One of the most important parts of horse care is hoof care. Your horse is on its hooves all the time, so if you don’t take care of your horse’s hooves your horse could develop some very serious health problems that might even result in your horse having to be euthanized. Hoof care is essential to taking care of your horse.
In order to give your horse the best hoof care possible you need to have a blacksmith come out every four to six weeks and trim your horse’s feet. If your horse wears shoes then the blacksmith will need to remove the shoes and refit them because the horse’s hooves grow constantly. Even if your horse doesn’t wear shoes it’s important to get the horse’s feet trimmed regularly. Untrimmed feet can crack and split and cause lameness.
In addition to having the blacksmith come out regularly you also need to pick your horse’s hooves out every day or every time you groom or ride your horse.
Here are some other ways that you can keep your horse’s hooves in good shape:
- Use a hoof strengthening product on the hooves when you clean them.
- Make sure that the horse’s bedding is always dry and clean. Standing in wet or unclean bedding day after day can cause hoof rot or other hoof problems.
- Make sure your horse’s diet is nutritious. Just like your fingernails will be dry and crack easily if you aren’t getting the right nutrition, a horse’s hooves will be dry and likely to crack if the horse isn’t getting the right nutrition.
- Make sure that the shoe your horse wears isn’t too heavy for your horse. Wearing shoes that are too heavy can cause a lot of foot problems for horses.
- In the winter, keep your horse’s hooves clean and dry. Coat the entire hoof with petroleum jelly to insulate the hoof against the cold and wet and to prevent snow from building up inside the hoof.
Common Hoof Problems
Unfortunately, there are a lot of hoof problems that horses can develop. Here are some of the most common hoof problems that horse owners see in their horses and how to treat them.
- Hoof Bruises
- Horse Abscesses/Horse Foot Abscesses
- Horse Thrush
- Horse Laminitis
Sometimes horses will get bruised on the frog or the sole of their hooves. Sole bruises in horses are quite common, especially if you ride on the street or on the trail quite a bit. Any loose rock or shard surface can cause a sole bruise on a horse’s hoof. Sole bruises happen to trail horses all the time. If your horse has a sole bruise you’ll notice the horse favoring that foot and going slower than usual. Sole bruises don’t often cause total lameness.
To prevent sole bruises, if you know you’re going to be riding on an uneven, hard or rocky surface, get shoes put on your horse’s hooves to protect the hooves. If your horse has had several bruises in the past and has tender hooves as a result, ask your blacksmith to put a padded shoe on your horse. Padded shoes will provide a cushion for the hoof and protect it from any further bruising.
The only way to treat sole bruises is to let them heal on their own. Try to give your horse a few days of stall rest and give the horse someplace soft to stand. Put a rubber mat in the stall or add extra bedding for a few days until the bruised hoof heals.
Abscesses are a nasty injury for a horse and are all too common. An abscess forms when there is a puncture to the outer wall of the hoof, usually around the white line on the hoof. This puncture can come from a rock hitting the hoof, the horse banging a hoof on the stall door or on a fence, nicking a jump with a hoof, or any number of other ways. Once there is a puncture in the hoof, standing in manure, dirt, and other materials allows bacteria to get inside the hoof and pockets of pus form throughout the hoof.
You will know if your horse has an abscess because abscesses cause a lot of pain and lameness for a horse. You also may notice the pus leaking from the hoof or a nasty odor when you’re picking out the horse’s hooves. The only way to treat an abscess is to break it open and drain the pus. Your blacksmith or vet should always be the one to open the abscess.
After the abscess is open, soak that affected hoof or hooves in Epsom salts twice a day to draw out the pus and clean the hoof. While the hoof is healing, keep it bandaged and make sure the horse doesn’t stand in any wet bedding, mud, or dirt that might infect the wound again. Your vet will also probably prescribe antibiotics and possibly a painkiller too.
The best way to prevent abscesses is to make sure that your horse’s stall is cleaned every day and that you don’t leave your horse standing in wet or dirty conditions.
Thrush is the number one hoof problem that horses have. Thrush is a type of hoof rot but not the only type. Practically all horses get thrush at one point or another. Thrush is caused by anaerobic bacteria that attack the frog of the foot and the sides of the frog.
So how does a horse get thrush? It’s simple, really. Standing for long periods of time in dirty, wet, or bacteria infected surroundings gives a horse thrush. So if you don’t clean the horse’s stall and the horse stands for days in urine soaked bedding, that horse can get thrush from standing in that bedding.
If it’s the rainy season and the pasture is flooded and the horse stands for hours in the mud and rain then the horse can get thrush. Anytime your horse is standing for long periods of time in a wet, dirty environment, thrush can creep in.
If your horse has thrush you will notice thick black crud in and around the frog of the horse’s hooves when you’re cleaning the hooves and you will definitely smell it. Thrush smells like decay, because that’s really what it is. The bacteria are eating away at the flesh of the foot in the frog and around the frog.
If your horse has thrush you should start treating it right away. Left untreated, thrush can cause serious hoof damage and even permanent lameness. What can you do to treat thrush? There is a two pronged approach that you need to take when you’re treating thrush.
First, clean the horse’s stall. Make absolutely sure that the bedding in the stall and the floor underneath are clean and dry. For a few days clean the stall out twice a day to make sure that the stall stays dry and clean. Confine the horse to the barn if possible. If your horse is kept in a pasture, move the horse to another pasture that is drier or block off the wet end of the pasture. You need to make sure that the horse won’t be standing in any muck until the thrush is cured.
Then you can address the problem of the actual thrush. Take a stiff wire hoof brush and brush out the hoof. Get as much of the black thrush out of the frog as you can. Then use Betadine or an iodine solution to wash out the hoof. Wash the entire hoof with the solution and paint it on the outside of the hooves as well.
You can also use household bleach or hydrogen peroxide to wash out the hoof but most vets recommend using Betadine or an iodine solution so that you don’t damage any of the frog tissue while you are killing the thrush. Wash out the horses hooves at least three times a day for three to five days and the thrush should start to clear up. If it doesn’t then you should call your blacksmith. If the thrush is very severe the blacksmith may need to trim out the thrush infected areas of the hooves.
Laminitis is another very common hoof problem that horses suffer from. Laminitis is basically a breakdown of the strong connecting tissue, called laminae, that connect the pedal bone in the horse’s leg and foot area to the wall of the hoof. As the tissue breaks down the pedal bone begins to sink into the hoof and sometimes can rotate as well. Laminitis is painful and debilitating for horses. Laminitis can cause permanent lameness for horses if it’s left untreated or not allowed to heal properly.
There are two forms of Laminitis, chronic and acute. If your horse has an acute case of Laminitis you’ll notice that your horse is standing with the front legs splayed out in front of it and the back legs tucked under in an attempt to take all the weight off the front legs or you might see the horse shifting its weight frequently. You also could see some swelling around the coronet band and the horse may have a temperature if there is a secondary infection.
Laminitis almost always occurs in the front hooves so if your horse is trying to get weight off the front hooves then you need to check for Laminitis immediately. If your horse has acute Laminitis you’ll also feel heat from the hoof if you touch it and your horse will probably be very reluctant to lift its front hooves off the ground.
If your horse has chronic Laminitis you’ll see the same symptoms that you’d see in a case of acute Laminitis but the symptoms won’t be as pronounced and you might miss them. That’s why checking your horse’s hooves every time you groom or ride is so important. If you’re cleaning and handling the horse’s feet regularly you’ll notice if something is wrong. Sometimes, in an acute case of Laminitis you can see white rings around the outer edge of the hoof.
If your horse develops a case of acute Laminitis that doesn’t heal all the way then your horse is more likely to develop chronic Laminitis over time. If your horse does develop Laminitis it’s very important that you allow the horse to fully heal before getting the horse back into a normal exercise and turnout schedule so that the horse doesn’t develop chronic Laminitis.
Horse Laminitis Causes
There are many different things that can trigger acute Laminitis in horses. Chronic Laminitis is most often caused by a previous acute Laminitis attack that never healed or an underlying health condition.
The Common Causes of Laminitis:
- Carb overload. A horse that is put out in a lush pasture and allowed to gorge or a horse that gets loose and gets into the grain bin and eats too much grain can develop acute Laminitis from the influx of carbohydrates.
- Cushing’s disease – Cushing’s disease is a hormonal imbalance that occurs in people as well as in horses. In horses, the most common effect of Cushing’s disease is chronic Laminitis that may flare to acute Laminitis on occasion.
- Lack of exercise.
- Being ridden or worked on a very hard surface like pavement.
- Obesity. Obese horses that rarely get any exercise have a high risk for developing both acute and chronic Laminitis.
- Retained placenta in mares.
- Excessive weight on one hoof, such as in cases where the horse uses one hoof more than the others because of pain in the other hooves. The “good” hoof could develop Laminitis as a result of bearing all the horse’s weight as the horse tries to favor the other hooves.
- Very rich food that is too high in protein.
- Drinking large amounts of very cold water.
- Pawing or banging at the stall door or a pasture fence.
- Being transported in horse trailers over long distances without rest.
Immediate and Long Term Care for Laminitis
If you see your horse starting to exhibit signs of Laminitis you should immediately take action. If left untreated, Laminitis can lead to permanent lameness and hoof damage. Some horses with serious and untreated Laminitis need to be euthanized. So if you see your horse showing signs of Laminitis the first thing that you should do is call your vet. Don’t just call and make an appointment; tell the vet it’s an emergency and get a vet out there as quickly as possible.
While you are waiting for the vet move the horse to a stall with extra deep bedding or put down a rubber mat and some extra bedding in your horse’s stall. Make the floor of the stall as soft and as comfortable as possible so that the horse won’t be in so much pain standing on it. Don’t walk the horse; that could cause further damage.
When the vet examines the horse, the vet will probably give the horse several medications, including pain killers and an antibiotic in case the Laminitis is caused by an infection. If the Laminitis is the result of a grain or pasture binge then the vet may inject liquid paraffin into the horse to bring down the horse’s blood sugar and counter the effects of the food overdose.
Once the vet has done a thorough exam and made a diagnosis of Laminitis you might have to have X-rays taken and other diagnostic tests done to see what the extent of the damage is. You will also need to consult with your blacksmith to see what the condition of the horse’s hoof is after treatment. Sometimes, a blacksmith can put a special shoe on the affected foot that has a pad on it to lessen the impact of normal walking and running on the hoof since the affected hoof will probably be weak and damaged.
A horse’s recovery from Laminitis could take years. Don’t expect the horse to be back out in the arena within a few weeks if your horse has Laminitis. It will probably take months if not longer for the horse to fully heal. During that time the horse will need a lot of care and can’t be ridden. Exercise will have to be limited too.
In most cases, horses that have Laminitis can recover enough to be ridden again; although, if the case is severe enough or if the horse suffers from chronic Laminitis, the horse might not be able to compete in shows or work as hard as it did before the Laminitis. Once a horse has had Laminitis it will always be prone to getting Laminitis again so you will need to watch carefully all the time to make sure that your horse doesn’t develop Laminitis again.
Daily Hoof Care
Some books say pick your horse’s feet clean every time you groom; make it a part of your grooming routine. This is great if you groom your horse daily. Other people believe you only need to pick hooves when you ride your horse. If your horse is stalled, his feet need to be cleaned twice daily. When your horse is ridden, his feet need to be picked clean before and after the ride.
Daily hoof care only starts with picking your horse’s hooves clean. Daily stall cleaning is also part of hoof care because poor sanitation contributes to thrush.
Thrush is a common hoof disease that is caused by a bacteria which is anaerobic in nature (it needs no air). Most manure and dirt contain this organism and if allowed to remain packed in hooves will attack the foot. If thrush is present, a foul smelling odor is produced and a blackish thick liquid material can be found in the creases (commissures) around the frog. If allowed to go long enough, it will develop into an abscess.
By no stretch of the imagination, daily hoof care also involves nutrition. Without proper nutrition, nothing grows. Nutrition may play an even bigger part when it comes to horse’s foot problems. There are vitamin and mineral supplements designed especially for hoof growth. Dramatic results won’t be observed because it takes 12 months for new hoof growth to reach the ground.
Through daily hoof care, a lot of problems can be found and treated early before they become big costly problems. By making sure no rocks are left packed into the bottom of the hoof, you will help prevent bruises that can cause lameness and loss of use of your horse.
Weekly Hoof Care
There is not much to do on a weekly basis if your daily routine is good. A good practice is to strip your stall of all bedding and let it air out most of the day. This will keep your stall drier and keep the threat of thrush to a minimum. If your horse has a history of thrush, or if horses stabled in a particular stall have a history of thrush, sprinkle the stall with some lime before re-bedding.
Another good weekly practice is to check hooves for their moisture condition. If they appear too dry, you can pack wet clay into the soles and then remove it the next morning. Moisture can be increased by providing a mud puddle in a day pen, i.e., around a water trough.
During the wet season, if a horse is allowed to stand in the mud too much, the hooves will get soft and lose their shape. Shoes will be more apt to be lost at this time. To protect against this, apply an oily, greasy type hoof dressing or a hoof bond. If you choose the hoof bonding, it will last up to 4 weeks. It also is less messy to be around when handling your horse’s feet.
Importance Of Taking Good Care Of Horse Hoof
One of the toughest jobs for the horse owner is to take care of the overall health of the horse. Supervision of horses does not just constitute their health problems, as you also have to pay attention to the overall body of the horse. Horse hooves are one of the important parts which have to be maintained by the horse owners. Lack of proper care of the horse hoof can lead to lameness and other problems.
Horse hoof care is an absolute necessity as it helps the horse in ensuring proper performance and better career. For proper care of the hoof of the horses, you have to know and learn the basic formation and function of horse foot and all its parts.
Normally horse hooves are divided into external and internal foot structure. The external foot structure consists of four parts namely, coronet, hoof wall, frog and sole. And the internal foot structure also consists of four parts namely, plantar cushion, coffin bone, sensitive laminae and navicular bone.
Horse hoof care consists of some of the important processes that have to be performed on a regular basis.
Routine care is a process where you have to maintain clean and clear hoof in your horses. Normally some unwanted organisms capable of spreading diseases concentrate in the horse hooves. The diseased bacteria accumulate in the frog region and produces stinking odor and this gradually results in lameness. In such cases hoof picks or fine wired brush is used to clean the area.
Moisture should be maintained in horse hoof as it leads to sustain flexibility and avoid cracks in the hoof. Intense wet circumstances can lead to dryness and the natural oils and protective films present in the lower foot region can corrode from regular contact with exterior moisture. So you should dress the hoof applying animal fat or lanolin in the base.
Trimming is very important technique to hold proper shape and size of horse hooves. It should be done frequently on regular intervals. Nippers and rasp are basically used for trimming. Trimming is done to keep the pressure on the hoof wall and to remove dead tissue from the sole.
You should also maintain proper angle between the hoof wall and the ground in order to prevent lameness of the horse hooves.
When you are nailing the horse shoe be attentive and take care that the nail should not prick the horse hoof as this will cause severe injuries and can result in lameness.
Cleanliness, promptness, frequency and utilize of correct remedial measures are some of the most important features of high-quality horse hoof care.