We have all heard the old saying “No Hoof, No Horse.” Many of us take this lightly until disaster strikes, and then, we think back to all the “Should haves” we could have done. Whether your horse is a backyard companion or an international competitor, healthy feet are an essential part of your horse’s overall health.
The problem is that there are as many opinions to the “correct” way to do things as there are horse people. The key is to make informed decisions with the help of your farrier and veterinarian in addressing what’s best for your horse and you keeping in mind nutritional and external factors.
Nutritional care, let’s face it, is less noticeable and slower to appear than the results of external care, however both are very important to your horse. But we can all agree that for overall hoof care, having a good farrier and veterinarian is critical to the success of your horse management and both these professionals should be selected carefully.
So, how does the hoof fit into the nutritional needs of your horse. The dermal tissue, the larges organ of your horse, consists of the hooves, skin, hair follicles, sweat glands, oil glands and related structures. Because all these share a common nutritional need and utilization, it is impossible to nutritionally improve the condition of your horse’s hooves without improving his mane, tail and coat.
However, what sets hooves apart? What makes them more vulnerable than the other dermal structures. The answer is their function. Since they show weakness more quickly than the other dermal structure, which is due to their location and function, the hooves also serve as a highly reliable indicator of your horse’s overall dermal health.
Every horse is an individual and the hoof also reflects that fact. Environment, genetics and discipline affect your horse’s body and the level of care that is needed. You can have two horses, in the same barn, with the same diet, competing in the same discipline, with the same farrier and yet, one horse can have healthy feet and the other can barely hold shoes on for a week at a time. Even though the diet is the same, the culprit in this instance is nutrition. Why, because even though similar horses can have similar environment they have many genetic differences and let’s face it, genetic makeup plays a huge role in how nutrients are absorbed and utilized.
Nutritional problems solving, at best, is very difficult and when a horse has poor feet due to dietary factors, determining the exact cause is especially difficult. However, you can assume that he’s not receiving the correct nutrients; or, not absorbing them effectively; or, something is interfering with his nutrient utilization, more than likely another dietary factor.
What external hoof care is needed for your horse?
Hoof trimming or shoeing should be performed as recommended by your farrier. As a general rule of thumb, no horse should be trimmed beyond eight weeks. With excessive untrimmed growth, hoof balance alters dramatically affecting stride, comfort and performance of your horse.
Stabled horses should be kept in clean, dry bedding. Ammonia from equine waste is extremely destructive to hooves.
Wet-dry-wed-dry-wet-dry-wet-dry…this cycle is very though on hooves and is impossible to control as the weather conditions change your horse’s pasture from mud to desert to mud again. What to do? Keep moisture changes to a minimum and consider using a topical application that seals in the correct amount of moisture but yet allows oxygen to pass through.
Cleaning your horse’s hooves should be done daily, especially before riding. If you’re not cleaning your horse’s feet daily, you may not notice when a problem develops until he’s lame.
If you detect a rotting smell as you clean, more than likely your horse probably has thrush. The thrush bacteria are opportunistic multiplying in the absence of oxygen and presence of waste. Don’t use copper sulphate, iodine, or a bleach solution as these are highly damaging to the hoof. Instead, use povidone, an organic iodine. Severe cases of thrush should always be attended by your veterinarian or farrier.