons Timothy, a 29 to 32YO TB with historically thin soles, typically 6mm, and the result was that after 3 years barefoot, he had 12 to 14mm of sole depth. So sometimes it can happen but it really depends on the individual case.

In Tim’s case, we changed his diet and used glue-on boots for 6 months to protect his soles, and when they came off I used the Hoof Armor. He was on a super abrasive surface, so his feet wore down fast and we’d put him back in glue-ons after 5 to 8 weeks. If he’d been on a normal footing they might have stayed good longer… I don’t know.

Best goals are to try to get the horse optimally comfortable, keep the sole from wearing too fast…

Important To Remember:

  • Alfalfa often results in a more brittle wall and poor wall attachment. I see this on most horses…  the feet almost always get better when alfalfa is removed. Many horses grow a soft wall on oat or grain hay. I don’t know why! Its anecdotal.
  • I was skeptical about how much the small amount of alfalfa in the Elk Grove Stable Mix could affect the feet, but have one client who exchanged Elk Grove for straight grass hay pellets and the difference in the amount of wall separation by the next trim was significant. Its anecdotal, but its something you can try.
  • Too short a wall trim eliminates traction so the sole is subject to more abrasion.
  • Temporarily letting the heel get a bit taller helps relieve sole abrasion. Let the sole grow and you can lower the heel later.
  • Using boots 24×7 for a week to 2 or 3 months (with pads and Gold Bond) protects the sole and allows it to accumulate. Once the walls are solid and sole has developed, feet usually stay nice unless the environment is extremely abrasive.
  • Thin soles make feet tender and can result in mild inflammation, which appears to cause poor wall attachment and wall flare… vicious cycle! Wall attachment is better when feet are comfortable.


I trimmed a horse yesterday (large WB type, 1200 lbs) that I have been trimming for 5 months. The prior trimmer was trimming her extremely short, and I expected her to have nice feet in 6 weeks, so I was puzzled. The owner swore she was on straight grass hay diet. Everything else in the diet was perfect,but the mare had persistent stretched white line and I felt she was getting alfalfa! Trusted the owner but… gut feeling…. the wall was smashed flat at the base, and the sole was thin and flat.

I’m impatient. I was wondering if mild solar inflammation was causing the wall separation. This is a huge mare! So last trim, we were talking about putting on glue-ons (size 5!!) on her to get her wall to grow out a bit and decided to hold off, decided to try deep saw dust in the paddock and boots for all exercise.  And if that didn’t work, try boots and pads 24×7 to see if it changed anything.

So 4 weeks ago, the owner discovered that the feeders had been feeding her alfalfa as a treat! She’s a big mare – maybe they felt sorry for her!!

She stopped that, and this trim, she had ¼” of straight wall, no flair, and GREAT soles!!!


June 2014

Sole… “False” sole, shedding sole, retained sole. When to trim? When to leave it alone?

I’m writing this article on different types of sole and how to manage it because its a confusing topic to understand.

Its important to be able to assess the state of the sole as an owner, and all trimmers need to be knowledgeable about assessing sole durability and depth. There are characteristics that help us assess this, but if the horse has active laminitis, our assessments become crude guesses because the coffin bone location could change.


Sound bare feet are a product of an appropriate diet and are shaped by abundant exercise and the movement patterns of the body they carry. If the body is balanced, the feet are generally symmetrical. If the body has pathology, the feet mirror it.

Regardless of where they live, healthy, sound bare feet have several things in common. When barefoot horses are optimally sound they have a supportive frog, thick durable sole and a low ridge of wall and heel beyond the white line/live sole junction.

How much wall is adequate is variable, it depends on the horse and environment. Some horses accumulate a very thick sole and don’t appear to “want” this lip of wall, but in some feet, that thick sole is an over accumulation.

We need to rely on the horse to tell us what works for them and what doesn’t.

DON’T rely on just lip licking and sighing!! I have witnessed horses undergoing an invasive trim licking their lips, snorting and sighing, and then walking off VERY sore. They are sometimes licking as a sign that the trim is relieving discomfort, but they are sometimes doing it because the trimming is uncomfortable and makes them anxious, much as being in the dentists chair makes us anxious, and they want to encourage us to end it.

The trims I admire and have seen work great look like the trims below. Most of these trims are “transitions”, feet in the first year after having shoes removed.

The September trim below has a very low rim of wall, but for this arena horse it is what works best. This horse works in a soft sand arena and is booted for trail work.

Healthy September hoof

Healthy September hoof

The hoof below is before a 5 week winter trim, and the trim at this level will change the foot very little… most of the wall is shaped by the upper bevel, the bars will be neatened slightly and the lower edge rolled.

The wall is beveled or rolled when trimming so that the edge of the wall wears predictably over a 5 or 6 week cycle and is almost as long at 5 or 6 weeks as it was after trimming. These subtle bevels and rolls allow a skilled trimmer to compensate for imbalance in movement so that the pre-trimmed hoof is still fairly balanced and the boots still fit.

Healthy hoof pretrim

Healthy hoof pre-trim

There are differences in feet from swampy wet areas and hot, arid areas, and the differences are usually accumulating sole and frog. In wet areas, the sole and frog exfoliate easily, and in arid climates, they became a thick, tough horn that resists wear. These different characteristics have advantages and disadvantages.

The Virginia hooves below are easy to trim because they are softer and landmarks are clear and specific. The feet have a good sole and adequate heel, wall and bar for traction, and the frog is lush, wide and open. BUT this hoof can be tender on hard gravel surface, and because the horn (calloused parts of the sole and frog) is softer, it wears faster.

Virginia hoof

Virginia hoof

Virginia hoof

Virginia hoof

The Nevada hoof below has a thick, hard sole, but its more difficult to see the sole depth.  Its durable and tough.

Necvada Hoof

Nevada Hoof

The Nevada hoof below, in contrast, has an over accumulation of bar and sole. Not only is it hard to tell what needs to be trimmed, its physically VERY difficult to trim… these feet are like granite.

Nevada hoof pre-trim

Nevada hoof pre-trim



Wet environment Belgian Draft

Wet environment Belgian Draft

The Belgian hoof above, is shaped by a slick winter paddock. The slightly prominent bars have a natural function, they provide traction in the slippery environment. If the walls are trimmed regularly, the bars self maintain at this length. When the walls are allowed to get excessively tall, the bar also accumulates and must be trimmed when the wall is trimmed. A well beveled wall wears at about the same rate it grows at and this balanced wear should allow the bar to wear at the same rate.

The hoof from the Northern California trail horse below is shaped by hundreds of miles ridden bare on lava rock and hard packed trails. The heel is trimmed to be well above the sole to make the horse more comfortable going over gravel, to reduce sole abrasion and to add to traction. Untrimmed, this hoof looks very similar at 6 weeks to what it looks here. It was prettied up for pictures but belongs to a professional trimmer who merely touches it up occasionally.

Arid Northern California high mileage trail horse

Arid Northern California high mileage trail horse


So you’ve seen some conservative trims, above. Lets look at the opposite.

This looks invasive to me because a "scoop" was carved into the lateral wall. I've see this technique result in extreme lameness

This looks invasive to me because a “scoop” was carved into the lateral wall. I’ve see this technique result in extreme lameness

“Invasive Trimming” is a judgement call because trimming that is invasive on one foot may be necessary on another. Most trimming approaches taught in the US are conservative, but unfortunately one popular approach is invasive and is being taught to beginners who don’t have the experience to know when to stop trimming.

This is probably invasive for barefoot in most areas, and okay for shot feet

This is probably invasive for barefoot in most dry areas,  including mine, and probably okay for shod feet is the wall edge was rasped down. It may be fine as in in boots or on a very soft damp footing. Callous has been removed but the sole still looks fairly thick.

“Invasive” procedures involve cutting into the passive (not weight bearing) bar, removing protective sole, taking the heels down to the live sole plane and shortening the wall in a way that leaves the sole over exposed to wear.

Sometimes rehab feet need what could be, for some feet, considered an “invasive” procedure, such as trimming an accumulation of bar. A routine shoeing trim is technically invasive if your intent is to leave the sole unprotected by a shoe or glue on appliance.

So what to trim or not trim if you aren’t sure? Less is more in most cases. If you don’t know and aren’t a professional with a lot of experience,  get advice  from a conservative trimmer or farrier, or join a conservative trim group like PHCP

Most importantly, carefully observe the horse before and after the trim and have your objective be a more comfortable, balanced and relaxed stride. The horse will always tell you, you need to listen.

My rule now is that, ideally, the horse should be MORE comfortable after the trim than before, or at least as comfortable. If the horse is sore / more sore, the trim could be the reason. Not always, though!

This is invasive in my area for barefoot, the horse would be very tender for weeks, but may be okay shod

This is invasive in my area for barefoot, the horse would be very tender for weeks, but may be okay shod

HINT: If there is a large group of people attacking your trimming guru as being invasive, try to get a second opinion on their approach from another organization! I’m closely aligned with AHA and PHCP but have a lot of respect for trims taught by many other groups. There are many ways to learn, choose a method that focuses on your horses health and comfort.

Very invasive.... abscessing is likely due to the extremely thin sole and bruising

Very invasive…. abscessing is likely due to the extremely thin sole and bruising


Beginning trimmers shouldn’t be doing anything that is invasive.

From the Fresno area, by a "professional" trimmer and instructor

From the Fresno area, by a “professional” trimmer and instructor


I learned from an invasive trimming school that taught hoof mapping; unhealthy feet were over-trimmed to look like what the trainers felt the “healthy” hoof should look like. These horses were uncomfortable, and I was told that discomfort was part of healing and was natural.  I started learning from Pete Ramey, and never looked back as I learned that “transitioning to barefoot” can be easy and comfortable.

Now I understand that the people who initially taught me were caught up in their method of trimming and constantly over-trimmed horses. They trimmed sole and bars aggressively, micromanaging feet, and made excuses for why the horses were so sore.


I’ve trimmed professionally for a more than a decade using a conservative trim approach. I seldom trim sole and attempt to leave a margin of wall that protects the edge of the hoof and provides traction. As a result horses with healthy feet are very comfortable on their home ground barefoot, and many go barefoot on the trail year round.

I look for long relaxed strides at a trot and canter with nice, heel-first landings to assess movement.

Some horses have thin or sensitive soles, or inadequate wall, and need protection. Most of the time, horses coming out of shoes are comfortable without protection in their living environment, but if they are sensitive, they get boots or glue on shoes. Most horses with philological problems are comfortable barefoot or booted if the trim is conservative and appropriate protection is used.

Most horses can grow a thicker more durable sole with the correct trim and diet, but many still like front boots for performance work for the first year or two. Some horses have limited ability to grow a thick enough sole to be barefoot for performance because of past hoof care, breeding or pathology.


I see many photos of horses online who have either had their soles aggressively thinned by owners with good intentions, or whose walls have been trimmed, chipped or worn so short that the hoof has inadequate traction resulting in soles becoming dangerously thin. These are the horses and owners we need to help.

When a horse has a thin sole, it needs hoof protection to move comfortably and rehab successfully. Traditionally, nail on shoes were used, and now we have many alternative ways to protect feet for recreational, performance and rehabbing horses.

Synthetic shoes, casting and glue on boots provide a semi-permanent alternative that stays in place for an extended period of time.The primary advantage is that they avoid concussion and flex more than a metal shoe. Boots and pads can be left on for days or weeks, and should be checked daily. Epoxies and sole treatments also help protect feet depending on the condition and terrain.

For more information on hoof protection:

Hoof Boots
Rehab Hoof Protection
Gluing On Boots


The following pictures are the same hoof taken at different times of the year.


This is is a mid-winter hoof from an Arab on pasture


This is is a early fall (October) hoof from an Arab on pasture. The summer sole and frog have shed.


This is is an early winter hoof from an Arab on pasture before the rains have started

I live in North/Central California. We have very wet winters that start in October and last through March and April. Winters here are as wet as Washington DC and Virginia, where I grew up. Summers are very dry,  with almost no rain but occasional coastal fog…  the soil is a mixture that can be lava rock, granite, loam or sand.

I rarely have to trim sole in this part of North / Central California. In the summer, a thick sole accumulates and protects the hoof from all of the rock on our trails, and before it can get too thick to create a problem, we have wet weather that encourages the accumulated sole to shed.

Some regions are extremely arid and sole builds up in a dense, hard layer that can make horses very tender.


LasVegas hoof pretrim

LasVegas hoof pretrim

LasVegas hoof pretrim

LasVegas hoof pretrim

Raychels horse 002 - Copy

LasVegas hoof pre trim

A day after trim on Jack April 14 (3) - Copy

LasVegas hoof post trim

Jack April 2014 (4) - Copy

LasVegas hoof post trim

Some trimming schools advise removing any sole that isn’t “live”, but where does “live” sole start? What is “false”?? What is a thin sole, and what is normal? And why remove any protection at all?


The soles appearance varies widely

Sole is sole; the term “false sole” is misused and after reading a too many ABC FB shares, I’ve decided to stop using it because it implies that it needs to be removed, and it usually doesn’t unless you live in an extremely arid region like Last Vegas.

When Sole accumulates I call it “retained” because, for some reason, the hoof has opted not to shed it.

Pathological Sole Retention

I see sole retention when a horse with hoof pathology first comes out of shoes… sometimes they retain this sole for 3 or 4 months as the hoof rebuilds itself from the inside out. I used to trim it out, and the horse was always more tender and the feet rehabbed slower, and the horse did better in boots. With these feet, I leave the sole in place but sometimes thin it **slightly** with my sole nippers or a sharp knife to add a little passive concavity. I do very little. When it starts popping out, I help it as it pulls free but leave chunks that are resistant in place.

Environmental Sole Retention

The retained sole that makes me crazy is that found in horses that live on stall mats without shavings or in arid locations like Las Vegas. Even feet with great concave sole shapes will pack solid and flat, and the heels contract…

I think these are the hardest feet in the world to trim, physically (super hard sole) and intellectually because its difficult to know how much sole to remove unless you trim this type of hoof a lot.


I see them primarily on horses that live on mats, and I have trimmed the retained sole, not trimmed it, relieved the bar slightly, nothing seems to work well!

I usually ask people to move their horses or change the stall footing, treat it like I do dietary problems like barns that only feed oat and alfalfa…  if its a problem for the horse, I ask the owner to move the horse. Asa, in Las Vegas, doesn’t have this option!

Thrush Sole Retention

Some horses have had chronic thrush and end up with retained sole that seems to grow to isolate the super tender frog from the weight bearing surface and any flexing in the tender frog area.  I help the client fix the diet and treat the thrush, and this sheds out in a month or two.

Solar Abscess

If a horse has a solar abscess that covers the whole sole, the hoof repairs itself and eventually sheds the sole in one large piece. It may look black and gross under the shedding sole, but I’m not in a hurry to wrench it off!

Unknown Cause

I had one horse who only retained sole in the lateral side of one hoof, all the other feet looked great. The horse was very slightly off on that foot barely noticeable… after 3 months, the owner insisted that I knife it out, it was rubbery and durable, the horse resisted, but I did as she asked, leaving much of it but adding some concavity, and the horse went lame immediately.

Vet xrayed the foot and the lateral edge of P3 had a fracture. we casted DM (dental impression material) into the sole and the horse was immediately better. She retained sole in that area for a year, it finally shed and the mare was sound.


My horses shed sole in moist seasons and accumulate it in dry seasons, and because this isn’t excessively arid like Las Vegas, I leave the accumulated sole alone. If it starts to chip out and is loose, I’ll remove chunks, don’t like to leave pressure points! But I let it shed out naturally until its loose.

June 2014

Healthy Frogs Make Healthy Bare Feet

Healthy Frogs Make Healthy Bare Feet

My Horses & Clients Feet

Northern California, November 1, 2009

I started this to show my frogs but expanded it to include frogs from around the world. Check out the International Healthy Bare Feet page too!

My horse, Gabby’s feet (Arabian)
Clifford (young QH)
Magnum (retired QH)
Martha & Dixie (QH and TB)
Timothy (retired TB)
Gulala (retired TB)
Viggo (middle aged TB)
King (Morgan-cross Mule that gets LOTS of riding!)
Honey, Belgian PMU Rescue
UB, Dressage Pony

Global Healthy Bare Feet

These case studies are horses with healthy frogs along with a brief bio for each horse Above, Gabby’s rear feet, trail ridden 15 to 30 miles a week, usually barefoot behind. Gabby lives in a rich pasture and is muzzled March to July. I wish I had left a little more heel height. His frog shed 4 weeks earlier so this frog is immature.

.I have been grinning over super nice (sometimes immature) frogs for the past few weeks and started taking pictures of them to share. Most of these frogs shed out in late August or September and are coming back in great now. Some are well developed, others are still immature. They all look super to me. these trims aren’t picture-book perfect, but they are extremely functional, and thats what counts.

I sometimes spend as much time on the frogs’s as I spend on the rest of the hoof when I trim. I nipper the core out of the central sulcus, nip any flaps, open cracks up and treat thrush with Usnea tincture if I see any.  If I find thrush, I nipper off as many flaps as I can with Bonsai tools. and treat with Lysol spray.

How aggressive I get opening up cracks depends on the season, conditions, environment and how close the frog is to shedding again.

Why I Wrote This Article

I moderate the Whole Horse Health Yahoo list . We had a thread going on in September on Thrush, and I sent in a post that included this comment:

“Everyone wants to ignore or downplay the impact of thrush. The expensive A Circuit Jumper, case study below, was seen by many top vets and vet clinics, was shod by “the best” and was finally given away, free. Great story on the consequences of ignoring our horses pain…

I got the following post from a member whose posts had gotten tiring for many members. She had made prior comments stating that thrush isn’t really a problem. I decided to hold this particular post back. Still, I was dismayed that an experienced trimmer could be so willfully blind to something that I ***know*** is a serious problem!

…… I don’t see thrush in these feet and to be honest the shoeing and trimming underneath it doesn’t look poor either.

…. So not to discredit anything you are doing, the trim looks great btw, I just don’t think the claim of thrush RX cured this horse is accurate and it could be.

This horse, picture below right. had thrush that was so painful he threatened to kick when the foot was cleaned, his frog and digital cushion were extremely sensitive, and the hoof pick sank 1/2 inch into the deep crack that penetrated his digital cushion. You can see the deep crack on the Freedom case study that she referred to.

When I look at this case study, I see nothing but thrush and a horribly unhealthy frog!!!! The fact that someone who claims to trim 200 horses in wet east coast weather could see this and not recognize thrush? I was blown away. Appalled. A good trimmer needs to know the many components of soundness.

This was one very unhealthy foot on a very uncomfortable horse. The horse didn’t want us handling the thrushy foot at all; he pulled his leg, threatened to kick and refused to stand still.

We did clear up the thrush after a few months of treatment, and the horse regained total soundness, but he later coliced, twisted a gut and had to be put down.

So my message is “Just because someone has a well known name, credentials, a web site, trimming DVD’s … it doesn’t mean that they know everything.”

Myself included! I still have a lot to learn. We each need to think for ourselves, professionals and owners. Question whatever person you call an authority. Question your own assumptions. For the horse. We each need to learn the difference between painful unhealthy frogs and healthy frogs, and how unhealthy frogs affect movement and comfort.

Don’t settle for unhealthy frogs!! If your trimmer can’t figure it out, you may have to. Unfortunately Certification or being on some online list doesn’t mean a trimmer is a guru about everything. Frogs are important, no matter what climate you are in.

Do YOU have healthy frogs you want to share from your area?

I really want folks to get this deal about the importance of healthy frogs, so if you have healthy frogs to share, email two to three pictures, your area and a brief bio to me at


To see Healthy Frogs in perspective, you may need to look at unhealthy frogs first.

Four or five years ago, I was trimming at a clinic in Lake County, Ca, and someone asked me if their horse had thrush… the frog was “okay” but had this black greasy sulcus crack, and it was really tender…. I wasn’t really sure!

After that, I started looking at thrush seriously. I talked to Pete Ramey, and he suggested Pete’s Goo (triple antibiotic ointment and athletes foot cream, see Thrush Treatments page )

When I realized that perhaps a third of my client horses had thrush to some extent, I was determined to turn that around, and it’s taken time and perseverance, but I have.

The following symptoms often tie directly to thrush:

  • Chronic high bar, heels & retained sole growth to relieve pressure on frog
  • Medial /Lateral imbalance ( Wry feet)
  • Base-narrow stance &/or sore shoulders
  • Ulcer horses often have thrush, and vice versa
  • Horses that won’t walk-out going down-hill


Freedom – This horses real name was Liberty, and he was a valuable A Circuit Jumper who was almost euthanized because he had thrush. A friend rescued him, we cleared up all of his problems, and he unfortunately coliced and died in early 2009. Great story.

Thrush – Pictures of thrushy feet, more information on thrush.

Samson and Medial Lateral Imbalance – had severe thrush for long enough that his coffin bone was modified

Thrush Treatments a few of the many ways to treat thrush with comments on things I DON”T use, including bleach, thrush busters and coppertox. Other stuff, like Dry Cow Teat medicine, Albadrys and colloidal silver work too, I’ve just never used them. I try to steer clear of anything with penicillin (Dry Cow Teat medicine & Albadrys ) unless I absolutely need them because I worry about ending up with resistant strains of bacteria in my horses feet!

How My Clients & I Keep Frogs Healthy Today (November 1 2009)

Getting a good heel-first landing impacts how healthy the frog is because it results in optimum blood circulation. A horse can’t land heel first if the frog is a source of pain. It can be a vicious cycle!

I strongly recommend that clients feed low carb forage and pellets, and to keep horses off stressed or rich pasture.

Great frogs don’t happen overnight! When clients resist cleaning and treating frogs or resist dietary changes, I take pictures of feet, repeatedly point out diet-related frog separation and thrush (along with the associated wall and white line separation) and other signs of mild laminitis that may be part of the problem.

I also recommend that clients provide a dry or drained place for horses to stand in wet weather, and all of them have done this. I trim all flaps and grooves regularly, keep the frog neat and look for thrush during each trim. Clients scrub feet with Dawn Dish washing detergent and a brush at any sign of thrush or when feet start stinking, and many cut off frog flaps that appear between trims. That isn’t necessary because I do a thorough job when I trim, but once clients recognize how important a healthy frog is, they like to participate.

We use Usnea, Pete’s Goo, Oxine and Dawn to control most thrush. See Thrush Treatments for more treatments!

DIET AND FROGS – Go for low-carb forage & pellets, balance minerals or feed a zinc/copper supplement, eliminate iron, & watch the pasture!

Diet has a ***huge*** impact on frogs, soles and walls… diet is probably one of the most important factors along with good frog trimming.

Most of my clients follow my advice and feed low carb forage and pellets, most balance their minerals, and most are very careful with stressed or rich pasture. I see diet impacting EVERYTHING now, from ulcers to skin problems to wall attachment…. most of my clients follow my recommendations so I get awesome frogs.

Thrush Elimination …Whose Job Is It?

My opinion is that it’s the Trimmers job to inform a client when their horse has thrush as well as to clean up the frog so that treatments will be more effective. If a horse has a super painful frog infection, the owner may need to soak or otherwise treat the thrush so that the trimmer is safe working on the frogs. I use Usnea Tincture to help relieve pain in frogs I’m trimming, but if the infection is serious, it may not be adequate.

Owners need to be responsible for diet changes, if necessary, and for treating the thrush aggressively enough to clear it up.

Trimmers only see a typical client horse for 20 to 60 minutes a month, not enough time to be solely responsible for frog condition… owners need to actively participate! Learning what remedies are available and using them, talking to your trimmer about alternatives…

I have dealt with many horribly thrushy frogs over the years, and they CAN be cleaned up,

A Comment About Fall & Winter Bars

When you look at these pictures, you’ll notice a slight bar ridge on most of the feet. I make sure bars aren’t loose and shedding, ensure that they are passive to the wall, but leave a bit of bar ridge, especially when its wet and muddy.

Why? Those bars provide **great** traction in mud, and at this time of the year, when the frogs and sole calluses have just shed, they provide a bit of support for the interior of the hoof as well.

On Gabby’s pictures, his soles are thinner than optimum and the bar is coming up to provide a bit more protection. The hoof is an amazing thing to really watch.

Gabby aka Gavilan

Gabby is my teen-age Arab gelding (born spring 1994) and he’s been with me since he was weaned… he’s my “magic horse”, my soul brother. He has 900 AERC miles (we need to correct a few misspelled name records!) but most of my riding is trails, for the sheer pleasure of it.

He was shod at 4 years when I started really riding him, and was shod on the fronts until 2003, when I pulled all of his shoes for the first time. He had occasionally gone bare behind. Gabby’s the reason I went barefoot, and the story is funny…. Gabby & the Farrier

Gabby loves life and is always “smiling”…. I adore him and he knows it!

Gab lives on a 20 acre pasture 1 hour north of San Francisco. The mixed pasture was a dairy field at one time, and is covered in large patches of water during the rainy season (approx. late November to May), and while much of the rolling but mostly flat pasture is not in standing water, much of it is covered through the whole rainy season. When the boys come running in to see me in the winter, their feet throw up water most of way! The do a lot of wading, and it doesn’t bother their feet or frogs at all.

The pasture forage does create problems. Gabby and my other two retired Arabs lived off pasture forage alone June 2008 until October 2008. From October 2008 to June 2009, I usually let them on the pasture muzzled. If it got below 40 degrees at night, I pulled them in and fed them grass hay in paddocks. By the end of spring, Gabby’s feet were okay but the wall integrity was soft. It wasn’t the water in the field, it was the stressed grass.

This year Gabby is coming off pasture any time the grass gets the least bit rich because I want his feet to stay durable. My remaining aged gelding, Shatirr, will go out on pasture more because he needs more calories, but will be muzzled. I had to put my other sweet old guy, Kadanse, down on July 7 2009… Sad day.

I trail ride Gabby, mostly on very rocky trails, and we ride from 10 to 30 miles a week most weeks. Lots of hills and single track, but always some fire roads as well. In past years, when I used Epics and Easy Boots, they were harder to get on so I had him barefoot most of the year, and he did super. This year **I** got addicted to the EasyCare Gloves because they are so easy to use – and he moves awesome in them – however his feet didn’t condition as nicely as they did in past years. I’m trying to wean us both off the Gloves a bit, to use them only when he needs them.

So I’ve started riding him barefoot more, and he hasn’t had boots on for the 50 miles ridden before these pictures were taken. We ride on a lot of cobble stone at one park, lava rock at another, and soft trails with lots of rocky stretches at another. Rock is everywhere up here!

The frogs in these pictures shed last month so are immature but have great shape. His sole is thinner than I like because he shed his thick summer sole callous last month and is on a damp pasture so his sole is wearing more temporarily, but as I watch his feet, the stimulation is encouraging more sole to grow. He does fine barefoot on all but the super rocky roads in this area.

These healthy frogs will hold up great over the winter, no matter how much wading and mud Gabby gets into!!

I’m not saying these are the worlds best feet by any means… they aren’t. And this better not be the worlds best trim because its a fast, but carefully done. trim… not a “special for the camera” trim. Its what I do now on feet like these. I love the fact that Gabby is very comfortable in his bare feet on most trails.

These feet really work for Gabby. Because the fronts were booted (I love the easy Gloves!) most of the season, and he’s shed his sole callous, so his sole is thinner, but these feet are super comfortable for him to live in, and, booted or bare, he IS super sound.

The healthy, if immature, frog is part of the reason. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being great, this frog and sole is about a 7 or 8. Walls are an 8.


Clifford is a young QH who came out of shoes June 2009. He had a lot of imbalance from poor shoeing, but no real problems. His heels were a bit contracted from the shoes, but have opened up nicely.

His owner John rides him quite a bit, and he is 30 says into a 90 day Reining training program, full-time training.

John was VERY skeptical about taking his main riding horse barefoot; none of the western folks he knows have barefoot horses, and he was open about his concerns about sending Clifford into training barefoot.

Clifford has done awesome, though, the trainer is very happy with his movement, and he never needs boots for his arena work or for walking on the graveled roads at the ranch. John does boot him for trail riding, and probably will until next summer.

Clifford and Magnum (below) live together on a 1 acre pasture that holds 4 horses. The soil is slightly sandy and slightly sloped, and they are fed a grass hay forage.



Magnum belongs to Clifford’s owner, and is a retired gelding who had been barefoot for a year but had super long toes, wall distortion and a very rough trim when I first worked on him.

I added his pictures because they were an interesting contrast to Clifford’s. When Johns 3 horses went into this pasture in the early spring, it had been empty and had lush, tall grass. Magnum (and Cassidy, the 3rd horse), shows some wall separation in these pictures as the last of this wall grows out. The fact that he shows wall separation may be related to the long walls and toe, but Clifford was getting a lot of riding and that may be why he didn’t have wall separation.

Magnum had ring bone for a few years, and since starting this trim in May of this year, he has gotten sounder but is still an older retired horse. Not uncomfortable, he has some arthritis but probably could be ridden lightly. He is comfortably pasture sound.

Magnum’s whole body has changed since I started trimming him… just being barefoot isn’t enough! A bad trim has the same deleterious affects on a horses health and movement as a poor shoeing job. His toes were at least an inch too long, his heels were high and contracted, so his stance was base-narrow and his shoulders were sore.

Not all barefoot trims are the same, not all trimmers have the same skills and knowledge. Our differences are great as long as the horses are sound or moving comfortably, but that isn’t always the case. Its always okay to ask questions and want to learn more about your horses feet.


Martha (15 years) & Dixie (5 years)

These pictures are interesting for several reasons. I started trimming these mares in the early spring of 2009, when they both had very long toes and mild laminitis from the pasture they lived on, and I believe they were fed alfalfa, oat hay and higher carb supplements. Their owners, a very conscientious young couple, got serious about diet as soon as we talked, and changed them over to a low carb forage & pellet, but weren’t in a position to do anything about the stressed pasture they lived on immediately, hence the wall separation and stretched white line that is still growing out.

They ride a fair amount, at local parks, often at the beach and recently at Yosemite. Dixie is in Renegade boots because her feet too round for the Gloves, Martha is in Gloves. The owners “use boots as needed” on the front feet, like most of my trail riding clients. (endurance rider who like to trot and canter a lot typically carry or use rear boots).

What’s most interesting about these feet is they are about 90% of the way through growing out the bad wall, and still have a tiny bit of separation in the frogs too… not bad enough to treat, but enough “frog separation” that I needed to trim some flaps each time I’m there. This stuff is generally diet related..

,,,,,  …..



Timothy is a 30 year old TB who owns and is owned by Diana Thompson, a great client who is an acupressure specialist and teaches body working.

Diana also has a comprehensive book on Acupressure for Equines, which I own and use regularly. Check it out!

Many of my clients used Diana for their horses body work, saddle fitting or had been to her acupressure clinics. Because their horses are moving so well barefoot, they mentioned me to her, but Diana was VERY skeptical about barefoot before we talked because she would see so many barefoot horses who had been invasively or incorrectly trimmed as a body worker… she had seen a lot of barefoot fanaticism but many of those fanatics had sore footed horses.

What she had gotten used to was horses whose feet would all be so sore that it was hard to diagnose a specific lameness, but as a body worker, Diana could see it in their stiff, sore bodies. Not all barefoot is the same. Invasive or inappropriate trimming can make a horse sore. Forms of this are over thinning the walls, leaving heels or toes too long, thinning the sole or removing supportive bar. Or NOT treating thrush and frog infections! Bad hoof care often results in sore bodies.

Timothy has been shod his whole life, and Diana had tried taking his shoes off once before, but Timothy had horrible problems with the transition and Diana almost lost him.

At the end of April, 2009, after seeing work I had done on many common clients, she invited me out for a Timothy Consultation. Diana and Timothy are close, and after the consultation, when she asked me to pull his front shoes, I felt honored and a bit intimidated.

Timothy is still a super athletic horse even though at this point he is in his 30’s, but he is also fragile, and the footing at Diana’s barn, a very abrasive sharp gravel, meant a lot of booting and casting early on, and use of Hoof Armor more recently.



Gulala is an older TB rescue, very retired, who has a well balanced low carb diet and lives in a large paddock with several other mares. This paddock is in an area that doesn’t drain well, its essentially a flood plain near a creek, and the pen gets extremely muddy in the winter. It is picked out on a regular basis, and most of these horses feet are picked out and checked daily.

The boarding stable manager is working towards improving the footing in all the paddocks, but in the winter, these paddocks get very swampy . They lay deep wood chips to keep the horses feet from being down in the mud all the time, and it works well.

This environment is one of the hardest to fight thrush in, and when these horses do get thrush – particularly if there is something else going on line an immune system problem or Cushing’s – cleaning it up is tough. This frog is proof it can be done. This owner has done a super job at getting this frog healthy!



Viggo is a mature OTTB who lives in the same environment Gulala…. I’m adding these pictures because his bars were lose and I just scraped them off It also shows how I trim frogs…


King, Morgan Mule

King is a young Morgan cross mule who gets **lots** of riding. He also lives in a wonderful “Paddock Paradise” with his donkey buddy, and moves nonstop.

He’s also one of my favorite clients (I say that about many of “my” horses and mean it!)… he’s a super animal in every way. VERY well trained, lots of character. I adore him.

Most of his riding is on trails. His owner packs with him, trail rides 4 to 6 days a week, many long distance rides, barefoot on all terrain (lava rock to shale to cobble stone) and he does awesome. I gave her a pair of EasyCare Edges for her birthday in case she needed them for a recent camping trip to a place that has particularly treacherous rock, and she didn’t need them.

He also gets shown and does very well. He was at Bishop Mule Days and the Sonoma Equine Extravaganza this year. He has a bit of driving training and goes English or western.

King has a slight twist to his right rear leg and has a “curl” on his frog. He gets regular chiropractic and bodywork, has saddles that fit, etc. He’s extremely sound.

He has a tight sulcus and if we didn’t keep it trimmed it would get thrushy.



Honey, Belgian PMU Rescue

Honey belongs to my friend Michelle at Harvest Moon Ranch , and a neat lady named Lisa Bishop does her trimming.

Lisa is a very talented trimmer but is also a VERY talented natural style trainer, and she started trimming Honey because Honey was cleaning up the paddock with my Chaps! She’s HUGE!

Lisa, OTOH, weighs a third of what I weigh… you would think I’d be a better match? No. Definitely not. Honey is a sweet docile oversized pony for Lisa. She was a tyrant with me!

I did trim her up until this spring, and these frogs have changed remarkably since I was doing them. We used to fight deep sulcus infections on here constantly, and now? These frogs are perfect.

What triggered the change? Michelle started her on mineral balancing. This mare spends the winter in a very wet “dry lot” that is partially covered in wood chips. These feet look awesome Lisa…. I’m glad you’re trimming them & not me!


UB, Dressage Pony

UB is a pony who supposedly did 2nd or 3rd level dressage at sometime in her past, and ended up at Harvest Moon Ranch following a dramatic colic surgery that resulted in the loss of a huge piece of bowel. She struggled for months to stay alive, and Michelle deserves a great deal of credit for her making it. Like the other horses here, she lives in a paddock with chipped wood footing. Her feet are fantastic!


December 2013

Finding A Digital Pulse

The Digital Pulse (the pulse in the fetlock joint) is faint and hard to find on a healthy horse that has been standing quietly. When a horse has been worked hard recently, the pulse will be strong and very obvious, and as you let your fingers rest on it, you can feel the pressure build then release smoothly as the blood perfuses the hoof.

If a horse has laminitis or an abscess, blood perfusion through the hoof is interrupted by the pressure caused by inflammation, and the digital pulse starts to “bound”, and is referred to as “a bounding pulse” because the blood starts to enter the hoof, the congestion in the hoof stops the surge of blood, it “bounds” back up the vessel and is shunted around the hoof to a vein. The pulse seems to “bounce” under your finger.

Being able to find your horse’s digital pulse is a valuable skill that unfortunately far too few people can do. For great pictures and help go to:

Anatomy-of-the-Equine – Photographic Journey of the Horse at

There are two arteries on each leg that move blood to the foot, and the best place to access them is over the sesamoid bones on the inside and outside of the back of the fetlock joint.

Use your fingertips to push from the side of the fetlock joint around towards the back, like you are trying to push something ahead of them underneath the skin.

I suggest learning to locate them by lunging a horse for a few minutes to get a stronger pulse, then feel for the pulse. Its important to learn to detect the difference between a strong healthy pulse and a “bounding” pulse.

December 2013
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Also see these pages:
Digital Pulse
Hoof Soaking Techniques
Hoof Soaking Solutions

What is an abscesses?

An abscess is an infection in the hoof. Abscesses are extremely painful because, like a tooth ache, the infection causes inflammation, and the hoof capsule constrains the inflamed tissue, causing the pressure to build up..

Abscesses are so excruciating that I’ve had clients think their horse had a broken bone, severed tendon or ligament because horses often refuse to weight the hoof with the abscess.

Eventually the pressure from the inflammation, following the path of least resistance, expands into areas with weaker connective integrity, allowing the necrotic material to work its way to the surface. As the abscess material moves, it causes a separation that eventually grows out.

A “vent” is a naturally occurring external opening that abscess contents are expelled through.

Strong Digital Pulse?

If you suspect an abscess, check for a digital pulse. The Digital Pulse (the pulse in the fetlock joint) is normally faint and can be hard to find at the back near the sesamoids, but when a horse has laminitis or an abscess, this pulse begins to “bound”, becomes a throbbing or “bounding pulse”. For more information see the Digital Pulse article.


The “Wet Pasture” Abscess & Wall Separation TheoryCan Wet Pasture really cause abscessing or wall separation?Sure!!! If the pasture is full of rich or stressed spring grass!  ;^)For years I had clients report abscesses in the spring when horses were on wet pasture. The “wet pasture” theory was used by vets and farriers to explain the phenomena, and I believed it too, early on.Supposedly a wet environment “caused” the abscesses as water-logged feet started to “warp” like wet plywood, separating at the white line, with the “warped” walls flaring out to the side. The wet wall separation allowed “gravel” to enter the hoof through the white line and travel up through the wall, magically, to create a “gravel” abscess.

People today still rely on this theory to explain abscesses; a well known trmmer-turned-farrier claim that the water in her pasture essentially dissolved her horses feet. Science doesn’t substantiate this claim, instead has proven that spring pasture abscesses, wall separation and flare are the result of laminitis brought on by exposure to rich spring grasses. Laminitis results in a biological wall release, thus the stretched while line.

Anyone who has taken a healthy cadaver hoof, soaked for a day or two in water in the refrigerator, and tried to mechanically peel that wall off, knows how extremely well attached the wall is, even when it’s been soaked for several days. If there is a metabolic response to grass, the hoof will separate in a matter of hours. Water doesn’t “dissolve” a healthy white line.

Many of us (myself included) have horses that spend most of their time fetlock deep in water and mud in the winter without having any wall flare, separation or abscessing.

So don’t blame the water! It softens the hoof, but not to the extent where particulates can invade the capsule or cause a well trimmed wall to flare and separate. Yes, a wet sole will shed it’s accumulated sole callous, and the sole will become more sensitive as a result, but the sole isn’t dissolving. A healthy white line doesn’t “dissolve”.

If your normally sound horse gets noticeably tender soles or abscesses after any time on pasture, the horse probably has low-grade laminitis, not “soft wet soles”.

Chronic low-grade laminitis may not look as serious as founder (substantial wall detachment) or have the same dramatic consequences, but years of progressive laminitis damage will absolutely result in coffin bone and sole corium damage and will ultimately take their toll. Protect your horse!


What causes abscesses?

Abscesses can be the result of laminitis or mild laminitis, puncture wounds, stone bruising or any internal damage.

A friend in BC has lots of abscessing in the spring in horses on great diets, and after some online discussion, the group concluded that this early spring abscessing is probably because these horses are walking over partially frozen pock-marked ground and bruising their soles, and that the very low temperatures may be contributing.

Another friend had a laminitic 17 year old horse that all of us trimmers felt was a Cushing’s case. He kept on foundering and abscessing even after his diet was corrected. The vet did a blood test and the horse tested as not-Cushings, andcontinued to abscess even though the diet was perfect and the trim was appropriate.

Because the horse was in so much pain that he was put down. Later, another friend who is a vet specializing in PPID, Cushing’s, IR, Founder and Laminitis said that she will often put these horses on Pergolide even after Cushing’s is ruled out by a blood test because it often will stop the abscess cycle. It’s something to try.

As a precaution!!!

When a client says their horse appears to have an abscess and there is any possibility that the horse was in an area where it could have stepped on a nail, I have clients clean and inspect the sole and frog carefully looking for puncture wounds or a sign of a nail or nail hole!

Punctures are potentially life threatening. If your horse has picked up a nail, screw or other sharp object, contact a vet immediately. If the object is still in the hoof, call the vet before removing it!! Many vets want to x-ray with the offending object in place so they can treat the horse appropriately.

I have had three presumed “abscesses” actually be nails or nail puncture wounds, two were serious. When I think a hole may be from a puncture vs an abscess vent (a puncture has different edges and stays open further), I suggest a vet call.

How to treat an abscess?

I prefer to soak the hoof several times a day in a warm Epsom salts solution and bandage with one of the recommended poultices (below) until it vents. I cover a poultice with a disposable baby diaper and cover with duck tape or Elasticon, gauze and duct tape to make a durable bandage.

If I suspect serious laminitis or founder, instead of soaking the hoof, I dry-bandage it with a drawing poultice. Soaking a seriously laminitic hoof may weaken it and cause more damage.

1 – Cleanse the hoof

Wash the foot in warm water, and clean with Betadine soap & lots of water. I put a piece of tarp or a clean mat down so that the wound won’t get contaminated if the horse steps down.

2 – Look for a puncture wound or vent

Punctures are potentially life threatening. If your horse has picked up a nail, screw or other sharp object, contact a vet immediately. If the object is still in the hoof, call the vet before removing it!!

3 – Soak the hoof and/or use a wet disposable baby diaper compress or use a Dry Bandage Poultice

See the Hoof Soaking page or Poultice section for a few methods of doing this without it making you and your horse crazy. I have had clients use wet baby diaper compresses, sometimes in conjunction with clay or other poultices, to soften the hoof and help draw abscesses. Apply poultice material, apply the dry baby diaper, wrap well with Duck Tape and add warm water in the top. Add more warm water every few hours.

I have had clients use a poultice in a soaker boot successfully; it keeps the hoof damp and soft, protects the hoof from external dirt and secures a poultice.

4 – Bandage a surgically vented abscess or detached heel

Dry the foot with paper towels & wash hands. Apply an antibacterial solution, squirting it into any abscess hole as far as you can.

Plug the vents/holes with cotton balls, then apply an Ichthamol or Nitrofurazone dressing or a poultice (see below). Wrap the foot in a disposable baby diaper, thin cotton or gauze. The foot can then be wrapped in strong cotton bandage or Elastikon tape,

An alternate way of keeping the hoof clean is to place an oversized hoof boot over the diaper or bandage as a waterproof walking bandage. Hoof Boots need to be checked daily to ensure that 1) they are staying in place and 2) aren’t rubbing. I usually like to let horses walk during recuperation, but if you don’t have a dry paddock for your horse, consider stalling it.

Another suggestion is to make a boot using a waterproof tarp and duct tape; this wears through fast, so don’t count on more than one use per piece of tarp. A used drip IV bag (ask you vet for discards) also works well.

Another option is to put a sole pack like Hawthorns on the sole, packing it around the abscess, and cast the hoof to protect the vent. I personally prefer to boot or bandage a horse that has a surgically vented abscess so that I can check on it, but some horses are hard to keep booted and bandaged. I remove these casts weekly to check the hoof, and check the foot at least twice a day for a bounding pulse to verify that the abscess hasn’t heated up again. You can soak an abscess through a cast as well, and if you want to do that, om mitt the sole pack.

Where do abscesses vent ?

Most of the abscesses I see in this coastal northern California region vent at the coronet band in the heel area, or in the coronet on the sides of the hoof. I also see solar abscesses that vent at the white line or frog, and bar abscesses that often result in the heel and bar in that area “shedding” in a huge chunk. In arid climates, it’s common to have abscesses vent at the bar-sole junction.

Abscess vents will occur at any junction of two different materials, because “intersections” of unlike materials always constitute a weak point. Abscesses vent in the while line, between the bar or sole and frog, and in the heel buttress. I’ve seen abscesses come through the wall and sole, too, but only on weak walled or thin soled horses; this is because abscess vents choose a path of least resistance.

A healing abscess vent in the coronet area appears to be a slit or cut 1/2 inch long parallel to the coronet, and as the wall grows down, the slit will grow down with it until it grows out. Solar abscesses result in the eventual shedding of the sole in several huge chunks, and the new sole underneath frequently has a dark coating on the surface, residue of the abscess that once covered the sole. And, as I said above, a bad bar or heel abscess often loosens the heel and bar material, requiring that it be removed and the hoof protected until new bar and heel has grown out.

Protecting a detached heel after a heel or bar abscess

When an abscess blows out under a heel and/or bar, the heel and bar can detach. The detached material is initially protective but will eventually become irritating and need to be removed. I ask clients to let their vet know what happened in case they want to do this, but most of the vets in my area prefer to let me deal with vented abscesses.

Bandaging the hoof

I leave the separated bar and heel in place for a week or so to give the underlying structures time to build new material over the corium. To protect the hoof in the meantime, I clean the hoof and area around the crack thoroughly with an antiseptic scrub, place a gauze pad,around the vent to absorb any residual seepage, bind the hoof with vet elastic adhesive tape and cover with a “duck tape boot” made of overlapping strips of Duck Tape.

The bandage needs to be changed after a few days (I follow the vets recommendations) and when the heel section seems weakened at about 2 weeks time, I carefully remove it with nippers. Because the coffin bone isn’t as protected as it is with an intact heel, I re-bandage it , have clients keep the foot clean and dry and either put a good vet-type hoof bandage on the hoof (essentially a soft cast) or vet-wrap the foot with a thick layer of gauze over the heel and boot the horse to protect it.

Because of the location, I recommend that clients wait until the whole heel re-grows to ride or use the horse athletically, and until that happens to keep the horse quiet – no herd turn-out – for a few weeks. Heels grow out in about 2 months on a barefoot horse.

If a horse with a seeping abscess is being put into a boot for protection, I suggest buying “puppy training pads” to wrap the hoof and keep the boot clean. They are available at pet stores!

The few horses I’ve seen with this sort of abscess all had laminitis, so I would watch this horse carefully from now on, just in case!

Why are some horses more inclined to get abscesses?

Horses with laminitis, particularly horses who are foundering, are the most prone to getting abscesses. For many owners, an abscess is the first indication they notice that a horse has the dietary or metabolic problem.

Abscesses are the result of infection in the hoof capsule. A healthy hoof provides a formidable barrier to contaminants, so most internal infection is the result of either a puncture wound or necrotic tissue from a bruise or laminitic episode.

When I hear that a client horse has an abscess, I request that they pull the horse off all pasture and stop feeding all higher-carb feeds until I have a chance to check the feet out. My favorite summary of diet information is here on Pete Ramey’s web site, and excellent comprehensive information is available on Dr Kellon’s web site as well as Katy Watts’ SaferGrass site

Horses on low carb mineral balanced diets and who have tight wall connections and durable soles are the least likely to develop abscesses. Horses on pasture in the early spring when night temperatures get below 45 degrees and daytime temperatures are warm frequently develop abscesses as a result of mild laminitis. If your horse has one or more abscess a year, I strongly suggest that you revisit your horses diet.  Pete Ramey has several interesting articles on Laminitis; my favorite is

Laminitis can be very mild and have subtle symptoms that your veterinarian and farrier may dismiss . The most common symptoms are stretched white line, wall cracks, wall flares, loss of concavity, sudden tenderness in the late winter, spring or fall, sudden tenderness after vaccinations or changes in feed.

Abscess surgery??

I don’t personally “dig out” an abscess; it’s an invasive surgery, and when clients want it done, I refer it to vets. Surgically opening an abscess will provide immediate relief, but the hole created to relieve the abscess needs to be carefully cared for until it has healed over, a period of as much as a month. A naturally venting abscess seals itself immediately, so I prefer to soak the hoof and try to get a natural vent.

I use my fingers (feel for heat and throbbing) or hoof testers to try to locate abscesses.

If an abscess location is soft, I’ll prepare a clean working space and try lightly scraping the area where I think the abscess it trying to vent, or will use light pressure to see if an abscess will vent voluntarily. If it does, I try to get as much puss out as I can, then soak in Epsom Salts solution and bandage for a day or two.

If I feel like the abscess is moving towards the white line in a particular area, I’ll use my hoof knife to pare a small hole at the junction of the white line and wall to encourage the abscess to vet there… this has worked 4 times out of 5, the hole is not near sensitive tissue and in conjunction with soaking, the hole seems to encourage a solar abscess to vent through it. I may just be lucky!.

Surgically cut abscess vents are an excellent way to get lots of bacteria into your horses foot, so protect the abscessing foot carefully to avoid making it worse. Use sterile bandages and work with throw cloths or mats to protect the hoof from further contamination.

Abscess kit

Here’s what the contents of my “abscess kit” looks like. I go out of my way to pro actively educate clients about laminitis so haven’t had to use my kit is a few years, but if you have problems with abscesses, these items are good to have on hand:

Poultice, Icthamol or Nitrofurazone
Betadine solution or iodine
Betadine scrub
Disposable diapers (sized same as EasyBoots)
Epsom salts
Paper towels
Soaking bucket or soaker boot
Water bucket or large thermos
Tarp pieces
Duct tape

Oral medications

My vet has suggested MSM , Bute and homeopathic remedies Oral Arnica or Hepar Sulph (both are thought to help abscesses vent and encourages healing) .

Poultice Suggestions For Abscesses, Bruised Soles, Sore Soles

These suggestions are some I recommend and others were culled from various (fantastic!) lists… let me know your favorites and I’ll include them!

  • Ichthamol or Nitrofurazone Dressing Option – Until the abscess has erupted, coat the sole with Ichthamol or Nitrofurazone.
  • Magna Paste
  • Clay Poultice – Ice Tight is affordable and easy to find, but dry clay is cheaper to have shipped and works as well. Aztec Clay (available in health food stores) works well too. The whole hoof (particularly the sole, frog, heel bulbs and coronet) can be covered in a thick layer of clay, vet wrapped and bandaged with duck tape to help to “draw out” infection.
  • Antiphlogistine by Absorbine. Good for deep abscesses. [Antiphlogistine is clay with methyl salicylate, menthol, eucalyptol.
  • Epsom Salt Poultice by Kaeco Group. Draws well and controls swelling (contains Magnesium Sulfate)
  • Numtizine Cataplasm by Hobart Labs. Contains Methyl Salicylate, guaicol (a disinfectant) and creosote
  • Animalintex – A 3M product. Boric acid and tragacanth, a herb that forms a gel- like substance. The Poultice Pad is a 100% cotton wool with a non-woven cover on one side and plastic backing on the other. Contains mild antiseptic (boric acid) plus natural poultice agent (Tragacanth). Use as a poultice or wound dressing. Here’s a 3M PDF with lots of info on it:
  • Hawthorne Sole Pack

More reading

December 2013

Great Thrush Preventatives – Fix The Diet!

Try Custom Mineral Balancing — or California Trace

When I saw clients struggling to clear up stubborn thrush, soaking frogs for days on end, I knew there had to be another answer.

Pete Ramey suggested mineral supplementation after taking a Dr. Kellon nutrition class  offered classes to help people learn more about equine nutrition and mineral balancing.

A good friend of mine took the same classes, then started testing the hay she fed at her boarding operation and offering custom balanced minerals as an option. Thrush began resolving itself in those horses.

I talked as many clients as I could into balancing minerals to their horses diets, but when clients board at stables or purchase hay in small quantities, custom minerals become too expensive.

That’s when my friend and fellow PHCP trimmer Sally Hugg announced her new product, California Trace. Sally began using standard hay tests to come up with a generic supplement for her clients who purchased hay in small quantities or boarded. As word got around about it, more people asked to purchase it, and California Trace was born. See  for more information. Essentially, CA Trace is minerals custom blended to balance the hays grown in California, and the western US.

December 2013
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Tis the Season For Thrush!

Below are a few pages of pictures of healthy winter frogs from wet living conditions, like the frog on the right.healthy Frog

Many people believe that thrush starts with wet conditions, and while moisture amplifies the symptoms of a thrush infection, frogs can be very healthy in a super wet living environment.

If your horses frogs are shredded, greasy looking, full of holes and foul smelling, this is a hard time of the year to fix them. BUT it can be done!

Healthy California Fall Frogs
Global Healthy Fall Frogs


Number one is trimming the infected frog back to remove all lose flaps and open up cavities.

Next? Look at diet.

The frog above is the product of a low carb diet and balanced minerals, specifically adding zinc and copper to balance out the iron that is abundant in this horses diet.

Next? If a frog has thrush, I recommend a simple cleaning with a stiff brush and Dawn dish washing detergent to remove the film that protects the bacterial components of thrush.

Topical Treatments

I have a lot of treatments that have worked over the years… what works depends on the horse and what works for the care provider. See my Thrush pages in the Articles list to the left for a lot of older information.

Want to try something new? Here are two new treatments that have been working on chronically thrushy frogs:

December 2013
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Is Your Horse Tender-footed In The Fall & Spring?

Several of my clients horses become tender in the fall & spring, while several others become sore and exhibit signs of laminitis when their diet hasn’t changed. If this is the case with your horse, this may be due to the seasonal rise in ACTH hormones, and this tenderness may be an early symptom of Equine Cushing’s. and if you suspect this, contact your vet for a checkup.

Many people think that a heavy hair coat is the first sign of Cushing’s, but other symptoms like tenderness often precede it. Early detection is a factor in successfully controlling the development and symptoms. If your horse is 13 or older (even younger horses can have Cushing’s), I recommend becoming familiar with the symptoms and a talk with your vet if you have suspicions. For great information, go to

December 2013
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