common hoof issues

Common hoof problems that you can spot early!


  • You may have noticed that I’m basically a fanatic of catching weird things early. Here’s why. The longer you wait, the more your vet bill is. And, when you are talking about hoof-related things, it becomes a fine line between “not a big deal” and “very much a life-threatening big deal”. Luckily with a little bit of diligence, you can start to notice things early.


For a complete guide to leg and hoof grooming, this article has you covered!


Hoof problem: Thrush


  • What you notice: Black goop. Rancid smell. Usually in the grooves around the frog, sometimes just inside the shoe, sometimes in the middle of the frog or further back and higher up between the heel bulbs.


  • What to do: OTC solutions like SteriHoof, green Copper Sulfate, purple gentian violet. For the love of Pete don’t use peroxide or bleach. Like really. Involve the Vet if this lasts more than three days with treatment. More on thrush here!

horse with horseshoe and some purple thrush medication

Hoof Problem: Canker


  • What you notice: Thickening tissue of the hoof/frog, usually white or gray colored. Your nose will react to the gross smell, your horse might be lame.


  • What to do? Call the vet. Canker is complicated to treat, and often involves surgery. It can spread from the frog into the sole and hoof wall, causing massive problems. It most definitely doesn’t go away by itself.


Hoof Problem: Seedy toe AKA white line.


  • What you notice: Usually you’ll see small cracks at the bottom of the hoof. You might also see a separation of tissues along the white line. If your horse is shod you’ll need to inspect when the shoes are off.


  • What to do? Call the vet and farrier. Early stages can be resected (removed) for your vet’s treatment of choice to be applied. Later stages will involve massive resections and special supportive shoes. It’s a long-haul process, don’t ignore the little cracks. In the early stages of white line disease you can try soaks – your vet can give you a formula to use.


lots of hoof crack on a horse overdue for shoes

These little cracks may signal white line disease.


Hoof Problem: Bruise


  • What you notice: Usually nothing. Sometimes an increased digital pulse. A bruise to the sole sometimes isn’t visible until a bit of the sole is trimmed away. If your horse is barefoot or shod, bruising can occur after a short trim. A bruise looks like it sounds – a pinkish or purplish stain. Your horse’s tenderness or lameness is usually your first sign.


  • What to do: Call the vet and farrier. Your vet can evaluate the bruise, as some can turn into other things like laminitis. It’s rare, but it can happen. Also, your vet can give you meds for pain management. Your farrier can pop some pads or pour in pads, or fit your horse for supportive and cushy boots. More on bruises here.


hoof bruising along the hoof wall

The pink along the hoof wall is bruising.


Hoof Problem: Abscess


  • What you notice: Crazy lameness, usually suddenly. Most of the time there’s a strong digital pulse. You might also find heat in the hoof.


  • What to do: Call the vet. And maybe there farrier also. While I absolutely respect all farriers, they are not able to diagnose or treat or prescribe, especially when there’s soft tissue involved. Your vet can dig deep, provide pain relief, and give your horse meds to help clear this up. You should also know that abscesses can also indicate other issues, like laminitis. Your farrier joins the team to pull and reset a shoe. If the abscess needs to drain and the shoe is in the way, your farrier may be able to create a custom shoe or offer support for a barefoot hoof.


Hoof Problem: Street nail


  • What you notice: A piece of metal in the hoof or coronary band. BUT – I’ve seen cases where the frog or part of the shoe hides the metal. Your horse will likely be insanely lame.


  • What to do: This is life-threatening. Your vet must be called ASAP. Most likely your vet will have you leave the metal in so X-rays can be taken. It’s likely that some sort of surgery will be involved, with intense and detailed care following surgery. The danger lies in your horse developing supporting limb laminitis. More on the dangers of a street nail here.


horse in buckets of ice

Icing the hooves is great for bruises, hard work, laminitis.


Hoof Problem: Laminitis


  • What you notice: Any or all of the above. Tender walking, reluctance to turn, hot hooves, increased digital pulse, parked out stance, colic-like symptoms, and more.


  • What to do: Call the dang vet pronto! Laminitis can be life-threatening. Early intervention is key, it’s the difference between recovery and heartbreak. While the vet is coming to you, get those hooves in some ice. For hours upon hours upon hours.



  • It’s overwhelming to think about all of these things! But if you pay attention every single day, pick your horse’s hooves all the dang time, monitor the digital pulses daily, and generally memorize your horse, most of these common hoof problems are easy to manage. The video below shows how to check the digital pulse.


go shopping button for horse products


If you are interested in some hoof care products, you can shop here. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, which are not a penny more for you. I couldn’t be more grateful for your support!

Equine Epsom Salt Poultice


Ichthammol 20% Ointment (14 oz) (Drawing Salve) – for your first aid kit and hoof care


These squishy boots are great to give your horse some major comfort.


These affordable boots can be filled with ice to help your horse.


Cavallo Simple Hoof Boot for Horses, Black – thick-soled hoof boot for riding and hoof wrapping.


Hoof Wraps Soaker Sacks for Horse / Equine

Hoof Wraps Easy Soaker with pads