Horse hoof care is essential all year round, but especially when the weather is warm, the ground is hard and our horses are enjoying a more active exercise regime. Warm, dry weather can cause the hooves to dry out which often leads to cracks, heat and a greater risk of bruising occurring. Ground which has very little give to it will put more stress and strain on your horse’s hooves and allow more concussion through the limbs. Therefore, it is vital to ensure our horse’s hooves are in tiptop condition and able to withstand the forces we place on them.
Signs of a healthy hoof
As we all know, every horse is individual and shapes, sizes and appearance can vary in the hoof. However, there are some common indicators to look for in a healthy horse hoof. These include:
- A naturally glossy hoof wall, which is smooth, uniform and free from cracks or flares.
- A rubbery, resilient frog that contains no deep cracks.
- There should be little or no odour. If your horse’s feet smell or are crumbly, it could be caused by infection, such as thrush.
Horse hoof health starts from the inside
We often think about how we can improve our horse hoof health by using topical applications such as oils, balms and ointments. However, the most important thing to consider is whether your horse’s diet contains the necessary vitamins, minerals and trace elements to ensure healthy horn growth from the inside out.
The equine diet should contain a healthy balance of nutrients to ensure that your horse is receiving all the essential building blocks for healthy horse hoof and horn growth. You may want to consider feeding your horse a supplement that contains ingredients to help optimise hoof health with many often including biotin, methionine and zinc. In addition, your horse’s diet should be balanced to allow for optimal digestion and absorption of these ingredients, so consider feeding a broad-spectrum vitamin and mineral supplement or feed to balance any deficiencies.
Bear in mind it will take 6 - 9 months for your horse’s hooves to grow stronger and healthier, so feeding correctly all year round is imperative. Don’t wait until cracks and damage appear. There is no ‘quick fix’ for horse hoof health, you must invest in a year round dietary practice to ensure peak health and help prevent problems.
If your horse has a specific hoof health issue then you may require a specific hoof formulation but for the majority of equines, simply offering a feed that contains key ingredients will be enough to support healthy horse hooves. The Animalife Vetroflex Lifestage range includes Biotin, Methionine and Zinc, together with a range of other ingredients, to make feeding for healthy hooves simple and cost effective.
Check your horse’s hooves daily. This needn’t be a time consuming affair – but it is a vital part of your management routine. Particularly before and after riding, and when bringing in from the field, make sure you carefully clean out hooves and remove any dirt, rocks, grass and manure using a hoof pick. You can then use a stiff brush to clean away debris from the sole. Not only does this ensure there is nothing that could bruise or damage the hoof stuck in your horse’s hoof, but it also allows you to check for puncture wounds, cracks, abscesses or signs of infection.
If your horse is shod then take this daily opportunity to check for any damage to shoes and check that the clinches and nails are all intact. If you suspect that a shoe is loose or causing pinching or discomfort to your horse then contact your farrier straight away. Don’t wait until your horse throws a shoe to contact them as it could potentially cause more damage to the horn if left unattended.
Whether your horse is barefoot or has shoes, regular attention from a qualified professional is important to maintain optimum horse hoof health. Don’t be afraid to ask your farrier plenty of questions. Word of mouth recommendation is best when looking for a farrier, or you can look at the Farriers Registration Council to search for a registered farrier in your area. Most horses require shoeing or trimming approximately every 6 weeks but this depends on the rate your horse’s hooves grow, the environment your horse lives in and the level of exercise undertaken.
For some of us, it is part of our daily horse hoof care routine to apply topical dressings to our horse’s hooves. Some oils and products do not allow the horn to breathe, which not only prevents moisture from getting in, but also stops bacteria from getting out! If there are already cracks and damage to your horse’s hooves then painting on non-breathable oil could simply exacerbate the problem by trapping harmful bacteria. Look for a product that is easily absorbed into the foot and that is breathable. Some of our favourites are Silverfeet, Kevin Bacon’s Hoof Dressing and Keratex.
A few of our top horse hoof care tips…
- Know what is normal for your horse. Get to know your horse’s hooves by practicing daily horse hoof care management and you will be able to identify any potential problems quickly and easily.
- Ask your farrier to show you how to safely remove a shoe in the event of an emergency. This could save discomfort and stress for your horse in the event that shoes become loose or move.
- Keep a spare set of your horse’s shoes in the lorry or trailer. If you are at a show or event and your horse loses a shoe there is usually an onsite farrier. If you are prepared you may be able to continue competing or at least travel your horse home without risk of further damage to the hoof. The spare pair could be an old set of shoes that have not got excessive wear on them but don’t be afraid to ask your farrier if you can keep a set next time the opportunity arises.
- Regular exercise on good surfaces helps to increase circulation to your horse’s hooves, which in turn promotes growth, so it’s important to keep your horse moving as much as possible. This isn’t just about riding but regular turnout on well-managed pasture.
- When the ground is very dry consider ‘tubbing’, which involves standing your horse’s foot in a bucket of water to increase moisture. Keep a watchful eye over your horse during this process incase he moves and frightens himself with the bucket.
How do you keep your equine’s hooves in tip top condition during the summer months? Share your story on our Facebook page or leave us a comment below.