Have you ever racked your brain about how to get rid of that crack that never seems to grow out of your horse’s hoof? A toe crack that sticks around for months or years is a sign that something is not functioning properly in the hoof. Then there’s the tender footed horse that tiptoes around the gravel on the driveway, or the otherwise easy going gelding that won’t stand to have his hooves picked out.

These can be signs of hooves that are not at optimum health, and could use a little bit of extra attention between your farrier visits. There is a lot of pressure on farriers to have all of the answers to hoof related questions, and rightfully so. However, some hoof conditions are side effects of environmental and nutritional issues that can be cleared up with some strategic care.

Here are a few simple hoof care solutions you can add to your routine to combat specific challenges that your horse is up against. Your farrier will appreciate your dedication to making their job easier, and your horse will thank you for helping him move with more comfort and confidence.

Cracks

Let’s begin with the assumption that you have a farrier who sets your horse up with balanced feet at each visit. Pressure points caused by mechanical imbalances in the hoof wall can cause cracks to continue or worsen over time. This type of pressure crack usually occurs through the entire wall thickness and can be seen when you pick up your horse’s foot. Cracks become nesting grounds for fungus and bacteria. Once infected, some cracks can continue to wreak havoc even with the best farrier care.

Beat the crack by treating it between farrier visits. Soaking the hoof in ¾ apple cider vinegar and ¼ water for 15-30 minutes every day or two for a couple of weeks will effectively cleanse the crack and kill anything hiding within the wall. Then continue to spray the crack with this mix every few days until the crack is grown out. Other soaking treatments include White Lightning, Clean Trax, or Epsom salts.

cracks

First photo is of a left hind hoof with severe crack and wall separation. Second photo is of the same hoof nine months later. Treatment included hoof soaking and trimming every four weeks.

The second type of crack that affects the hoof wall is considered a surface crack. It only effects the most outer part of the wall, and can usually be sanded away or filed using the fine side of a rasp. Surface cracks tend to be a sign that your horse is missing something in his diet. Balance his nutrient needs by testing the hay and then adding an appropriate mineral and vitamin supplement to provide him with the building blocks necessary for growing stronger hooves. Some of the crucial nutrients essential to healthy growth include Zinc, Calcium, Selenium, Sulphur, Silica, Biotin, and Vitamin A.

White Line Separation or “Seedy Toe”

Separation in the white line is considered subclinical laminitis. Treating a horse even though they seem sound and show no other symptoms of laminitis besides this separation is the best way to prevent further damage. Take a close look at your horse’s diet for sugar and carbohydrates, and cut these out wherever possible. This will help eliminate inflammation within the hooves that can cause separation of laminae in the white line.

Additionally, follow the same protocol for hoof soaking and nutritional balance that we covered above with cracks. The stretched white line becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, so good hygiene will insure a quicker recovery as your farrier removes the old separation with each trim.

Thrush

Thrush is one of those nasty hoof problems that doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you find a horrid smell and gooey frogs while picking out your horse’s feet. By the time the infection has gotten to this point, there is usually tenderness in the back of the foot, and the frog is no longer healthy enough to weight bare comfortably. This then leads to changes in hoof mechanics and compensation in movement.

bootsMany horses with frog infections will land toe first in order to avoid landing on the tender back portion of their feet, which can cause related injuries over time to the surrounding tissues including the navicular bursa and deep digital flexor tendon. However, even minor thrush will still prevent the frog from achieving optimal development and function.

There are many thrush treatments on the market that will kill thrush, but several of those treatments also injure the sensitive live tissue that is trying to recover. I prefer a protocol of ½ antibacterial and ½ antifungal cream mixed and syringed into the central sulcus (which tends to be the deepest part of the frog infection) daily for two weeks. Then I continue with “No Thrush” dry powder every other day until the frog grows in thick and the central sulcus is open. Soaking the hoof is also an excellent treatment option.

Tender With Terrain Change

Farriers have their own preferences on how to maintain frogs. Having said that, I have seen great success with leaving as much callused tissue in place as possible to protect the sensitive growth beneath. Small, loose tags should be removed to prevent hiding places for thrush, but the more rugged a frog looks, the more rugged it will act. “Pretty is as pretty does” – Pete Ramey

Consider your horse’s lifestyle and living environment. Does he stand in a stall of soft bedding (and six to 14 hours of built up urine and manure) daily? What does his turnout footing consist of? Quite often the hoof develops to match the environment it spends the most time in. When you want to grow hooves that can crunch through gravel and never miss a beat, create an environment that supports this development. Add pea gravel in the shelters, recycled asphalt at the water trough, or limestone screenings in high traffic areas. Your horse’s hooves will shape up and he will cross that driveway without batting an eyelash. Tenderness with terrain change can be caused by an overly aggressive trim too, less is more.

Considering the whole horse has become a cornerstone in my horsemanship. A horse’s overall health and well-being is a major part of bringing them along with training and development. I feel it is important to provide my clients with a support system that allows them to make informed decisions for their horses, especially when it involves options to promote optimum wellness. Hoof health is literally at the base of the pyramid of physical health.

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