5 June 2021

First Aid Week: what to do if you find a nail or foreign object in the sole of your horse’s hoof

First Aid Week: what to do if you find a nail or foreign object in the sole of your horse’s hoof

What should you do if discover a nail or other sharp object in the sole of your horse’s hoof? A vet from Rossdales Veterinary Surgeons in Newmarket explains how to prevent further damage and ensure it heals properly.

When a horse goes suddenly lame there is every possibility that he has stepped on something sharp. If you are unlucky, it may have penetrated the hoof sole or frog, causing a puncture wound.

The first thing to do is examine the hoof to try to identify the cause.

Common causes of puncture wounds include nails, sharp flints, wire, or glass.

If there is a nail or foreign object embedded in the hoof, the temptation is to pull it out, but if veterinary assistance can be called upon immediately, then leave the nail in place if possible so that the vet can see exactly where the wound entry is and determine the depth of the wound.

If timely veterinary help is unavailable and you must remove the nail, carefully note how much of the nail penetrated the foot, exactly where on the foot the penetration occurred, and at what angle.

If possible, take photos from a variety of angles before you remove the object. You can then show these to your vet when he/she arrives.

A serious concern

Penetrating hoof wounds can be extremely serious, causing infection and direct trauma to vital structures.

Lameness is a good indicator that there may be damage to those deeper structures, particularly if the nail or foreign object has penetrated the frog, sole or heel area.

Knowing the wound’s depth and direction can help your vet assess structural damage, decide if a radiograph is required, provide appropriate on-site treatment or referral to veterinary hospital if needed, and prescribe the proper aftercare.


Puncture wounds to the foot are at real risk of contamination from the environment and it is therefore extremely important that your horse’s tetanus vaccinations are up to date. If not, or if you are unsure, your vet will administer a tetanus booster.

If you are lucky, the injury is superficial and has missed any of the internal structures.

You can then treat the hoof as though it has a foot abscess once the object has been removed.

Treated correctly at this stage, the wound will heal and the horse should become sound within a few days.

However, if the wound becomes contaminated, an infection may develop with pus build up within the hoof. Pressure then builds within the hoof capsule causing extreme pain and severe lameness.

The pressure may need to be relieved by a vet or farrier. They will use a hoof knife to pare away around the wound and let the pus out.

If no drainage is provided, the pus will eventually run under the sole and up the hoof wall, bursting out at the coronary band or sometimes around the heel.

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The hoof should be ‘tubbed’ twice a day by standing the hoof in a solution of warm water and Epsom salts and applying a poultice pad.

This draws out the infection and also softens the sole. The hole may also be flushed with dilute hydrogen peroxide or an iodine solution.

Once the wound appears clean, the sole can be dressed with a sugar and iodine poultice or hoof packing to keep it clean and harden the hoof.

After a few days, the horse should be able to return to work.  Depending on the extent of the injury, a hoof pad may be recommended until the sole has fully grown back.

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