The old saying 'no foot, no horse’ still holds true today and whilst as an owner you can’t do much mechanically to the hooves, daily care and observation are vital to avoid problems. Below is a list of actions you should perform regularly to ensure optimal hoof care.
1. Keep bedding clean and dry
Dirty, wet bedding provides the ideal environment for bacteria to build up within the feet. This can lead to conditions such as thrush. Thrush is a bacterial infection, often caused by Fusobacterium necrophorum, which occurs in the clefts of the frog. The bacterium that is commonly involved is anaerobic, meaning it does not like oxygen. It produces a black, foul smelling discharge within the affected cleft of the frog, often making the frog soft and sore. Treatment involves moving the horse on to clean dry bedding and paring back affected tissues. Topical solutions should be applied to the area, as recommended by your vet.
2. Pick out hooves at least once day
Picking out the hooves is important in many ways and provides a vital opportunity to closely inspect all of the hoof structures.
The frog should be regularly inspected for damage, cuts and conditions such as thrush. The sole should be examined for puncture wounds and stones wedged beside the frog. The wall needs to be inspected for excessive growth or wear and the white line should be checked to ensure it is free from trapped grit which may cause opportunity for an infection if left.
If your horse has been out in damp muddy conditions and then brought in to a stable, it is important to pick out the feet, not only to carry out the checks previously described but also to remove the wet mud trapped in the underside of the hoof. Should this mud be allowed to remain in place it will leave the sole and frog damp for an extended period of time, which will result in the horn structures becoming soft and not as resilient as they should be.
Furthermore, picking out your horses feet regularly allows oxygen to penetrate the underside of the hoof, reducing the risk of conditions such as thrush developing.
3. Check the condition of the shoes
If shoes are fitted, assess their wear after two to three weeks (depending on the workload). If they are worn significantly, the next re-shoeing appointment should occur sooner or the workload on abrasive surfaces should be reduced. This will help to avoid shoes becoming loose or moving on the foot before the farrier’s regular visit.
Shoes should also be checked daily for any movement on the foot, as when horses move freely it is possible for them to catch their shoes. Typically, horses will often catch the front shoes with their hind shoes and either lose them completely or bend one heel up. This is 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.
4. Check the horse’s digital pulse
Feeling your horse’s digital pulse is a very useful way of assessing conditions that may be occurring within the hooves.
This is only helpful if you know what the digital pulse feels like when all is well. Once you know what is normal for your horse you will be able to tell your veterinary surgeon or farrier when it is abnormal for your horse.
One of the best places to find the digital pulse is over the outside of the fetlock joint, slightly towards the back. Use your thumb and forefinger and apply gentle pressure. A horse’s pulse is slow at rest and often the fingers are moved away too quickly so make sure you wait patiently to feel the pulse.
5. Use a registered Farrier
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.
Below are a couple of frequently asked hoof care questions and answers.
1. Should I wash my horse’s feet?
Mud is always a battle with horses and when they are standing in it daily it can cause many issues. It is best in most cases to wipe the feet clean with absorbent material rather than wash the feet, but if washing is the only way to rid the feet of mud, make sure they are thoroughly dried afterwards.
Drying the feet is very important as when 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 your farrier or vet is best placed to advise you on your horse’s individual requirements.
2. 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.
A regular application of a recommended conditioning product is more favorable and again your farrier or vet is best placed to advise on this.