Horse Hoof Care is vital all year round and during the summer months horses can be particularly susceptible to various hoof conditions. These can cause lameness, pain or even permanent damage. It is therefore extremely important to follow a hoof care routine to ensure they have the best hoof care possible.
Horse Hoof Care
In Britain, the weather is generally very unpredictable which means that your horse’s hooves are constantly subjected to a cycle of wet and dry weather. Whilst the hooves are designed to adapt to these weather fluctuations, they sometimes cannot cope with this due to the fact that their hooves swell and soften with moisture, then dry and contract in a hot/dry environment. This is most often seen in summer; when owners often turnout overnight to avoid biting insects in the day, which puts the hooves in prolonged contact with dew-soaked grass. Learning to observe the signs and symptoms of hoof conditions can help to diagnose and treat them more quickly: increasing prevention and where required reducing recovery time.
What should you look for?
During dry weather, or with frequent changes from wet to dry, horses are prone to having dry, brittle feet which can develop hoof cracks. Prolonged trimming or shoeing intervals can contribute to this, while some horses are born with poor hoof quality and are more susceptible to problems.
- Quarter cracks occur on the side of the hoof, and can be the most aggravating of all hoof cracks to treat. They are usually caused by conformation defects, trauma or poor farriery/trimming
- Grass cracks typically start from the ground and move upwards. It is usually thin and does not penetrate deep within the wall, and can occur from long untrimmed hooves, poor nutrition and lack of exercise
- Sand cracks are similar to grass cracks, but originate from the coronary band (at the top of the hoof) and extend downwards. They are the most common cause for lameness in hooves that are cracked
- Toe cracks are less common, and usually begin on the inside of the hoof where they are not visible until they reach the surface of the wall
Some cracks are superficial, which generally means they cause few problems, however others can worsen which may require immediate treatment from your vet/farrier. If you notice a crack in your horse’s hoof and there is potential lameness, pain or infection, it is important to contact your vet or farrier as they will be able to give the best advice. Serious cracks may call for remedial farriery. As the owner, you can give your horse the best chance at avoiding this condition through the use of items such as hoof moisturisers and/or supplements. You can apply these to the hoof wall and sole during dry weather or if the hoof is brittle, such as Carr & Day & Martin’s Cornucrescine Daily Moisturiser for a preventative option, or Kevin Bacon’s Liquid Hoof Dressing for a more intensive treatment. They help penetrate the hoof to provide nourishment, prevent the hoof wall from drying and support the growing hoof wall. Hoof supplements such as the Equimins Hoof Mender Powder which contain ingredients such as biotin can also greatly help improve hoof quality, and when combined with other important nutrients such as zinc, they can be effective at encouraging strong keratin growth within the hoof. Frequent trimming and shorter time frames between shoeing can be an important factor in preventing hoof cracks, therefore it is imperative to keep to an appropriate schedule.
Corns often result from bearing unequal pressure due to poor conformation or wearing a shoe that is fitted too tightly. These form where the heel and bars meet. Veterinarians and farriers usually describe corns as either dry or moist- a dry corn resembles a red bruise due to the tubular horn filling with blood, while a moist corn appears yellow because serum is present. Corns require time to heal, and following a corn, supplements such as Global Herbs SupaHOOF may be helpful to support a healthy hoof whilst the damaged horn grows out through the inclusion of biotin, zinc and methionine. The first step in treating a corn would be contacting your vet or farrier to remove the shoes. They may pare the corn with a hoof knife to relieve pressure, or the corn may be drained if infected with pus and then treated as if it were an abscess. The horse should be allowed rest and recuperation time, with a possible support bandage around the hoof if required. As usual, the best people to take advice from when following a treatment programme should be your farrier or vet who will know the most appropriate course of action to take.
A horse with a bruised hoof can show varying degrees of lameness. Some will only be off on uneven or rocky surfaces, while others may be consistently lame. A sole bruise may show up as a visible mark, but a horse will usually show lameness or sensitivity before the bruise actually appears. In some cases, the bruise may not be severe enough to cause lameness, but the horse will be sensitive to hoof testers or concussion at the affected area. They are most often caused by stepping on a rock or hard, uneven ground.
There are various other reasons as to why a horse may have hoof bruises, which include regular work on a hard arena surface, improper farriery or trimming and horses which may be predisposed to bruising due to thinner soles or flatter feet. Left untreated, a simple bruise can become a more serious abscess as more blood pools in the affected area.
If your horse is showing signs of bruising, you can soak their feet in cool water which may help prevent the rapid blood flow to the area that causes the bruise. In more severe cases, it is best to call a vet or farrier, as vets can suggest treatment with an anti-inflammatory medication such as Bute, while farriers can help solve the problem and advise on the best hoof care for your horse. You can reduce the risk of bruises by being diligent about picking your horse’s feet daily to remove any rocks that may be stuck in his hoof, using a hoof pick to get out any dirt in the crevices. If you have regular problems with bruising, your farrier may suggest a remedial method of shoeing and/or the use of various boots (e.g. brushing or overreach) to prevent your horse from striking their hooves against each other which may be a contributing factor. If the horse is barefoot, protective boots such as the Cavallo Simple Boots which cover the entire hoof may be sufficient as they can lessen the effects of rough terrain or longer rides thus preventing bruises and other hoof injuries whilst giving the horse some extra traction.
Abscesses are possibly one of the most painful and adverse conditions in the hoof which are typically characterised by sudden-onset, severe lameness. In some cases, the horse may refuse to put any weight at all on the affected hoof. A hoof abscess is a pocket of infection in the lamina, which can start with a puncture wound or a possible misplaced horse shoe nail. The hole allows bacteria to enter the hoof, where it thrives in the warm, dark environment. While the bacteria eat away at the hoof tissue, the horse’s immune system attacks. The resulting pocket of bacteria, white blood cells, and dead hoof tissue puts pressure on the sensitive structures of the horse’s hoof, causing the pain response.
A vet or farrier can pare away the hoof to reveal and drain the abscess, confirming the diagnosis. If left untreated, the abscess may erupt on its own through the sole of the hoof or at the coronary band. Once the vet has located and drained the abscess, or the abscess has burst on its own, the key is to keep the area clean to avoid reinfection. The hoof should be soaked in a solution of Epsom salts in warm water to help draw out any remaining infection, and kept poulticed until it has healed. To poultice a horse’s hoof, you must first apply a hoof dressing such as the VetSet Poldress Hoof Poultice dressing which also contains Boric Acid to promote healing. You can then use a flexible bandage such as HyHEALTH Sportwrap to support and protect the dressing. Finally, silver tape is wrapped around the whole hoof to secure the poultice in place. You need to be careful that you do not bandage the hoof too tightly, therefore it would be best to poultice for the first time under the guidance of a vet or farrier who can advise you. A vet may also suggest an anti-inflammatory medication, such as Bute, to manage the horse’s pain. The recovery period is typically no more than a week to ten days, but this can vary widely depending on the severity of the abscess and the owner’s ability to prevent reinfection.
During the warm summer months, owners tend to go out hacking much more in the beautiful weather for the excitement and exploration. One issue with riding in unfamiliar environments is that there are potential hazards which may be unknown, such as foreign objects on the ground that risk entering your horse’s hoof. If a nail or other object pierces your horse’s sole and then falls out, the entry wound will probably be invisible by the time you pick his feet and you’ll be unaware of it until it causes an abscess. But in some cases the object remains in place, to be discovered when you brush the last bits of dirt from the sole. The most important message here is to not pull the object out. The punctured foot needs to be protected, with the foreign object staying put until your vet can come out and assess the damage, whilst providing sufficient packing to ensure the object is not driven deeper into the wound. This can be done by using the same technique as creating a poultice for an abscessed hoof, with wrapping and duct tape. By calling your vet straightaway, they will be able to come to you with urgency and take an X-ray of the foot to show how far the object has penetrated and which structures are involved. Equally, if the foreign object is not still stuck in the wound, the vet needs to be called to assess the damage. This way, your vet can remove the object (if still attached) safely and advise a course of treatment to reduce the risk of infection and further injury.
Some horses naturally have better conditioned hooves than others, and it usually takes nine to twelve months for the hoof to grow out, therefore by supporting your horses’ nutritional needs; you can help him/her grow the best possible hooves which may prevent future issues. It takes anything from six months to a year for hoof supplements to highlight any benefit due to the length of time it takes for the hoof to grow out. Consistent exercise also provides support and healthy stimulation of the hooves, therefore the horse should be allowed to move as much as possible throughout the day which will increase circulation and promote growth.
Have you ever had any particular success with using a hoof supplement?
Which horse hoof care routine do you follow?