Hoof care is easy to take for granted until you’re having an issue with your horse’s hooves and you realize how important they are! In this post, I cover the essentials to ensure your horse’s hooves stay healthy and sound.
There’s a popular understanding that horses have what’s known as a “delicate constitution”: they get sick easily. While I think that’s somewhat exaggerated, I do care a lot about my horses – so I want to make sure they’re healthy. And one of the things I really focus on for that is hoof care.
Horses spend so much time on their feet.
Their hooves are exposed to plenty of impact, especially when you’re riding them. They’ll also cover lots of different surfaces.
Although your horse’s hooves might seem pretty robust, they’re actually susceptible to a lot of issues. So today, we’ll talk about a couple of common hoof care issues, and then discuss what you can do to alleviate them.
Hoof Care: Possible Issues
Before we talk about the hoof care itself, let’s talk about two of the main drivers for what could be affecting your horse’s hooves…
Long term exposure to unsuitable conditions
As a general rule, your horse’s feet will be healthier when they’re drier. Just like yours!
If their hooves are left wet for too long, and particularly if they are in unsanitary conditions, you could be exposing them to risks. These include the risk of cracking, or developing bacterial infections like thrush or white line disease.
For example the spring in Ontario, Canada (where I’m at right now) is super rainy and not that warm. This means the fields can get really muddy and not dry properly for weeks at a time. It’s really easy for hooves to develop thrush in these conditions. In fact, one of my horse’s best friends in the field (they’re very bonded) developed thrush the other week as I’m updating this post because of this exact reason.
What’s somewhat surprising though is that repeated exposure to moisture, with intermittent drying, is often the culprit in cracked hooves. This is common over summer, when their hooves get wet by morning dew, and then dry during the day. But it can also be caused by over-washing of your horse. So be careful!
Inappropriate use of dressings
If you’ve ridden or owned a horse for a while, you’ll probably be aware of the controversy around hoof dressings: solutions applied to the hoof, allegedly to make it healthier. If you’re interested in knowing more about that controversy, I actually have a whole post on the reasons why you might not want to use dressings on your horse’s hooves. So I recommend reading that!
But in short, a lot of the dressings available on the market contain harmful chemicals, which actually damage your horse’s hoof, instead of helping it.
They can also expose your horse to that wet hoof issue: by adding too much moisture to the hoof, the hoof wall could soften and then crack. Which is not what you want!
Having said that, I want to be clear: dressings are different to polish. Dressings penetrate the hoof, while polish sits as a coating on top. Polish is much safer to use on your horse’s hooves.
Hoof Care: Fixing Those Problems!
Right, with some possible causes covered, let’s jump right into my five favourite solutions.
Solution #1: Regular Hoof Picking
The first thing that I always recommend doing (whether you’re having problems with your horse’s hooves or not) is regularly picking your horse’s hooves.
This should be a standard part of your post-ride grooming regimen.
If you’re not familiar with how to pick your horse’s hooves, I actually have a guide you can read here!
Picking helps you get mud and other debris out of your horse’s hoof after a ride. This is critical to help dislodge rocks, which can cause irritation and even abscesses.
Spending time picking will also familiarise you with your horse’s hoof – and little things like changes in temperature or the strength of the pulse in your horse’s hoof can be indicators of issues. So they’re something you should watch out for!
While we’re talking about grooming, let’s also quickly side-track to washing. Like I said above, sometimes horses that are washed frequently experience issues with wet hooves. So if you are washing your horse more than once a month, maybe ease off and see if that makes a difference.
Solution #2: Seeing a Farrier
In addition to your own regular hoof care through picking, I recommend having a farrier see your horse regularly.
A farrier is an equine hoof care professional who can trim your horse’s hooves for you. Because yes, hooves grow over time!
They will also determine if your horse should be shod, and re-shoe your horse as necessary.
How regularly your horse should see a farrier is really a question of how fast your horse’s hooves grow – but the farrier you see should be able to advise you on that. Generally every six to eight weeks is about average.
A farrier will be able to diagnose any problems caused by environmental issues, like the thrush I mentioned above. They will also be able to identify punctures, and the early development of abscesses. Then they can let you know how best to address the problem.
Solution #3: Keep a Clean Stable
If your farrier does find a case of thrush or white line disease, then I can bet one of the first things they’ll tell you to do is keep a clean stable.
Make sure you’re mucking out regularly, so your horse isn’t exposed to manure for too long. You should probably do this anyway, because it’s kind of gross, right?
Even just making sure the stable is nice and dry could make a huge difference – and your horse will probably thank you for it anyway!
Solution #4: Give Them Plenty of Exercise!
Who would have thought that exercising your horse could actually have benefits for hoof care?
Actually, consistent exercise can really help keep your horse’s hooves healthy. When your horse walks or trots, blood flow to the hooves is increased. This circulation leaves them less prone to developing infections. It also promotes stronger, faster hoof growth.
The key thing is not to overdo it – and like I said, be sure to check and pick their hooves afterward, paying attention to any caught stones or possible punctures.
Solution #5: Healthy Diet
My final hoof care solution is to make sure your horse is getting a healthy diet.
Getting a lot of fresh green grass would be ideal for hoof care. However, that’s just not realistic for a lot of the climates that people live and have horses in.
If you’re worried about your horse’s nutrition, there are a couple of things you can try. The first I would recommend would be Vitamin E. Green grass is rich in Vitamin E, and if your horse isn’t getting a lot of grass, they may become deficient.
Alternatively, providing more Omega-3s in your horse’s diet could do the trick.
These fatty acids are critical to hoof and hair growth. Generally they’re supplemented through fish or krill oil. I love Antarctic Krill – and it does wonders for my own hair and nails too!
There are plenty of other supplements you can try, if you think diet might be the issue.
However, I would caution you against over-supplementing. Usually adding too much of a dietary supplement won’t cause harm, but will just be expensive and unnecessary. But occasionally you can actually hurt your horse.
I would definitely consult with a vet or equine nutritionist if you’re not sure about the supplements you should be giving your horse.
Hoof Care: You Can Do It!
I hope you’re now feeling better informed about hoof care for your horse.
I know the variety of possible solutions can be a little overwhelming. But I would recommend giving a few of them a try – I can promise you that all of them will have other benefits for your horse, even beyond just their hoof care. And they’ll love you for it!
If you have any questions at all for me about horse hoof health, feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll get back to you.
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