Hoof care: keeping your horse’s feet in tip-top condition
Horses’ tiny hooves are responsible for supporting a major bodyweight. Poorly maintained hooves can have a major impact on your horse’s overall health and wellbeing, so it’s important that they stay in excellent condition at all times.
Let’s take a look at the best ways of keeping your horse’s hooves healthy.
Choose a reliable farrier
It’s a good idea, especially if you’re new to horse ownership, to ask your vet to recommend you a farrier. Correct trimming and shoeing of the hooves is vital to your horse’s overall health – lameness or impaired movement can lead to a number of lasting problems, so it’s important that your farrier is reliable.
Is your horse sound, moving freely and happily?
In the case of unshod horses, the sole of the foot should not be touching the ground.
Are their hooves balanced?
In an ideal world, the angle from the ground should be 45-50 degrees for front hooves and 50-55 degrees for hind hooves.
Do their shoes fit?
If your horse is shod, there shouldn’t be any gaps between the shoe and the foot. Clenches should go no further than one third of the way up the hoof wall.
If your answer to any of these is no, you’ll need to call your farrier back as soon as possible.
As with any aspect of pet ownership, alertness and regular checks are highly useful. Here are some good habits to adopt:
- Use hoof oil to prevent splits and cracks, especially during warm weather
- Check for splits, cracks, flares or a general misshapenness of the hooves
- For shod horses, check their shoes regularly, make sure they fit and are undamaged
- Make sure a farrier visits your horse often – every 4-6 weeks for shod feet, every 6-10 weeks for unshod feet
Dirty hooves or hooves suffering prolonged exposure to dirty, muddy, bacteria ridden stables can be prone to thrush – a common bacterial infection. To avoid this, clean your horse’s hooves thoroughly at least once a week and make sure their stable stays clean and dry.
Signs of thrush include a black, smelly discharge around the base of the hoof. In severe cases, your horse may become lame. Contact your equine vet if you spot these symptoms.
Overgrown toes can cause tripping, stumbling, lameness and even Seedy Toe. Your farrier will trim the horse’s toes as part of a routine assessment so remember to keep their visits frequent.
Signs of Seedy Toe will likely include a separation at the toes, which will continue further up the hoof wall if left untreated. Seedy Toe can also be a side effect of Laminitis so if you notice this, be sure to contact your equine vet right away.
In the spirit of ‘prevention is better than cure’, a high-fibre diet is one of the best measures you can take! Keep soluble carbohydrates to a minimum and keep an eye on your horse’s weight. A dietary supplement of biotin can also help to strengthen your horse’s hooves. Ask your vet for more details.
Any irregularities in your horse’s walk, including an outright reluctance to do so, can be a sign if Laminitis in your horse. If you’re concerned, contact your vet right away.
Likely stemming from puncture wounds, Seedy Toe or bruising, infection is the most common cause of lameness in horses. Infections lead to abscesses or pus in the foot, which makes it painful for the horse to put pressure on it.
The prime symptom of infection is severe lameness. If you suspect your horse may have an infection in their hoof, contact your vet right away.
Need more info?
If you have further questions or queries about choosing a farrier or caring for your horse’s hooves, contact your equine vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.