Oh My God, My Horse Is Broken

We try our best to protect them, but horses are innately programmed to self-destruct. And in turn we horse owners are programmed to panic. Holly Mooney shares her latest tale of woe.

Top: cavallo-inc.com

From Holly:

Disclaimer: I am not an equine veterinarian (obviously). Please consult your vet for medical advice.

When it comes to horses, we all encounter those moments of, “Oh my God. What is that?” I’m sure you know the feeling. Imagine, if you will, a beautiful, teasingly spring-like day. You get to the barn early to see your beloved equine friend. As your horse trots up through the paddock and comes into better view, a vague tickle of confusion leads you to a hot sweat, numb limbs and a gasp, “What did you do!??”

We’ve all been there (if you haven’t yet, you will!), that moment where you are SURE your horse is ruined forever, your riding days are over, and you now have a 1,200 pound, outdoor dog. After some jump schooling for our first show, I had my first “Oh my God. I ruined my horse” moment with Emmy:

We were only jumping two feet that afternoon, but I felt so high, it might as well have been 10. Emmy was such a good girl; she earned some extra turnout. She kicked up her heels and covered herself in summer dust. Later, I lead her in from the paddock to give her a nice bath so we’d be clean and ready to go the next morning. I put her in the wash stall, attached the crossties and grabbed the hose, then took aim at her dusty, chestnut hide and, “AHHHHHHHHHHH! WHAT IS THAT! OH MY GOD. OH….MY….GOD!”

As I hysterically shouted for my friend Meghaan, my pulse raced. What have I done to my horse? Our tack was impeccable. We didn’t hit anything; the jumps were only two feet! Meghaan calmly entered the wash stall, “What’s up?” Unable to articulate words, I pointed at the grapefruit-sized lump on Emmy’s elbow. I held my breath as Meghaan stared at it for a second (which felt like an eternity); she looked me in the eye and flatly stated, “Oh. It’s a shoeboil.”

“A shoe boil! A S-H-O-E-B-O-I-L!!!!! A shoeb…. What’s a shoe boil?

Well in case you don’t know, a shoe boil is “an injury that occurs when there is trauma to the bursal sac of the elbow, causing inflammation and swelling.” According to Nancy S. Loving, DVM in her article about shoe boils for HorseChannel.com.


The far right is the most recent picture. It was taken a few weeks ago because Mother Nature doesn’t care that I’m chronicling Emmy’s shoe boil progress and keeps killing my cell battery with the cold. There’s obviously still a bump, but the biggest difference between the last two pictures is the way it feels. It went from being sort of firm and stationary, to very, very soft and saggy. You really can’t see it much anymore when she’s moving.

If your horse gets a shoe boil, treatments include a shoe boil boot (which acts as a spacer between the hoof and elbow when lying down), and making sure their stalls are kept with plenty of bedding. If your horse is shod, your farrier may also have suggestions. Finally, keep an eye on the area because further infection can occur. My circus horse used her back leg to “scratch” at the area. I think this behavior was exasperated by summer flies. She managed to scrape it open and despite my best efforts, it started to get infected. Luckily, I had the vet take a look right away, and with a round of antibiotics and daily application of topical NSAIDS for a few days, it cleared up…sloooooowwwwly.

We’ve still got a little battle scar where the saggy skin hasn’t completely remediated, but it adds character and serves as a reminder that despite my tendency to go from “cloud nine” to “my world is caving in around me” in 2 seconds tops, I need to try and remain calm in these situations. I’m sure there will be more mysterious ailments, and conditions that I know NOTHING about. Furthermore, we don’t often get the satisfaction of actually knowing how these things happen. There’s so much more to horses than riding. Dealing with and learning from each and every “Oh my God” moment, is the true test of our dedication to the sport and to our animals. So here’s a blue ribbon for all of you. I’m sure you’ve earned it!


Holly Mooney is 30 year old aspiring eventer, who lacks the bravery necessary for her sport. Her quarter horse Emmy is an absolute professional who has competed through Beginner Novice with her previous owner. Emmy is still trying to convince Holly of the proper speed, tempo, and distances for cross country. While her lifelong dream was to own a horse and compete, Holly often finds herself thinking, “Oh my god, what have I done?” Luckily, her chestnut mare is a much better eventer than she is.


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