Your horse's hooves provide the foundation for everything you two do together, so it's essential to know the hoof care that will keep them healthy, strong and sound. Some common hoof problems and diseases can happen to the healthiest hooves, so it's important to know what to look out for and what to do if a problem arises.
Seasonal Weather And Your Horses Hoof
Winter can take a toll on your horse's hoof, with wet, cold conditions causing mud fever, thrush, sore heels, brittle, cracked hooves causing loss of shoes. You can help keep your horses hooves healthy by cleaning their feet out daily, keeping your horses legs clean and dry, brushing mud off their hooves and legs. In addition, there are different products on the market to help protect and keep your horses' feet conditioned and healthy through winter.
Thrush is a common bacterial infection on the frog, usually most evident in the sulci (grooves) on either side of the frog and the central section. Thrush causes the black discharge to happen on and around the frog, and a strong, unpleasant odour accompanies the discharge. The bacterium involved is Fusobacterium necrophorum and occurs naturally in the animal's environment, especially in wet, muddy, or unsanitary conditions, such as an unclean stable and grows best with low oxygen. Horses with deep clefts, narrow or contracted heels are at higher risk of developing thrush.
How To Prevent Thrush
Oxygen kills the bacteria that causes thrush; regular use of the hoof pick will allow air to the foot and reduce the ability of the bacteria to take hold. Keep your horses stable, clean and dry. There are many commercially available products to treat thrush, but you should work closely with your vet and farrier to address it and keep it from coming back.
During frequent weather changes from wet to dry, horses hooves are prone to becoming dry and brittle, causing hoof cracks. While some horses are born with poor hoof quality and are more susceptible to problems, prolonged trimming or shoeing intervals can contribute.
Quarter Cracks - Occur on the side of the hoof and can be the most aggravating of all hoof cracks to treat. Causes can occur by conformation defects, trauma or poor farriery/trimming.
Grass Cracks - Typically, start from the ground and move upwards. It is usually thin and does not penetrate deep within the wall, and can occur from long untrimmed hooves, poor nutrition and lack of exercise.
Sand Cracks - Are similar to grass cracks but originate from the coronary band (at the top of the hoof) and extend downwards. They are the most common cause of lameness in hooves that are cracked.
Toe Cracks - Are less common and usually begin on the inside of the hoof, where they are not visible until they reach the wall's surface.
Superficial Cracks - Generally, they cause fewer problems, but some can worsen, requiring immediate treatment from your vet/farrier. If you notice a crack in your horse's foot and signs of lameness, pain or infection. It is advisable to contact your vet or farrier for the best advice to action plan your horse's hoof to recovery.
How To Prevent Cracks From Appearing
To help prevent cracks from appearing, use a daily hoof moisturiser or oil that will help penetrate the hoof to provide nourishment, preventing the hoof wall from drying out and support the growing hoof wall.
Hoof supplements are also a fantastic way to make sure your horse gets the right ingredients in his diet. For healthy, strong hooves, ingredients such as biotin can significantly help improve hoof quality. When combined with other essential nutrients such as zinc, they can effectively encourage strong keratin growth within the hoof. Also, keeping to your schedule with your farrier for trimming and shoeing, frequent and shorter time frames can help prevent hoof cracks. Speak to your farrier on what time frame will suit your horse; the average is every six weeks but can vary on hoof growth.
Abscesses are one of the most painful and adverse conditions in the hoof, typically characterised by sudden-onset severe lameness. The horse may refuse to put any weight at all on the affected hoof.
What Is A Hoof Abscess?
A hoof abscess is a pocket of infection in the lamina, starting with a puncture wound or a possible misplaced horseshoe nail. The hole allows bacteria to enter the hoof, where it thrives in the warm dark environment. While the bacteria eats away at the hoof tissue, the horse's immune system attacks. The resulting pocket of bacteria, white blood cells and dead hoof tissue build pressure on the sensitive structures of the horse's hoof, causing the pain response.
How To Help Heal The Abscess
A vet or farrier can drain the abscess confirming the diagnosis; left untreated, the abscess can erupt through the sole of the hoof or at the coronary band.
Once the vet has located and drained the abscess or the abscess has burst on its own, the key is to keep the area clean to avoid reinfection. The hoof should be soaked in a solution of Epsom salts and warm water to help draw out any remaining infection and keep poulticed until it has healed. The recovery period is typically no more than a week to ten days, but this can vary widely depending on the severity of the abscess and the owner's ability to prevent reinfection.
A horse with a bruised hoof can show varying degrees of lameness. Some will only be off on uneven or rocky surfaces, while others may be consistently lame. A sole bruise may show up as a visible mark, but a horse will usually show lameness or sensitivity before the bruise appears. In some cases, the bruise may not be severe enough to cause lameness, but the horse will be sensitive to hoof testers or concussion in the affected area. Bruises are most often caused by stepping on a rock or hard, uneven ground.
There are various other reasons as to why a horse may have hoof bruises. For example, regularly working your horse on a hard arena surface, improper farriery/ trimming, some horses' may also be predisposed to bruising due to thinner soles or flatter feet. A simple bruise left untreated can become a more serious abscess as more blood pools in the affected area.
How To Help Heal Your Horse's Bruise
If your horse shows signs of bruising, you can soak his feet in cool water, which may help prevent the rapid blood flow to the area that causes the bruise. In more severe cases, it is best to call a vet or farrier. In addition, you can reduce the risk of bruises by being diligent about picking your horse's feet out daily, removing any rocks that may be stuck in his hoof and any dirt in the crevice's.
Corns often result from bearing unequal pressure due to poor conformation or wearing a shoe that has been fitted too tightly; these form where the heel and bars meet. Veterinarians and farriers usually describe corns as either dry or moist. A dry corn resembles a red bruise due to the tubular horn filling with blood. A moist corn appears yellow because the serum is present.