Hoof Care is Essential to Your Horse's Health

A horse with foot problems can be rendered useless.

Horses are ungulates. Ungulates are groups of mammals which use the tip of the toes to support their weight when moving. Most ungulates are hoofed animals such as horses, donkeys, zebras, camels, giraffes, and deer.

A hoof is the tip of a toe of an ungulate. It is strengthened by keratin, in the form of a thick, hard covering. The sole of the hoof is somewhat hard and rubbery, but softer than the outside. There is also a hard wall formed by the solid nail rolled around the tip of the toe. The whole weight of the horse is carried by the soles of the hooves and also, the edges of its walls.

Horse's hooves grow but are constantly worn down thru continuous moving. The average weight of horses is often more than 1000 lbs. and it is only supported by its four hooves. A horse is valued because of its strength and ability to carry humans and objects for pleasure and work purposes. They are prized for their mobile function. Needless to say, a horse with feet problems can literally be rendered useless.

Before you can clean or care for a horse's hoof, you need to know the proper way to lift it. The thought of lifting a horse's hoof can frighten some people considering that a kick from a horse is able to inflict serious injury. Although exercising caution is always good, the truth is, if a person lifts up a horse's foot correctly you will give the horse no power or capability to be able to strike you.

The following is how to correctly lift up a horse's foot:

  1. Beginning on the front foot, move toward the horse on an angle from the head so the horse unmistakably knows that you are near; this is to make sure you do not startle the horse. Place your body even with the horse's shoulder facing its rear.

  2. Make sure your feet are not pressed against the horse's foot, and begin sliding your hand along the outside of his shoulder moving down the length of his leg, finishing slightly higher than the ankle.

  3. Lightly grip the ankle and produce a clicking sound in order to get the horse to lift its foot. If the horse is properly broken, that minute signal should be more than sufficient to make the hoof easily ready to lift.

  4. There will be a small difference involving raising a back and front hoof, although the fundamental stance and movements are almost the same. As you lift a horse's back hoof it will usually give a tiny pull that you may misread as a kick. This is an ordinary reflex movement with horses and nothing for you to be concerned about.

  5. As you lift the horse's back foot you'll need to move toward the horse a little so that your hip is under its leg. Put its leg on your thigh, grasp the foot and lightly bend it up. By lifting the hoof this way, you afford the horse some support and even more importantly the location of the horse's leg and the bent foot will stop him from kicking you.

While you are initially beginning, return the feet carefully to the ground and commend the horse. The other side should be completed precisely as a mirror image; however, attempt to finish at the head and begin the other side preferably moving around the back.

Please note: It's not a good idea for a novice to move toward or go around a horse from behind in such close proximity due to the fact that the horse will be close enough to kick out.

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THINGS TO REMEMBER:

  • While raising any foot, always make sure the horse is correctly standing completely on all feet so that as you raise one foot the horse is able to easily stand on its remaining three legs. At no stage must the horse rest its body on you! Even as you put its back leg on your thigh make sure you're never letting the horse use you as a leaning post.

  • After you have raised your horse's hoof a number of times it should become extremely effortless and take no more than 5 minutes to pick up and even pick out all feet. Nearly all properly educated horses will lift their foot for you the second they sense your hand pass down their
    leg.

  • It is a good idea to have power over the horse's head while you are lifting its feet. This can be done by tying the halter to a post or getting a friend to control the horse's head. In holding the head you must make sure the horse is not able walk away from you while you're attempting to lift his hoof and even worse bend around and have a nip at your backside!

NUTRITION

Healthy hooves are essential to your horse's health and well-being. The hoof is a living structure that depends on nutrients provided through the blood for its growth, strength and repair. The hoof must receive nutrients from the blood in order to stimulate growth and repair. The wall of the hoof is a dermal tissue, much like skin and hair. Dermal tissue is considered an organ, and it is one of the hungriest when it comes to nutrients.

Studies have shown that Biotin supplementation significantly improved the hoof horn condition of horses. Biotin is a B vitamin that stimulates keratin production in the hoof laminae and coronary band, strengthening and improving the hoof wall, sole, periople and other parts of the hoof. Like all B vitamins, Biotin is water soluble, and not stored in the body; therefore, it must be taken in on a daily basis.

Studies emphasized the beneficial effects of a Biotin based supplement of 12-15 mg/day for a 1,000 lb. horse for improving the hoof integrity within 3-5 months, providing maximum benefit up to one year of supplementation:

  • Increased tensile strength the entire hoof wall
  • Less cracking and splitting of horn
  • Significant improvement of the hoof horn hardness and thickness
  • Improved condition of the white line Improved hoof growth after 90 day period
  • Horses with tender feet moved more freely and confidently
  • After 6-9 months additional improvement in stronger perioples, better hoof horn surface, depth of heels and hoof shape, and easier shoeing with a stronger hoof horn to work with

An overweight horse or a horse with a large body but small feet will tend to have trouble with hoof flares because of the excess weight that has to be carried over such a small area. In a barefoot horse, the overtaxed laminae weaken and stretch, causing flares. Dieting and increased exercise are the obvious answers for the overweight horse, but the small-footed horse will have to be managed with greater care. If you have a small-footed horse you will need to pay close attention to his diet and be sure that hoof flares are trimmed off at each trimming.

Do not overfeed your horse. Besides making your horse fat, giving your horse too much feed that is high in starch will cause a shift in the bacterial population in your horse's hindgut (or cecum). Normally the cecum is designed to digest only fiber but if undigested starch makes it past the small intestine into the hindgut, the fiber-digesting bacteria that lives in the cecum die off and the starch-digesting bacteria take over. This shift can be devastating to your horse because it causes toxins to be released into his bloodstream that, in turn, cause an enzyme to be released that breaks down the laminae in the hoof wall.

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Good hoof care is divided into three main components: cleaning, trimming, and shoeing.

CLEANING

In most things we do, hygiene is priority. It is very important to clean the hooves of your horse especially before and after riding. Every horse owner must have the essential tool, the hoof pick. It will be your best friend in horse grooming particularly with the animal's hooves.

It should be mentioned that even horses that are not ridden at all should still be subjected to hoof pick grooming to prevent thrush. Cleaning a horse's hooves should be done daily. A horse with wet hooves is very hard to maintain.

TRIMMING

As earlier mentioned, hooves are continuously growing. Thus, they need trimming to keep them in good shape and to keep the horse in good form. Trimming should be done about every one to two months, depending upon the use of the animal and the conditions it is kept in. Trimming can be difficult and it requires considerable skill. Trained farriers should be the only one to perform this task to prevent incorrect trimming.

The most common mistake of the inexperienced is trimming the wall too short. Paring off too much sole is just like cutting your nails too short and can create lameness in the animal in addition to pain and discomfort. Hoof care must be done by a professional as it is not a good idea to try and save a few pennies in exchange for a ruined horse. Always have a trained farrier do the job, as the expense is certainly worth the damage or problems it prevents.

Another mistake is waiting too long between trims. In the wild, hoof flares are nature's way of breaking off excessive hoof wall. In other words, the hoof wall is weaker where the hoof flares and tends to break off as the horse travels over hard, rocky soil. Without this mechanism the wild horse would end up with extremely long flared hooves and would not be able to run from predators. Fortunately, wild horses constantly wear their hooves down with lengthy daily travel. The domestic barefoot horse is not as fortunate. Since most domestic horses live on soft ground and don't travel as much as wild horses, they don't have a chance to wear their hooves down daily, a little at a time. Instead, the domesticated horse's hooves grow flares, which then break off in large chunks. This uneven wear makes it hard to shoe the horse or balance the hoof for even weight-bearing. The best way to avoid flares caused by hoof overgrowth is to trim your horse at regular intervals and be sure to keep a roll on the edge of the hoof wall to allow for easy breakover.

SHOEING

Can you imagine doing hard manual labor without any footwear?

We use footwear such as shoes because we need protection for our feet. Horses are no different. Even though horses have naturally strong and durable feet, they still need to be shod if they are doing a lot of work.

Some horses may have relatively flat or weak hoof walls, or simply be unfit for hard labor. Such horses need shoes even they are not for functional work purposes. It is better to consult a veterinarian or a farrier about this, as it is very important to your horse's health, to make sure this is done properly.

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