Horse hoof with cracks - A quick guide to common hoof problems and solutions

For as big and strong as our horses are, their base of support—their feet—are amazingly fragile. Good horse care basics go a long way towards making sure your horse’s feet are healthy: feeding a balanced diet, keeping hooves clean, maintaining good footing in hoof in mud - common hoof problemsrings and pastures and regular trims are all solid preventative measures that can head off real problems. Sometimes, though, even our best efforts aren’t quite enough to keep trouble at bay. Fortunately, the most common hoof problems can also be the easiest to deal with. Here’s a guide to some problems that horse people often see and some tips on how to prevent and treat them:

Problem

 Description

 Cause

 Prevention

 Treatment

ThrushReally, really bad smelling, blackish material around the frog area (actually bits of the decaying frog)Thrush is a bacterial infection caused by—you guessed it—excessive bacteria in a horse’s environment– Keep stalls clean and dry
– Pick out feet regularly
– Avoid prolonged exposure to manure and muddy conditions
There are lots of products out there to treat thrush. Some still swear by the classics: bleach, peroxide, or iodine
CracksThis one’s pretty obvious: vertical cracks run up the walls of the hoof– Weak hoof walls
– Very dry environments
– Poor nutrition
– Turnout/exercise on very hard surfaces
– Quality feed program, including supplements for horses with poor feet
– Keeping moisture in the hoof balanced
– Where possible, ensure that footing is soft but not deep
– Hoof moisturizer
– Corrective shoeing
– Deep cracks might require pain medication and/or restricted exercise to heal
Heel bruisingThe sole becomes discoloured (red or yellowish) at the site of bruising– Turnout/exercise on very hard surfaces
– Exposure to rocky or uneven ground
– Conformation (thin soles and/or flat feet)
– Nutritional supplements for stronger hooves
– Maintain level, soft, but not deep footing where possible
– Pick feet out regularly
– Wear hoof boots if the horse is prone to bruising 
– Topical hoof hardener
– Corrective shoeing, – including pads
– Serious bruises might require pain medication and/or restricted exercise to promote healing
AbscessesA pocket of infection within the hoof—if it opens and drains, a dark spot and/or hole will appear and ooze disgusting fluid– Injury/puncture wound
– Result of a bruise, or any condition that allows for bacteria to enter the hoof and become trapped
– Keep paddocks and laneways free of hazards (stray fence nails, etc.)
– Keep moisture balanced in the hoof
– Poultice wraps or soaks in Epsom salts until drainage occurs
– Deep abscesses might need antibiotics—talk to your vet
Contracted heelsThe heels actually narrow at the base of the frog, often to less than 2/3 the width of the hoof itself– Conformation
– Loss of moisture in the hoof
– Poor trimming
– Inadequate exercise
– Keep moisture balanced in the hoof
– Proper trimming
– Plenty of exercise
– Nutritional supplements for stronger hooves
– Hoof moisturizer
– Corrective trimming/shoeing (it can take a long time to restore the foot to normal)
Close nails/Hot nailsNails driven in too closely to the hoof’s sensitive inner structures, causing pain and often infection– Poor shoeing
– Conformation (thin or uneven hoof walls)
– Proper shoeing that compensates for conformation problems
– Finer shoe nails
– Removal of nail and possibly shoe
– Cleaning/drainage of hole
– Topical antiseptics
White Line Disease (Seedy Toe)The white line (at the junction between the outer wall and the sole) becomes soft and crumbly, and then separates the hoof wall and soleFungal and bacterial infection that eats away at hoof tissue– Proper trimming
– Avoid prolonged exposure to mud and manure
– Pick out feet regularly
– Topical anti-fungal medication and/or antibiotics
– Serious cases might need a trim that removes the affected area of the hoof wall
LaminitisInflammation of the lamina (the tissue between hoof and coffin bone)– Horses eating too much grain/rich grass
– Injury
– Heavy concussion
– Colic complications
– Retained fetal membranes in broodmares
– Balanced nutrition: avoid obesity and feeding too many carbohydrates
– Proper trimming
– Consult your veterinarian immediately if you suspect laminitis
– Long-term treatment involves pain medication, corrective shoeing to restore hoof balance, and feed management

 

With any luck, these preventative measures and simple treatments will keep your vet bills down, your riding time up, and your equine friend happy for years to come.

Learn more about maintaining your horse’s health in 8 tips to keep your horse’s feet healthy between farrier visits>>


by Cindy McMann

image 1: Wikimedia Commons; image 2: Roger H. Goun (Creative Commons BY)