Have abscess, will duct tape.
Hang around horses long enough and you’ll need to doctor a variety of hoof injuries: abscesses, stone bruises, missing shoes, maybe even a dreaded sole puncture. There are a hundred different new products on the market that promise to make the hoof-doctoring process a little bit easier, but I’ve found nothing that works as well or efficiently for a single-person application than the good old reliable combination of dressing, vet wrap and duct tape. Call me a traditionalist or old-fashioned, but I feel like I’ve perfected my technique over the years.
I’ve been doctoring one of my Belgian draft horses, Randy, for the past few weeks, with what started as an abscess and is now just a sensitive spot on the sole thanks to what may have been just a bit of overzealous abscess removal on the part of my farrier. He’s well on the mend at this point, but there’s no reason that my loss (of time, bandaging supplies and patience) can’t be your gain: for anyone newer to the abscess game, here are the steps I follow to make the ultimate duct tape boot.
I can’t take credit for this creation — I will publicly confess that attempted for a long time to apply the tape directly to the vet-wrapped foot like some sort of clumsy horse-loving Neanderthal. And then a helpful barn manager showed me this better way, and I’ve never looked back.
1. Build a duct tape square on a clean, dry surface.
Stall walls or stall bars work really well for this; barn floors are not a great choice due to the dirt and dust that’s always present. You’ll want your tape long enough to cover the width of the hoof, plus another 1 1/2″ to 2″ additional on each side (depending on the size of the hoof you’re wrapping — Randy the draft horse needs at least that 2″ margin, but a pony will require less). Make your boot in advance of dressing your hoof so you can do everything at once.
2. Cross-hatch your square in the other direction.
It’s okay if it’s not a perfect square, but more like a # pound sign (or hashtag, if you’re a bright young thing). The duel layer of tape is going to be pretty critical to provide enough protection to keep your vet wrap and dressing intact and in place.
3. Cut darts in each corner.
This is where you can see why a perfect square with four corners isn’t a necessity — cut your darts in a few inches so that you have an intact square about the size of your hoof. I err on the side of cutting a slightly longer dart, rather than having one too short.
4. Apply your dressings, wrap your hoof and apply the duct tape square.
I like to stick the tape to my thigh if my building surface is out of arm’s reach — that way, I can pick up the hoof and keep it up off the ground so it stays clean, and apply my dressing, wrap and bootie all at the same time without putting the foot back down on the dirty barn floor. I set my square straight over the hoof with the four darts in the corners and the straight sides to the front, back and sides of the hoof, then fold each section up to stick and overlap.
At this point you can add any additional tape you think is necessary across the front or sides of the duct tape boot.
Some hardware stores actually sell ready-made duct tape squares — I haven’t been able to get my hands on one to try to see if it’s just as durable as my double-layered bootie system. If any readers have tried these out, please share your experiences in the comments section so we can all figure out the way that works best!
Happy doctoring! And go riding.