Ten Hoof Care Tips to Help Keep Your Horse’s Hooves Healthy and Strong

Last Updated on February 19, 2022 by Allison Price

1. You should inspect your horse’s feet. You can give your horse a head start in maintaining healthy hooves and, as I will explain, you can take action early on common hoof problems.

Horse Hoop

Thoroughbred with sprung shoes

  • Before you take your ride, make sure to clean his feet of any small stones or objects that may have been lodged under his feet. Also, check the condition of his shoes before you add weight. (more details to come soon).
  • After you have untacked him, in the event that something got stuck during the ride
  • Bring him in at night to check for any objects or injuries.
  • Before turning out the next morning, check for heat, pulse, removal of manure, as well as signs of thrush. (more information on that below).

After you have cleaned your horse’s hooves with a plow, you should take a few extra minutes to clean the crevices of the frog. Then, use the tip of a pick to scrape the remaining matter from the sole. A stiff brush is the best way to get the sole of your horse’s feet clean. You can purchase a brush separately or attach some hoof picks.

2. You need to establish what is normal. When you pick up your horse’s feet, pay attention to their temperature. If everything is OK, they will feel slightly warmer (more on the meaning of variations). With two fingers against his pastern, locate the digital pulse. You aren’t interested in the pulse rate but its strength in normal conditions. The frog should have a texture similar to a rubber eraser. If the frog seems to be peeling away, don’t panic. Most horses shed the frog at most twice a year. This natural process may not have been noticed by you because your farrier has done a regular trimming.

3. Look out for …

  • Thrush. A foul odor and dark ooze coming from the clefts of the frog is the first sign of this bacterial condition. The frog’s texture becomes more cheesy later. Thrush is a common condition that can lead to lameness and hoof damage. However, it is easy to treat in its early stages. Follow the directions of your veterinarian or farrier to use an over-the counter remedy and make sure that your horse’s stalls are clean and dry. You might consider switching to absorbent shavings if you are used to sleeping with straw. Horses with narrow, upright feet and deep clefts, which trap dirt, manure, and debris more easily, are predisposed to thrush, even if they are well-cared for. Ask your farrier if you suspect your horse may have thrush early.
  • Puncture. A nail or another object that has penetrated your horse’s sole will likely be invisible when you pick him up. You won’t notice it until it causes abscess (below). In some cases, however, the object may remain in place and can be found by removing any dirt from the sole. DO NOT PULL IT OUT. You should put your horse in his stall to protect the punctured feet. Wrap the object with duct tape or a slip on medication boot and call your veterinarian immediately. An X-ray can be used to determine the extent of the damage and the structures involved. You can find the problem quickly if you regularly pick out your horse’s feet. Your veterinarian will then be able to remove the object and recommend a treatment plan.
  • Cracks. Some cracks can be superficial, but others can become more severe and involve sensitive hoof structures. A hoof abscess (see below) is one cause of cracks. This occurs when the coronet band at top of the hoof breaks through, creating a weak spot in your hoof wall. It must be treated as it grows. Call your farrier if you see a crack in the horse’s hoof. He will be able to tell you where it is located and how large it is so that he can determine whether to treat it immediately or wait until your next regular shoeing.
  • Abscess. Your horse’s digital pulse may feel stronger than normal and/or your foot feels warmer than normal. This could indicate an abscess in the hoof, which could be caused by a poorly placed shoeing nail or a bruise. Routine checks can help you identify the problem. Your veterinarian or farrier should be contacted before your horse. If your horse is experiencing increased heat or a stronger than usual digital pulse in his feet, as well as shifting from one foot to the other, contact your veterinarian immediately. These symptoms are indicative of laminitis. This is an inflammatory condition that can lead to severe hoof damage and even death if it’s not treated quickly.

4. Your horse’s needs will dictate the frequency of farrier visits. Your horse might benefit from a shorter interval if your farrier is correcting a problem like under-run heels or a clubfoot, or flares in the hoof wall. You may notice your horse forging, striking the back of his front hoof with the toe from a back hoof. This will cause a metallic sound and could be a sign that something is wrong. Ask your farrier if he can reduce the interval to avoid this problem.

5. Make sure your horse has his shoes on.

You should look for:

  • Risen Clinches. The nails that your farrier cut and clinched (bent flush to the outer hoof wall) at the last shoeing are now sticking out of the hoof. This indicates that the shoe is becoming looser, possibly because it has been in place for several months. He can also injure himself if he lets the risen clinches from one foot touch the inside of the other.
  • A shoe that has been sprung. It’s shifted if it moves to one side or another. The problem shoe’s nails can press on sensitive hoof structures if the weight is placed on the feet.

6. You can learn how to remove a horse’s shoe. Farriers will be happy to show you how (and might even provide tools that you can purchase cheaply). You can save your horse from unnecessary pain and hoof damage by being able to remove a sprung shoe or shifted shoe. This will make your job easier for your farrier and veterinarian.

7. Your horse deserves the best hooves possible. You may have a horse that is producing the best hoof possible, but the following steps could help him improve.

  • Adjust his diet. Discuss with your veterinarian if your feeding plan is suitable for your horse’s nutritional requirements.
  • Add biotin to his ration (ask your farrier). These supplements may be beneficial for some hooves, while others will not. The supplement should be used for 6 months to 1 year. This is how long it takes for any new hoof growth to occur.
  • Encourage your horse to exercise regularly, particularly at walk and trot. This promotes blood circulation and encourages growth.

8. Avoid the “summer cycle”, which alternates soaking and drying hooves. Horses’ hooves are able to adapt to dry and wet conditions, but they will be more sensitive to changes in the environment between dry and wet. This is usually the case in the months you need him most, such as late spring, summer and early fall. Evening turnout, a summer strategy to prevent biting insects, puts hooves in prolonged direct contact with dew-soaked lawn. They swell and soften as the water evaporates. The hooves contract when they are exposed to heat and dryness during the day. This cycle is repeated until the horseshoe nails become looser and their holes in the hoof wall expand slightly. Summer activities like work, stomping bugs, and (if your horse’s restlessness is high), walking the fence can accelerate the loosening. Soon, you’ll be asking your farrier “Why can my horse’s shoes not stay on?”

You can take steps to reduce this problem.

  • Reduce summer turnout time. Make sure to cut down on the time your horse spends in a nighttime paddock, or outside stomping on flies.
  • Use Tuff Stuff on the lower half of his hooves to reduce moisture absorption before evening turnout. Avoid conditioners that make the hoof feel oily. They can soften the hoof wall and make it harder to work on.
  • Don’t take unnecessary baths. Sponging your horse’s sweat after schooling is a good idea, but not enough to make him stand in a puddle half an hour. The show should be avoided if you don’t need a full-scale bath.
  • Reduce his summer shoeing time. Hoof damage can lead to summer shoeing problems. It is possible to avoid emergency calls by scheduling your farrier’s weekly visits one week ahead.
  • Strike his soles with a daily application Venice Turpentine.

9. Do not stand in mud. Mud can also be a problem for shoes: Deep mud can pull off shoes that have been loosened from alternating wet-dry conditions. Mud can make picking up your horse’s feet more difficult. If your horse is not quick enough to get his front feet clear, he might end up pulling the heels off his front shoes by stepping on them with both his back and his heels.

10. When hauling, protect your horse’s hooves. If you don’t cover his heels, he could easily step on the shoe’s edge and pull it off partially. Then spend the rest of the trip standing on the shoes. The coronet band, the tissue at the top and bottom of each hoof that stimulates hoof-wall growth, is another vulnerable area. This area can be injured if the horse steps on his own while trying to balance in a moving trailer. These problems can be prevented by using old-fashioned shipping wraps or bell boots that are large enough to cover your horse’s heels as well as the backs of his boots.

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