Hoof It Up
There’s that age old saying “no foot, no horse” and it’s as true today as it always has been. If you look after your horse’s hooves, he is much more likely to stand up to his workload and stay comfortable and sound.
The horse’s hoof wall is made of a very strong substance called keratin, which is the same substance that our fingernails are made from. Keratin has a low moisture content and so is very hard, providing an excellent barrier to protect the inner hoof structure. However, the hoof itself will flex as the horse moves to absorb the shock of each step and the frog is made of a sponge-like substance as this pumps blood back up the horse’s legs as he walks, to aid circulation. The hooves are so important as they bear huge weight on a very small surface, and give your horse traction. They are exposed to lots of difference surfaces, which can all present challenges and we must take care to ensure that they are up to the job we are asking of them.
With any lameness issues, you should always look at the feet first to ensure they are comfortable, free from stones and debris and that they are in good condition. You must ensure regular attention from a good farrier, as well as paying care and attention to daily maintenance.
Here is our round up to looking after your horse’s hooves this winter…
Winter Hoof Battles
When it comes to preparing for winter, we immediately think of increasing hay rations, upping hard-feed, digging out rugs and clipping. Hoof-care may not immediately spring to mind, but it is absolutely essential to pay close attention to your horse’s feet as the cold weather draws in. The ground changes and becomes softer and wetter, with the inevitable autumn rain, your horse’s diet will change as the quality drops out of the grass and he is fed more cereal based feed, then the ground changes again as it gets colder, with frozen ground as unyielding as concrete. Lots of things which can cause problems with your horse’s feet.
Horse hooves grow more slowly in winter compared to summer. The growth of the horse’s hoof is influenced by their overall health, their environment, the amount of exercise they are in or the type of exercise. Typically, horses work less in winter, graze less and spend more time in their stables. After the first frost, the grass contains significantly less sugars and nutrients than it did during the spring and summer months. As a result of these factors, the hoof growth normally slows down. This can be great news for those good doers who may be prone to laminitis or other metabolic conditions. However, if you have a horse with poor quality hooves, this can present a real problem as there are less nutrients to help with growth and hoof strength. In this instance, you may need to adjust the horse’s diet to compensate for this, and maybe even consider a hoof supplement to help boost hoof health.
You should pick your horse’s feet out at least once a day and get to know your horse’s feet like the back of your hand to ensure you can spot any issues straight away. Here are some common conditions to keep an eye out for:
Thrush – The first sign to this bacterial condition is a foul smell and dark ooze from the cleft of the frog. This is normally caused by standing in dirty and wet conditions or by prolonged use of pads. If the condition is left untreated, the frog can begin to break down and can cause pain, lameness and hoof damage so catching it quickly makes it much easier to treat. If you think your horse is starting to develop a bit of thrush then give your farrier a call. Keep the feet as clean and dry as you can. You can apply an ointment to the hooves to help aid recovery, one of our personal favourites is Silverfeet Hoof Balm.
Puncture – Horse’s hooves are very vulnerable, especially when the ground is wet and muddy, as sharp stones can be concealed under the surface. If they stand on a sharp object, this can puncture the sole of the hoof and the entry wound may not always be apparent immediately. The object will usually leave dirt and bacteria in the wound which can cause infection and result in an abscess. If you find your horse with the object still stuck in the hoof, do not remove it yourself. Keep your horse still and calm and wait for your vet’s assistance, who may decide an x-ray is necessary to ascertain how far the object has permeated the hoof and whether any important structures are compromised. Usual treatment would be to poultice the foot to draw out any infection and to help ensure healing from the inside out.
Abscess – An abscess can occur as a result of a puncture wound, as explained above, or due to the hoof being compromised in some other way, such as bruising. Laminitic horses are prone to hoof abscesses due to the hoof wall beginning to separate. If your horse’s digital pulses feel stronger than usual or one hoof feels warmer than the other ones, this could be the beginning of an abscess forming. However, a horse with a grumbling abscess would normally show signs of lameness. You will likely need your vet or farrier to come and locate the site of the abscess, which may need to be dug out to relieve the pressure and enable you to poultice the foot to draw out infection and promote healing.
How to help
As previously mentioned, you may need to adjust your horse’s diet to aid their hoof health. Many horses who are struggling with their hooves will benefit from additional Biotin being added to their feed, alongside Copper, Zinc and Methionine.
Studies have shown that horses cannot synthesise Biotin but it is contained in some natural feedstuffs; such as Alfalfa, oats, and soyabean meal. Sometimes, this isn’t enough and the horse will benefit from additional supplementation if you are looking to improve hoof quality. We stock feed balancers which contain Biotin and also several supplements, such as Hoof First, Farrier’s Formula, Pro Feet and NAF Biotin Plus.
Our feed specialist, Joss, is very knowledgeable and will be able to advise you regarding the best feeding options for your particular horse.
It can take 6-9 months for the hooves to produce enough growth to show true improvement, so be patient. Studies show that it may be beneficial to continue supplement with Biotin, even after the hoof condition has improved sufficiently, otherwise the quality may deteriorate again.
Keratex Hoof Hardener
Another very effective product to help combat brittle, cracked, soft or weak hooves is Keratex Hoof Hardener. This contains a unique flexibility agent, as well as a hardening agent and is great to use if your horse suffers from sensitive or thin soles or has issues with repeated shoe loss and is also well worth investing in if you are transitioning your horse from being shod to barefoot.
Learn to remove loose shoes!
If your horse is prone to losing shoes, this can cause damage to the hooves and can also be quite painful. It is really useful to know how to remove loose shoes to limit damage and discomfort, just in case your farrier is unable to get to you quickly. Your farrier will be able to show you how to do this and it would be beneficial to have basic farrier’s tools to hand to use if needs be.
Hoof care is of the utmost importance for our horses. If you have any questions about hoof management then please do give us a call or pop into store and we will be happy to help.