Looking After Your Horses Hoofs
Keeping your horse’s hooves in tip-top condition can be a challenge at the best of times, not least when it rains for 5 months straight! But proper hoof care is essential when it comes to your horse’s overall health, wellbeing and soundness – and not only will good hoof care keep your horse comfortable while he works, it can also help prevent nasty diseases and injuries in the future.
Not sure where to start when it comes to hoof care? Here are our top tips.
Pick out Feet Daily
Picking out your horse’s feet on a daily (or even twice daily!) basis is essential when it comes to keeping your horse sound and comfortable. We wouldn’t want to wander around with stones, manure and dirt in our shoes, and picking out your horse’s feet before and after turnout is important.
This can also help you learn to recognise when something is amiss with your horse’s feet. When picking out his feet, check the hoof for sensitivity, a bad smell, and any pus, punctures or cracks in the hoof. If the foot feels hot or even warmer than normal, this may be a sign that an abscess is brewing or that something else is wrong.
Keep a Schedule with your Farrier
Your farrier is one of the best people to advise you when it comes to the health of your horse’s hooves. Bad shoeing can be very detrimental to your horse’s hoof health, so adequate care by a qualified and trustworthy farrier is exceptionally important.
Your horse’s feet should be correctly trimmed and well balanced whether they are shod or unshod. Bad foot balance can lead to lameness and serious injuries. Most horses should be seen by your farrier every 6-8 weeks.
Fine Tune his Diet
Your horse’s diet can play a huge role in the health of his hoof. Ensure your horse’s diet is well balanced, and you may want to consider a hoof strengthening supplement. Look for ingredients like biotin, lysine, methionine, zinc and copper.
Keep an Eye on the Ground
Horses’ hooves can suffer when the environment changes; both when it’s too dry and when it’s too wet. Standing in mud or puddles for long periods of time can cause your horse’s hooves to soften, which can lead to an abscess and other hoof problems. Likewise, a lack of rainfall and hot weather can cause the hooves to crack and break.
Your farrier will be able to tell you if there are any changes in your horse’s hooves, but the general rule is to bring horses in for enough time for their hooves to dry off in very wet weather, and if necessary, apply a hoof strengthening conditioner before you turn out.
Be Aware of Common Hoof Problems
Most cases of lameness are caused by an issue with the foot, so being aware of common hoof problems is important – and can stop you spending huge amounts of money on an unnecessary vet visit!
Bruised soles are often caused by the horse standing on a hard object, although it can also be due to poor shoeing. Your horse will be acutely lame and have a red or bruised area on the sole of his foot. The sole will also be very sensitive. While a vet can be called if the horse is in severe pain, many horses recover from simply being moved to a soft surface until they are sound.
Laminitis symptoms include a reluctance to move, a stronger digital pulse, heat around the foot, and the horse leaning back onto its hind legs. In this situation, your vet should be called immediately and the horse should be taken away from grass.
Foot abscesses are common in winter and are often caused by something penetrating the sole which then gets infected. Horses with too soft feet (so horses left out in muddy conditions) are more likely to get foot abscesses. Symptoms include sudden extreme lameness, a digital pulse and a reaction to pressure. Your vet or farrier will be able to dig out the abscess, and then the foot can be cleaned and poulticed to draw out the infection.
Finally, there are sand and grass cracks which can be caused by very hot dry weather, as well as poor foot conformation or bad shoeing. The cracks will need to be stopped from spreading by your farrier, and eventually, these will grow out. To prevent this, your horse needs regular farrier visits, and you might want to adjust his diet.