12 Hoof Care Tips for Maximum Horse Hoof Health
- Your horse’s hooves hold him up! And while there’s not a lot we can do for a horse’s genetics, we can help our horses have healthy hooves. You can catch common hoof problems quickly and keep your horse’s feet in tip-top shape.
Keep hoof picks everywhere.
- I’ve always held the philosophy that you should check your horse’s hooves before you move him anywhere. Pick feet before you take him from his stall or paddock, just in case there are foreign objects wedged in the shoe or groove. Don’t move your horse if you find something impaling the sole unless you absolutely must.
- Most hoof picks have a handy hole on the handle, just so for a piece of baling twine to create a loop. Hang hoof picks everywhere around the barn and farm! Rubber hooks outside of stalls, in the grooming ties, by paddock gates, and by the washrack. There’s no reason not to pick hooves several times a day. This will also keep your barn aisles tidier!
Take the digital pulse as you are picking hooves.
- Digital pulses are the vital signs of the horse’s hoof and measure the blood flow into the horse’s foot. It takes only seconds to take a digital pulse, and they can immediately tell you if something is going on inside the hoof.
- The digital artery and vein run down the sides of the fetlocks into the hoof. In a normal and healthy hoof, the pulse is non-existent or barely detectable. When there’s damage, swelling, or pain inside the hoof, the vessels inside get constricted. Then the digital artery has to pump harder to get blood into the hoof. This excessive pumping creates a firm or bounding pulse, which you can feel.
- Most horses will have a stronger pulse than usual before they start limping. It’s your warning sign that something is wrong, and you should call your vet.
- For more on the digital pulse, this article has you covered!
This video shows you how the digital artery “works” to check your horse’s hoof health.
This video shows you how to measure the digital pulse.
Memorize your horse’s coronary bands.
- The coronary band, or coronet band, is where the horse’s hoof is born. Injuries, even the smallest one, can permanently alter the hoof wall’s growth. Daily inspections of the coronary area, and even regular clipping of the hair, will help you spot vulnerable areas. Quarter cracks also start here, and gravel abscesses can also “blow out” here.
- While more minor hoof cracks start at the edge of the hoof and can create white line disease, these gravel hoof abscesses form a soft pocket in the hoof wall as it grows out. Sometimes those pockets open up as the hoof capsule flexes and creates a horizontal-ish crack. It’s typically not a problem at all, but stinky stuff can get stuck in there.
- For more on the coronary band, read this!
Use your nose to check for thrush
- Thrush is that horrid black paste that horses can get in their grooves, around the frog, and even deep into the crevices around the heel bulbs. It’s a bacterial infection, and the particular butt-head microbes that feast on your horse’s hoof are anaerobic. There’s no oxygen needed!
- Luckily for your horse and unluckily for you, your nose can pick up this smell long before you see the typical black goo. It smells rancid, and you will know something is off! You to take care of the thrush before it grows into something that causes lameness and pain.
- The absolute best thing to do is NOT READ THE INTERNET about what works for thrush. Call your Vet and Farrier and ask for recommendations. Your horse’s environment is different than an internet stranger’s, which means the microbes are different. You want a targeted solution!
- Do not use peroxide. As bacteria eat your horse’s hoof, it creates a wound. Peroxide can make that wound worse! The best way to apply medications is to rinse the hoof. Put your nozzle on the JET setting and spray out the grooves. Pat it dry, and then use your hoof meds.
Wraps can be helpful in keeping some muck out of a thrush-infected hoof.
Feed the hoof from the inside out
- Aside from genetics, your horse’s diet influences his hooves from the inside out. It’s not always as easy as tossing in a biotin supplement. You need to feed quality forage with vitamins and minerals, creating a balanced diet. Some hoof supplements will overlap ingredients with your ration balancer or vitamin/mineral supplements. It’s never a bad idea to have your vet or equine nutritionist help you decipher all of it!
- You will also find, with proper nutrition, that your horse has a nice coat, a healthy weight, and that overall “bloom” that comes with a bright eye and bushy tail. Your horse will have much better hoof quality!
Get regular “balance-series” x-rays of your horse’s hooves.
- The entire point of hoof care is to make the hoof’s inside and outside have proper balance for your horse. This supports your horse’s skeleton, his soft tissues, how he moves, addresses conformation issues, and affects overall soundness and comfort. Using x-rays helps your farrier make the best adjustments for your horse! Follow-up x-rays can track changes. Many horses have this done every six to 12 months.
- You will also be able to see how much sole your horse has with x-rays. Thin soles are more likely to bruise and cause pain. Boots or shoes with pads can help.
Just helping the farrier do the best job possible! And letting everyone know about your horse’s sole thickness.
Pre-schedule your Farrier visits
- I like to have farrier visits pre-scheduled, or else I forget and then end up putting myself, my horse, and my farrier in a bind. I usually schedule the next one while my farrier is there.
- It’s tempting to stretch your horse’s farrier visits as far apart to save money. But – then your horse’s hoof gets extra long, and then needs a lot lobbed off to correct the toe. Instead of staying close to ideal, the hoof’s extremes get spread out.
- Keep your farrier’s regular trimming and shoeing cycle on shorter intervals, and you may be able to adjust this in winter months. Some horses have a noticeable slow down of hoof growth during cold weather, and then hoof growth picks up in warmer months.
Have hoof care tools at your barn in case you need to pull a shoe.
- I had a horse that would only twist a shoe when his farrier was on vacation or far away at a show. Like clockwork. So I learned to pull a horseshoe.
- Have your farrier show you how, step by step! You can order the bare minimum of farrier tools. You don’t need every piece of equipment that your farrier would have. It boils down to this:
- Have a way to cut the clenches on the outside of the hoof wall. You can do this with nippers, a rasp, or that mini axe-looking tool (that’s really called a clinch cutter) with a tiny hammer. But mini axe is just more fun.
- Then you pull the nails with the crease nail puller. The shoe will fall off when you pull the nails from the shoe! Using pliers to peel a shoe off by wiggling back and forth isn’t easy for you or comfortable for your horse. Just take the nails out!
- The other bonus of learning to pull a shoe is that you will immediately become more empathetic to your farrier’s life. That job is HARD.
I find it’s easier to remove the clenches with nippers or a rasp.
Have simple hoof care products on hand
- Just like it’s handy to have some farrier tools on hand, keep some hoof care items, too. At the bare minimum, have a protective boot, a hoof poultice, and diapers. Ideally, you have a way to soak hooves and keep them on ice if necessary.
- Diapers are good for scooping up hoof packing for wrapping, giving a barefoot hoof some squish, and freezing for ice packs.
- For hoof packing, ichthammol is one stinky option that can also make a wound cream. Green Epsom salt paste poultice can help draw out abscesses. If your horse gets tender on hard or unfamiliar footing, Magic Cushion is a wonderful poultice, too.
- Hoof boots range from temporary to mega-tough. In a pinch, hoof wraps can hold a squishy pad and some packing. Full coverage boots are tougher and provide more protection while holding more packing and padding.
- Hoof soaking bags are handier than buckets and can easily double as ice cube holders. IV bags, the 5L variety, are thick and durable for hoof soaking. Cut the top or bottom off, and you’re ready to go.
- For details on how to make a hoof care kit, this article has you covered!
Have a way to soak and ice hooves!
Don’t automatically pull shoes in winter.
- There seems to be a long-standing tradition that some horses, in winter, get a break from training, and their horseshoes are yanked. Pulling shoes works wonders for some horses! BUT…
- There are a few situations in which I would not pull shoes in the winter months. If my horse had thin soles, the ground gets frozen, or I will still be riding, even just a little bit.
- Wet conditions in winter may also necessitate the use of hoof moisturizer or conditioner to “waterproof” the hoof. Hoof dressings can also help with dry conditions in winter.
Your vet and farrier are a team – know when to call one, the other, or both.
- Both vets and farriers know an awful lot about your horse’s hooves. But here’s the thing – hoof problems are tricky to diagnose. Abscesses can also be laminitis. Laminitis can also be bruising. Not to mention all of the tiny ligaments inside the hoof that can get injured! All of these are painful!
- I will always suggest calling your vet first. Vets have the x-rays and diagnostic skills and are licensed to do both of those. They can also prescribe a pain management regime to help your horse get comfortable quickly.
- Loop your farrier in at the same time to create channels for drainage or provide supportive shoeing for laminitis or pads for bruising.
- There is a particular case that haunts me. I knew a horse who previously had laminitis, and one day, he was sore in the front hooves. The owner was giving pain meds and wanted to “wait and see”. She called the farrier, who poked and prodded without any luck. Eventually, she called the vet, only to find massive rotation of the coffin bones. He was euthanized after about a week, start to finish.
- Laminitis can brew, causing damage, in a hoof for hours and hours and hours before your horse tells you. Early diagnosis with immediate and constant icing improves the chance of a good outcome. Please don’t delay.
More laminitis information here:
Give your horse more turnout!
Movement is mental and physical health. That is all.
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These ice packs make for easy cooling of your horse’s legs and hooves. They last for hours.
This tall boot can be filled with ice or ice packs to help the horse with laminitis.
These squishy boots are great to give your horse some major comfort during laminitis.
These boots are great for lost shoes, they have a durable sole and thick leather design.
This hoof wrap is affordable and convenient for tossed shoes.
These affordable boots can be filled with ice to help your horse.
For easy hoof soaking.
Nippers for shoe removal!
Crease nail puller. This makes taking off a shoe easy, and reduces the change the nail will do more damage.
Ichthammol salve for wounds and hoof issues.
Bright green salt poultice for hooves.