Cantering with Confidence: How to Keep Equine Hooves Healthy

As an equestrian, you know that without healthy hooves, you do not have a horse. Their hooves carry every single pound of muscle to run, jump, and literally everything else – making hoof care non-negotiable. Unfortunately for our time and our wallets, there is no one-and-done solution to preventing hoof pain; you have to regularly care for all four hooves daily. If you don’t know where to start, enlist the help of your vet. Ask about specific steps you can take to give your horse the best life possible. Your vet is skilled in checking for pain and discomfort, which is especially crucial if you are following a treatment plan. 

In this blog, we will discuss equine hoof common problems, treatment options and regular care. We will soon publish a blog dedicated to bovine hoof care, which will be linked here when finished. If you have any hoof questions, reach out to the Cloud Peak staff. Our number is (307) 347-2781. We would also love to see you in person, so stop by! 

Common Problems

Cracks: Let’s start off with one of the easiest problems to spot! Horse hooves can crack for many reasons, including an environmental change or lack of exercise. The cracks form as soon as the hoof does not have enough internal biologic support, which again can mean a couple different things. Perhaps one of the most overlooked causes of hoof cracks is lack of the proper nutrition. Just as biotin can strengthen your hair and nails, your horse needs specific supplements to promote healthy growth. Outside factors can also determine the strength of the hoof because the moisture in the air, or lack of it, can penetrate deep into the hoof wall. When moving your equine friend from a wet environment immediately into a hot and dry one, their bodies will start to overcompensate for the moisture retained, crumbling the horse’s support. Cracks are usually easy to spot, and while the treatment is simple, as long as you take action immediately. 

Horse Shoes: Another visibly noticeable problem relates to horse shoes! Shoes are tremendously important in reinforcing the hoof wall, as well as in offering protection from the environment. With that being said, shoes will cause more harm than good if the shoes do not correctly fit the foot. Think about how uncomfortable it is to wear the wrong size shoes – if they are too small, it’s painful to walk, let alone carry on with your daily routine. And if they are too big, you feel unstable and will most likely trip.. A common mistake made when fitting shoes is to make the hoof fit the shoe, not forming the shoe to the hoof. Do not trim your horse’s hooves to fit them to a specific shoe; instead, trim the hooves and then shod them! It’s crucial to hoof health to have the entire hoof wall supported by the shoe.  This means the shoe should extend from the front of the hoof wall all the way to the back. Without a proper shod, the horse will have an unstable and painful foundation, leading to detrimental, complicated future problems. 

Hoof Imbalance: Hoof imbalance can lead to a wide variety of problems. When your horse is unevenly distributing their weight, they can develop issues like laminitis, soreness and chronic pain. Long-term imbalance may predispose your horse to future lameness, poor performance, and poor quality of life. If you are looking to ride your horse for more than a month – think competition or cattle and sheep drives – you need to keep hoof health in mind. To counter the previously mentioned problems, regular hoof care is essential.. We recommend asking a professional to teach you what the signs of horse pain look like; how to properly trim your horse’s hooves; and proper hoof picking techniques. This ensures that hooves are trimmed appropriately for the horse’s condition or activities. Unbalanced horseshoes are serious business with potentially far-reaching consequences; therefore, proper hoof care and correct shoeing is vital for all equine owners.

Abscesses: Abscesses begin as a simple bacterial infection inside the hoof, but when left untreated, your horse will become lame and suffer from chronic pain. These abscesses typically start from the inside, with symptoms that are not noticeable beyond your horse showing favoritism to specific legs. When your horse refuses to put much weight on their hoof, then you know that you might need to get them medical attention before it worsens. After attacking the inside of the hoof, the bacteria will spread to the entire hoof, causing the abscesses. And it doesn’t stop there – the bacteria will eventually infect the entirety of the leg.  Do not let it get to that point, especially considering that abscesses are relatively easy to treat and should be addressed as soon as you notice the initial pain or swelling.

Thrush: One of the most well-known causes of equine lameness is thrush. Like abscesses, thrush is a bacterial infection that affects the horse’s ability to walk without pain. Thrush begins in the frog of the hoof, and if left untreated, the infection will spread to the rest of the foot. The bacteria can come from just about anywhere in the horse’s environment, but the mixture of dirt and manure in their stalls is a very efficient conductor of thrush. The threat of thrush should be a great motivator to muck out your stalls as often as necessary and provide a clean environment that promotes hoof health. Remember – when you keep your equine environment clean, you will prevent your horse from suffering excruciating chronic pain.

Yes, these issues can be daunting and even scary, but there are not only ways to treat the aforementioned problems, but to also prevent them! It’s all about the time, resources and effort you are willing to give to your horse’s hoof health and care. 

Regular Hoof Care

As important as it is to care for hooves as perfectly as possible, it is so much more important to care for them regularly. For example, you could shod your horse perfectly, but if those hooves aren’t maintained, the shoes will damage their feet. Hooves grow anywhere between two and four inches a year, so you have to trim them every four to six weeks to prevent long-term issues. In fact, if hooves are not trimmed regularly, your horse could contract founder, or laminitis, which will put them out of commission. Some common hoof care practices include: picking, trimming, balancing, shodding and applying hoof dressings. These common practices allow equestrians to monitor hoof health and protect them from abrasion and infection. Let’s go into a little more detail about these care tips.

Picking: One of the most underrated, yet essential parts of maintaining healthy hooves is by picking them. Dirt, hay, manure, rocks, and more can get stuck in the frog and lead to infection, so when picking, you’ll want to make the frog visible and clean. This is an easy practice, as long as you have a hoof pick and great back strength. Typically, you’ll want to clean the hooves daily, especially if they are being ridden daily. If you are unsure of how often you should pick the hooves, talk to your vet or a farrier to decide on a specific plan for optimized hoof health. Keeping the frog clean and discernable will prevent problems in the future, and will allow for healthy hoof growth. 

Trimming: To accommodate how fast hooves grow, farriers recommend trimming your horse’s hooves every six to eight weeks to avoid long-term problems. Trimming balances the hooves and allows the horse to carry its weight equally across all four feet. Horses can be delicate and particular when it comes to their feet, so if you cut the hoof too much or not enough, your horse could easily become lame. Balance is key, so if you are not certain how balanced your horse’s feet are, ask your vet or a farrier to assist you in ensuring your horse’s hooves are balanced, comfortable, and healthy. 

Diet: Lastly, a well-balanced diet is a great way to monitor and maintain your horse’s hoof health. Their diet should include the four essential trace minerals: zinc, iodine, methionine and biotin. Adding zinc is crucial because it promotes healthy cell function. Iodine improves metabolism and thyroid function, making it a great additive. Ligament and joint function and movement are supported when methionine is added. And, biotin promotes hair and nail growth, including their mane, tail, skin, hair, and hooves. We recommend adding supplements that contain at least 20 mg of biotin per serving because research shows that this dosage has therapeutic qualities. Please do your research before purchasing supplements, as companies may  falsely advertise their products to be beneficial for horse health. If you have questions about your horse’s diet, we recommend contacting a trusted vet for their recommendations. 

Specific Hoof Treatments

We’ve discussed the most common issues you should be on the lookout for, so let’s switch gears and talk about what you and your vet can do to prevent and care for these common problems. 

Because cracked hooves are a surface level problem, literally, you are able to take a more at-home-remedy approach. The first thing you can do is prevent dryness. Horse hooves actually need exercise to stay healthy and strong, so by giving your horse interactive foot toys, you’ll encourage hoof wall strength. Secondly, it is really important to give their hooves a trim regularly, either by you or a professional. When your horse’s feet are regularly cared for, you’ll be able to prevent a little bit of dryness from becoming a large, painful crack. When you notice dryness, another great way to return the moisture back to the hooves is to soak them in warm water with some Epsom salt for about 20 minutes daily. And lastly, if you’re looking for a solution beyond regular care, consider using a horse hoof conditioner. Just like dry skin, dry and cracked hooves are very painful. Hoof conditioner is a great way to treat dry hooves. Look for a conditioner that has a heavy fat content, so that those fat oils will lock in as much moisture as possible. Following these steps will help keep your horse’s hooves in good condition and prevent cracks and dryness.

Correctly shoeing a horse is an essential step in hoof care, and when done properly, can ensure your horse’s comfort and its ability to safely perform tasks. The purpose of the shoe is to give the entire hoof support, so the shoe needs to be fitted to the entire wall, including the heels. Shoes should fit the hoof, and the hoof should NOT be trimmed to fit the shoe. There should be no overlap or sharp edges to prevent damage to their feet and legs. In addition to the initial shoeing, hooves should be checked regularly to make sure they still fit correctly. Remember, hooves grow two inches every year, and in addition, weather conditions can change the hoof size, so regular checks are necessary. The best method for shoeing a horse is applying shoes that are tailored to meet the needs of each individual hoof shape and size. Every horse is built differently, carries its weight differently, and has different needs, so that will determine what kind of shoes would be perfect for your horse.  Shoes should be changed on a regular basis, and you should consult with a trusted professional about when your horse will need to be shod again. We recommend that you see your farrier every six to eight weeks – this regular care will prevent issues and allow you to avoid the point of no return.   

If you’re uncertain how to best take care of your horse’s hooves, it’s wise to consult with a professional farrier who specializes in hoof care and horseshoeing.

Maintaining balanced hooves is essential for properly shoeing, providing comfort, and keeping your horse active. Unbalanced hooves will impede the horse’s ability to walk efficiently, often resulting in pain and poor performance. Over long periods of time, the imbalance will reflect in their skeletal structure and there will not be much you can do to remedy the situation. Fortunately, hoof balance can be corrected early on, with regular hoof trimming done by a professional hoof trimmer or farrier. With unbalanced hooves, the application of corrective shoes may also be necessary in order to move the hooves back into a balanced position. Prioritizing hoof balance with hoof trimming will result in less time spent going through bouts of lameness and more time spent enjoying your horse!

Abscesses can be easily avoided when you take proper care of your equine’s hooves, so it is crucial to their health to ensure any abscesses are dealt with quickly. When a hoof develops an abscess, the first step is to make sure the infection does not spread and cause more issues. A quick action plan for treating these painful infections is to completely cut off any damaged part of the hoof wall and then rinse and clean out any debris or dirt caught in the hoof. Clearing up this debris buildup helps reduce soreness and allows the infection to breathe. Soaking the hoof in warm water and applying the appropriate medication will help the infection to go down and prevent any laminitis from setting in. It can also be necessary to actually pack the hoof after medication application, and prevent dirt and debris from entering the wound by wrapping it with a bandage. If there are signs of fever or lameness, it may be necessary to contact a veterinarian for guidance on appropriate medication and follow-up steps. Taking these steps quickly can help improve hoof health and reduce hoof-related stress for you and your horse alike. 

Because a horse’s hooves are made up of sensitive and delicate tissues, thrush can easily destroy a horse’s function and overall happiness. When it comes to treating hoof thrush, an effective solution is to clean and disinfect their hooves daily. Lime sulfur and bleach solutions have been known to treat thrush, but it is very important to consult with a veterinarian so that no further damage is caused. You can also find medicated hoof dressing that, when applied as directed, will loosen thrush from the deeper layers of the hoof wall, allowing healthy hoof growth. Keep in mind that your horse’s feet should be kept dry if possible, avoiding any long periods of standing in wet mud or standing water, which could prolong or worsen hoof thrush. 

Healthy hooves are essential and proper hoof maintenance is the only thing keeping your horse on their feet, doing what they love. If you have any specific questions, our dedicated team at Cloud Peak would love to hear from you, so call us at (307) 347-2781. If you already have your horse in tow, bring them by and we can take a look at the issue together! Let us know what we can do to help you and your herd, and we will be more than happy to lend a hand!

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