Horse Hoof Care: Best Technique
“No hoof, no horse”. Old and tired as the saying might be, it always applies. Most of us know to keep our horses on a regular cycle with a qualified farrier, but that’s only a piece of the puzzle when it comes to caring for your horse’s feet. The daily routine can have a huge impact on your horse’s soundness and performance. Read on for tips on keeping your horse’s feet in tip-top condition between farrier visits.
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Daily Hoof Care Routine
Your horse’s feet should always be clean, dry, and monitored for any issues. Here’s a useful daily routine you can adapt to ensure that those feet can carry you for many more miles.
Step 1: What you put in is what you get out.
Nutrition is the basis for all horse care, from performing under the saddle to having a shiny coat, and hoof health is no exception. Your horse’s hoof needs many different nutrients in order to grow healthy. One key nutrient is biotin – a B-complex vitamin involved in hair, skin, and hoof growth, as well as other functions of the metabolism. While it’s an essential vitamin, mammals are unable to synthesize it, so horses need to obtain it from their diet. Fresh green grass is rich in all vitamins and minerals, as are specialized balancer feeds. Hoof supplements containing biotin are also readily available, but must be fed with care, since unbalanced vitamins can be useless or even harmful to your horse. It’s best to balance the diet rather than adding supplements randomly.
Another key feature of nutrition with regards to hoof heal is to avoid excess sugar. Taking in large amounts of sugar can lead to laminitis (founder), a potentially deadly and excruciatingly painful disease of the sensitive tissues inside your horse’s foot.
Step 2: Regular hoof picking.
This simple task is one that most horse owners can perform in their sleep, and it’s easily overlooked in hoof care, but it remains one of the most important things that we can do for our horse’s hoof health. Dirt and manure can get packed into the grooves beside your horse’s frog, providing the perfect anaerobic (without oxygen) environment for a nasty fungal infection known as thrush.
Thrush grows in mere days, so be careful not to skip weekends. Stabled horses or those in muddy conditions should have their hooves picked out at least twice a day; horses on dry pastures could be done once a day. It’s a good idea to pick out your horse’s feet when he goes out to the field and when he comes back in. Hooves should also be picked out and checked before and after riding.
Step 3: Check the hoof.
When picking out your horse’s feet, pay attention to what’s going on under there. Is there any discharge from the foot? Any redness or offensive smell? Does your horse flinch when you press on or clean out the hoof? Is the hoof hot? Can you feel the horse’s pulse in his feet? All of these could indicate a hoof disease. Obviously, also check carefully for any impaled objects or injuries.
Step 4: Check the shoe.
Shoes are necessary on many horses, but they must be monitored carefully or they could cause more harm than good. Check that all the nails are still present and that the shoe is firmly attached; a loose shoe can be ripped off, sometimes taking part of the hoof with it. Make sure the shoe fits snugly and isn’t bent (this includes the clenches and the clips). If you notice anything wrong with your horse’s hoof or shoe, call the farrier immediately.
Step 5: Dress the hoof accordingly.
There are a variety of products on the market that can be used to treat your horse’s foot. Certain minor ailments – like a mild case of thrush – can be treated using over-the-counter products. Other hoof dressings are aimed at maintaining the moisture content of your horse’s foot, while still others harden and toughen the hoof wall. Lastly, special hoof polishes are available for shows. These polishes shouldn’t be used daily, as some can dry out the foot, but they’re fine for use on special occasions.
Remember to read the manufacturer’s instructions on your choice of hoof dressing, as not all of these dressings are applied daily. Some only need to be put on once or twice a week.
Step 6: Ensure the environment is good for hoof health.
Very dry, dusty environments can cause your horse’s hoof to crack, while excessive mud causes thrush, mud fever, and softened feet that then dry out and get quarter cracks. Try to ensure that your horse stays out of the mud as much as possible, and condition hooves in dry climates accordingly
The Three Best Seasonal Tips
2. Beware mud in rainy weather. Horse standing in mud for long hours are at high risk of mud fever, a painful skin condition, as well as thrush. Mud can also suck the shoes right off your horse’s feet and loosen the shoes when the hoof expands, causing the nail holes to get bigger. Manage drainage and run-off so that rain runs through the paddock instead of lying in it.
3. Condition hooves in dry weather. Dry climates drain the hoof’s natural moisture, which causes quarter cracks – an unsightly problem that can even make your horse unsound. Dress your horse’s hoof with an appropriate hoof moisturizer to keep those feet healthy.