Hoof Care

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ealthy hooves are a challenge for many of us. The reasons for problem hooves are as varied as the horses themselves, but the path back to strong feet is the same.

It’s old news to some, but the biggest problem we see with hoof care is the tendency to stretch the interval between farrier visits. You’ll sometimes read that a horse can go eight weeks between farrier visits, but that may not be optimal for most horses. Every four to six weeks is recommended, especially if you’re starting to see problems. Nothing replaces the benefits of having a good farrier regularly at your barn.

In addition to keeping your horse’s feet ”fit,” you’ll find that if you are obsessed with timeliness between appointments, your farrier may be more likely to fit in the occasional emergency more quickly. Few things justifiably annoy a farrier more than a call that a horse lost a shoe and the rider has a show the next day — and the horse is two weeks overdue for his regular farrier visit.

An emerging concern we’re seeing involves horse owners who think they can trim their own horse’s feet. Using a rasp to file away at a hoof is deceptively simple. In reality, it takes a good eye that can identify balance and diagnose — yes, I said diagnose — emerging problems. No hoof-measuring device can replace that expertise. If you’re doing your own horse’s feet, make absolutely sure you’ve got the training to do so. Otherwise, your horse’s hooves will pay the price.

The next most overlooked element to healthy feet is nutrition. We certainly harp frequently enough on feeding — nearly every issue — and that’s because we know it works. Simply adding a basic flaxseed-biotin supplement can do wonders for improving hoof health, but it may not be enough. You need to look for imbalances and deficiencies beyond the omega fatty acids in flaxseed and that one B vitamin (biotin). You also need to ensure your horse’s levels of magnesium, zinc and the other B vitamins to truly develop healthy hooves (and skin and coat). You’re not going to see an overnight fix, as it can take up to nine months for significant improvement, but once you’re there, you’ll know it.

Nutrition and farrier care won’t solve everything, of course, but they’re still the heart of the matter. If they’re not optimal, anything else you try will ultimately fail. Doing nothing more than wiping a hardener on chipping hooves is like putting a plastic bandage on cracked cement.

Cynthia Foley