A horse's hoof doesn't stop growing in winter... Hoofs have to be trimmed year-round!
“Hello. Is this Ms. Henrietta Horseowner?”
” Hi, this is Mike Farrier.”
“Mr. Farrier, thanks for calling me back so quick. I got your name from XXX. We work together. She’s been using you for a while and speaks highly of you. I have X horses and I think I have a problem. My horse’s feet are all split and chipped up. They don’t seem to be limping or anything, but I think there is a problem. I admit I don’t know much about horse’s feet, but can you help me?”
Ladies and Gentlemen, the story you have just read is true. This is a common scenario for many farriers. The range of hoof problems described to us over the phone varies widely, but most of them seem to fit at least one of several categories: split / chipped feet, foundered feet, horse seems lame but don’t know why, or can’t get the current farrier back out. There are others, but for me, these seem to be the more common.
I’d like to provide you with some hints and tips that will hopefully help you keep your horse’s feet healthy and ol’ Skippy happy. After all, it doesn’t matter if you own a pasture pet or a Triple Crown winner, if your horse’s feet are deteriorating and in pain, your horse isn’t worth the hide his old bones are wrapped up in. To be more precise, No Hoof, No Horse!
Basic hoof care is one of those things that many people overlook, but is vital to keeping your horse healthy. By performing routine cleaning and care procedures, you will be able to spot changes much more quickly and you will more easily recognize when your horse has a problem or is just developing a problem. Most people know when their car has a problem because they drive it daily. They know when something doesn’t sound right, or when it’s pulling one direction or another or if the brakes don’t seem to stop smoothly and efficiently. The reason for this is they are at least somewhat observant, but mostly because they are in it and around it continuously. Some people practically ‘sleep’ with their cars! The same theory works for horses and their feet, too. The more time you spend with your horse and handling its feet, the more aware you will become about what’s normal and what’s not. No, I’m not suggesting you be like those fanatical people who sleep with their cars and sleep with your horse; I’m merely suggesting you be more aware about your horse’s condition. There are many books, videos and Internet sites devoted to horse care and hoof care. But this article should be a good start for you.
I will discuss a number of common hoof problems that I’ve encountered in the past, how to identify them and what YOU, as horse owners, can do to help your farrier in the care and maintenance of your horse’s feet. Remember this: YOU are responsible for your horse’s feet, NOT your farrier!!! Your farrier is a service provider, not a miracle worker. You see your horse daily, your farrier sees him once every six weeks at best. The problems I’m about to discuss CAN NOT be fixed by your farrier alone. You have to follow your farrier’s instructions and tend to your horse’s feet between visits.
Thrush: This is a nasty, smelling, greasy black gunk that affects your horse’s frog and usually embeds itself in the trenches (known as commissars or collateral grooves) beside the frog. Virtually all horses who are left in unkept stalls for any amount of time, who walk though muck and mire for any amount of time, or whose feet are not tended to regularly, will likely get some amount of thrush. Thrush is a maintenance issue. It’s not life threatening, but it can become a serious problem for your horse if not tended to. Thrush, if left unchecked, will deteriorate the frog and commissures. It can completely eat away at the rubbery frog until there is virtually nothing left, leaving the coffin bone susceptible to bruises, punctures, or worse. The horse’s frogs may bleed freely if the condition gets bad enough. If the frog is eaten away and is not able to perform its function, the hoof is very likely to become contracted, blood flow in and out of the foot will likely be lessened and the horse will not perform at its optimum.
Prevention: Clean you horses feet at least every two to three days. Daily is better when treating problems like this, but a regular routine will help insure that this condition never gets a good foothold. Use a good hoof pick and clean / brush all dirt, manure, and any other foreign matter from the bottom of your horse’s foot. Don’t be bashful about it, get in there and clean! Now, you’re not trying to dig to China, but you do want to thoroughly clean the commissures and the toe area. These areas are the most susceptible to problems.
Treatment: My number one recommendation is always good, sound, and proper trimming. A balanced body and balanced feet will be better able to ward off problems. But, should your horse have thrush, there are several things you can do to treat it. First, clean the foot regularly as described above. Second, you may need to fight the thrush with medical treatment. The idea here is to dry the bottom of the foot out and disinfect it. So, Iodine, Betadine, 10 to 1 solution of Clorox (10 parts water, 1 part Clorox) or Coppertox are all some of the more preferred methods. Personally, I like Apple Cider Vinegar or something like Listerine. They are cheap and easy to come by and are not overly harsh to your horse. Apply any of the above liberally to the affected areas. You may want to use a shallow pan (such as a tin pan, the bowl / plate of a frozen dinner or any of the hoof soaking products on the market) to soak the foot in for a few days. About 20 minutes a day should help you get a handle of the problem. Should you have specific questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to contact your farrier. He can assist you with specific problems.
‘Seedy Toe’: This is a condition that affects the white line at the toe of the hoof. USUALLY, your farrier will be able to spot this condition without ever picking the foot up. There will be a crack visible at the toe while looking at the foot on the ground. NOTE: Not all cracks in the toe, or the hoof, indicate seedy toe. There are numerous reasons for cracks and splits in the hoof. This is simply a common occurrence, especially in the southeastern region of the U.S. Seedy Toe is largely an anaerobic bacteria / fungus combination that affects the white line (the normally thin, tan line that separates the outer hoof wall from the sole of the foot when observed from the ground surface of the foot.) Oddly enough, structurally speaking, the toe is the weakest point of the foot. In a normal, supple, healthy hoof, the toe will flex as weight is born and released on the foot. If the foot is out of balance, too dry or too wet, the toe area looses suppleness and becomes prone to this condition. Seedy toe is not life threatening, but can become as bad as to cause the horse to lose its outer hoof wall.
Prevention: Sound trimming principles, always. Also employ qualified, certified farriers to work on your horse. By doing so, you are better assured that your horse’s hoof health will remain in check, or it will begin to improve with regular maintenance. Your horse is less likely to be affected by seedy toe if its feet are trimmed and balanced on a regular basis. Most farriers recommend that interval to be every 6 to 8 weeks. More severe cases, regardless of the ailment, may require a shorter frequency. You can help by keeping the feet regularly picked and cleaned or even touched up between farrier visits. Regular maintenance is the key to this one. It also doesn’t hurt if you move to a less tropical region of the country. But, if that’s not in your plans, you may have to deal with it from time to time.
Treatment: There are several methods for treating this seedy toe. They each depend on the severity. In moderate to extreme cases, resecting the hoof, totally eliminating the affected tissue (such as when surgeons remove tissue for treating cancer patients), treating the remaining area with a strong antiseptic, and rebuilding the missing hoof with any one of several epoxy or acrylic compounds available to farriers may be in order. Other methods my involve digging out as much of the ‘cheesy’ material that is packed in the hole that is beginning to work its way up the hoofwall and packing it with strong chemicals such as iodine crystals. The idea is to clean, disinfect and dry out the affected spot. Your farrier should be able to identify this condition and recommend the appropriate treatment. Follow your farrier’s instructions. This condition will very likely require you to perform regular maintenance until it’s gone. How long with that be? That will depend on the severity of the case, how fast your horse grows new hoof and how diligent you are with the recommended treatment.
Founder: Folks, this is a huge topic, too much to go into thoroughly in this article alone. But I will try to hit some highlights. There are several degrees of severity to this condition and each horse needs to be dealt with on an individual basis. There are perhaps as many opinions of and treatments for founder as there are farriers, vets and owners. If your horse has never foundered, be grateful and do whatever it takes to keep your horse from foundering. Don’t over feed, don’t give all vaccinations in one shot, break them up over several weeks, and keep an eye out for any signs of severe stress to the horses system. Be careful not to ‘kill him with kindness. If he has founded, please contact me. This has become my area of specialization. Founder and lameness cases now make up just about half of my business, but it’s growing more day by day.
Prevention: Since there are so many things that can bring on a case of founder, the best thing I can say is make dietary changes slowly and in moderation. The single largest reason for horses to founder is an abrupt change in the horses system. People tend to believe it’s from fresh spring grass. That’s usually just the last straw. The horse’s body coming out of winter is very likely only use to having hay and grain. People tend to feed too much or don’t back off as winter is waning. Therefore the horse is likely still too heavy, carrying too much fat stored up before winter. His body hasn’t had the chance to shed weight and get ready for the new year. So, an abundance of fresh green grass, often combined with spring vaccinations and de-worming, is too much for their bodies to handle. This causes a build-up of stress and toxins in their system, which the body is forces to do the best it can to prevent the internal organs from being affected. So, the toxins are sent to the lowest points of the body; i.e., the feet. This starts the chain of events for founder into motion. There are dozens of other reasons for a horse to founder, some of which are colic, stress, overfeeding, feeding too rich for the horses use and exercise, and even something as simple as taking away its pasture buddy or bringing one in.
Dry / Cracked hooves: There are numerous reasons why a horse may have dry and / or cracked hooves. Some reasons are arid, sandy terrain, damp nights and mornings in the pasture then parched conditions my afternoon (this one is great for loosing shoes. The feet swell at night from the moisture, and then shrink by afternoon. Repeatedly done, this loosens the nails of the shoe, causing it to no longer fit properly). Other reasons include improperly balanced feet, or changes taking place within the inner hoof capsule. Note: it is possible to have perfectly supple hooves and still have cracks. Cracks could be due to old hoof or coronary band (the area of the hoof right at the hairline) injuries. Consult a farrier for these type problems.
Prevention: The best prevention is maintenance. Keep your farrier coming every 6 to 8 weeks. Try not to let your horses feet get overly wet then overly dry in a given day. Most of the time, this will not cause any problems for your horse. It’s more of a cosmetic problem. But if allowed to go unchecked, problems can develop. By applying hoof moisturizers to the coronary band on a regular basis, you can help lessen this condition. Applying conditioner to the hoof wall rarely does any good for the horse. Mostly, it makes you feel good. The wall is too thick for any of the chemicals and oils to penetrate deep enough to be effective.
So that you don’t misunderstand this condition, let me make this statement. Dry hooves are not a problem. Generally speaking, your horse is designed to handle dry conditions. But repeatedly going from wet to dry to wet to dry, etc., etc., is what allows problems to occur. BUT, just because your horse is in this type of environment doesn’t mean your horse will develop problems. It’s merely opening the door for problems, such as seedy toe. Again, consult a qualified farrier should you have questions or concerns.
In case you’ve not seen the pattern that has developed in this article, the key to having a healthy, happy horse is for you to perform regular, diligent maintenance on your horse’s feet AND to employ a qualified, certified farrier to work on your horses feet on a regular basis. A good farrier is a farrier who sets your next appointment before he leaves or by calling you in time for and shows up close to the time he’s given you and is keeping your horses feet healthy! Do what you can to keep him or her safe and happy.
I mentioned one scenario at the beginning of this article that probably affects the health of your horse, but has nothing to do with a specific ailment. This situation tends to be more prevalent with new horse owners or uninformed horse owners. Folks, if you are going through farrier after farrier to come out and work on ol’ Thunder, your problem may be with the ‘ground manners’ of your horse. No farrier wants to, or can afford to, work on a horse that has poor ground manners. This condition is a matter of discipline, training and respect. Your horse is likely short on all count. Little or no discipline, little or no training will almost guarantee a horse that has little or no respect a human. I’ve personally worked on dozens of horses that the owners have said ‘I can ride him and do anything I want to with him. I don’t understand why he’s giving you such a hard time.’ The answer to this is “I do!”. Your horse has been trained well enough to ride, but not to stand for the farrier. However it is your job to train it and not the farrier’s! You see, a horse doesn’t stand on three feet for an extended period of time naturally. It has to be taught to do that. A horse is afraid of falling, and therefore doesn’t like to have to pick up and hold one of its feet. To him, he’s about to fall, therefore he has to get that fourth foot back on the ground. You may be thinking to yourself that Thunder will let you pick his feet up and clean them out when you ask him to. If that’s true, he’s been taught to be comfortable with lifting a foot and allowing you to clean it. That takes you less than a minute usually or even you encounter the first problems already there. But if you handle the foot in the same manner as the farrier does and you handle it longer than a minute, you’ll likely get a completely different reaction from your horse. So if you are going through farriers faster that you can use up that carton of milk in fridge, then your problem may be due to your horse’s behavior. If this is the case, talk to you farrier about what you can do to train your horse to stand better or to pick up his feet easier. I’m sure he’ll be happy to discuss it with you. Because if you don’t, you may be looking for another farrier, again… For you it’s a headache, for us it’s a matter of health.
I’ve only touched on the problems your horse can develop and the treatments for them. Always seek professional guidance and assistance – call me @ 204-636-7787. And remember, horses are people too.
This post was written in imitation of Keith Seely, N0 1 Farrier in Gergia, USA for 21 years.