by Frank Gringeri
Question: My horse was lame in turnout and I found she had stepped on a nail. I pulled it out and soaked her and she was better the next day. Is that all I should do? Do I need to call the Farrier/Vet? ~ Thank You. Lisa P.
Answer: Over the years I witnessed about a dozen or so similar situations. How serious is a puncture to the foot? What is the best course of action to expedite the return to soundness?
Any time a horse steps on a nail it is a serious situation. Why? Because the extent of damage cannot be known. The depth and location of where the nail went in is a big factor as to how serious a problem it is. A puncture wound is always more serious than something on the surface. And that also goes for the hoof as well. What to do when you have this happen?
First, get the horse in the stall to keep him from moving around. The more he moves around on the nail the more damage it can cause. Once confined, you have a good chance at getting the nail out (but call your vet first to be sure they do not want to x-ray first and caution, pulling out a nail is painful).
Before you do that, write down which foot it is and the location of where it went in. I can’t tell you how many times I would ask and get a reply like ‘one of the fronts but I’m not sure which’. Also save the nail so you can show how the nail went in and what angle. Once the nail is pulled the sole can close up and the exact spot becomes hard to locate.
If you can’t get the nail out because of sensitivity and pain, don’t worry about it. On some cases, the nail was left in once the horse was immobilized and it made x-rays more valuable as it showed exactly how deep it was and what structures were involved. It is a medical problem and the vet should be called in. This type of injury requires a thorough work up; X-rays, blocking the foot, probing for depth, possible excavating for better drainage, etc. Only then can you have a good indication as to how much damage has occurred. Tendon sheath, coffin bone or both may have been pierced or scraped so this can be a very serious problem indeed.
Most of the time these wounds require antibiotic therapy as well as soaking and wrapping and more extensive excavation for dranage by your vet or even surgery. One such case with the coffin bone involved came good but that was after a month of antibiotics. The horse was stalled and soaked and wrapped twice a day as well. The long treatment paid off and the horse recovered completely with no lameness issues.
Many times a horse steps on a nail and it isn’t spotted for days, or the nail punctures the navicular bone and goes through the tendon sheath or joint (old fashioned street nail of the horse and buggy days). These can be hard to treat because the infection gets a head start and more and more tissue gets involved. In these severe cases extreme treatment and luck are involved to resolve the problem. In many cases where deeper structures are not involved the infection may break out with drainage at the coronet or the heel bulbs but it should still be worked up for best results. After treatment and once the horse is sound and the heat is gone the horse is ready for a shoe, many times the sole will be covered by a pad and packed with medicated packing. This will keep the puncture site clean until it has had a chance to grow down.
There have been times where a horse has stepped on a nail and it was pulled and never treated and the horse had no problems at all. This is all well and good but it is just plain luck the nail wasn’t deep and did very little damage. Don’t rely on luck; have it looked at by the vet and then make decisions based on findings. The horse is counting on us to help him in a time of need, so let’s do the best we can to keep him afloat.
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Ask the Farrier
by Frank Gringeri