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Hoof Care | Fall 2007 Out Here Magazine

Horses' hooves support about 1,000 pounds, so keep them healthy

By Pat Hansen

Your horse's hoof care began at birth when he stood for the first time and the fragile neonatal hoof capsule broke off. What was underneath, and the care he received as a foal, became the hoof he has now.

"Colostrum is the first part of healthy feet, so it is important that a foal get that first mother's milk," says Bryan Farcus, an Athens, Ohio, professional farrier and instructor.

As a horse grows and develops, hoof health becomes a crucial responsibility of the horse's owner.

Trimming hooves regularly — usually every six to eight weeks, depending on the horse — will keep them from growing too long and causing pain or affecting a horse's gait, Farcus says.

Deciding whether to shoe a horse depends on its use or health. A horse typically does not need to be shod except:

  • If the hoof wall is weak, cracked, or chipped;
  • If a horse has a weak conformation that can be improved with a shoe;
  • If it needs shoes for protection or traction.

Climate plays a large part in a horse's hoof health.

In the eastern United States, excessive moisture and extreme changes in weather can cause hooves to crack and break as they go from being over-saturated to dry, Farcus says.

Rainy climates can result in thrush, which develops when excess moisture allows bacteria to infect the sole of the hoof.

Thrush affects the frog, the pliable, triangular mass at the bottom of the hoof, and the sulci, the grooves along the sides of the frog. Thrush symptoms include a foul-smelling, black discharge in the sulci and the bottom of the hoof may become crumbly.

If it's not treated, and spreads to other hoof tissue, thrush can make your horse lame.

Some horses tolerate climate changes well, but to prevent problems, Farcus recommends applying an oil-based hoof dressing weekly or daily, depending on the hoof.

In the western United States' dry climate, hooves can become hard and brittle, though horses usually tolerate the climate well. Providing opportunities for your horse to get its feet wet regularly will allow the hoof to absorb necessary moisture.

A ride through water or allowing a little water to overflow the water trough, which Farcus calls a natural poultice, will suffice. You also can apply a water-based hoof dressing to moisten the hoof.

Inspecting your horse's feet every day not only keeps them healthy, but also creates a bond between the two of you, Farcus says.

"The most important thing we can do for our horses and to get more enjoyment out of them is to have daily interaction," he says.

"During this interaction, inspect the feet, but cleaning every day is not necessary unless there is a stone. Take pride in caring for your horse. The healthier he is on the ground, the more enjoyable he will be to ride."

Pat Hansen is a freelance writer/photographer in the ranching community of Avon, MT.