Hoof dressings for horses
Most of us wait anxiously for winter to end so that we can look forward to all those special activities that we enjoy during the summer. Just as you planned for your horse’s hoof care in the winter when it was cold and wet out, you also need to plan for it when it’s hot and dry. So let’s talk summer hoof care.
Any time the hoof does not have routine contact with water, “contraction” becomes a risk. This is more likely to happen during long periods of dry weathe, ie summer.
As its name suggests, hoof contraction is when the structure of the hoof shrinks. The frog, bulb and white line, which contain a significant amount of water, can dry out quickly. The drying of these structures results in:
- Loss of elasticity and resilience in the hoof
- The loss of classic hoof shape
- The loss of the hoof’s ability to serve as a “shock absorber”
- Open spaces where healthy tissues once were, enabling the invasion of bacteria, fungus, and parasites
- Chips and cracks becoming more prominent due to the loss of elasticity and structure.
Purpose of Dressings
Hoof dressings are ‘reputed’ to be beneficial to the growth and overall health of the wall of a horse’s hoof wall. Others are promoted on the basis that they remedy cracks and prevent moisture loss. Some even go so far as saying they prevent laminitis. So what really do they achieve?
There are three types of hoof wall dressings that claim to preserve moisture of the hoof wall:
- Primarily petroleum oil-based. These are usually “gooey” or tarry products and have the “heaviest” ingredients. Ingredients might include neatsfoot and/ or cod liver oil, pine tar, petroleum compounds and/or turpentine.
Pine tar is an all-purpose ingredient. It has some antibacterial and fungicidal properties and is also anti-inflammatory. It’s actually an old remedy for many human skin problems too. Quite helpful in retaining or restoring hoof-moisture levels, it makes hooves more resilient without softening them. Applied under pads, it keeps the frogs and soles healthy and flexible.
True turpentine, ie not the stuff you buy to clean paint brushes, is a natural resin obtained from pine trees by tapping into them with hollow tubes. It consists of a mixture of the essential oil, ie oil of turpentine, and a type of resin called rosin. Either turpentine or rosin may appear in a hoof dressing.
Turpentine is believed to be responsible for pine tree’s above-average resistance to rotting and mould. These antifungal properties work on hooves, too. Another advantage of turpentine is its mild aesthetic quality that makes it useful on tender soles and painful cracks.
True turpentine, also known as Venice turpentine, is not drying because it contains the natural essential oil.
These dressings form a thick, waxy layer over the hoof that helps block moisture loss. Do bear in mind though that they build up on the hoof and can trap dirt when too great an amount is applied.
- Primarily lanolin-based. These are usually more the consistency of hand lotion. Ingredients might include lanolin, lactates, alcohols and glycerine.
Lanolin is useful around the coronary band and heel bulbs but is not too helpful anywhere else. Other moisturisers aren’t really heavy-duty enough for hooves.
- Primarily containing a drying agent. Ingredients might include acetone.
As much as we all love aloe and we all find plenty of uses for it, hoof care, sadly(!) is not one of them!
A final word
On a daily basis, you’re the best person to take care of your horse’s hooves as you will be able to spot anything out of the ordinary or changes. Whilst hoof dressings can help, it’s important to recognize that no topical application will take the place of natural moisture.