What do I do if I find a nail or screw in my horse’s hoof?


If there was ever a time to hesitate about calling your Veterinarian, THIS IS NOT IT.  Even on a holiday weekend in the dead of night. A nail in the hoof can be life threatening, for so many reasons, so it’s time to call the Veterinarian ASAP.  And I mean NOW.  There’s also one other case in which you need to call the Veterinarian NOW is if you find your horse three-legged lame and there is not a screw in there, it may have come out.  


Even a tiny screw can threaten your horse's life. 


First, a little background.  If your horse steps on a nail or screw, there’s a tiny, tiny chance that no structures will be harmed. In which case your horse will likely be back in work in a week or so.  If the offending object hits the laminae, the coffin joint, the navicular bursa, any of the bones, the tendons and ligaments and their respective sheaths, or any other soft tissue, it’s time to get serious about treatment and get serious FAST.  


These tissue structures inside the hoof, when punctured, start to inflame.  This can trap bacteria, and create a nasty infection and often sepsis, a body wide infection.   Infections in the hoof often require surgery, and even specialized shoeing to keep manure, urine, shavings, dust, etc. out of the wound.  Because all of the internal hoof structures must move and slide along each other, the result is severe pain after a puncture, even without infection.  


When you have a horse that with debilitating pain and/or infection in one leg, the other leg takes the brunt of your horse’s weight, which can lead to laminitis and founder in the un-punctured hoof.  


The results of such accidents are often euthanasia.  


What can you do to help your horse?  First you must act fast by calling your Veterinarian.  Do not wait. 

Your Veterinarian will instruct you on the best course of action for your horse, which may include pulling out the offending spike, or leaving it in. If the nail or screw if poking out, and your horse steps on it again, the nail could go deeper and cause more damage.  If your Veterinarian tells you to remove the nail or screw, note the depth so that your Veterinarian can see how much of the nail was in your horse.  If the nail is flush with the bottom of the hoof, your Veterinarian may have you leave it so radiographs can be taken.  You may need to move your horse, or your Veterinarian may have you leave him as is.  If you do need to move him, find a clean surface, with no shavings, no manure, no dirt, no dust.  


The tricky part of punctures is that the puncture sites are tiny, and close quickly, sealing in the inflammation and possible infection.  Acting fast and with your Veterinarian’s help is your horse’s best shot at recovery.  Add to this the difficulty in treating infections in the hoof, and your horse can easily develop laminitis. 


For all horse barns and farms, you can help reduce the risk of this happening by buying a large rolling magnet.  

They are also called magentic sweepers.  I like the magnets that roofers use, they are about 3 feet wide on wheels and you can push them around!  


The magnetic sweeper.


The magnetic sweeper is great at picking up even tiny shards of metal.  Use the magnet often!


Even if you have never worked on your fences or had anyone doing construction, I suggest using your magnet in all of the areas that your horses live on a regular basis.  Arenas, paddocks, even stalls.  After a rain, a deep tilling, or a spring thaw, the earth will naturally “throw” stuff up.  I magnet swept my horse’s paddocks the other day and this is what I found (photo below).  The triangle looking thing seems to be the clamp from a set of jumper cables.  The paddocks are over 4 years old, and this thing just appeared!  Super scary.  


Have you ever had a horse with a nail or screw in his hoof?  What happened?