Thermoregulation in Horses During Winter

A fellow horse lover and owner recently shared this article on thermoregulation in horses during the cold weather with me. It is a very interesting read! Especially for those of you that own and love horses. Enjoy! The following text and images are courtesy of Academia Artivm Didacticvm Eqviorvm In Liberti

Thermoregulation in horses in a cold time of year

by Natalija Aleksandrova

Heat in the horse’s body is continuously generated as a by-product of metabolism, and a healthy animal has significant internal sources of heat from the metabolic processes (Bicego at al., 2007). To control internal heat loss during the cold time of year, the horse is provided by Nature with complicated and extremely efficient anatomical, physiological and behavioral thermoregulatory mechanisms. In order that the mechanisms are used in the most efficient way, or at all, the horse requires conditions equaling species appropriate lifestyle environments…

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In order for a mammal to survive, internal body temperature is kept within a very narrow range. If the temperature exceeds these limits either above or below, the chemical reactions on the cellular level function improperly. Or they stop functioning at all. Fluctuations outside of the normal temperature range result in health problems or death of the animal. Mature horses maintain their internal body temperature at a range around 38℃. Foals, rapidly growing youngsters, pregnant and lactating mares have a higher norm of their internal body temperature (Hines, 2004). Most horse owners are aware of the damage and crisis inherent with fever states. Few horse owners realize how well adapted horses are to deal with cold when certain aspects of their lifestyle are in place for them.

Over thousands of years, the wild horse has spread over the entire world. Whatever place in the world they live, the horse was exposed to constantly changing temperature — through a day/night rhythm or a seasonal rhythm. Yet even today wild and semi-wild horses, as well as domestic ones, provided with species appropriate living conditions, survive perfectly any conditions Nature exposes them to. Whether it is the north of Europe, or Australian deserts, the horse is exposed to all of Nature’s changing elements — wind, sun, rain, snow, fluctuating temperature, etc. Never in nature seeking such excessive enclosed shelters as man-made stables and barns nor caves, never in nature seeking ways of covering themselves with fabric. The horse has naturally evolved ways of thriving.

Heat in the horse’s body is continuously generated as a by-product of metabolism, and a healthy animal has significant internal sources of heat from the metabolic processes (Bicego at al., 2007). To control internal heat loss during the cold time of year, the horse is provided by Nature with complicated and extremely efficient anatomical, physiological and behavioral thermoregulatory mechanisms. In order that the mechanisms are used in the most efficient way, or at all, the horse requires conditions equaling species appropriate lifestyle environments.

On a genetic level, the domestic horse is the same as its wild counterpart: it has the same abilities and needs to survive. Basically, they do not need anything more from the human than only to provide keeping conditions that this species is supposed to have by dictate of Nature: freedom of movement 24 hours a day, free access to appropriate food 24 hours a day, herd life, proper hoof care, shelter which it can enter and leave freely. Under human care that respects the horse’s natural needs, and provides it doesn’t make this animal a subject for anthropomorphism through stabling, changing eating habits, blanketing, clipping, shoeing, etc., the domestic horse is able to properly use its amazing natural thermoregulatory abilities exactly the same way as the wild horse.

Let’s take a deeper look into how the thermoregulatory mechanisms work in the horse, and how it can be interfered with and damaged through unnatural care and keeping practices.

Coat in an arabian breed horse on a very cold winter day, Central Europe. The piloerection mechanism in use — the hair is raised to increase coat insulation.

Cooling down after playing. Highland breed horse, Central Europe.
(Photo © K. Jarczewski)

First what is important to remember, is that due to some thermoregulatory factors such as the skin and coat being very good insulators, which prevent heat loss, and the muscles producing heat through their movements, it is far easier for horses to warm up in cold weather than to cool down in hot weather, or to cool down after intensive exercising. Cooling down is more difficult for the horse. Horses are adapted to handle cold.

The horse’s skin is responsible both for protecting the interior of the body from outside temperature changes. As well as for not allowing heat loss in cold weather. Also it needs to be mentioned that the skin is responsible for dissipation of internal heat generated by muscle action to prevent the body from over-heating. The skins’ thermoregulatory mechanisms consist of four major factors, skin, coat, arteries and sweat glands, three of which are responsible for keeping the horse warm in a cold weather:

1. The skin itself works as an insulating layer through its relative thickness.

2. The coat.
The coat insulation depends on the depth and thickness of the hair layer, the wind speed and the temperature and humidity gradients within the coat (Ousey et al., 1992).

The coat, in horses, changes twice a year through the mechanism called photoperiodism, adapting to different seasonal base temperatures. Sensors in the horse’s skin react to the daytime light length changes. The horse is ready to grow their winter coat right after the summer solstice, when days start getting shorter. The horse is ready to change their winter coat to a summer one right after the winter solstice, when days start getting longer.

In addition to photoperiod, environmental temperature also affects hair growth. Colder climates produce thicker and longer coats in horses than warmer climates do, when comparing horses who have the same body score and are fed the same amount of food.

Also coat growth is affected by some other factors, for example, feeding and horse breed which will be explained later in this text.

Additionally to growing its coat, the horse can increase the insulation of the coat through the mechanism called piloerection — raising, lowering or turning in different directions the hair in the coat via hair erector muscles. This way the horse increases or decreases the thickness of the insulation layer and efficiently varies the amount of airflow to the skin surface. Piloerection increases coat depth 10% to 30% in mature horses (Young & Coote, 1973). The hair erector muscles must be exercised regularly in order to work properly, as with any other muscle in the body.

Hairs of the coat are covered with a greasy substance, which helps the horse not to get wet to the skin on rainy or snowy days. The coat has a water-repelling effect through the hair grease — water runs down the outer hair while the deeper coat remains dry. The longer the coat, the less chance water has to get to the skin. Through regular coat brushing the greasy substance gets removed, and the water-repelling effect gets impaired.

Not advisable either is to clean off the layer of dirt that rolling in mud ensures a horse. The mud has protective effects to the body.

Needless to say that the popular practice of clipping the hair of a horse’s coat eliminates, completely, the thermoregulatory factor of the coat.

3. Arteries in the skin.
Arteries through muscle actions, called vasoconstriction or vasodilation, can be narrowed or enlarged, regulating blood flow to the skin. Constricting prevents internal heat loss by reducing the amount of warm blood brought to the cooler body surface. Dilation allows for a larger amount of hot blood from over-heated interiors to reach the body surface and to be cooled. The cooled blood lowers internal body temperature when it’s returned back to the interior of the body.

4. Sweat glands.
The horse uses sweat glands to cool down at a time when external or internal temperatures are too hot. When the outside temperature is too high for the air to cool the blood through the skin, the sweat glands secrete fluid. Evaporation of this fluid cools the skin surface and the blood in the surface arteries. In this way, bringing the cooled blood to the internal body, the temperature internally can be lowered even when it is hot outside. The horse stops secreting sweat as soon as the internal body temperature has reached it’s norm. Then it must dry quickly, since otherwise cooling would continue and bring body temperature below normal limits. A sweaty horse turns its coat hairs in various directions in order to avoid under-cooling and given freedom usually seeks a windy spot to effectively fast and safely dry itself. Mentioning the sweat glands mechanism is important because sweat glands are also brought into function through muscle action.

While those are the skins’ four major factors of thermoregulation mechanisms let’s now look into other thermoregulatory mechanisms available to the horse.

Frost on the coat — heat escaped the body.

Water running down the long winter hair, the undercoat staying dry.

The amount of fat in the body is also an important factor of thermoregulation. Since, in addition to being the body’s energy reserve, fat is three times more insulating than other tissues due to its low thermal conductivity and poor blood supply (Guyton, 1991; Davenport, 1992). Thus it is important for a horse to have a good layer of fat before winter. Wild horses and naturally kept domestic horses maintain the natural rhythm of weight change throughout the year with their weight growing up to 20% by the Autumn. Usually we can see that domestic horses with a thicker fat layer in their bodies grow a comparatively shorter winter coat than horses with less fat gain at Autumn, comparing the same breed and the same body score animals. Also fat gets distributed more evenly over the body surface in cold conditions instead of being concentrated in some particular areas as in hot conditions.

Kept in the same conditions, smaller horse breeds have a longer/thicker coat compared to larger breeds. Also we see a typically thicker coat in foals. This is connected to a great effect of allometry, the systematic change in body proportions with increasing body size, on heat balance within animal species. Changes within species occur as animals grow and develop but exist also between breeds of species (Reiss, 1991; Langlois, 1994). Generally, large body size is an advantage with respect to thermoregulation in the cold. Since, the ratio of heat-dissipating surface area to heat-producing/retaining body mass decreases with increasing body size (Phillips & Heath, 1995; Bligh, 1998). Therefore, large size horses have less relative surface area available for heat exchange, and thus importantly lose less heat in the cold than small size horses do. Small horses lose more body heat than large horses do. In addition to large body size, a spherical body shape reduces the surface area to body mass ratio (Langlois, 1994). To compensate for the bigger surface/mass ratio northern-type horses generally have evolved heavier rounder bodies with shorter limbs and extremities which are well protected by thick hair, mane and fetlock, therefore being more able to retain more body heat and cope with cold.

Increasing feed intake increases heat production in the horse’s body. This is connected to the fact that the process of digesting long fibers produces heat as a by-product. It is important that every domestic horse has unrestricted access to hay 24 hours a day. In cold weather having a chance of increasing heat production through continuously consuming and digesting long fiber. Especially when some of the other thermoregulatory mechanisms aren’t yet adjusted in suddenly changing weather conditions such as a rapid drop of temperature.

Such extra demand for feed is called climatic energy demand (MacCormak & Bruce, 1991). Horses have been observed to need about 0.2 to 2.5% more energy for maintenance per 1 degree Celsius drop in outside temperature below their lower critical temperature (Young Coote, 1973; McBride et al., 1985; Cymbaluk et al., 1989a; Cymbaluk, 1990). (Lower critical temperature is individual for every horse/group of horses at different times of year and depends on many other thermoregulatory and environmental factors.)

Importantly, smaller-sized horses have greater lower critical temperature values meaning their heat loss is relatively greater than for larger horses. Thus small-sized horses actually need proportionally more additional feed. To explain further, the greater that the lower critical temperature value is — the more heat loss the animal experiences. Small-sized horse breeds lose more heat than big-sized horse breeds in the same temperature conditions. The lower that the lower critical temperature value is, the greater the heat retention is that the animal experiences. Bigger-sized horse breeds stay warmer in cold weather.

Feral horses have been reported to reduce locomotor activity in winter compared to summer (Duncan, 1980; Berger et al., 1999; Arnold et al., 2006). Reduced activity in winter was an annual pattern related to decreased outside temperature and hence to a reduction in internal heat production and energy expenditure (Arnold et al., 2006). This adaptation mechanism of reducing activity helps wild horses to cope with the energetic challenge of winter. We can observe similar reduction of activity in winter in domestic horses kept naturally. Though the domestic horses aren’t challenged with a necessity to search for food in winter to the same extent as their wild counterparts. This slowing down in their activity obviously has the same purpose as in the wild horses — the reduction of energy expenditure in the cold. Thus, it is a normal seasonal rhythm in the horse to be less exercised in winter due to this cold adaptational thermoregulation mechanism, therefore it is not advisable to forcefully exercise horses in winter.

Along with general reduction of activity in the cold, we have observed in horses, short sessions of restlessness and locomotor activity (movement) during sudden acute cold periods and adverse weather. Short term beneficial movement that is a useful bridge until other factors of their thermoregulatory system adjust to the new temperature conditions.

Sometimes we can observe horses standing or lying down very close to each other, this way they reduce heat loss via radiation. By such positional closeness to each other they reduce the body surface area exposed to the external environment (Bligh, 1998). At the same time animals, who for some reason, don’t produce enough individual internal heat can use, as an extra source of beneficial heat, a paddock mate’s body-heat radiation via positional closeness.

Also by changing body posture and orientation, horses can increase absorbed solar radiation to use as another additional source of heat. Often we can observe that horses prefer to sunbath under the direct sun instead of eating on short sunny winter days, and as soon as the sun sets they are back to eating.

Snow which we can sometimes see lying along horses backs during winter also plays the helpful role of providing an extra protective layer against internal heat loss.

On windy, rainy days, we can see horses standing with their tails to the wind and their heads low. This way they effectively keep their necks, heads, ears and eyes, underbelly and sheaths out of water and wind. Their tails serve to protect their rear ends — the shorter hairs on the dock fan out deflecting both snow and wind. Also on such days, horses can be seen standing in the lee shelter of walls, or using natural windbreaks such as trees or hills to protect themselves from the wind.

When allowed free choice, it’s been observed that horses utilize enclosed spaces, such as shelters or forests, mostly to hide from summer heat and flies.

Under extreme circumstances, heat in the horse body can be generated by shivering. During shivering, heat is rapidly produced by breaking down ATP in the muscles (Langlois, 1994). Shivering is usually an acute response to sudden cold exposure, or sometimes it occurs during extended periods of exposure to cold in rainy weather. In healthy animals, shivering is replaced by normal internal heat production as they adapt to new weather conditions.

A different problem occurs with enclosed spaces when placing a hot sweaty horse into a stable. Due to a lack of air circulating in there, cooling already takes longer and a horse sweats for longer. The air surrounding the horse becomes saturated and drying also takes longer than normal, because the humid air cannot absorb any more moisture. As a result, the horse remains undercooled, again setting the stage for internal disorder: colic, diseases and infections by negatively affecting metabolism’s safe temperature margins.

Blanketing moreover can set the thermoregulation in a horse to a complete mess. The animal tries to warm up parts of the body left exposed to the cold such as head, neck, belly and legs, in the process they become over-heated in those parts covered by the blanket. A horse cannot increase heat in selected area’s of the body. The whole body cools or the whole body heats up. Sweating under a blanket is more of a problem metabolically to the horse than people realise.

Kept in stables or/and blanketed, horses lack stimuli (temperature fluctuations) triggering the activity of thermoregulatory mechanisms. They don’t need to exercise hair erector muscles, nor to dilate or constrict arteries, nor to activate the sweat glands, nor to prepare or deplete healthy fat reserves. All muscles atrophy without exercising for a period of time. If an animal in this state is suddenly exposed to the cold, they will not be able to activate necessary thermoregulatory mechanisms. As a result the internal body temperature could drop too low, that would lead to disruptions in metabolic processes. This can affect, for example, the production and migration rate of white blood cells and antibodies, with partial disabling of them. The result is a stressed animal with a disease or infection hosting internal environment. The germ is nothing, the terrain is all (Louis Pasteur). Consequentially germs or viruses in the body get a perfect opportunity to over breed.

Besides the fact that the natural thermoregulatory mechanisms can only be fully utilized when a horse is kept in their species-appropriate living conditions, there is an anxiety and stress factor that horses inevitably experience when cut off from their basic needs and kept in ways unnatural for this species (stabling, separating from equine companions, forced exercising, lack of continuous fiber uptake, etc.). This stress also makes them less capable of coping with cold.

26 Things You Can Start Today That Could Change Your Horse’s Life

Thank you SmartPak for this wonderful and informative blog post on simple and easy steps you can take to improve your horses health. This is a must read for all horse owners no matter the level of experience. See the full article here. Read and enjoy!

The following text and pictures are courtesy of SmartPak.

26 Things You Can Start Today That Could Change Your Horse’s Life

By SmartPak on August 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm

1. Evolve Your Thinking

Horses evolved over millions of years for a very specific way of life. But these days, most horses are living a pretty “unnatural” life. Training, trailering, eating grain and living in a stall all put stress on your horse’s body. Luckily, there are ways to adapt your horse’s feeding program to help him cope.

2. Weigh Your Hay

Your horse was designed to graze all day long, but that’s just not practical or even possible for many barns. No matter your horse’s situation, he should be eating 1-2% of his body weight in forage per day (for a 1000 lbs horse that’s 10-20 pounds!). Unfortunately, a “flake” is not a unit of weight measurement. But you don’t have to step on the scale for every meal. With each new shipment of hay, you can weigh several bales, then divide the average weight by the average number of flakes.

3. What’s in the Bag?

You know your horse gets a scoop of something, but do you know what it actually is? There are three main types of horse feed: ration balancers, fortified grains and complete feeds.

Ration balancers only provide vitamins, minerals and protein, and they typically come with a serving size of 1-2 lbs.

Fortified grains include all that, plus a significant source of energy (calories), with an average serving size around 6-9 lbs. Most pelleted grains and sweet feeds fall within the category of “fortified grains.”

• Last but not least, there’s complete feeds, which contain all of the above and a full serving of fiber. Essentially, complete feeds are meant to replace hay in the diet of senior horses who have trouble chewing and digesting efficiently. Since they’re intended to replace the hay in the diet, complete feeds have a serving size of 15-20 lbs per day!

(SENTINEL and GUARDIAN OF EQUINE HEALTH are marks of Blue Seal Feed, which has no affiliation with SmartPak Equine.)

4. Less is More

Concentrated sources of energy, like grain, are not a natural part of horses’ diets, so only feed the minimum amount needed to maintain healthy weight and support performance. For hard keepers and extreme athletes, instead of maxing out the grain ration, consider adding a quality fat supplement for a healthy source of additional calories.

5. Go Graze-y

Pasture is your horse’s ideal feed source. If it were up to him, he’d graze up to 17 hours a day to meet his nutritional needs (and you thought you liked to snack!). For most horses, the more access to fresh pasture you can give them, the better. Got an easy keeper? Worried about the lush green grass in the spring? Throw on a Deluxe Grazing Muzzle and your horse can enjoy the outdoors in safety (and in style).

6. Feeding Frequency

Ingesting a large amount of grain can cause hindgut acidosis, which can lead to colic and laminitis. Instead of one or two large meals, try feeding smaller meals throughout the day.

7. Filling in the Gaps


Grain is very calorie dense, and most horses will either gain weight or have too much energy if they receive a full serving. But when you cut back on grain, your horse misses out on key vitamins and minerals, too. In fact, our survey of barns found that 7 out of 10 horses weren’t getting enough vitamins and minerals from their hay and grain alone.
If your horse doesn’t get a full serving of fortified grain, add a vitamin/mineral supplement to make sure his bases are covered. Check out SmartPak.com/SmartVites to see our comprehensive lineup of targeted vitamin/mineral supplements.

8. Powered by Protein

Many horse owners focus on the total amount or crude protein in their horse’s diet, but equally (or more) important is the quality of that protein. Check your horse’s feed and make sure that the essential amino acids Lysine, Methionine and Threonine are present. Amino acids are the building blocks of the proteins that make up tissues like muscles, bones and skin. If you’re concerned about the quality or amount of protein that your horse is getting, consider adding a supplement like Tri-Amino (#18489, $12.95) or SmartMuscle® Mass (#17181, $28.95).

9. Know the Score

A recent study out of Virginia found that over half of the participating horses were overweight or obese. Fat ponies might be cute, but just like in humans, being too heavy can have serious consequences for your horse’s overall health. From joints to metabolism, extra weight can cause a lot of extra stress. Use the Henneke Body Condition Scoring Scale to regularly monitor your horse’s score. Not sure how? Ask your vet to
show you, or head to SmartPak.com/BodyScore.

10. Upgrade His Bucket


Thanks to its unique ergonomic shape, The Better Bucket (#19839, $16.95) encourages a more natural eating position. It also gives your horse easier access to his feed, so he’s less likely to bang the bucket around.

11. Mind Your 3’s And 6’s

SmartOmega 3™As Low As: $13.95

Your horse needs both Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids to stay healthy, but it’s important to maintain a proper balance. Omega 6s support pro-inflammatory reactions while Omega 3s support anti-inflammatory reactions, so you want to provide your horse with two to four times more Omega 3s than 6s in his diet. Unfortunately, grain is much higher in Omega 6s than 3s (anywhere from 8 to 24 times higher!). Bring your horse back into balance with SmartOmega 3 (#18294, $13.95) and watch his good health shine through!

12. Just Say “No” To Corn Oil

There’s no denying it’ll make your horse shiny, but at what cost? Corn oil is loaded with pro-inflammatory Omega 6 Fatty Acids. A high amount of Omega 6s can lead to a chronic state of inflammation, which can have a negative impact on cellular health throughout the body. Skip the jug and opt for a smarter solution—head to tip 13 to learn more!

13. Get Your Shine On, The Healthy Way

Many oils can be much higher in pro-inflammatory Omega 6s than they are in anti-inflammatory Omega 3s (in some cases up to 200 times higher!) So skip the jug and support your horse with beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids from flax seed or fish oil with supplements like Omega Horseshine (#10182, $22.95) or SmartShine Ultra (#16319, $19.95).

14. Treat Him Right

Hilton HerballsAs Low As: $5.50

Skip the sugar and reward your horse the healthy way with super-tasty, all-natural Hilton Herballs (#15382, $5.50).

15. Stressed Out?

Studies have shown that up to 60% of performance horses have gastric ulcers. Training, trailering, living in a stall, and feeding grain all put stress on your horse, increasing his risk for gastric ulcers. Lower his stress and support his stomach to help keep him happy, healthy and performing his best.

16. Give Him A Break

Make sure that your horse’s downtime truly is downtime. Even if he’s not working, traveling to a competition or living in a busy barn can be very stressful. If possible, give him time to unwind in a peaceful pasture.

17. Find Him A Friend

Horses are herd animals, so without a buddy, turnout can be an additional source of stress. Similarly, having an aggressive pasture mate is no picnic. Find your horse a buddy that will play nice with him and his tummy
will thank you!

18. Let Him Eat Hay

The more time your horse’s stomach sits empty, the more its sensitive lining is exposed to harsh stomach acids. If he can’t have free choice grass hay for dietary or barn management reasons, pick up a Small Hole Hay Net (#19916, $16.95) to make the hay he has last a lot longer.

19. Gut Check

SmartGut® PelletsAs Low As: $37.95
U-Gard PelletsAs Low As: $22.95

When selecting a daily supplement, look for ingredients to neutralize excess acid, soothing herbs, and amino acids that support healing of the stomach lining. These supplements provide a buffer when fed near meals,
support GI cell renewal and certain herbs can help calm and soothe the stomach lining. U-Gard Pellets (#15477, $22.95) and SmartGut (#18245, $37.95) are both popular choices for comprehensive gastric support.

20. A Happy Healthy Hindgut

SmartDigest® UltraAs Low As: $29.95

Probiotics are the “good bugs” or beneficial bacteria that live in your horse’s hindgut and help break down his food. Prebiotics provide nourishment to help these microbes thrive. Digestive enzymes like amylase, lipase and protease help the body break down starch, fat and protein. Supplements like SmartDigest® Ultra (#16312, $29.95) and SUCCEED (#12755, $83.70) can help keep things . . . ahem . . . running smoothly.

21. On The Clock

Keep track of how much time your horse spends inside vs. out; with food and without; in work vs. at rest. The further he is away from his natural state, the more support he’ll likely need.

22. Get Your Head Our Of The Sand

SmartSand Purge $19.95 – $294.95

Research shows that feeding Psyllium along with probiotics and prebiotics improves fecal sand clearance and may reduce the possibility of sand colic. If your horse gets turned out on sandy soil, feed SmartSand Purge (#19475, $19.95) for a tasty way to keep him feeling good.

23. Fresh Steam

Unless you grow your own hay, you don’t have much control over the quality. But you can make the best of the hay you’ve got. Steaming kills mold, reduces dust and makes hay softer and tastier. HayGain Steamers (#19761, #19760, #19759, from $874.95).

26. Pass The Salt

Himalayan Salt Licks $7.95 – $21.95
SmartLytes® PelletsAs Low As: $12.95

Salt is critical for normal nerve and muscle function, and if your horse doesn’t get enough salt, he may not drink enough water. A horse in no work needs one ounce of salt per day all year round, and hot weather and exercise increase that need even more. Hay, pasture and commercial feeds provide virtually no salt, and many horses dislike traditional salt blocks. SmartLytes® Pellets (#19585, $12.95) are great for picky eaters. For a free-choice source that doubles as a stall toy, try the Himalayan Salt (#14870, from $7.95).

Hoof Abscess

Poor Ozymandias.

About a week ago my sweet, sweet horse developed an abscess in his front left hoof. I brought him out of his stall on a gorgeous sunny day in hopes of a nice long training session in which we could introduce a few more obstacles. He is like a sponge. Incredibly intelligent and way ahead of the normal 4 year old learning curve. As we exited the stall his limp was dramatic and he held his head low. I stopped abruptly and checked his leg for heat, swelling, anything to give away an injury. Noticing nothing wrong I continued to walk him to see if he was simply stiff. As we headed up to the cross ties his limping abated and he seemed to walk it off. However once tacked up and in the ring the pressure of the sand caused extreme discomfort for him.

My trainer immediately brought out the hoof testers and determined it was an abscess. An abscess is an infection within the hoof. Bacteria enters the hoof through a wound, bruise or simply a softening of the hoof due to rainy weather. Once infected, pressure is put on the hoof causing pain until it is eventually pushed out through a soft spot in the hoof, often the coronary band. Treatment is soaking in Epsom salts and wrapping with an Epsom salve to draw the infection out the bottom of the hoof.

First aid for an abscess. Image courtesy of GVEquine.com.

We led Ozzy back inside for soaking, which he did not enjoy. Warm water and Epsom salts are not his thing. We were forced to hold up his other front leg in order to get him to stand still and even that only lasted for about 5 minutes before he thought it wise to jump on three legs out of the water.

This is the type of bucket we used for soaking. Low, rubber feed bucket. Image courtesy of HorseChannel.com.

After soaking, my trainer taught me an interesting technique for wrapping. She is not a fan of Ichthammol which is a drawing salve that is commonly used to help draw out the abscess. She prefers an Epsom salt salve, Kaeco Epsom Salt Poultice. She cleans the dirt and debris from the entire hoof, smears a generous amount of the Epsom salt salve on the bottom of the hoof and then wraps a baby diaper on the hoof. She goes over this with VetWrap and then duct tape creating a water tight boot.

Applying the Epsom Salt Poultice.

Wrapping hoof in diaper.

Applying the duct tape boot. My trainer wrapped in VetWrap before this step.

For the next few days, Ozzy has suffered through more soaking and new wrapping as well as being stall bound. The abscess popped out of his hoof about two days ago. I have maintained the soaking in Epsom salt and wrapping to ensure the infection is completely drawn out and healed. His impatience has grown to an all time high. He was incredibly fussy this morning kicking out and rearing twice in the cross ties trying to get us to leave him alone. Only one more day then back to training.