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Hi Bob,

I have a 16 year old grade quarter horse mare. When I bought her, the owner told me that she has already foundered twice. She has always had very sensitive feet on gravel of any kind and I didn't get a chance to put shoes on her this spring. I have been doing a lot of riding the past week or so and when I was riding one day she started limping out of the blue. I wonder if her hoof is bruised from riding on gravel but I'm not sure. Every day I have been soaking her hoof in Epsom salts and it seems to be working. Every day she limps less and less. I am having the farrier put shoes on her tomorrow. What do you think caused this and when do you think I can start riding her again? Thank you a lot for your time.

-- T. G.


Yeh, I'd suspect that the gravel is the likely culprit; and no, I don't think that having shoes would have helped much. My guess is that your mare may have been suffering from a bruised sole.

For most of the time I had Willy, he went "barefoot" -- sort of like the Indian ponies. And once in a while, he'd get a little sore. Just like you, I went through a lot of Epsom salts when that happened. I usually tried to keep his feet toughened up by walking in sand and small, smooth gravel (think river gravel) just as you would try to condition your feet before you did much running around barefoot in the summer.

Strange as it may seem, I did that BECAUSE Willy had foundered badly before I got him. The alternating pressure and release on the bottom of the foot acts like an additional "heart" in each foot -- helping to pump blood up out of the foot and leg. This is a great treatment and prevention of rotated coffin bones -- which Willy initially had.

Horses' hooves surrounded by sharp stubble While out riding, I tried to avoid rough gravel as much as possible and tried to keep him on sand or grass when I could. Which brings up another potential source of lameness: brush cutters. Many multi-use trails as well as roadsides and powerline right-of-ways are maintained with brush cutters. Those cutters leave thousands of sharp-pointed stalks in their wake. Stepping down on one can push the little spear up into the sole of the horse's foot -- usually causing an abscess. (To see how extreme things can get, look at the photo at the right that I took at a horse-power logging demonstration a few years ago.)

Your vet can help you identify the exact location and probable cause of the lameness. If there is an abscess, the vet may need to open and drain it, and you'll need to keep the wound clean and packed with an antibiotic ointment. You can use one of the rubber horse boots that are on the market to keep dirt out and medicine in, or just cut one out of an old inner tube and hold it in place with duct tape (being careful to keep the tape on the rubber and the hoof so it won't pull hair or cut off the blood flow above the hoof).

With a horse that has foundered, you'll also usually find a wider white line than normal inside the hoof wall. This is also a common source of infection entering the hoof (often mistakenly called "gravel"). Soaking the foot in a solution of Epsom salts also helps in this case.

There are some rubber pads on the market that get attached between the shoe and the hoof and act to protect the sole in rough terrain. Your farrier can advise you about whether they would help in your case.

As for when you can start riding her again, I'd let the mare tell you. Start out with some round pen or longeline work to see if she has stopped limping. Then do some limited work under saddle with someone else on the ground to help you spot any sign of trouble. Try to start working her as soon as possible because that extra pumping action in her feet will help clear out any infection that may be lurking in her feet.

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