Welcome to our new monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 17 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist for Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA. She lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.
If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), we encourage you to leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature. This month’s question is:
Q. Is hoof ointment necessary?
A. I get that question all the time. It really depends on the season, where you live and each individual horse. Some breeds, like thoroughbreds, for example, have thinner hoof walls that are more prone to cracks, than say, an Arabian. I tell my clients to pick out their horses feet on a regular basis so they know what’s normal for that horse and can tell when something changes. Keep in mind, if your horse has any type of bump, scar or injury to the hair line, there will more than likely be an unfixable crack from there down. All you can do is maintain it with regular trims/shoes, which your farrier has probably already told you.
When hooves are too wet from a ridiculous amount of rain, they will swell up, expand and flare out. When they’re too dry, the sides snap off. Keep in mind, sand, clay and even really dry snow will draw some moisture out of feet as well. The instructions on most hoof ointments tell you to apply it to the coronary band (hair line). I don’t agree with that. The coronary band naturally produces oils that moisturize the hoof as it grows down. If you add any kind of oil to the hair line, the horse’s body tells it that it doesn’t need to make its own anymore. So now you’re stuck with that product for the rest of that horse’s life. I’d start any moisturizer an inch down from the hair line. I’m a fan of saving money and using what I already have, but you can use anything from fancy hoof dressings like Fiske’s to whatever you have in your cupboards: baby oil, canola oil, vegetable oil, used engine oil, bacon grease, etc. You don’t want to soften up the sole, though. Especially if your horse runs barefoot. Only apply it to the bottom half of the outside hoof wall.
To harden the feet up, I’d recommend Horseshoer’s Secret Sealant (it smells like acetone / nail polish remover) or iodine. Only put it on the soles and frog (the bottom of the hoof), and only twice a month, weather depending. You probably won’t need it if you haven’t had a drop of rain in months. A few of my clients put Horseshoer’s Secret on their horses 3 times in 6-8 weeks and their feet were so hard, my brand new GE nippers couldn’t cut them.
On the other hand, do you really even need extra moisturizers or hoof hardeners? Wild horses often have perfect feet and never need trims or shoes. They travel great distances through all kinds of terrain, which wears their feet down naturally. Ideally, you want to create the same environment in your pastures. If you’re too dry, over-flow your water troughs, or dig out a low spot that will hold water longer. If you’re too wet, build up a couple of hills, using gravel or clay. Horses love to climb and explore. When you have to throw hay out to the herd, try and scatter the piles away from the water source and around the field as far apart as you can. Inside a horse’s foot, above the frog, is a ball of rubbery, fatty tissue called the plantar cushion. It works like a shock absorber and a little heart that pump blood with every step. The more the horse moves, the better the blood flow, the healthier the horse, the better the feet.
The bottom line is that there’s only so much any hoof treatment can do. It’s on the owner to try and create the perfect conditions for their horses.
If you have a question for Karen, please leave it in the comments below!