Finding the Hoof Care Balance - Top Tips & Myth Busters
The importance of a good farrier is well understood by knowledgeable horse owners who reap the benefits of diligent, routine care. In this article, Certified Journeyman Farrier Sean Elliott provides some great tips for promoting hoof health and explains some pitfalls to avoid.
Top Tips for Hoof Health
Nutrition, Dry Environment, and Balance
Nutrition - “If you go to the doctor and your fingernails are in a bad state, nutrition is the first thing they are going to address,” says Elliott, who recommends working with an equine nutritionist to look at the horse’s program as a whole.
Elliott is a big fan of keeping it simple with good quality hay, clean water, a ration balancer, and not supplementing blindly. He cautions against just picking supplements that make claims to improve hoof quality as they may not give the results you are looking for. The horse may be deficient in more than one thing, and he may not be able to absorb what you are aiming to supplement. Having hay tested will provide a clearer picture of what is needed to balance the horse’s diet, and bloodwork can help determine what a horse is deficient in.
Each horse should be treated as an individual, and the nutritionist is part of the horse’s healthcare team.
Dry Environment - “Horses were not meant to stand for extended periods of time in wet or muddy conditions,” says Elliott. He goes on to dispel the myth of overflowing of water troughs to add moisture to hooves. “Yes, the hooves will get wet, but consider why people put mud treatments on their faces — to remedy oily skin.” As mud dries, it draws out the oils; however, oils in the hoof are an essential component to hoof health. Even horses that get bathed daily in the summer can suffer poor quality hooves from the constant cycle of going from wet to dry. Elliott is not a big fan of hoof dressings and prefers to stay with the KISS (keep it sweet and simple) philosophy of always trying to provide a dry environment.
Then it all comes down to balance.
Horses were not meant to stand in water, or in muddy conditions. Even daily bathing can negatively impact hoof quality due to the continuous wet-to-dry cycle. Photo: iStock/Eudyptula
Good Balance - “Good farrier work means keeping the hoof capsule underneath the limb of horse with a correct trim every four to six weeks.” This is essential to keeping the hooves in balance, says Elliott. Routine trims address issues such as flares and long toes.
Farriers need a solid understanding of conformation and anatomy. They should understand the biomechanics of how the hoof handles concussion. Elliott cautions against trimming to get the perfect hoof. “Horses rarely have two feet that look alike,” he says. “You need to trim each foot to be in balance and not trim to make them look the same or to a fit a specific measurement.” Shoes are meant to be shaped to the foot, not the other way around.
Common Hoof Issues
When should you worry about hoof cracks? Some of the pitfalls that contribute to hoof cracks are toes that are too long, underrun heels, and exposure to too much moisture. Routine care and a proper trim that balances the foot correctly are essential.
Superficial cracks are not an issue; most of the time they can be sanded out. The time to be concerned with cracks is when they are all the way through or go all the way up to the hairline. In those cases, a plan for intervention should be discussed with your farrier.
What causes contracted heels? In most cases, contracted heels are caused by improper balance. Too much stress on any part of the hoof or an area bearing inadequate weight can affect proper blood flow and hoof expansion.
What predisposes a horse to frequent abscesses? Hoof abscesses can be extremely painful and are often accompanied by sudden lameness. An abscess starts with a bruise to an area of the internal structures of the foot. If the bruise is severe enough it can cause a pulsing pain. Think of striking your fingernail with a hammer and not releasing the pressure through a small hole in the nail. After the pressure is released, the throbbing sensation stops; however, there will still be some discomfort for a relatively short period of time.
Elliott theorizes that genetics may predispose a horse to abscesses, along with thin soles. Generally speaking, an average healthy sole will have seven to ten millimetres of what is referred to as live/waxy sole. This sole is able to bear weight and is designed to flex and bend without breaking or cracking. Hooves that have soles thinner than that are at a higher risk of bruising and developing an abscess.
A hoof abscess can happen anytime but is most common during wet winter and spring months. Moisture can soften the foot and make it easier for the bruise to happen. Travelling over rough terrain and frequent stomping caused by nuisance flies can also contribute to foot bruises.
In general, Elliott is not a fan of pads. Imagine the state your feet would be in if you wore rubber boots without socks, he says. Work with your farrier and veterinarian to find the best treatment for an abscess, and then determine prevention strategies.
Elliott is a big believer in the farrier, veterinarian, and rider all working together as a healthcare team.
Printed with the kind permission of Equine Guelph.
Main Photo: Shutterstock/Terrance Emerson