How to poultice a horse’s hoof: your essential guide

Being able to apply a hoof poultice is a key part of good horse husbandry, so we caught up with Dr Stuart Thorne MRCVS to get some expert tips

1. When you’re trying to work out how to poultice a horse’s hoof, quite often the most difficult thing is that you’re doing it on your own. The horse is tied up and you haven’t got enough hands to get everything together and you’re desperately trying to keep the foot clean too.

I’ve watched a client struggling to get a poultice on — they’d got the poultice in place and the vet wrap on top. They were trying to get the silver tape on, which they were dropping. As it was a shavings bed, every time they dropped the tape it picked up all the bedding making it impossible to use.

The thing I always do with the silver tape, which you can do on a stable door, is create a criss-cross square before you begin. Then once you have the poultice and vetwrap on, all you need to do is put the whole square on rather than struggling with a roll of tape.

2. When picking up the foot I get as close as possible to the horse. If the horse starts kicking and struggling, it’s harder when you’re further away. I would get the leg high so you can rest it on your thigh and then you have both hands free.

If you’re nice and close when a horse tries to kick, they have to get their leg past you so it gives you a warning. Also because you’re close you’ll get a push rather than a kick. When you’re further away you’re more exposed.

3. A prepared poultice comes in the standard shape, which is a long strip, or the foot design, which is the one that I tend to use. With the majority of horses, once you’ve released an abscess, you put the poultice in cooling boiled water before applying.

The important thing about the poultice is to ensure you’ve got the shiny pastic side on the outside because that’s designed to keep the moisture in against the foot to help draw out the infection.

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4. When you open the vetwrap packaging, if you do it really carefully you end up with a little plastic slipper. Once the poultice has been placed onto the foot, I then slide this plastic slipper over the top. That helps keep the moisture against the foot, which is where you want it. If you don’t do that the vet wrap often doesn’t stick very well because it’s really wet. Then I put a layer of cotton wool between the poultice and the vet wrap.

[H&H web editor’s note: I find a disposable baby’s nappy also works well to hold the poultice in place and keep the moisture where it needs to be.]

5. There’a a natural crimp in the vetwrap and although you want to extend it slightly, I’m always worried when I see people pulling it really tight because you’ll end up with a tourniquet rather than a bandage. I tend to put it on relatively loosely and the bit I pull tight is just the last strand, because it then tends to stick better.

I always use the roll at the end of the vetwrap to stick that final bit down tight — as long as that junction is tight it shouldn’t undo.

Running around the top of the coronary band is the really delicate vascular plexus. You can wrap as tight as you like onto the hoof wall, but if you spill over on to the coronary band you can get a really nasty tight compression. Avoid this or you risk causing a pressure injury.

6. Then grab the silver tape criss-cross square and place that on the foot. Then you can tidy it up with one or two straps of tape over the top. It makes it so much easier than wrestling with the tape at the time.