How to Harden Hooves
The saying “No foot, no horse” is probably the best adage by which to prioritize horse care. It is no wonder that the horse owner must take special care of the hooves – the end of each horse’s leg is the equivalent of a fingertip surrounded by the same material that comprises human fingernails. These four fingertips support a thousand or more pounds of animal, and when something goes wrong with one of them, there is the possibility for great pain and suffering for the horse. One potential problem that can cause nonstop headaches for horses and their owners is horse hooves that need to be hardened. This will be the focus of the following article.
What Is The Horse’s Hoof Made Up Of?
The horse hoof is a tremendously complex part of the horse’s body, designed to hold an animal who stands for approximately twenty hours a day, and can run up to forty miles per hour. It contains bone, laminae, blood vessels, and a series of soft tissues. These structures are surrounded by the hoof wall on the sides and the frog in the middle of the sole. The entire hoof wall is designed to be able to flex slightly as the frog absorbs the impact of the horse’s step, cushioning the bones and internal structures. As such, the hoof wall needs to have a “Goldilocks” amount of toughness – not too soft, and not too hard. For more detailed information, you can read more about all of these structures and their functions in The Essential Hoof Book.
What Is The Best Way To Make My Horse’s Hooves Naturally Hard?
Many people blame horse shoeing as the root of all hoof problems, and this is not entirely fair. Horseshoes inhibit the aforementioned expansion and shock absorption properties of the hoof, but horseshoes can also protect the hooves from stone bruises and excessive impact from hard surfaces. Just like everything in horse care, there are benefits and drawbacks to everything that we do, and there is no way to have perfectly natural settings for caring for horses in captivity. Furthermore, the vast majority of hoof health comes from within, and that can be best addressed through diet.
The first people to ask about what to add for your horse’s health are, in the following order, your farrier and your vet. Your farrier can tell exactly what your particular horse needs for his optimum hoof health, and can recommend what micronutrients he might be lacking. Your vet can also offer insight in this matter. The hoof wall is made of keratin, which is a network of the mineral biotin and various proteins wound together in a web. Most supplements for the hoof are high in biotin, which is a B vitamin. Your vet and farrier can advise you whether your horse needs pure biotin, a complex supplement specific to the hoof such as Horse Health Hoof Shur or Farnam Horseshoer’s Secret, or whether a simple multivitamin will suffice. Some supplements such as Horse Health Joint Combo, by containing large amounts of biotin, have the additional benefit of strengthening tendons, cartilage, and other connective tissues. Be careful to account for other vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients that your horse is already receiving through his food or other supplements. Some of them, especially certain amino acids, magnesium, and selenium can build up to toxic levels in the blood. One side effect of selenium poisoning in particular is hair loss in the mane and tail, and sloughing off of the hoof wall – which you do not want when you are trying to strengthen your horse’s hooves!
With the horse’s diet, care must be taken for him not to get overweight. The more a horse weighs, the more stress is put on his hooves, and the more likely they are to get brittle and develop cracks.
Besides Diet, What Can I Do To Strengthen My Horse’s Hooves?
While diet is the main thing which affects hoof health, it can take a while to see results from dietary changes, as the new hoof wall needs time to grow out. To some extend, management and lifestyle can have effects that are visible sooner. In any case, after addressing the horse’s diet, it is important to look at the management of his lifestyle to see if there are any ways to strengthen his feet. As mentioned, horses need a “Goldilocks” climate for optimum hoof health – not too wet, not too dry, and not too many drastic changes from wet to dry. Because the weather cannot be planned, however, it is important to try and plan the horse’s turnout such that he spends a balanced amount of time on different surfaces and minimal time in extremes.
If the horse’s hooves are very dry and brittle, allowing him to spend time in moist ground (mud, a creek, etc.) can be very beneficial. On the other hand, if the horse’s hooves are very soft and crumbly, allowing him to spend time on hard and dry surfaces can help to dry and strengthen the hooves.
Many horses can be helped by walking on as many different surfaces as possible – asphalt, sand, gravel, mud, and grass. Furthermore, allowing the horse maximum turnout and access to forage is the best – increasing circulation, increasing oxygenation in the blood for healthy circulation and muscle development, and a diet high in fiber. These are the most crucial building blocks for a healthy set of hooves.
In addition to managing diet and lifestyle, some people have found luck with different hoof conditioners. These work by adding oils to the hoof wall and sealing out moisture, fungus, and bacteria from entering the hoof wall. PodoGuard has the capability to seal moisture within the hoof walls and promotes hoof growth. Farnam Horseshoer’s Secret Conditioner as well as Farnam Rainmaker are well-known for being excellent conditioners, while Keratex works as a powerful hardener.
Those who are looking for a solution to strengthen their horses’ hooves have a market full of dietary and topical solutions to the problem. As with everything, it is important to support as natural a lifestyle as possible, at which point the body usually adopts its best hoof growth that it can. If the horse’s body needs a bit of extra support, fortunately there are ways to offer your horse that extra bit of support!