Help keep your horse’s hooves healthy and strong.
Pick out your horse’s feet. This may sound pretty basic, but it’s the single most important thing you can do for his hooves. It also gives you a chance to take early
action on many common hoof problems. Do this:
- before each ride, to remove any stones or small objects before you add your weight to the situation, and to check on the condition of his shoes
- after you untack him, in case something has gotten stuck in his feet during the ride
- when you bring him in at night, to check for objects in his feet or for turnout injuries
- before turnout the next morning, to check for heat and pulse, remove manure, and check for signs of thrush.
Each time you clean your horse’s hooves, take an extra couple of minutes after you’ve pried out any packed debris to gently clear the crevice of the frog and scrape any remaining bits of matter off the sole with the tip of the pick. Finish the job with a stiff brush.
Establish what’s normal. While handling your horse’s feet to pick them out, notice their temperature; when everything’s OK, they’ll feel very slightly warm.
- Check the frog, which has about the texture and firmness of a new rubber eraser when it’s healthy. Don’t be alarmed, though, if the frog appears to be peeling off — most horses shed the frog at least twice a year. Your farrier’s regular trimming of the frog may have prevented you from noticing this natural process.
When picking out the feet, look for signs of…
- Thrush. The first clue to this bacterial condition (usually caused by prolonged standing in manure, mud or other wet, filthy conditions) is a foul smell and dark ooze from the cleft of the frog. Later, the frog becomes cheesy in texture. Although thrush can eventually cause lameness and significant hoof damage, its early stage is simple to treat.
Just pouring a thrush remedy over the frog will not get the job done. Packing a hoof is potentially dangerous because excessive pressure can kill sensitive frog tissue.
Instead, follow this daily routine: Make your own cotton swab by wrapping a wisp of loose cotton around the end of a hoof pick. Soak the cotton in treatment solution and swab down the sides of the frog as if you were picking out the hoof. Swab the cleft of the frog and any other crevices. Repeat the process, using fresh cotton.
When treating thrush, modify the affected horse’s living arrangements by keeping cleaner, drier stalls and increasing your horse’s exercise time.
Puncture. If a nail or other object pierces your horse’s sole and then falls out, the entry wound will probably be invisible by the time you pick his feet and you’ll be unaware of it until it causes an abscess. But in some cases, the object remains in place. DON’T PULL IT OUT; call your veterinarian right away. Then he or she can
remove the object and advise a course of treatment.
Cracks. Some cracks are superficial; others can worsen, involving sensitive hoof structures, without appropriate shoeing. If you notice a crack in your horse’s hoof,
call your farrier and describe its location and size so he can decide whether it needs attention now or can wait until the next regular shoeing.
- Abscess. If your horse’s foot is warmer than normal to the touch, the cause could be an abscess inside the hoof. Your routine check can alert you to the problem and get your veterinarian or farrier involved. (If you find increased heat and a stronger than usual digital pulse in both front feet, and if he’s shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, call your veterinarian immediately. These are signs of laminitis, an inflammatory condition that can cause severe hoof damage — and, if not treated promptly, can even be fatal.)
Schedule regular farrier visits according to your horse’s individual needs. Although six to eight weeks is the average, there’s really no standard interval for trimming and shoeing.
If your horse is shod, check his shoes each time you pick out his feet.
- Risen clinches. This is a sign the shoe is loosening, probably because it’s been in place for several weeks; he can injure himself if the risen clinches on one foot brush the inside of the other leg.
A sprung or shifted shoe. If the shoe is pulled away and perhaps even bent, it’s sprung. If it’s moved to one side or the other, it’s shifted. In either case, the nails in the
problem shoe can press on sensitive hoof structures when he places weight on the foot.
Learn how to remove a shoe — yes, you! Many farriers are glad to teach clients how to do this. If you can remove a sprung or shifted shoe, you may save your horse unnecessary pain and hoof damage.
Help your horse grow the best possible hooves. Some horses naturally have better hooves than others. Your horse may already be producing the best hoof he’s capable of, or the following steps may enable him to do better.
- Fine-tune his diet. Ask your veterinarian whether your feeding program is appropriate for your horse’s nutritional needs.
- Give him consistent exercise. Work on good surfaces, especially at the walk and trot, increases circulation to your horse’s hooves and promotes growth.
Try not to turn out in deep, muddy footing. Hours of standing in mud may encourage thrush or scratches (a skin infection in the fetlock area that can cause lameness). Mud is hard on shoes, too: The suction of deep mud can drag off a shoe already loosened by alternating wet and dry conditions.
Protect your horse’s hooves during hauling. Without covering for his heels, he can easily step on the edge of a shoe and pull it partially loose. Another vulnerable area is the coronet band: the rim of tissue at the top of each hoof that generates new hoof-wall growth. Injury to this area can interrupt hoof growth in the area below the affected spot. The solution: Either old-fashioned shipping bandages and bell boots (large enough to cover the bulbs of your horse’s heels and the backs of his shoes) or good-quality, full-coverage Velcro-fastened shipping boots.
Bonus tip from the Delaware Valley College Equine Studies Program, Doylestown, PA:
“When conditioning your horse’s hooves with Mane ‘n Tail Hoofmaker, don’t forget about conditioning his chestnuts. Moistened chestnuts can easily be picked down, giving your horse’s legs a polished appearance.”