These hoof care tips will help keep your horse's hooves healthy and strong.
#1: Pick A Day
Yes, pick out your horse's feet.
This may sound pretty basic, but it's the single most important thing you can do for your horse's hooves.
Some folks have a herd and I certainly don't expect that anyone will be picking out every horse they have, but as for my riding horse Captain Jack - well, I try to take a few minutes to pick out my horse's hooves whenever I check him in the morning.
Hook picks are great because they are real easy to use and you get a chance to take early action on many common hoof problems.
For me, since I'm a big believer in "No Hoof, No Horse," it just gives me a minute to check on the condition of his shoes and frog.
After a ride, I have been known to check for objects in his feet before putting him up or turning him back out.
When picking out your horse, thake a few seconds and check for heat and pulse, remove manure, and check for signs of thrush.
Each time you clean your horse's hooves, remove any packed debris and gently clear the crevice of the frog, and scrape any remaining bits of matter off the sole, with the tip of the pick.
You want to be able to see the sole's entire surface. Some folks even finish the job with a stiff brush.
And yes, some hoof picks come with brush attached. If your Hoof Pick is like mine and doesn't, you can buy a brush separately and inexpensively.
#2: Establish What's Normal For Your Horse
While handling your horse's feet to pick them out, establish what is your horse's normal.
Take notice of their temperature when everything's OK and they are at ease, they'll feel very slightly warm.
Take a moment to locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of his pastern. You should be interested not so much with the rate of the pulse, but in its strength under normal conditions.
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 everything else looks OK but the frog appears to be peeling off.
I remember the first time I saw a frog come off. I was a kid and didn't know that most horses shed the frog at least twice a year. And sometimes, some horses do more often than that depending on weather and soil conditions.
Your farrier's regular trimming of the frog may have prevented you from noticing this natural process before.
#3: When picking out the feet, look for signs!
Here are some things to look for:
The first clue to this bacterial condition which is usually caused by prolonged standing in manure, mud, or other wet, filthy conditions, or even by prolonged use of pads, 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.
Use an over-the-counter remedy recommended by your farrier or veterinarian - follow directions carefully - and make sure your horse's stall is clean and dry.
If you normally bed with straw, consider a change to much more absorbent shavings.
Some horses, especially those with upright, narrow feet with deep clefts that tend to trap more dirt, debris, and manure, are predisposed to thrush even when well cared for.
If you think your horse has an early case, ask your farrier to check during your next shoeing and ask what he recommends.
Remember, hours of standing in mud may encourage thrush or scratches which is a skin infection in the fetlock area that can cause lameness.
Mud is hard on shoes, too.
Most horse owners already know that suction of deep mud can actually pull a shoe already loosened by alternating wet and dry conditions.
Mud also makes picking up his feet a harder job. If your horse is slow about getting his front feet out of the way, he may end up pulling off the heels of his front shoes because he's stepping on them with his back toes.
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 remember, we can't always assume that the nail or whatever has fallen out, and in some cases the nail might still be in place.
If you find it, the book rule is "DON'T PULL IT OUT" - call a vet instead.
It is recommended that we put our horse in his stall, protect the punctured foot, and help the foreign object stay put, with wrapping and duct tape, or with a slip-on medication boot, and call our veterinarian right away.
The book says that an X-ray of the foot can show how far the object has penetrated and which structures are involved.
If you pick your horse's feet out regularly, you'll find the problem within a few hours of its occurrence. Then your veterinarian can remove the object and advise a course of treatment.
OK, that's what the book says. And no, I'm not advising differently to anyone.
But with that said, I've removed sharp objects from horses hooves simply because I was worried that the horse was going to put weight on that hoof and send it in deeper.
That's just me, the book says that I should have called a vet - but I just couldn't wait knowing that I can help my horse a lot sooner than the hour or so it would take for a vet to come out.
This is a real conflict with me because I cannot recommend that anyone do what I do, yet I know the worry and the chances, and that I'll most likely do exactly what the vet will do.
And no, I've never seen a vet X-ray a foot to see how far it went in before they pull a nail. They can usually determine that after the nail is out. Just my experience.
Cracks in the hoof wall happen. They just do. Some cracks are superficial while others can be worse involving sensitive hoof structures.
I've found that without appropriate shoeing, cracks come more often. Again, that's just my experience.
One cause of a crack is a hoof abscess. In that case, it breaks out through the coronet band at the top of the hoof creating a weak spot in the hoof wall that must be attended to as it grows out.
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.
If your horse's digital pulse feels stronger than usual and/or his foot is warmer than normal to the touch, the cause could be an abscess inside the hoof from a badly placed shoeing nail, a bruise, or an overlooked sole puncture.
This is where picking comes in. Your routine check can alert you to the problem and get your veterinarian or farrier involved before your horse, which is probably in a pain from the pressure of increased blood flow to the infected area, is in even greater pain.
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 if not treated promptly.
#4: Regular Shoeings
Schedule regular shoeings according to your horse's individual needs if at all possible.
Although six to eight weeks is the average, there's really no standard interval for trimming and shoeing.
If your farrier is correcting for a problem such as under-run heels, a club foot, or flare in the hoof wall, your horse may benefit from a shorter interval.
If everything looks fine but you notice that he begins forging, which is striking the back of a front hoof with the toe of a back hoof which you'll be able to tell when you hear a metallic sound, in the last few days before his next shoeing, ask your farrier whether a shorter schedule might avoid the problem.
Regualr scheduled shoeing help both horse and rider by providing protection, correction, action, and good traction.
Routine therapeutic shoeings reduce discomfort from underlying pathology of the hoof.
Horse shoes, which may be made of various materials including steel, aluminum or plastics, eliminate the contact of the hoof wall with the ground surface, thereby protecting the hoof wall from excess wear.
Horses that have developed unbalanced hooves through deferred hoof maintenance, or less than ideal conformation, can have the hooves reshaped to a certain degree, and then have shoes applied to protect the newly shaped hoof and at least partially correct problems related to poorly shaped hooves.
For my horse Murphy, before I lost him, he was eight weeks like clockwork. Captain Jack seems to grow faster so seven weeks weeks is his standard schedule.
#5: Check his shoes
If your horse is shod, than checking his shoes each time you pick out his feet is not a bad idea.
You'll need to look for:
Risen clinches: The ends of the nails your farrier trimmed and clinched are bent flush with the outer hoof wall at his last shoeing are now sticking out from the hoof.
This is a sign the shoe is loosening, probably because it's been in place for several weeks. If this is the case, your horse can injure himself if the risen clinches on one foot brush the inside of the other leg.
A sprung or shifted shoe: When, instead of sitting flat on your horse's hoof, 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.
My recommendation is to either remove the shoe, reset the shoe, or call your shoer over for coffee and hit him or her up with a "By the way, Captain jack has a sprung shoe, can you take a look?"
#6: Learn how to remove a shoe
After thinking about it, I can see where some folks wouldn't know how if they never had the need to pull a shoe. Many farriers are glad to teach clients how to do this.
Some folks like myself have my own tools, but many may even have used tools that you can buy inexpensively.
If you can remove a sprung or shifted shoe, you may save your horse unnecessary pain and hoof damage and make life easier for your farrier or veterinarian. Learning to do this is a real good idea.
#7: 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. But if not, than the following steps may enable him to do better:
Diet: It is fairly well known that adding a biotin supplement to his feed will help build stronger hoof walls.
For me, when I first got Murphy back in 1996, his hooves were ugly and cracked.
It took me between 3 to 4 months of supplements and regular trimmings before he had enough wall to hold a shoe. Then 5 to 6 months before I was at a point where I felt comfortable where his hooves were and where I'd tray to maintain them.
Biotin supplements benefited my horse Murphy in a big way when I didn't know what to try and was willing to try almost anything. And yes, even his shoer at the time was amazed at the new hoof growth in a relatively short time.
Exercise: Give him consistent and routine exercise activates the blood to pump better in the hooves. Of course, as with Murphy, working him on good surfaces and not rocky ground helped a great deal.
The object is to increase circulation to your horse's hooves, that's what helps promote growth.
Yes, trailering can be tough on a horse. Step ups, or stepping out can be a real chore for them. Because of that, try to 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.
Once that happens, he may end up spending the remainder of the outing standing on the nails of the sprung or shifted shoe. And that's especially true, if you don't know how to pull a shoe.
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, for instance, if he steps on himself while struggling to keep his balance in a moving trailer, can interrupt hoof growth in the area below the affected spot.
Another area is the heel of the hoof. Injury occurring for the same reason of struggling to keep his balance coming in or out of a trailer can sideline a horse.
The solution: We can either use 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 say use over-reach boots like my boy Murphy used to use so he wouldn't clip his heel, or use good quality full-coverage Velcro-fastened shipping boots to reduce the likelihood of these problems.
As said before, no hoof means no horse for us to enjoy. Besides as their owner, we took on the job of doing what we can to take care of them in every way we know how and than some.
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