By Kathryn Sharbrough, DVM

You come home from work and go out to the barn to feed your horse, only to find your horse lame. You start investigating and find a nail stuck in the sole of the hoof. Your first instinct is probably to pull the nail or whatever object it may be out. DON’T. The reasons for leaving the object in the hoof and calling your veterinarian immediately are so that we can radiograph the foot to determine what structures have been damaged. It’s much easier to determine the full extent of the damage with the object in place. Also, once the offending object is removed, the lesion can heal sealing bacteria inside to grow insidiously and cause infection of deeper structures.

penetrating hoof medical tips

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Objects that penetrate the frog or near the heel bulbs are of more concern that other locations due to the proximity to the navicular bursa, navicular bone, deep digital flexor tendon sheath, coffin bone and joint. However, all penetrating lesions to the hoof should be treated as a medical emergency.

The best thing to do while you are waiting for the veterinarian to arrive is to restrict movement of the horse as much as possible while keeping them comfortable; ideally placing them in a dry, deeply bedded stall.  Protecting the sole from further trauma can be accomplished by placing a wooden block on the sole.

If you already removed the object, KEEP IT.  Knowing what the object was, shape/angle of the object, as well as where it was when you removed it can still help a lot to determine what structures are involved.

nail in horse hoof

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Depending on what structures are involved will determine what treatment is required but even complicated penetrating wounds can have a favorable outcome with prompt examination, diagnosis and initiation of treatment.