Knock on wood, no more abscesses!

Freedom's abscess
Freedom’s last abscess looked so painful!

We have now enjoyed four weeks of continuous happy feet. No soreness and no abscesses! Freedom’s last abscess was November 2nd – a frankenabscess that made him look like he had a broken leg. For the second time it blew out the heel bulb of his right front hoof making it impossible for him to wear his hoof boots.

In an attempt to salvage the last hunts of the season, once he was fully recovered from it, I took him to see farrier Rebecca Watts — she seemed the ideal choice to me because she specializes in therapeutic shoeing and she offers a wide range of alternatives — barefoot trims, regular shoes and glue-on shoes.

Rebecca generally works out of the New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center in Dover, NH (about an hour and a half drive from me) but she was able to meet me at one of her client’s, which was half an hour closer.

It was worth the drive.

Freedom's feet
You can see that there is debris that is collecting in his bars.

After looking at his feet her opinion was that the abscesses were caused by debris accumulating in the bars. From there, the channel to his heel was a pretty direct route for the infection to travel. I have to admit that I’d never thought about his bars or how much they were trimmed back. To be honest, I didn’t know where the bars were!

Hoof care is something that I’ve been able to take for granted for the past five or six years. I’ve been using the same farrier and she’s been great — in fact she was instrumental in helping Freedom transition to barefoot. Sadly, she was in a motorcycle accident in June and has still not been able to resume shoeing. So for the past few months I’ve had a barefoot trimmer working on his feet.

The bars are one of the weight bearing structures of the hoof and there are varying opinions in the barefoot world about how much they should be trimmed back.

Reading the Chronicle of the Horse Forums, one hoof care professional wrote:

Anatomy of the Hoof
This diagram appears in Functional Anatomy of the Horse Hoof on the University of Missouri Website (

I find that most cases of chronic heel abscesses are due to the heels and bars not being trimmed adequately. Many farriers and trimmers leave the bars overgrown, allowing a bit of flopped over bar to compact down on top of the sole. That little bit of overgrown material allows microscopic debris to be trapped between layers of hoof, setting up a perfect anaerobic environment to brew abscesses. Of course not all abscess can be prevented especially in environments that change moisture content rapidly, but many heel abscesses can be prevented by changing the trimming a bit.

Bingo! That sure sounds like what happened to Freedom. Rebecca Watts told me that in her experience, some horses just can’t tolerate the pressure on their bars — and that was the case with Freedom.
In the end, I ended up putting regular steel shoes on Freedom’s front feet. He needed some support on that front right while everything grows out. The glue on shoes are tempting and I think I’ll try them next spring but for the time being I went the least expensive solution. The results have been great. The very next day I hunted and Freedom felt like a million dollars. I was able to ride in the last three hunts and finish off the season on a high note.

I did like having Freedom barefoot — for more than two years he’d been comfortable and his hooves looked great. In fact, I will probably pull his shoes once his foot has grown out and when there is snow on the ground, but boy do I wish I’d put shoes on him after the first abscess. Live and learn!

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