Get A Handle On Hoof Cracks

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Hoof cracking and chipping — whether problematic nail holes, surface chips in barefoot horses or serious full-thickness quarter cracks — is basically the result of the hoof lacking normal moisture and elasticity. While genetics do play a role, some management and nutritional changes can help control or correct the problem.

Start, of course, with regular trimming. Six weeks is a good rule of thumb, but if your horse is chipping, call the farrier sooner.

We’ve also noted a growing trend for farriers to rasp off the outer surface of the hoof wall to remove any ridging and give a “finished” look. This results in chipping and cracking, as it removes the outermost layer of the foot, the stratum tectorium — or periople — whose sole function is to create a barrier against moisture loss. Aggressive rasping can even affect hoof strength and elasticity.

The normal hoof has a series of rings/ridges that occur because the hoof metabolism is sensitive to even minor changes in feed, supplements, exercise level, and health. A normal hoof also has an obvious shine due to the presence of fats in the periople. How well it protects the foot from drying depends in part of its thickness and on the level and types of fats it contains.

A study from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, England, in the Equine Veterinary Journal Supplement (Reilly et al), documented a significant difference in both the amounts and types of fats found in the periople when horses were supplemented with an omega-3 fatty-acid source.

Diets of horses without access to quality pasture for significant periods of time every day are usually low in the omega-3 group of essential fatty acids (see June 2000 fatty acids article). These horses may benefit from feeding an omega-3 source, such as a flaxseed supplement. Our favorites are Enreco Horseshine (800/962-9536) and HorseTech BioFlax 20 (800/831-3309). BioFlax 20 also contains biotin.

Evidence continues build in favor of biotin as well. Studies consistently show that biotin at a rate of 10 to 20 mg/day improves the hoof hardness and results in more rapid growth.

In addition to BioFlax 20, our favorite hoof supplements include United Vet Equine’s Biotin II 22X (800/328-6652), Gateway’s Farrier’s Supplement (800/421-2828), and Vita-Key’s Biotin ZM-80 (800/539-8482). (See July 1999 hoof article.)

Debates rage on in hoof-care circles regarding moisture and foot integrity. While we certainly prefer a foot that is a little too hard than one that is too soft, hardness and dryness don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Overdrying can predispose to chips and cracks.

If you need a hoof dressing, we like Animal Legend’s Equine Hoof Dressing (800/399-7387) and Farnam’s Rainmaker (800/234-2269). For hoof problems ranging from excessive dryness to softening under high-moisture conditions, poor growth, chipping and cracking, we recommend Hawthorne’s Sole Pack Hoof Dressing (800/548-5658). Sole Pack is available as a dressing or a packing (see hoof dressings, February 2001).

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