Daily inspection and cleaning out of the hooves (before and after exercise) is essential to avoid hoof problems that can result in lameness. Check the condition (dry or damp) of the soles, frogs and sidewalls, as well as the condition and tightness of shoes.

Check with your farrier if you are concerned about the shape, state or soundness of the hooves.

Dry hot weather

Under dry conditions, a hoof dressing should be applied daily, reducing to once every second day once the hooves are in good condition.

In cases of very dry hooves, particularly when working on dry sandy tracks or arenas, wash and dampen the hoof wall and sole with water (e.g. when hosing after work) and apply a hoof oil to the damp hoof, such as Old Timer’s Blended Hoof Oil, which will absorb up to 30% of its own weight in water and act as a reservoir to prevent further drying out.

Wet weather

During wet weather the hooves take up excessive moisture through the hoof wall edge, resulting in reduced weight-bearing capacity, ‘sore feet’, and lameness, particularly in unshod horses.

Dry off the hooves after work with a towel and apply liberal coatings of hoof oil, such as Old Timer’s Blended Hoof Oil, to the under surface of the hoof and the hoof wall around the edge of the shoe. This will provide a protective oil barrier against excessive moisture.

Brittle, shelly and broken away hooves

If a horse has brittle, shelly or broken away hooves, or has very low heels, specific management should be instigated to overcome these structural or mechanical problems.

Excessive moisture loss during dry weather is a common cause of surface cracking and reduced flexibility of the hoof wall. A good quality hoof dressing, free of tars, mineral oil and animal grease should be applied each day. A thin coating of hoof oil after hosing and cooling off will help to maintain optimum moisture content of the hooves.

Daily supplementation with the water soluble vitamin biotin, such as in Cal-Plus with Biotin, will help harden and strengthen the hoof wall and hoof wall-sole bonding in horses with chopped, broken-away or very soft and shelly hooves.

Check for 'flare out' toes

When horses are brought into work and introduced to diets with increasing amounts of grain and more exercise, a growth band up to 5-8mm wide will often form at the coronary band during the first month of training, and grow down as a ring around the hoof at about 1cm per month. This is a sign of increased hoof circulation, better nutrition and in some cases, low grade grain-induced laminitis.

About 10-15% of horses with on high grain diets develop a characteristic ‘flaring out’ or ‘dishing’ of the front hooves. The hoof wall, instead of growing at a uniform angle, develops a flatter angle about two-thirds of the way down the wall, with a flaring out. Over time, this increases the size of the shoes that need to be fitted.

Often the white line on the sole of the hoof is wider and crumbly, the hooves broken away at the edges, and the gait scratchy or shuffling. Some horses also have a history of constant ‘cow pat’ droppings, or pasty, acid smelling manure. Recent surveys and investigation indicate that the progressive changes in hoof shape and other symptoms are linked to high grain diets and low-grade laminitis (founder). A daily supplement of a product such as Founderguard may be useful in these cases.

Correct low heels

Low heels on the front hooves can be overcome by trimming the toe to the correct angle, and leaving the heel as long as possible. Alternatively, the heels can be supported by extending the shoe length by 2-3mm to reduce the weight bearing forces on the rear of the leg and tendons.

Avoid wide shoes

It is essential to avoid wide (or very heavy) shoes that press on the sole inside the white line in all horses, but particularly young thoroughbreds in their first preparation. Studies have shown that excessive sole ‘pressure’ may reduce blood flow to the sole and heel, and increase the risk of flat soles and hoof problems.

Ideally, shoes should only contact the ground surface edge of the hoof wall to bear weight and prevent excessive wear and tear on the hoof walls during training. There are two ways of reducing sole contact with shoes.

The simplest method is to trim away the sole a little to reduce sole contact with the inner surface of the shoe – however, sand can get in between the shoe and sole, and the sole grows quickly and again contacts the shoe.

Alternatively, use shoes with a bevelled inner edge. This can be done by grinding off the inner edge, or fitting bevelled ready made shoes to reduce sole pressure on the front hooves in particular. The gap left around the bevelled edge can be filled in with silastic cement to prevent sand and small stones packing into the bevelled area and pressing on the sole.

Article courtesy of Dr John Kohnke from ‘Health Care and problems of Horses, 9th edition’ published by Virbac-Vetsearch.

Dr John Kohnke has over 20 years of experience in the health care and management of horses. He is well known for his ability to give sound, practical and up-to-date advice, which is sought by trainers and horse owners worldwide. As Technical Director of Vetsearch for 20 years, John had an opportunity to pursue research in equine nutrition, parasite control, lameness and respiratory problems.