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Horse will not put weight on heel, bute helps, rested, lunged - completely lame again

My 18 year old gelding was dead lame (left hind) on Tuesday the 19th when I went to pull him out of his stall for a lesson. He would not put his heel down, he limped on the toe of his hoof. (no swelling, no heat, no scratches, punctures, no digital pulse, nothing!)

Called the emergency vet, gave two grams of bute and in an hour, he was bearing weight on his heel. Vet came the next day, the horse trotted (not sound) in a straight line. We were told to simply rest until the weekend.

Saturday comes, tacked up and after a walking warm up we trotted and something was still off. I put him on the lunge line (he does not like to lunge) and he trotted one circle to the left, dragged his left hind toe, then bucked and tried to run off. Put him back in the cross ties and he would not put any weight on the back left heel. Called the vet, 1 gram of bute, 40 minutes later, putting weight on the heel. Vet can’t come back out until the 12th of May.

Any ideas what this could be?

Abscess? Did the vet do hoof testers? Can you get a farrier to look at it?

He did use hoof testers, not much of a response. The vet did look at the hooves. He had a long list of horses to look at and spent about 10 minutes with me and prescribed rest.

Horse has a history of stifle issues in the same left hind. I have personallly pushed and prodded the hoof with no response at all.

In my experience with sudden lameness with no evidence of trauma, swelling, or injury it’s usually an abscess.

To bute or not bute? If the horse is so lame he won’t move around, then bute. Otherwise, movement (on his own terms) is helpful if it’s an abscess - no bute.

I’ve been told the bute slows the abscess down from moving / exiting. But movement helps encourage the process so it’s a judgement call.

I’ve had it be an abscess with no response from hoof testers so that’s not a tell all.

You could treat it as an abscess and see where you are in a few days.

I’d go with abscess as well.

Sounds abscess-y. If it’s in the heel area, it could be difficult to pinpoint with hoof testers. I would poultice and wrap.


My mare did the exact same thing. Not weighting the heel. Some fetlock swelling. The swelling threw me off and when after a couple days it didn’t look better I hauled her to the vet. I thought she was pissy about the hoof testers but vet didn’t think so??? Sent us home with bute for sprained fetlock. I gave bute for 3 days and she was better. I didn’t go out the next day. I went out the day after that and OMG…stovepipe leg with swelling clear above the hock. Hopping, 3 legged lame:eek:. I was also lame at the time post foot surgery so my friend helped me soak her leg in cold water. When I pulled her leg out of the water her heel area was still blazing hot.
Then I was pretty sure I was dealing with an abscess. I went back the next day and viola…big hole in the coronary band at the heel but a much more comfortable horse. I wrapped and poulticed it for 1 whole day. I could not manage wrapping it by myself on one leg and we had a convenient dry spell so it went naked after that. She was healed up in no time.

Jingles for a quick resolution.


The farrier was out today and put the hoof testers on, no response. Still no swelling but he’s at least walking sound.

Does anyone think this could be related to his previous stifle issues (OA) since the lameness showed up after he was naughty on the lunge line? Or does the abscess come and go with exercise too?

I have owned him 5 years and he has never had an abscess that I have seen.

Thanks to all for input and good wishes!

Was he on Bute again while he was walking sound? Abscesses are incredibly painful because of the pressure and swelling they create until they burst. An anti inflammatory like Bute would reduce the swelling and pain, and likely the lameness as well.

The last abscess I dealt with had no heat, swelling, nothing associated with it -but as my vet says “all lameness is an abscess until proven otherwise” (jokingly, in case that’s not obvious, but they are very common). Especially with that “dead lame” presentation. If a horse looks 3-legged totally “fracture” level lame and I can’t find the cause of the lameness, I immediately go to abscess.

The stifle issues I’ve seen (though I have never had in depth experience with one) have looked very different from a hoof-related lameness. More of a hitch than a dead-lame look. This is 100% anecdotal, though, so take what you will.

Long story short: if the horse has only been sound when on Bute, I would really consider an abscess. Leave off the bute 24 hours, wrap and poultice that entire hoof (making sure to cover the heel bulbs too).

He has not been sound when off bute, not dead lame either, just not right.

I have been poulticing his coronary band to his fetlock per the vet. And covering the heel bulbs.

The first sign of lameness, I trully thought something was broken b/c he hobbled on the toe of his hind leg. SCARY! Never seen anything like it.

It’s impossible for anyone to guess whether it could be aggravation of an older injury or something new entirely. In theory, it could be anything.

I agree with those who say that it sounds like an abscess. Suddenly not wanting to weight the heel (or other part of the foot) is usually a pretty good indication of that. Also not surprised to hear of the ebb and flow of pain with bute - although abscesses can go through the same patterns without bute.

I’ve had many instances where horses don’t react to hoof testers, have no digital pulse, no heat, and the lameness comes and goes. I’ve also had the swelling aspect run the gamut from none to stovepipe leg. On a side note, I’m surprised that your vet told you to bute it - I too have been told (by my vet) to never bute an abscess as it can cause it to take longer to come to a head.

The last abscess I dealt with was with my gelding who hasn’t had an abscess in the last 5 or 6 years. It was a front foot and it was very clear that he didn’t want to weight the lateral heel portion of his foot. He was dead lame when that foot was on the outside of a circle, totally normal looking when it was on the inside. My vet was convinced that it was a soft tissue injury. I was convinced it was not (mostly because of the timing in that it started the day after he was reshod - and there was zero swelling in his very-visible-leg-structures). The lameness went on for about 3 weeks and we ended up x-raying his foot and scheduling an ultrasound for his leg (which we never ended up doing). During that time I also had my farrier back out to pull the shoe and take a closer look at his foot (no signs of an abscess or anything “odd”, also no major reaction to hoof testers).

After about 3 weeks of slowing-resolving-lameness he returned to maybe 98% soundness (there would be a tiny bit of a bobble when he turned a sharp corner where that foot was on the outside). By 5 weeks he felt completely normal. When he was reshod at 6 weeks, there was a massive abscess track that started in his lateral heel and tracked through his frog, exiting on the inside edge of his frog. He hadn’t reacted to hoof testers at all in that area, though his lameness certainly corresponded to where the abscess was.

Based on what you’ve said, I would still guess abscess and I’d be wrapping/soaking his foot. Abscesses don’t typically come and go with exercise, but it sounds like yours has come and gone with bute, not necessarily exercise, and that doesn’t sound unusual.

I have a mare that the only way I knew something was off was that she went off her feed. It wasn’t until a few days later that she was a little lame. She was just feeling really icky. That abscess ended up blowing out near the heal on the coronary band. Poor girl was not happy for a bit with that one.

The vet and trainer thought could be abscess but could be that he kicked his stall wall…But he has never kicked his wall before and that has never been an issue for him. I think the Bute was in response to severe lameness being after hours both times and trying to make the human feel better vs the horse.

I’m out of town starting Wednesday (vacations are less fun when your horse is hurt at home) so time will tell how he looks when I am back. Today he is walking sound, putting all his weight on the hoof and I am not able to see any sign of injury anywhere.

Hoping for abscess over ANOTHER joint problem.

I hope it’s an abscess too - that’s what it sounds like to me, or maybe a really bad bruise.

Jingles for your horse. It sucks when they make you worry when you are on vacation.

If he is still lame it might be worth having the vet out to do an actual lameness exam (that lasts longer than 10 minutes). That way you can pin point where the issue is so you can better treat it.


Wouldn’t that cause swelling?

When I talked to the vet, I asked about suspensory and he said it wouldn’t be that dramatic of a sudden lameness. He had a slight suspensory tear in the same leg 2 years ago in the proximal suspensory and that was a huge fear - he assured me it was not that…I hope he is right!

I have an appointment on May 12th to re-assess if he is not 100% when I am back in town. I will ensure a full gamut of diagnostics happens this go around.

An access is probably the best thing to wish for - extremely painful, but heals fast. That or heel bruise? Hope it is not stifle, but by the way he is going you would know, I think - if he is hopity hop, hopity hop, may be.

We had a horse come in yesterday walking on his toe behind. Xray showed a coffin bone fracture. He is in surgery today.