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.
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.
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.
Horse's feet can be washed with plenty of clear water. Try to avoid detergents and heavily chlorized water.
People use hoof tar on the sole because they believe it hardens the sole-horn.
Hoof shoes need to be renewed in general every 6 - 8 weeks.
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
"Overuse" of the untrained horse:
Bad shoes and/or badly trimmed hooves
Let's have a look on the parts of a hoof:
Photo courtesy of Alex Brollo
Horse hoof in lateral viewLegend:
Photo courtesy of Alex Brollo
Do you recognize the naturally trimmed hoof?
Neglected feet are actually quite often seen in horses, ponies and donkeys.
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.
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.
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.
Hoofcare practitioners will trim such a hoof frequently, but rasp away only tiny amounts of horn from certain parts of the hoof.
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.
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!