Hoof Care

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Top of the list of concerns for British horse owners

In a quiz run during a recent Horse Health Week, hoof care came out top of the list of concerns amongst British horse owners. To ensure that your horse’s hooves stay in good condition, regular hoof care is crucial, but it is also an area that can get overlooked in a busy day-to-day schedule.

The old adage “no foot, no horse” still holds true and whilst as an owner you can’t do much to change the foot mechanically, daily care and observation are vital to avoid potentially serious and life-threatening problems. Hoof horn is at its toughest when moisture content is low. As hooves get wetter, the horn becomes softer and more vulnerable, so going into winter make sure that you review your hoof care programme to avoid problems both now and in the future.

What routine checks do my horse’s feet need?

Hooves should be picked out once daily as a minimum. Picking out the hooves regularly provides an opportunity to inspect the horn structures and makes it easier for you to recognise changes in the foot that could indicate a problem.

The frog should be inspected for damage and for conditions like thrush. In turn, the sole should be examined for puncture wounds, cuts and stones wedged beside the frog. Puncture wounds are serious – especially if deep and in the middle third of the foot; they need to be treated correctly and promptly, so don’t hesitate to call us for advice.

The wall needs to be inspected for excessive growth or excessive wear and the white line should be checked to ensure it is free from trapped grit. If your horse is unduly sensitive in any part of his foot it may be a sign that something is wrong and should be investigated further.

Check the condition of shoes

If shoes are fitted, assess their wear and check for any movement on the foot. Check the clenches – risen clenches are often a sign of shoes that are about to come loose. Book an appointment with your farrier if required.

Monitor the digital pulse

Checking your horse’s digital pulses is a good way of assessing conditions that may be occurring within the foot. One of the best places to find them is on the inside and outside of the fetlock joint, slightly towards the back of the leg. Use your thumb and forefinger and, with gentle pressure, keep your fingers still and wait. A horse’s pulse at rest is slow and quite subtle so you need to be patient. Once you know what is normal for your horse, you will be able to discern changes that could be a sign of something wrong. A strong digital pulse can be a sign of inflammation and/or pain. If your horse has a strong digital pulse and appears uncomfortable, call the practice for advice.

Your horse’s living conditions will affect his feet

If your horse is stabled, bedding should be kept clean and dry. Allowing a horse to stand on dirty, wet bedding provides the ideal environment for bacteria to build up, which may affect the hoof structures, leading to a range of common ailments.

Mud is always a battle with horses and can be very detrimental to hoof health. The horn of the hoof is weakened if it is oversaturated and this can lead to broken and weak hoof walls. In very wet conditions, it is best to try and bring your horse in regularly to let their feet dry out. Rather than washing off mud, wipe the feet clean with absorbent material and, if you have to wash the feet, make sure that you dry them thoroughly afterwards.

If your horse has been living out in damp muddy conditions, pick out his hooves first thing on bringing him in, not only to check for stones but also to remove the wet mud trapped in the hoof to allow the sole and the frog to breathe. Once the hooves are clean and dry, a hoof dressing can be applied if required. There are many on the market – your farrier is best placed to advise you on your horse’s individual requirement.

Your hoof care checklist:
• Make sure you pick out and examine your horse’s feet at least once a day
• Register with a qualified farrier and make sure you have somewhere safe for your farrier to work
• Check that your horse is up to date with their tetanus vaccination.