Hoof Care 101

Horse Hoof Care

“No foot, no horse” is an often quoted saying. Essentially your horse is no better than his feet. They’re the primary contact with the ground as he carries out hacking or around the school. If your horse’s feet aren’t well cared for, he can’t do his job, and you can’t enjoy him.

Hoof care involves more than calling the farrier out every few weeks and picking out your horse’s feet. Many of the choices you make every day, from the feeds you give him to the ground you ride on, can have a significant influence on the health of your horse’s hooves. Read our blog to find out all you need to know about the hoof and how to look after four of them! 

Structure of the horse’s hoof

An appreciation of the key parts of the hoof structure is always advisable.

Coronary band: This is located at the top of the hoof and is responsible for creating horn that makes up the hoof wall.

Sensitive sole: This is found underneath the pedal bone, within the insensitive sole. It produces the new cells that replace lost layers of the insensitive sole.

Digital cushion: This is found between the pedal bone and deep flexor tendon. It is an elastic, fibrous pad that absorbs concussion from ground impact. It also helps to push blood back up the leg.

Lateral cartilages: These are attached to the pedal bone and serve to protect the coffin joint. They also help absorb concussion.

Laminae: These are supportive structures that attach to the hoof wall and interlock with the sensitive laminae. The sensitive laminae then attach and support the pedal bone. The divide between sensitive and insensitive laminae can be seen as a white line on the sole of the foot.

Hoof wall: The hoof wall is the exterior of the hoof, made from a keratin-based substance. It provides a hard-protective layer around the internal parts in the foot.

Sole: This is a tough structure that provides external protection to the sensitive sole underneath. It is slightly concave and is not weight bearing.

Frog: The frog has an extruding triangular structure which extends from the heel to halfway down the foot. Its function is to absorb concussion, provide grip and be a weight-bearing surface for the foot. It also ensures that a healthy blood supply reaches the foot.

Inside the horse's hoof

How quickly does a horse’s hoof grow?

Hoof growth occurs from the coronary band down toward the toe. The average hoof grows 1/4 to 3/8 inch per month. Since the average hoof is 3 to 4 inches in length, the horse grows a new hoof every year. Rapidly growing hooves are considered to be higher quality and easier to keep properly trimmed and shod.

Do horse’s hooves grow at the same rate all year?

Horse hooves generally grow more slowly in the winter. However, horses should still be shod or trimmed according to their schedule depends on each horse and the amount of hoof they grow.

Routine hoof care

Care and management of the feet will vary, however, depending on the individual horse, his conformation and hoof structure, environment and climate, and use.

Healthy feet come with daily care:

  • Pick up his feet, clean them, and check that they’re in good condition
  • Check shoes for wear and tear and signs that a farrier is needed, such as risen clenches, overgrown and misshapen feet for example
  • Check for splits, cracks, flares and overgrown misshapen hooves

Daily maintenance helps ensure that your trail horse’s hooves are ready to withstand the terrain you ride him on. However, having said that whether or not your horses' hooves require regular cleaning, also depends on where/how he's housed.

Routine hoof care also needs to include a regular visit from the farrier.

The Farrier

Great care must be taken when selecting a farrier, so ask around for recommendations. A good farrier is worth his weight in gold. Look after him! When he visits, make sure you give him a cup of tea. Correct trimming and shoeing are vital to the horse’s welfare, and any mistakes can lead to serious, lasting damage.

The horse’s feet should be correctly balanced whether shod or unshod. Balance is important as inaccuracy can lead to lameness and aggravate navicular syndrome and laminitis. It can affect the whole movement and development of the horse and cause ongoing problems.

Shoes are not always needed. It depends on the amount and type of work the horse is doing. Sometimes only front shoes may be needed. The farrier will be able to advise on the best option for the individual horse.

How often should a horse be shod?

Ideally shod horses need to be re-shod every four to six weeks irrespective of whether they have worn the shoes out or not. The hooves grow continuously and when shod the hoof cannot wear down as it can with an unshod horse.

How often should a horse’s feet be trimmed?

Unshod horses still need to see a Farrier as their hooves need to be regularly trimmed. Soft surfaces such as pasture and stable bedding do not wear the hoof down at all, therefore the hooves need to be trimmed about every three to four weeks, maximum six weeks.

What difference does diet make?

Nutrition can help some hoof problems if you:

  • Feed the best quality hay you can
  • Supplement hard feed with the correct vitamins and trace minerals
  • Provide constant access to fresh, clean water
  • Correct poor nutrition as this can lead to a gradual improvement in hoof health.

Research shows poor quality hooves can benefit from commercially available hoof care products that contain:

  • Biotin - 20 milligrams per day
  • Iodine - 1 milligram per day
  • Methionine - 2500 milligrams per day
  • Zinc - 175 to 250 milligrams per day.

How important is exercise?

Very! A horse that gets little or no exercise rarely has healthy feet.

If you want to grow more hoof, exercise your horse. Blood circulation in the foot is better if the horse is moving.

Common hoof problems

Problem

Cause

Treatment tips

Abscess

Trauma, bruising or a foreign body.

Remove the foreign body if possible.

Soak the hoof in warm water and Epsom salt.

Keep the hoof bandaged, clean and dry.

Bruised sole

Standing on a hard object or concussion from hard ground. It can also be due to poor trimming or shoeing.

Restrict movement and keep on a soft surface – a deep bed in a stable, sand school or woodchip area until sound.

If in severe pain, call the vet who may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and check for any infection.

Hoof cracks

Dry weather, or frequent changes from wet to dry.

Drawn-out trimming intervals and long toes.

Poor hoof quality, some horses may be born with it.

Apply hoof moisturizers to the hoof wall and sole during dry weather and periods of brittle or cracking hooves.

Provide good nutrition and commercially available hoof supplements to improve hoof quality.

Regularly trim or shoe your horse’s hooves.

Nail Bind

Nail from shoe has been driven too close to the sensitive laminae in the horse's foot.

Clean the nail hole with antiseptic wash.

Pack the hole or bandage the foot.

Give a Tetanus booster.

Punctured sole

Something sharp, i.e. nail.

Depends on the location and seriousness of the injury:

Call the vet for deep punctures or bathe if superficial with antiseptic wash.

Seedy Toe

Normally occurs when the toe is allowed to become too long, but it can be a result of laminitis or of concussion on hard ground.

Regular, correct trimming by a farrier.

Some of the tissue may need to be cut away and packed with putty.

If the horse is lame, call the vet, as antibiotics may be needed. The foot may then need to be tubbed with water and Epsom salts and poulticed.

Thrush

Continuous exposure to damp, soiled conditions

Keep stable clean and dry.

Ask your farrier to trim away the loose, diseased frog tissue.

Apply a topical treatment or disinfectant to help the hoof to heal completely.

 More on hoof cracks

While you do whatever you can to ensure your horse’s hooves are healthy, issues aren’t completely avoidable. No matter how well you take care of your horse’s hooves, there is still a chance that cracks can develop.

While many cracked hooves on horses are superficial or cosmetic and don’t cause extensive damage, in some horses, hoof cracks can be a persistent and a serious problem.

No matter what happened to cause them, hoof cracks can come on out of nowhere, and they can be quite troubling to treat.

Your horse may experience a wide variety in the types of hoof cracks he can develop. These cracks can range from mild to moderate to severe. Some of the most common hoof cracks include:

Grass cracks: Generally, these cracks are superficial. They start from the ground and move upward in the hoof. They are typically very thin and don’t penetrate into the wall of the hoof. Grass cracks are usually caused by changes in the condition of the ground the horse walks or stands on, poor nutrition and a lack of exercise.

Sand cracks: These cracks are similar to grass cracks, but the difference is that they start from the coronary band and move downward, whereas, in the grass crack, the crack starts at the ground and moves upward.

Heel cracks: These cracks tend to be painful for the horse. They are often the result of short shoeing, in which the heel of the horse’s shoe does not cover the heel of the horse’s foot. This type of crack can also be the result of a shoe that is too long. When a shoe is too long, it creates leverage, which applies excessive force to the heel, thus causing a crack to form.

Bar cracks: These cracks appear in bars, or the inward folds of the hoof wall that are situated on either side of the frog. These cracks can also be painful, and they are often caused by trauma to the foot.

Toe cracks: These cracks can form when too much weight on the toe as he walks.

Quarter cracks – These cracks can be the most difficult to manage. A heel crack is typically caused by the uneven landing of the foot while walking. This happens when there are conformational defects. However, it can also be the result of a variety of other factors, like neglect, imbalance, coffin bone defects, fractures, keratomas or simply the constant impact on hard surfaces.

Key takeaways for hoof cracks include:

  • If your horse does develop a hoof crack, make sure you seek the treatment of an experienced and knowledgeable farrier or vet. Once the best form of treatment is determined, be diligent in providing your horse with the care he needs to properly recover. This includes reducing the workload and providing your horse with opportunities for rest. You should also make sure the surfaces the horse walks on are not further aggravating the situation.
  • The biggest key to seeing that your horse’s hoof cracks heal properly is patience. The amount of time it takes for a crack to heal depends on the extent of the crack and the type of treatment your horse is receiving.
  • No matter what, it can take a long period of time for a horse to recover from a hoof crack. Trying to speed up the recovery, or making your horse perform heavy workloads before he is ready to will only aggravate the situation and make matters worse.

No Magic Recipe

There’s no magic recipe for hoof care that works without exception for all horses as there are many variables that affect it. Before deciding on your horse’s hoof care needs, get to know your horse intimately, his needs, weaknesses, and strengths. Then look at the whole picture when deciding about shoes, supplements, or topical hoof applications.

Keep things simple, avoid fads and provide proper care with diet and exercise where possible.

And finally…develop a good working relationship with their farrier and vet as they will be able to provide guidance or answer any questions that you may have.

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Author

Kim Horton

Co-Founder of EQUUS and a keen equestrian, when Kim's not at her desk she's with her horse, Waldo.

Comments

  • Stephanie Taylor posted on May 08 2019 at 09:05 AM

    My cob suffers every summer from cracks and broken hooves,usually end up having shoes glued on ,have tried moisturisers ,biotin ,this year his feet are already cracking wondered if it was down to it being so dry last summer ,he is stabled has not been turned out since last October,basic feed ride and relax and chaff ,plenty of hay

  • Mark posted on May 28 2019 at 10:05 PM

    Kim, I have just been told my horse has Seedy Toe, he has had a crack up the front of his hoof for some time now and the resident farrier at my new stables has diagnosed it. He has cut out the “bad bits” the stables have packed the hole what is the best thing to do going forward

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