You’ve heard the phrase, “No foot, no horse” — yet horse hoof care is one of the most overlooked areas of horse health. Your Horse asked experienced farrier Reubin Underwood how to keep a horse’s hooves in tip-top condition all year round. His top piece of advice is to make sure you check your horse’s hooves on a daily basis. This should be part of your normal daily routine, as you’re the one that knows your horse best and you will be able to spot a potential hoof problem early.
Horses need re-shoeing anywhere between four and 10 weeks apart. How often your horse needs to be shod depends on their breed and the type of work they do. For example, native breeds in light work tend to go longer between farrier visits, compared to a Thoroughbred that does a lot of roadwork. Barefoot horses should also be seen by a farrier at regular intervals for a possible trim and check of their general hoof health.
A horse’s hooves grow fastest in the spring and autumn, coinciding with shedding their winter coat or growing their summer coat to prepare for the change in season. In the summer and winter, hoof growth slows down, but maintaining your horse’s routine farrier visits for a regular hoof trim or a new set of shoes remains key all-year round.
Daily horse hoof care
Make sure you do the following every day:
- Pick your horses feet out regularly, at least once a day to prevent thrush and remove any dirt/stones which could cause bruising.
- Apply a hoof dressing to protect and nourish the horn, so to avoid cracks and flakes. Your farrier will be able to advise what sort of hoof ointment will suit your horse best.
- Check that the shoes are still in the correct place, aren’t loose or overly worn, and that the clenches haven’t risen.
Signs a horse needs new shoes
The following are good indicators that your horse needs to be seen by a farrier for ongoing good hoof care:
- The clenches have risen away from the hoof wall. The clenches are the top of the nails that you can see on the outside of the hoof.
- The hoof has visibly overgrown the shoe at the front or sides.
- The shoe has become worn and thin, so your horse has no grip on smooth surfaces.
- The shoe is twisted or has become loose.
How to keep hooves healthy
Good shoeing on a regular basis is key and a good, balanced diet aids horn growth. Your farrier may recommend that you feed a good hoof supplement, many of which include biotin, especially if your horse has limited turnout and is lacking in the natural, hoof-friendly vitamins and minerals found in grass.
Regularly wash your horse’s frogs with salt water to prevent infection and check it daily for any wounds as part of your hoof care regime. Always dry the sole of your horse’s feet well afterwards and avoid allowing your horse to stand on wet bedding or ground for too long, as this can cause thrush.
It is usually a good idea to apply a hoof dressing a couple of times a week, to keep the hoof wall in good condition. Speak to your farrier about what’s best to apply and when as it is weather dependent. During a hot, dry spell, hooves may need moisture to help prevent cracking and/or the hoof wall becoming brittle, while in wet weather they need to be given time to dry out.
Do all that you can to establish and maintain a good relationship with your farrier too. They will be the best person to speak to for help and advice about your horse’s hoof health.
Signs of a well-shod hoof
Do you know what a well-shod hoof looks like? Here are three things to look for:
- When your horse is stood square and on level ground, look at their front feet. Both hooves should look as though they’re the same length, and the coronary bands should be parallel to the floor. Then look at the hind feet for the same signs.
- Pick up each foot and examine the shoe. It should be smooth with no kinks or bumps, and nicely rounded towards the front. Pointed shoes will impact on your horse’s break-over movement. Shoes that are worn at the front, particularly on the hind hooves, are a sign the horse has been dragging their back feet.
- Look at your horse’s heels on the front feet. Every horse is different, but as a general rule if their heels are are upright, their shoes will need to stick out less at the back as they won’t need as much support as a horse with an under-run heel. However, heel support on the back feet tends to be different, as this is where the horse gets their speed and power from. To help with this, your farrier may leave more shoe sticking out of the back of the foot to better support the heel, in turn helping the horse with their movement.
Help your horse stay sound
You’ll often hear farriers (and vets) refer to a balanced hoof, and this is critical in order to maintain soundness. In a nutshell, it refers to the way your horse’s hoof strikes the floor (all four hooves must do this with equal impact). If your horse’s footfall is uneven — for example if one heel strikes before the other heel does — it will cause uneven stress within the foot and lower limbs. This, in turn, will affect your horse’s gait and limit their mobility.
Signs of a balanced hoof
In a balanced hoof, the pastern and the front of the hoof run at the same angle to one another. If you look at the hoof side-on, there should be a straight line from the fetlock joint down to the bottom of the hoof. The foot should also land on the ground evenly, not one side before the other.
Break-over is the moment your horse’s hoof starts to leave the ground in walk, with their heel rising first before the toe. If the hooves are unbalanced, your horse will struggle with this movement and may become unsound. This is usually the result of your horse’s toes becoming too long, or the shoe no longer fitting properly. This is why it’s important your horse has regular visits from your farrier, to keep their hooves well balanced. Your farrier will shape your horse’s hoof in a way that aids its break-over, usually by rounding or squaring it off.
It’s vital that your horse’s heel is supported correctly by their shoe. If a shoe doesn’t extend to the back of the heel, there’s no support for the bones, tendons and ligaments in the back of your horse’s leg and, again, this puts stress on other parts of the limb, limiting your horse’s movement and affecting their long-term soundness.
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