Published: March 2021 | Updated: April 2023
Most horse owners are well aware of the phrase, ‘no hoof, no horse’ and have a good understanding of what that means. They know that hoof health is vital for a sound and healthy horse, but as some of us are also well aware, keeping your horse’s feet looking and feeling great can be easier said than done.
When it comes to hoof care, there are some basics that are important to know, and they can be split into three main categories: trimming and shoeing practices, nutrition, and the horse’s environment.
Fullbucket’s Dr. Rob Franklin and Dr. Keith Latson spoke with Dr. Scott Fleming, one of the country’s leading equine podiatrists at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. The three veterinarians discussed some fundamental hoof care information, which we are sharing with you here!
Trimming and Shoeing Practices
Because domesticated horses aren’t moving miles a day over varied terrain and naturally maintaining their feet (also known as self-trimming), regular intervention is needed. Many horses also need some form of hoof protection as well in order to be ridden or compete on certain terrains. But one of the big questions many horse owners may have is, “How often does my horse need to be trimmed or re-shod?”
Dr. Fleming explains that while there is no definitive answer to this question and every horse needs to be treated as an individual, four to six weeks is the most common length of time that a horse should go between farrier visits. Keeping to that regular schedule is especially important for horses with some sort of hoof pathology, where the goal is to correct a problem with shoes or a certain style of trimming.
“In our environment, with some of the therapeutic-type cases, we want to manage the hoof capsule as a finite area before things start growing beyond what is ideal, mechanically speaking,” says Fleming. “So four to six weeks would be the average, but a two-week schedule may be more appropriate for horses with hoof problems.”
Different horse breeds can have unique hoof conformation and, therefore, different hoof care needs. For example, some breeds have smaller, more upright feet, whereas others may be prone to having low heels or forward foot syndrome.
“Throughout my career at the racetrack, we were constantly working with farriers and 2 through 7-year-old Thoroughbreds, a lot of which had those low slung heels, thin soles, long toes, and some of the issues that came along with those conformational metrics,” notes Dr. Latson.
So it would make sense that a Thoroughbred would need a different type of trim and shoeing schedule than a Quarter Horse that might naturally have plenty of heel and shorter toes.
Nutrition For a Healthy Horse Hoof
Many people may not automatically think of nutrition when it comes to horse hoof health, but this is another important factor that impacts hooves. Certain nutrients are often found to be lacking in equine diets which can definitely have a negative effect on hoof condition.
Feeding a forage-based diet of high-quality grass hay covers many key nutrients, but here are a few that you may need to supplement, especially if you notice problems like cracks, thrush, or seedy toe:
- Amino acids including methionine, cystine and cysteine; and
- B vitamins including biotin and niacin.
Fortunately, you’ll find many of these nutrients included in hoof supplements for horses; Just make sure that you read the labels carefully and choose wisely.
Environmental Horse Hoof Care Tips
The horse’s environment can also affect the condition of their hooves, and wet environments seem to be especially problematic. Sometimes, there’s not much a horse owner can do about the environment, but having a dry place for the horse to get out of the mud is important. A variety of topical treatments can also help provide a moisture barrier to keep wetness out.
“I don't find that there are many topicals that truly put a ton of moisture back into the wall,” relays Fleming, “but what we try to do is to maybe put a barrier around the hoof and basically, that's like a nail polish or something that is just a hardshell moisture barrier.”
Fleming also notes that there is a type of “superglue” for hooves that he likes to use on barefoot horses with a soft wall as it also offers a moisture barrier. This product can then be sanded smooth and do a nice job of keeping the hoof dry.
However, Fleming mentions that formalin-based hoof topicals and other common horse hoof care products don’t do much to stop the flow of moisture.
“They just basically make the disulfide bonds in the foot more rigid and harden it, ” he notes. “And there are some other things like Venice turpentine and different things out there that are supposedly hardeners. I think it's just, honestly, trial and error for what your environment is asking of it, but I certainly wouldn't recommend those kinds of chemicals and things that you're going to be exposing yourself to.”
Fleming also warns about using hoof hardeners which may make the foot too brittle.
For horses kept in stalls, the type of bedding can impact the hooves as well. Fleming recommends using some type of drainage system for stalls that tend to stay wetter and limiting the amount of moisture that the horse has to stand in.
“We have a ton of horses on straw in our area,” he says, “but it's not a very absorbent material, so I find that a lot of times it can be less drying, whereas some shavings or sawdust can be a little bit more on the drying side.”
By keeping your horse on a good trimming and/or shoeing cycle with a reputable farrier, ensuring proper nutrition, and also being mindful of your horse’s environment, you should be able to keep his feet looking good.
However, if problems arise, consult your veterinarian or an equine podiatrist, if available, in order to address those issues and get your horse back on the path to soundness.