Hoof cracks in horses!


We like to think of the horse’s hoof as a structure that is solid, but any hoof can develop hoof cracks.  Sometimes the cracks are benign, and sometimes they need veterinary and farrier attention. 


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Any type of vertical crack on your horse can stem from a variety of reasons


  • For complicated cracks, which incidentally don’t always look complicated, your veterinarian may need to resect the hoof or surgically suture it together.  Quarter cracks, for example, like to split the hoof from the top down.  Sometimes the split is deep enough to create an open,, and bleeding, wound.


  • Vets can diagnose, treat, and prescribe, farriers support the hoof and work their magic on carrying out the treatment plan. That’s why it’s always best to get the gang together to work on this as a group.


vertical hoof crack that has line above it

This crack has been stopped from moving north, and has a bit of thrush medication to prevent “seedy toe” or white line disease. You can also see that the bottom has been widened to allow air and medication in.


  • Getting back to cracks – there are many types of vertical cracks, and depending on who you ask, the names may overlap or you may use one name to cover a few different cracks. The horse below has a small crack in the front of his hoof, and the vet called it a grass crack, the farrier called it a sand crack, the boarder next to me called it seedy toe. I just call it a crack.


Hoof cracks can develop due to a variety of reasons, such as:


  • Conformation of your horse’s hoof and lowe leg, such as length of the toe.
  • Injury to the hoof.  Knocks are one thing, and slices and cuts to the hoof are possible, too. The hoof is not impenetrable steel. 
  • Moisture changes in the environment.  That wet-dry cycle as horses spend time in dewy and muddy pastures and come in to dry stalls and paddocks. 
  • Footing and surfaces that your horse lives on.  Some footing is like sandpaper to the hoof. 


Quick video about hoof cracks in hooves. 


The severity of the hoof crack also varies.


  • A quarter crack that extends from the coronary band to the bottom of the hoof will move a lot, often times tearing the inside structures and causing pain, bleeding, and lameness. Quarter cracks are on the side of the hoof and generally start at the coronary band. Daily inspection for sores and bleeding along the coronary band can alert you to a quarter crack in the making.


small vertical hoof crack

This is a tiny crack before the farrier has opened it up.


Sometimes, bacteria like to get involved.


  • Some cracks, called sand cracks or grass cracks, occur around the toe and can be very small, but allow a few anaerobic bacteria to get in between the hoof wall and the internal structures. Anaerobic bacteria love places without oxygen, so this infection can travel all the way up the hoof wall. It’s best to catch these cracks early so that the crack can be stopped from traveling up the hoof, and the bacterial infection inside can be treated. This seedy toe condition can cause such damage that your horse’s hoof wall must be resected (essentially removed) to clear the infection. Let’s hope it never gets that far.


  • Vertical cracks need time and support to grow out. Large cracks are often glued or sutured or stapled together. Often, your farrier will support your horse’s hoof with bar shoes, acrylic patches, or a change in angles, done with radiographs from the veterinarian. Smaller cracks are often opened at the bottom to allow air to kill the bacteria if necessary, and sometimes a hole or notch stops the upward movement of a crack.


hoof crack with hole drilled

This hole is handy to use as an opening for medication to prevent bacterial infection. It also stops the crack from moving upwards.



Any crack – large or small – is not often what it seems.


  • Small cracks can be deep, large cracks can be superficial. Any crack is going to be stressed under the forces of your horse moving around, possibly enlarging the crack or creating the perfect place for an infection, lameness, or soft tissue damage to set in.


  • The key to dealing successfully with hoof cracks is an early intervention! Call the vet and the farrier and make sure you can nip it in the bud. If the subject of hoof cracks is totally fascinating to you and you want to learn about horizontal hoof cracks, this article is for you.


More about quarter cracks


What you can do about hoof cracks


There are lots of readily available treatments to help stop hoof cracks from turning into a problem – after your horse’s team has accessed the crack.  


  • Topical treatments, often of the purple or green variety, are helpful for shallow thrush infections or minor cases of white line disease. 


  • Special soaks, like CleanTrax, are mixed with water and your horse gets to marinate in a bag or bucket to bring bacteria-killing goodness into all of the nooks and crannies.


  • Hoof sprays are helpful for cleaning the hoof before a deeper treatment and may clear up superficial thrush.  


  • Hoof clays are useful under the horseshoe to keep debris out of any cracks. 


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