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Tips for Keeping Your Horse's Hooves Healthy

Keep a horse's foundation healthy by providing regular and frequent hoof care. Healthy hooves are vital to your horse's overall health and body condition. Weather, environment, riding terrain, turnout frequency, horseshoes, heredity, and nutrition all affect equine hoof health. Thankfully, there are some simple ways to ease hoof care and help keep your horse sound. Here are some basic tips for keeping hooves healthy.

Clean out hooves

Make sure to clean out hooves before each ride, after you untack him, when you bring him in, and before turnout. Each time you clean your horse's hooves, remove dirt, rocks, grass, manure, and more with a hoof pick. Clear the crevice of the frog and scrape remaining matter off the sole. Finish with a stiff bristle brush. While cleaning the hooves, establish what is normal hoof condition for your horse. Be sure to look for the following conditions when picking out the feet:

  • Thrush - The first clue to this bacterial condition is a foul smell and dark ooze from the cleft of the frog. Use an over-the counter remedy recommended by your farrier or veterinarian and keep your horse's stall clean and dry.
  • Punctures - If a foreign object pierces your horse's sole and falls out, you may be unaware of it until an abscess emerges. If the object remains in place, don't pull it out. Apply wrapping and duct tape or a slip-on horse boot. Then put your horse in his stall and call your veterinarian to advise treatment.
  • Hoof Cracks - Some cracks are superficial; others can worsen, involving sensitive hoof structures. If you notice a crack, describe it to your farrier so he can decide whether it needs immediate attention.
  • Abscess - If your horse's digital pulse feels stronger than usual and/or his foot is warmer than normal, he could have an abscess inside the hoof from a badly placed shoeing nail, a bruise or a puncture. If there's increased heat and a stronger-than-usual digital pulse in both front feet, and he's shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, call your veterinarian immediately. These are signs of laminitis.

Check for sprung or shifted horse shoes

It is possible for the horse to half pull of or completely remove a shoe by stepping on the shoe with the other foot, pawing at a gate or fence and getting caught, or getting caught up in deep mud.

When the shoe is pulled away and perhaps bent, it's sprung. If it's moved to one side or the other, it's shifted. In either case, the nails can press on sensitive structures when he places weight on the foot. Inappropriately shod hooves are susceptible to injury from the metal shoe itself or its clinches or nails. When noticing a loose or sprung shoe, the farrier should be called to check on the horse, as the horse can cause injury to itself rather quickly.

Most farriers will teach you how to remove a thrown shoe - which could help save your horse's hooves and your farrier valuable time. Also keep a suitable hoof repair kit on hand for added protection.

Feed for hoof health

It is a good idea to add a hoof supplement to your horse's diet. Most contain vitamins and minerals, such as biotin and zinc, respectively, to help maintain and encourage the growth of proteins and keratin that comprise your horse's hooves. In addition, ask your veterinarian to help tailor your horse's diet to meet her nutritional needs.

Maintain hoof moisture

Your horse's hooves can suffer when the environment fluctuates between wet and dry. Wet weather, dewy pastures, and muddy paddocks can cause hooves to soften. Similarly, dry and hot weather can cause the hoof to crack, break, contract, or grow brittle. Both situations leave hooves susceptible to injury and infection.

Control hoof water loss and absorption by:

  • Cutting back on summer turnout time
  • Applying a hoof toughening preparation before evening turnout
  • Use a deep-penetrating hoof conditioner
  • Avoiding unnecessary baths
  • Shortening your horse's summer shoeing schedule
  • Applying a daily application of Venice turpentine