Because I constantly have something horse related on my mind, I was thinking about hoof health today during my lunch! (Totally normal)…
Hoof health is something which anyone with a horse must consider, whether your horse has brittle feet or strong and unshod feet, or specialist shoeing.
Farriery is a subject which can quite literally make or break your horse. With so many farriers to choose from, it can be such minefield. Farriery should promote a healthy functional foot as well as allowing the limb to function effectively (O’Grady, 2008). Quite a simple idea but one which can often be forgotten with the barefoot vs shod debate. Originally, shoes were fitted to a horse to prevent wear and tear whilst pulling carriages or being used as a method of transport. Our use for horses has changed drastically with modernization and so has such practices to maintain optimal function of the horse. Farrier techniques have developed considerably to help promote soundness and kinematics of the horse. Whilst I advocate the use of a farrier routinely (6 weeks usually) and the use of the same farrier, it is vital to thoroughly check and question their practice if you are unhappy about it (after all, it isn’t getting any cheaper!). In between visits you should check the clinches or the ends of the nails which the farrier usually trims out. If they are risen, this is a sign that the shoe is loosening and could possibly come off or cause potential injury. Always check the shoe when picking out the horse’s hooves, check for any abnormalities and contact your farrier if there is a problem.
Hoof health being maintained between farrier visits is also important. The saying “no hoof, no horse” is totally true and farriers aren’t magicians after all. One product which I recommend highly is Kevin Bacon’s Hoof Solution. I prefer the dressing as the lid has a brush already attached, which is amazing if you’re super lazy like me or just dislike clutter, as well as being easy to apply all year round in a solution form. Stock up and save by getting the bigger tin as this stuff really does work, especially in the summer when their hooves are dryer. I apply this as and when needed in the winter or after a farrier visit and apply every day in the summer to keep their hooves perfect. Remember to always apply inside and out!
Supplementation can also aid in the quest for optimal hoof health with many available on the market. I have had great success with NAF Biotin Plus. Simply follow the steps on the box and you should be well on your way to improving your horse’s hoof health.
Stable hygiene will also affect the health of your horse’s hooves, in particular if they are stabled regularly. By keeping the stable as clean as possible through regular mucking out (if you’re like me, you will be constantly skipping out whenever they are in the stable!) and a good clean bedding type. From personal experience, (and I have been on almost every bedding going) nothing quite does the job like wood pellets. I have found these to not only be absorbent and quick to muck out, but they also smell great. Both my boys are on pellets with rubber matting as well, I have found that whether you deep litter or not is based on personal preference and the quality of bedding is not affected by this.
If your horse lives in or out or both, it is soooo important to pick their feet out every day. I pick mine out morning and evening to ensure that their feet are clean and there is nothing in their feet which could be making them uncomfortable. As well as this, it is important to check their hooves for signs of thrush, laminitis or any bacterial infections. If your horse is at risk of mud fever or you fear it may be developing, it is also important to ensure the sole of the hoof is kept clean.
Consider the surfaces in which your horse’s hooves come into contact with. If you do a lot of hacking and in particular road work, you may need to consider the effect that this concussion will be having on the horse’s hooves, limbs and overall kinematics. Don’t think about it once the horse has an issue or may be lame, some concussion is good as it is believed to increase joint strength as well as the tendons and ligaments. But too much excessive concussive forces can be detrimental. Know your own horse’s hooves, what is normal and then act when you notice something which is not. Not all horses will be the same and conformation differences will occur between horses. Also consider the effect of the horse’s hooves being wet, such as standing in a muddy field. This will soften and weaken the hoof as well as making them susceptible to thrush. I know this isn’t always easy to do, especially with the winter we have just had, but your horse will love you really for it!
Thanks for reading this post, I hope it was insightful!