Everything You Need to Know About Proper Hoof Care
Keeping your horse healthy entails understanding the importance of proper hoof care. To help you learn more, we'll answer the most frequently asked questions about how to maintain a healthy horse hoof.
By learning when to schedule farrier visits, which horse hoof care products to keep on hand, which nutritional advice to follow and what warning signs to watch for, you'll be ready to give your horse the care they deserve.
Why Is It Important to Keep Hooves Balanced?
When it comes to the shape of your horse's hoof, the primary objective is to have a balanced hoof and lower leg. A proper balance leaves horses with less strain on their bones, tendons and ligaments, making it easier and more comfortable for them to move.
Every horse has a unique shoulder, pastern and hoof angle, which influences their needs to achieve a proper balance. Proper hoof balance includes:
- Medial-lateral and anterior-posterior balance: The hoof should be equal in size and shape. From the front, you should be able to make an imaginary line that centrally connects the cannon, pastern and coffin bone. Proper balance allows the hoof to land evenly as your horse walks, resulting in a more comfortable stride.
- Heel support: If your horse requires shoeing, the shoe should provide total heel support without extending too far, or else it could reduce the integrity of the shoe and bother your horse. Having this heel support aids the entire back of your horse's leg, resulting in stronger strides.
- Easy breakover: Breakover refers to the action of a horse lifting its heel and rotating over the toe as it takes a stride. If your horse's toe is too long, it makes this breakover process harder and uncomfortable. For easier breakover, ensure your horse's toe is appropriately squared, rounded or rolled.
Luckily, you can rely on your trusted farrier to maintain your horse's hoove balance and integrity.
How Often Should Your Horse See the Farrier?
Your horse should visit the farrier every four to eight weeks, depending on their:
- Age: Horses' hooves grow slower as they age. If your horse is younger, you might have to schedule more frequent trips to the farrier.
- Climate: You may need to schedule less frequent farrier visits during the colder months, as hooves tend to grow slower during this time compared to the warmer summer months.
- Environment: Horses in softer environments, like plush grass pastures, will experience faster hoof growth than horses on harder terrains, and they will require less time between farrier visits.
- Nutrition: With the right nutrition, your horse's hooves will grow faster and stronger and require more frequent farrier visits to manage their healthy growth.
- Genetics: Some breeds, such as Thoroughbreds, are more prone to growing weaker feet that need regular maintenance to support proper growth and balance.
- Work regime: Horses that do hard training put more wear on their feet. These horses require more routine maintenance, especially when participating in show season, to maintain a well-kept appearance.
Horses infrequently trained can go about eight to 10 weeks between farrier trimmings. Comparatively, horses requiring shoes should visit the farrier every four to seven weeks.
What Are Some Signs That Your Horse Needs to See the Farrier?
If you're unsure when to schedule the next farrier visit, look for these signs that your horse's hooves need re-shoeing:
- The clenches, where the nail is bent over on the hoof wall, are starting to rise.
- The hoof is overgrowing and extending past the shoe.
- The shoe is so worn that your horse has trouble walking on smooth surfaces.
- The shoe is loose or displaced.
You'll quickly learn what does and doesn't look right over time. Make appointments a few weeks ahead to make sure your farrier is available, but let them know if any complications occur — like a mysterious missing shoe — and they'll likely fix it before your next appointment.
How Can You Keep Your Horse's Hooves Healthy In-Between Farrier Visits?
Encourage healthy hooves in-between farrier visits by:
- Feeding your horse a well-balanced diet.
- Adding supplements that support hoof health.
- Cleaning around your horse's frog regularly.
- Applying a hoof dressing once or twice a week during the winter, and as needed during the summer.
Maintaining proper farrier visits and practicing consistent basic hoof care prevents any unwanted damages, like cracks or abscesses, which we'll discuss later.
When Should You Start Trimming Foals' Feet?
Horses aren't born with perfect feet, as much as we'd like them to be. Start routine farrier visits when your foal is around two weeks old to correct any leg or hoof deviation. If you wait too long, making these corrections could cause more damage than good. All they need is a quick trim and a square toe to encourage strong leg formation.
What Nutrients Prevent Hoof Problems?
A well-balanced diet is unique to each horse. Along with providing your horse plenty of access to fresh water and good-quality hay, you can incorporate these nutrients to encourage healthy hoof growth in horses:
- Protein: Proteins have amino acids — particularly methionine, an extremely beneficial amino acid — that supports healthy horse hooves and faster growth.
- Zinc: Horse hooves consist of a healthy amount of the protein keratin. Zinc helps manage keratin levels to support hoof strength.
- Fat: Hooves, especially in wet environments, are highly susceptible to bacteria and fungi. Adding adequate levels of fat to your horse's diet creates a strong permeable layer that defends the hoof from harmful bacteria and fungi.
- Calcium and phosphorus: The right ratio of calcium and phosphorus strengthens the hoof horn and wall, supporting the hoof's overall structure.
- Biotin: A popular choice for equestrians, biotin can benefit your horse in ways like hoof integrity, healthy coat and mane and tail growth.
Before adding any of these nutrients to your horse's diet, do your research and consult with your vet. A well-balanced diet provides a long list of benefits, but it's easy to give too many or too little nutrients without the right guidance.
What Common Hoof Problems Should You Watch For?
Even with the right preventative measures, horses can develop hoof problems. Some common hoof problems you should be cautious of include:
- Quarter cracks: Quarter cracks, a vertical split of the hoof wall, are caused by many factors. Some usual causes of quarter cracks are trauma, long toes, foot imbalances and short shoes, all of which usually result in lameness.
- Thrush: Horses in wet conditions with deep clefts or narrow heels are more likely to develop thrush, a foul-smelling bacterial infection that oozes black liquid around the frog area.
- Subsolar abscess: A subsolar abscess is an infection under the hoof's sole that appears as a pus-filled blister. Subsolar abscesses are understandably painful, often resulting in sudden onset lameness.
- Hot or street nail: A hot nail refers to a horseshoe nail that impales a sensitive part of a horse's hoof, usually resulting in lameness. Comparatively, a street nail is any object that enters a horse's hoof, varying in severity depending on the object.
- Laminitis and founder: Laminitis and founder — used interchangeably — refers to the swelling of the lamina, the connective tissue in the core of a horse's hoof. This causes either short- or long-term lameness depending on the severity.
Treatments vary depending on the severity of each case. When in doubt, call your veterinarian for the best treatment plans.
Shop the Best Horse Hoof Care Products at Horse Tack Co.
Caring for your horse's hooves is an important part of being an equestrian. Horse Tack Co. wants to help you keep your horse healthy from the bottom of their hooves to the top of their mane. Visit our website and shop our wide selection of quality hoof care essentials, or visit us in person at our New Holland, Pennsylvania, location.
Have any questions? Call us at 866-624-8225, and our friendly equestrians will be happy to help!