Hoof problems are among the most common complaints owners have — just a scan of a catalog or tack-store shelves and the huge number of supplements and topical products for hooves bears that out. Of course, optimal nutrition is the No. 1 solution to hoof problems, and we’re going to address how to do that and how hoof supplements can fit into the picture in an upcoming issue. Meanwhile, many common hoof problems — chipping, cracking, thrush and lost shoes — can be minimized to a large extent by proper hoof care:
• Rasping the hoof wall to remove ridges and make it “look pretty.” Some rasping is necessary, but it removes the natural waxy covering on the hoof, so you want to minimize it. Over-rasping makes a hoof more susceptible to drying, cracking and chipping.
• Routine use of any type of hoof dressing, except for a specific purpose for a limited amount of time.
• Stretching the time between trims. Every six weeks is optimal period for most horses.
• Repeated exposure to soaps and shampoos.
Always try to:
• Pick out the horse’s feet daily and after each ride.
• Keep stalls dry.
• Be sure horses on turnout have an access to dry areas.
• Find a competent farrier.
A correct and careful trim is essential for keeping feet healthy. Some common errors that can result in hoof problems are:
1) Over-trimming the horse to counteract paddling or winging, or medial to lateral (side-to-side) imbalance. This results in uneven weight distribution through the foot that predisposes to cracking and can lead to joint problems. The horse moves the way nature intended — for better or worse — and you can’t make “corrections” on a mature animal.
2) Overly long toes. This stresses the white line and predisposes to hoof abscesses, “gravels” and white-line disease.
3) Improper trimming of the frog. If the frog is not in contact with the ground, all weightbearing shifts to the hoof walls, overloading them. When accompanied by underrun heels, heel or quarter cracks may occur.
4) Failure to round off the ground-surface edge of the hoof wall in a barefoot horse. This is a surefire way to get hooves chipping and cracking.
5) Over-thinning the walls. On a normal bare foot, the walls at the quarters are somewhat thinner than in the forefoot, which allows them to expand a bit on weightbearing. Over-thinning at the quarters leads to too much expansion and a risk of cracks. Over-thinning forward of this also leads to too much expansion and traction on the white line.
Thinned walls can lead to problems with shoes, too. They may require using a lighter/thinner nail than really required by the weight of the shoe so that the shoes are not securely held to the feet, and thin walls are usually more prone to cracks.
6) Failure to trim the frog. Predisposes to thrush.
7) Failure to properly clinch nails. Incorrect clinching will can cause loss of part of the hoof wall if the shoe comes loose, but filing off the ends of the nails completely doesn’t hold the shoe on well, leading to lost shoes and chipping of the foot at ground surface.
8) Leaving shoes on too long. Going too long between resets results in nail holes widening and shoes coming loose. A foot that trimmed to accept a shoe doesn’t withstand chipping well if the shoe comes off.
While no supplement or topical can substitute for correct hoof care, some nutritional problems lead to poor hoof quality. If your horse also has skin or coat problems, a nutritional link to quality issues is even more likely. Some common dietary deficiencies that can affect the feet include:
• Zinc. A common deficiency in hays, often made worse by excesses of competing minerals such as iron and manganese.
• Protein. Including the essential amino acids lysine and methionine, which may be deficient even if the total crude protein in the diet is adequate.
• Essential fatty acids. Processed grains and dried hays lose much of their essential fatty acid content, especially the omega-3 fats.
• Copper. Another common deficiency, made worse by excess of other minerals. Copper is essential for the formation of the connective tissues.
• Cobalt. Cobalt containing vitamin B12 derivatives are essential for cell division and protein metabolism. B12 is synthesized from cobalt in the diet.
• B vitamins. Everyone connects biotin with hoof health, but the other Bs are also important for normal protein metabolism and skin/connective tissue health.
How long it takes to correct your horse’s hoof-quality issues will depend on the cause. If the hoof wall has been rasped or abused with harsh topicals that strip away the protective layer, you’re going to have to wait for the hoof wall to grow down.
1) Correct trimming often can work wonders to help, but you’ll have to stay on top of it. Problems that were trim/shoeing related in the first place usually can be remedied fairly quickly, and once the damaged areas of the foot have grown out the problem often will be solved.
2) Examine your horse’s diet carefully evaluated for any contributing nutritional factors.
3) If your horse has hoof problems, before shampooing your horse, protect the hoof wall and coronary band with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, which you can wipe off when finished.
4) If your horse’s hoof wall has been rasped/smoothed, or stripped of its waxes by hoof-shine products or harsh topicals, ask your veterinarian about the advisability of a hoof sealant to protect those areas while they grow out, but don’t use these products on the new hoof growth or get the products on the hoof coronet band.
5) Pay attention to balance. The horse’s hoof should show an equal amount of area on either side of an imaginary line down the center of the frog. Breakover should be centered directly in front of the point of the frog. After the trim, watch the horse walk coming toward you. The foot should land flat, not one side before the other. Make sure flares are removed.
6) With barefoot horses, make sure the edges of the hoof wall at ground level are slightly rounded.
7) With horses losing shoes and breaking up their feet, consider going barefoot, or barefoot with boots, until the damaged areas grow out, or go with glue-on shoes.
8) Learn the basics of hoof care. Ask your farrier to show you the correct way to remove a sprung shoe and how to smooth off areas starting to chip. It’s also wise to always keep a boot or two on hand to use in the event the horse loses a shoe.
Good nutrition and farrier care are the cornerstones to healthy, strong hooves.