Hoof Care Need Not to be Complicated...

...just simple, regular hoof care will maintain and improve hoof health.

A healthy horse in return, is able and willing to do the work you want it to do.

On a daily basis make sure you have a look onto all four hooves.
Put your hand around the horn walls and feel the temperature.
Pick them up and examine the sole, the frog and --- if you still use hoof shoes --- the space between horn wall and shoe.

Often you find little stones or other hard, foreign bodies there, which really hurt and may cause horrible pain and lameness and in the long run abscesses.
Stones and pebbles are best removed quickly; usually a hoof picker is enough.

Remove any manure as this actually damages hoof horn. It dries the horn out and it can break easily.

Soil or clay need not to be removed. Only, if you suspect little stones etc. you need to pick it out. It helps to keep the horn humid and elastic.
It is kind of a natural moisturizer.

Horse's feet can be washed with plenty of clear water. Try to avoid detergents and heavily chlorized water.
These chemical agents will dry the horn out.

People use hoof tar on the sole because they believe it hardens the sole-horn.
Tar does seal the horn, but it also disables the horn from soaking up moisture (water) and from "breathing".
Underneath the tar anaerobe bacteria find themselves in a very pleasant environment and begin to grow their population rather quickly, they destroy the horn and cause hoof rot.

Hoof shoes need to be renewed in general every 6 - 8 weeks.
The growth rate of hoof horn is in every horse different and depends on a long list of factors: breed, age, sex, individual health status, nutrition, minerals in diet, use of horse, kind of surface the horse is kept and worked on, and many more.

During my every-day-work as a vet I am confronted with quite a lot of hoof problems and problematic hoofcare.

Generally they can be divided in the following main groups of causes:

Circumstances in husbandry and nutrition

  • Neglected hoof care

  • False feeds or seasonal feeding (e.g. fresh, lush grass in springtime)

"Overuse" of the untrained horse:

  • Soreness in different parts of the limb

  • Tissue injuries in tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones

  • Irritation or inflammation in certain parts of the hoof

Bad shoes and/or badly trimmed hooves

  • Soreness on the sole, walls and heel area

  • Lameness of different cause

Let's have a look on the parts of a hoof:

Hoof Parts in Lateral ViewPhoto courtesy of Alex Brollo

Horse hoof in lateral view

  • 1. Coronary band
  • 2. Walls
  • 3. Toe
  • 4. Quarter
  • 5. Heel
  • 6. Bulb
  • 7. P2 (small pastern)

Hoof SolePhoto courtesy of Alex Brollo

Hoof sole

  • 1. heel perioplium
  • 2. bulb
  • 3. frog
  • 4. central groove
  • 5. collateral groove
  • 6. heel
  • 7. bar
  • 8. seat of corn
  • 9. pigmented walls (external layer)
  • 10. water line (inner layer)
  • 11. white line
  • 12. apex of frog
  • 13. sole
  • 14. toe
  • 15. how to measure width
  • 16. quarter
  • 17. how to measure length

Do you recognize the naturally trimmed hoof?
It looks pretty healthy, doesn't it?

Neglected hooves

Neglected feet are actually quite often seen in horses, ponies and donkeys.
A lot of them are just kept on a field for grazing or the kids have left home and lost interest and some of them are simply "forgotten". Very sad.

Novice horse owners are in the beginning overwhelmed by caring for their horse, stable, feed, tack...., that they seem to "forget" about hoofcare or not doing it regularly enough.

Overgrown horn and foul smelling debris around the frog are just the start of a bad hoofcare.
Far too often deformation of the whole hoof can be seen.
See the pictures and case demonstrations on this very good blog as a further reference. Highly recommended resource about hoof care and bare foot horses.

The cure of such a case is usually to get it regularly trimmed by a good farrier or a natural hoofcare practitioner.

Laminitis is the feed-induced health problem No.1:

By feeding lush grass in the springtime or carbohydrate-rich feeds the horse's digestive system gets a "carbohydrate-shock" which means that digestion of carbohydrates is partly shifted into lower parts of the intestines. In there an increased acidity (remember heartburn after having eaten too many doughnuts?) causes a mass destruction amongst "good" or normal gut- micro flora (bacteria).

These fiber-fermenting microbial die suddenly in huge quantities and release huge amounts of endo- and exotoxins.
And to make everything worse, the toxins are released into the bloodstream, because gut membranes are becoming more permeable.

The result is a toxemia (toxin overload in the blood) which causes blood circulation-problems, especially in the lower limbs. And this results in an inflammation of the laminae, the fine tissue structure between hoof horn and -bone, the so-called laminitis.

As there are so many other reasons for and usually a combination of them causing laminitis, it is not always easy to diagnose the exact cause.

Essential for a successful treatment is the exclusion of all possible factors (feed, hard exercise, hard ground, Cushing disease, retained placenta in mares who have just foaled) and pain relief.

Drugs should always be prescribed by your vet, don't try to medicate on your own, you can harm your horse without meaning or knowing it!

Hooves need then to be treated (take shoes off) and should receive regular professional hoofcare.
The horse is best kept on soft ground (thick straw or clean sawdust bedding) and be hay fed only for a certain time.

Hoofcare practitioners will trim such a hoof frequently, but rasp away only tiny amounts of horn from certain parts of the hoof.
That way the stabilizing tissues of the leg/hoof will have time to adjust slowly to the correct position.

Badly shod or badly trimmed and cared for hooves trigger soreness, which might result in severe lameness. It is essential to have a good farrier or hoofcarer to get them "done" in regular intervals.

Natural Hooves and Barefoot Driving

To this date driving horses are almost all wearing shoes. Traditionally there is a widely spread opinion that the main reason for this is hoof horn wearing on hard grounds(asphalt, concrete, gravel) and horn growth cannot compensate the increased in horn wear. Another reason would be a better grip on a slippy surface.

Now there are controversy discussions about this subject, whether a driving horse should wear shoes or should go barefoot.

hoof boot

The barefoot movement has got a solution for it: hoof boots.

Of course there is a certain time needed to get the feet used to them and they are wearing down quite easily, but barefoot horses can be driven!

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