So - I was aware I have control issues, but there's nothing like a case of mystery lameness to bring that point home.
A synopsis of the last two weeks:
Val suddenly turns up head bobbing lame. (Abscess 1 - Soft tissue 0)
For several days I ran through the checklist thoroughly - no heat or swelling in any foot or leg. Val picked up / held up all four feet willingly. (Abscess 2 - Soft tissue 1)
Decided to go with some bute for a few days. Whoops - bute is contraindicated for abscesses. Ceased bute immediately. But how can you treat for an abscess when you don't know in which foot it might be festering?!
Thoroughly massaged both hips and shoulders. Val reacted very strongly to one shoulder being worked on. After obsessively watching video of the gimpage, confirmed the problem lies in the LF. (Abscess 2 - Soft tissue 2)
The next day, Val resists holding up the RF, and I (think I) detect heat in the LF hoof. Begin soaking and booting. The boot seemed to make Val move more comfortably... (Abscess 3 - Soft tissue 2)
Meanwhile pressure on the heel bulbs, sole and coronary band yield no reaction whatsoever. (Abscess 3 - Soft tissue 3)
Side notes -
It's so much fun to be seen buying diapers out of the blue in a very small town.
Resist the temptation to overdo the duct tape phase of the duct tape booty. There are no scissors strong enough.
Several days of more and less lameness, apparently disconnected to any treatment options. Definitely feel heat in the LF hoof. (possibly losing my sh*t at this point) (Abscess 4 - Soft tissue 3)
Many thanks to Dr. A at a fabulous veterinary outfit up the road in Virginia, who called me back and ran through the whole situation over the phone. He listened and eased my mind, as well as helped me formulate an appropriate plan of action.
Knowledge Dr. A laid on me - rarely, abscesses can reabsorb. Rarely abscesses can resolve invisibly. (I was expecting a geyser of pus) Rarely abscesses can abate and reoccur. And of course, this may not be an abscess at all. Possibly pulling out my hair at this point...
This past Thursday the lameness was markedly better overnight, but not completely gone, so I went for a short course of bute per Dr. A.
Today I walked and trotted Val out with eyes on the ground. He was not one. bit. lame. In fact, he was so not lame that he reared, bucked, pogo-ed and did his best to free himself from my clutches. Once returned to the paddock, he cantered the fence line switching leads.
Conclusion - Thank you Val for recovering before I had to seek therapy (for myself). And thanks to the friends who I bugged daily during this crazy making situation (that is theoretically over) - you know who you are. :D