Hoof care is an extremely important aspect of horse ownership but is also an area that can get overlooked in a busy day-to-day schedule. The old saying 'No foot, No horse’ still holds true today and whilst as an owner you cannot do much mechanically to the hooves, daily care and observation are vital to avoiding potentially serious and life threatening problems.
Who should maintain my horse’s feet?
On a daily basis you are the best person to take care of your horse’s hooves, ensuring they are clean and free from sharp objects. Getting to know what is normal for your horse will help you to spot anything out of the ordinary, therefore enabling you to then take direct action to prevent potential problems in the future.
Routinely, an appropriately qualified farrier needs to attend your horse to undertake trimming and if necessary, shoeing. In the United Kingdom, registered farriers are governed by The Farriers Registration Act and overseen by the Farriers Registration Council.
To find a registered farrier in your area visit The Farriers Registration Council
What routine checks do my horse’s feet need?
- If your horse is stabled it is imperative that bedding is kept clean and dry.
Allowing a horse to stand on dirty, wet bedding provides the ideal environment for bacteria to build up, which may affect the hoof structures, leading to common ailments such as thrush. This condition affects the frog, producing a black, foul smelling, soft and often-sore frog material. The bacteria commonly involved is anaerobic meaning it does not like oxygen hence the need to pick out the feet often, to allow oxygen to get to the underside of the hoof. Cleaning and drying the hooves thoroughly is often enough to treat the condition and to prevent reoccurrence, however your horse’s farrier may have to remove badly damaged frog tissue and the area may need treating with an appropriately medicated application.
- Hooves should be picked out once daily as a minimum
Your horse should not find it uncomfortable when you pick out his hooves applying firm pressure down the side of the frog. If he does, it can be an indication of a problem like thrush.
Picking out the hooves is important in many ways and provides a vital opportunity to closely inspect all the horn structures. The frog should be regularly inspected for damage and cuts and for conditions like thrush. In turn, the sole should be examined for puncture wound and cuts and stones wedged beside the frog. The wall needs to be inspected for excessive growth or excessive wear and the white line should be checked to ensure it is free from trapped grit which may cause an opportunity for an infection if not discovered in time.
If your horse has been living out in damp muddy conditions and then brought in to a stable, perhaps overnight, it is important to pick out his hooves, not only to check for stones but also to remove the wet mud trapped in the under side of the hoof. Should this be allowed to remain in place it will be keep the sole and frog damp for an extended period of time. This results in the horn structures becoming soft and potentially not as resilient as they could be.
- Check the condition of shoes
If shoes are fitted, assess their wear after two to three few weeks according to workload. If they are worn significantly, then the next re shoeing appointment should be moved sooner or the work load on abrasive surfaces should be reduced, so avoiding shoes becoming loose or moving on the foot before the farrier’s regular visit.
Shoes should also be regularly checked for any movement on the foot, as when horses move freely it is usual for them to catch their shoes. Typically, horses will often catch the front shoes with their hind ones and either loose them completely or bend one heel up. This is more of a problem as it is possible for the nails in the shoe to be trodden back again which may puncture the sole.
If the shoe has moved dramatically and a punctured sole is suspected, professional advice should be sought immediately as any puncture wound can be problematic. Additionally, a deep puncture within the middle area of the hoof can be potentially fatal, if not dealt with correctly.
- Check the digital pulse
Feeling you horse’s digital pulses is a very useful way of assessing conditions that may be occurring within the hooves, however they are of little help if you do not know what they feel like when everything is ok. It does take a little practice, but as you will be picking his feet up every day you will soon get the hang of it.
One of the best places to find them is over the outside of the fetlock joint, slightly towards the back. Use your thumb and forefinger and with gentle pressure keep your fingers still and wait. A horse’s pulse is slow at rest and often the fingers are moved away too quickly. Once you know what is normal for your horse you will be able tell your horse’s veterinary surgeon, farrier or physiotherapist what is abnormal if they ask.
- Should I wash my horse’s feet?
Mud is always a battle with horses and when they have to stand in it daily it can cause many issues. It is best in most cases to wipe the feet clean with absorbent material rather than washing, but if washing is the only way to rid the feet of mud, make sure they are thoroughly dried afterwards. You wouldn't wash your hands or feet without drying them as your skin would crack and become rough. This is similar, in part, to hooves, in that if the horn structure (specifically the horn tubules) becomes oversaturated for long periods of time, its strength is compromised, which ultimately leads to broken and weak hoof walls.
Once the hooves are clean and dry a hoof dressing can be applied if required. There are many on the market and again your farrier is best placed to advise you on your horse’s individual requirements.
- Are my horse’s feet too dry?
Hoof horn is usually at its toughest when moisture content is low. As hooves get wetter, the horn becomes softer and more vulnerable. It is rare in the UK for hoof structures to become too hard, so if the walls are cracking and splitting it is probably as a result of other issues. 'Watering' feet has no benefit at all and will compound problems. A regular application of a recommended conditioning product is more favourable and again your farrier is best placed to advise on this.
For more information on daily hoof care visit the World Horse Welfare YouTube channel