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
When you’re trying to work out how to poultice a horse’s hoof, following an injury or a hoof abscess, 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 cohesive bandage (eg: vet wrap) on top. They were struggling to get the hard-wearing 10cm-wide outer cloth tape (eg: Duck tape) on to protect the dressing. The horse was on a shavings bed and every time they dropped the tape it picked up all the bedding making it impossible to use.
Top tip number 1: before you begin, create a criss-cross square of cloth tape and tack it on to your stable door or wall so it’s within easy reach. Then once you have the poultice and bandage on, all you need to do is apply the whole square to the base of the hoof rather than struggling with a roll of tape.
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. 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.
Top tip number 2: Try to get the leg high so you can rest it on your thigh and then you have both hands free.
A prepared poultice comes in the standard shape, which is a long strip that can be cut to fit, 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.
Top tip number 3: The important thing about the poultice is to ensure you’ve got the shiny plastic side on the outside because that’s designed to keep the moisture in against the foot to help draw out the infection.
Top tip number 4: When you open the packaging of the cohesive bandage, 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 bandage often doesn’t stick very well because it’s really wet. Alternatively you could use a clean piece of plastic from a feed bag or carrier bag cut to size.
Top tip number 5: I tend to put a layer of cotton wool between the poultice and the vet wrap, or, as H&H’s veterinary advisor Karen Coumbe recommends, a disposable nappy is a good shape and design to help keep everything in place. “I find a disposable nappy in a 0-3month baby size fits snuggly on the average thoroughbred hoof,” says Karen.
There’a a natural crimp in the cohesive banadage 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.
Top tip number 6: I use the cardboard 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 where the hoof joins the leg 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 which can cause a pressure injury, so take care.
Finally, grab the cloth tape criss-cross square you prepared earlier and place that over the sole of the hoof. 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.
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