Every horse owner will agree that the hoof is one of the most important parts of the horse—without healthy hooves, it will be difficult or impossible for him to live, ride or work comfortably.
To ensure that his hooves stay in good condition all year long, it’s crucial that you take care of them regularly. Below are some tips on how to do just that.
It is essential that you clean out your horse’s hooves with a hoof pick at least once a day—and perhaps several times if you’re riding him or turning him out. Picking his hooves will remove any dirt, rocks, manure or debris which could cause infection, discomfort or more serious issues.
As you clean his hooves you should be checking the sole, frog and hoof wall for any abnormalities. Changes in temperature and texture or visible wounds will usually do much less damage if they’re discovered quickly. If you’re unsure whether something is a problem or not, call your vet—better to err on the side of caution then risk your horse’s wellbeing or his life.
Ground conditions also play a big factor into hoof health. Wet, muddy ground in the stall or around the barn lead to a higher risk of conditions like thrush or infections. Make sure that your horse has dry bedding in his stall and that it’s cleaned out regularly.
Prolonged exposure to wet conditions, or to alternating wet and dry conditions, can lead to conditions like thrush. Pay extra close attention during the summer months where there may be heavy dew during the night followed by dry heat during the day.
When should the farrier come?
Having regular checkups with a licensed farrier to make sure that your horse’s hooves are in good shape and to reshoe him. Every 1–2 months is a good benchmark, although it can often be less frequent in the winter when horses’ hooves grow slower.
It’s also a good idea to ask your farrier how to remove a horseshoe yourself. This could be a very useful skill if a shoe comes loose or doesn’t fit properly, so that you can take action immediately and save time money.
As you pick your horse’s hooves, be on the lookout for anything abnormal—if you’re regularly checking them it should be apparent when something is out of the ordinary. Some things to look out for:
- Loose or displaced horseshoes, or loose nails. These can become more damaging the longer they go uncorrected, so it’s important to fix these as soon as you discover them. If you can remove the horseshoe yourself, do so. Otherwise, call your farrier and have him or her correct the shoe. Try to limit your horse’s activity before the shoe is fixed.
- Thrush. This is a common bacterial infection that typically affects the frog and can be identified by a foul odor together with a dark, oozing substance. It isn’t usually serious to begin with, and can be treated by cleaning and applying a vet-recommended ointment.
- Cracks. Cracks can also range in size and severity. They may appear as a result of dryness, which can be remedied with some hoof oils. If the crack looks more serious, call your farrier to ask if it may be best to have it treated professionally.
- Lodged debris. As your horse walks around the pasture, loose stones, twigs and the like may become trapped in the clefts of his hooves. Most of these should be straightforward to remove, but if something has punctured part of the hoof, then it may be best to contact your farrier.
- Abscesses. Abscesses are infections which can be caused by untreated puncture wounds or by bacteria trapped in the structures of the hoof. Abscesses can be very painful as a result of the built-up fluid within the hoof, and therefore can cause lameness. In addition, as you perform your regular hoof cleaning and check-up you may detect a stronger pulse and a warmer temperature in the hoof. If you find or suspect a hoof abscess, you should contact your farrier immediately to prevent further discomfort to your horse.
A healthy hoof starts with a healthy diet—if you find that your horse’s hooves are of poor quality, or are weaker than they ought to be, then you may want to consider supplementing his diet. It could be his overall diet that needs adjusting, or it could be a good idea to add specific supplements that add nutrients essential for good hoof growth. Talk to your vet to discuss you and your horse’s specific needs.
Exercising your horse not only keeps him fit but it also promotes hoof growth. Riding your horse at least twice a week will help his hooves growth healthy and strong.
Do you have any more tips on how to take care of your horse’s hooves? Let us know in the comments below!