How to Cure Shoe Boils in Horses


Equine shoe boils don't always cause lameness right away, but without treatment they can cause issues down the road. The condition is also known as capped elbows, elbow hygroma or olecranon bursitis. Shoe boils occur due to front hoof pressure on the elbow when the horse lies down. The top of your horse's elbow contains a synovial bursa, and trauma to this sac causes swelling and the eventual development of a fibrous pocket.

Shoe Boil Appearance

Shoe boils appear quickly once an area is affected -- there's a large swelling on the elbow that wasn't there the previous day. One clue that it's a shoe boil rather than a more serious affliction is that your horse doesn't appear in pain and is moving normally. However, you must stop that shoe or hoof and elbow contact, or the situation will get worse. If the pressure causes a wound to form in the swollen area, bacteria can enter and cause infection. The swelling generally feels cool to the touch, but if it's hot, that's an indication of inflammation and a possible infection brewing.

Immediate Treatment

  • Reduce the swelling by cold-hosing the capped elbow.
  • Wrap your horse's front feet each night with cotton padding so the elbow is protected from the shoe.
  • Your veterinarian may recommend giving your horse a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory for a few days if the swelling is severe. 

If the shoe boil is infected, your vet will flush the swelling and prescribe antibiotics.

Shoe Boil Boots

If your horse is prone to shoe boils from lying down, a shoe boil boot -- also known as a doughnut -- can cure the problem. This simple rubber contraption buckles around your horse's front ankle, protecting his elbow from sores when he's recumbent.


  • If your horse experiences a shoe boil, call your farrier and ask him if a different type of shoe or a slightly different trim might prevent the capped elbows by lessening the contact area.

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