Now that it’s springtime, we can all stop complaining about the cold and start complaining about the mud. It’s a wonderful time of year when we shift gears to deal with a whole new set of problems brought on by a warmer, wetter season.
Horse hooves need to have a certain amount of moisture in order to be strong, flexible and healthy. When they’re exposed to persistently wet conditions, though, the hoof wall retains excessive moisture and its structural integrity can weaken. Some horses seem to be able to deal with lots of moisture in their environment without ever developing issues, but others are more prone to problems resulting from softer feet.
Even if your horse has flawless feet, there are some springtime issues to look out for:
Fast Growing Feet
Hooves grow faster in the spring. What might have taken 8 or 10 weeks to grow over the cold winter months might now take only 6. It’s harder on the pocketbook, but it’s important not to skimp on the new schedule – many problems crop up because feet have been left too long. Frequent trims can clear up flares and chips, and can keep an eye out for any infections that might be brewing.
Sole bruises can result when a horse that’s typically kept on soft ground is ridden over hard ground. Hoof boots are your friend on those first spring rides. They can keep bruises to a minimum if you’ll be travelling over hard terrain.
The frog is worth keeping an eye on, as well. It will slough off in the spring if the horse is barefoot (if it’s shod, the farrier’s trims will keep new frog growth in check and it won’t tend to shed). When the frog sheds, the horse might be sore for a few days until the new tissue toughens.
It will literally not matter if your horse has the highest quality feet that have ever been known to science – losing shoes can happen to any animal if the ground is muddy enough. You can get a jump on this problem by having your farrier put side clips onto shoes. Taking off any wintertime pads is also a good idea. Their extra thickness can weaken grip of the nail on the shoe. Bell boots are a must when the ground goes to soup. They’ll keep back feet from ripping off the front shoes when front feet can’t get out of the muck in time. The best defense is to check shoes before turnout, or once a day if the horse is out 24/7. Definitely worth your time if you don’t love searching acres of quagmire for a single lost shoe on a blustery day.
For lucky owners of horses who don’t easily tolerate wet and muddy ground, you’ll have some extra issues to keep an eye on:
Feet can become more prone to infections and disease in wet conditions because water saturated hooves become more permeable and because microorganisms love that your paddocks have turned into swamps.
You know this already, but the best prevention against the bacteria that cause thrush is to pick your horse’s feet out every day. Thrush thrives in dark, moist conditions, so the more air and light you can introduce into that situation, the better. Topical treatments (of which there are plenty) and good daily hoof care will take care of most average episodes.
White line disease is another infection that loves the dark and the wet. It will eat away at the white line separating the layers of the hoof wall. Your farrier can treat this by exposing affected areas and applying a disinfectant. Minor cases can be handled with a bleach soak and aggressive cleaning and drying, but the fungus that causes white line disease can make a lot of headway unseen, so having a farrier examine the extent of the damage is a must.
It’s key to have a well-drained place for horses to stand, but routinely going from very wet to very dry conditions can affect the hoof. Quick, repeated shifts between wet and dried out conditions can cause cracks and chips in the hoof wall. Nail holes that expand and contract in shifting conditions can make it even more difficult to keep shoes on. Avoiding excessive exposure to moisture whenever you can (keeping those admittedly much-needed baths to a minimum) is a partial solution to the difficult problem of balancing out moisture.
Mud might be an inevitable condition of the season, but some basic precautions and good daily care can help stave off the worst effects. Now if only there were precautions we could take to keep wellies on…
by: Cindy McMann