Hoof Picking: A Simple, Critical Step

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Picking your horse’s feet is such a mundane chore you probably go about it pretty much in a fog. For others, it might be something your rarely do (although we hope not). We’d like to try to get you thinking about hoof picking from a few different angles.

Horses that are barefoot and have well-shaped hooves with good concavity will tend to mechanically pump material out of the hooves when they move, but may still have things wedged up in the sulci (crevices) along their frogs. The feet of shod horses expand little compared to a bare hoof and often have heavy buildup of firmly packed dirt and manure in their feet.

However, getting the dirt out is actually a minor part of regular hoof picking. What you really should be doing is inspecting his feet on a daily basis.

Check for:

• Stones or other objects wedged along the frog.

• Flaps of tissue and cuts in the frog area.

• Bruising or punctures.

• Cracks, infection, and scratches in the heel/pastern area.

• Swelling or cuts in the coronary band.

• Temperature of the hoof wall. Is it the same at all locations on the hoof' Are any of the feet obviously colder or warmer than the others'

• Cracks, chips in the hoof wall.

• Loose nails, sprung heels or uneven shoe wear on shod horses.

• Resistance letting you pick up a leg. If so, this could mean that flexion of one of the joints in that leg causes him pain or, conversely, shifting more weight than usual to the opposite leg causes him pain.

Normal or abnormal changes:

• Sole is very flaky and powdery. Normal. This is dead sole.

• Sole is red or black in spots. Abnormal. This is bruising, either external from rough, rocky ground, or internal from pressure from the coffin bone.

• Glistening sole. Abnormal. This may be seen with inflammation.

• Chunk of sole missing, or comes off when cleaning the feet. Normal. This is sloughing of a portion of dead sole build-up.

• Flaps of frog with a track that seems to run into the frog. Abnormal. This can be caused by frog overgrowth, a cutting injury to the frog or may be an exit site for an abscess. If the horse shows any tenderness when you manipulate these areas, get your vet or farrier to take a look. Otherwise, just keep checking for pain and leave it alone. Do not poke or probe at it.

• Black, foul smelling ”gunk” in the depths of the crevices beside the frog. Abnormal. This is thrush. If you haven’t exactly been diligent about keeping your horse’s feet clean, clean them out well, including brushing, avoid having the horse stand in wet areas or manure, and see if it clears up in a few days with better hoof care. If the horse has very deep sulci beside the frog and it’s not improving, odds are your horse is overdue for a trim and you need to get your farrier out ASAP to trim the feet, including excess frog. (We’re starting a field trial of thrush remedies, which will appear in an upcoming issue.)

• Missing frog. Normal. Horses will sometimes ”shed” the dead, insensitive portions of their frog. When you pick up the foot, all you see is crater with a small triangular structure in the depths of where the frog used to be. Don’t panic. The frog will grow back without any treatment. The horse may be a bit sensitive for a few days until it does. Horses that do not have their frogs regularly trimmed are much more likely to shed like this.