Take action now to help head off cracked hooves this summer and beyond!
Whether your horse struggles with cracked hooves year-round or suffers from seasonal chipping, now is the time to formulate your very own hoof health action plan!
The why’s and how’s of hoof cracks
Hoof cracks and chips can occur from a variety of reasons including genetics, nutritional deficiencies, and environmental concerns including their everyday living arrangements and what types of surfaces they work on. While we cannot improve the genetics of a horse we already have in the barn, it is possible to influence improvement by managing the parts that we do have control over including nutrition, farrier care, topical remedies and improvements to their living environment.
Building better hooves from the inside out.
While modern complete feeds and access to quality forage are vital to the overall health of the horse; other considerations such as age, conformation, workload and even the changing seasons, can present unique challenges. This is especially true in northern climates where horses often spend their summers on grass and winters on hay. If you look closely at these horses you may even be able to see differences in the form of slight visual rings on the horses hoof (not to be confused with ridges and depressions which may indicate underlying pathology).
While genetics plays a big part in the quality of hoof that a horse grows without added intervention, those that struggle will greatly benefit with the addition of a quality hoof supplement. Hoof supplements provide the boost your horse needs to round out those seasonal changes while ensuring that he has all the nutrients he needs year-round for optimum hoof health. The building blocks of most quality hoof supplements such as Horseshoers Secret, Hoof Secret and Bio Hoof rely on specific amino acids, vitamins and minerals such as Biotin, DL-Methionine, Lysine and Zinc. Some hoof supplements such as Farrier’s Formula, Nu Hoof Maximizer, and Hoof Secret; take their formula a step further with the addition of Cystine, Threonine, Copper, and/or Iodine. While any of these choices are sure to be a great addition to your horse’s nutritional needs one must be patient. With the average amount of new hoof growth measuring just around a 1/4″ per month, it can take as long as 9-12 months to truly reap the benefits of a quality hoof supplement.
Hoof care from the outside in.
A skilled farrier is an essential partner in the care of your horses hooves whether or not they are shod or barefoot. Adhering to a regular schedule for trimming hooves and resetting shoes is paramount in doing all you can to maintain a sound and comfortable horse. Missing or delaying an appointment by even a single week can cause lasting damage that can take months to overcome. You may find that those in heavy work are growing hoof at a faster rate and may need to be on a shorter schedule than those who are retired. If your farrier is suggesting that you adjust an individual horses schedule, he may be seeing an issue that can be better controlled with more frequent care. While many horses thrive barefoot, horses that present with chronic conditions such as full length central toe cracks may greatly benefit with shoeing specifically to take the load off of the crack and allow it to grow out stronger. Your farrier handles hundreds if not thousands of horses and can best advise what can be done to address cracks quickly and effectively.
Creating an environment for healthy hooves
The environmental challenges that your horse faces every day directly affect how well the hoof will hold up under stress. While genetics, nutrition and regular trimming will provide long term results and are the foundation of your hoof care plan. Providing a pro-hoof healthy environment will help to ensure success in maintaining the hooves overall appearance and strength.
Impact damage – While nutrition is key over the longer term, a frequent cause of chipping during the summer months is simply from the horses standing around and stomping at the flies. The addition of fly wraps such as Crusader Leg Guards or the Original Fly Wraps prior to the onset of the insect season can greatly help to mitigate the related damage to hooves and legs while minimizing stress and frustration to your horse.
Shod horses that are frequently worked on hard dry surfaces such as roads and limestone trails may suffer from the previous nail holes chipping out. In severe cases this can leave very little hoof to retain a shoe. This issue is commonly attributed to the presence of bacteria or fungi that takes hold in the old nail holes. Early intervention is key and positive results are frequently achieved with the addition of Life Data Hoof Clay or Keratex Nail Hole Disinfectant as part of your re-set process. In severe cases your farrier may have to rebuild the hoof with synthetic materials to improve stability.
Too Wet – Constant exposure to mud and standing water can result in soft hoof walls, mushy frogs, thin soles and invite invasion from fungal and bacterial enemies. Ultimately eliminating mud needs to be an absolute priority as soon as drier weather arrives. Until then adopt a routine to clean legs and hooves and allow them to fully dry prior to re-exposure. Thoroughly washing with an anti-bacterial/anti-fungal shampoo such as E3 Medicated Shampoo or Equishield CK is a big step in the right direction. Alternatively for wet and humid conditions sans mud, or prior to exposure the use of topical dusts like Coat Defense powder or Mud Shield can help to improve the overall condition of the skin on the the legs and around the coronary band. Treating hoof walls with a hoof sealant such as Kevlar Tuff Hoof Guard can help seal out excess moisture. For sensitive soles treatment with Durasole, or Farrier Barrier can help to ward off infection while aiding in toughening up the sole. Should your clean hoof present with a foul odor from thrush, serious consideration needs to be made to ensure your horse stays extra clean dry during regular applications of a thrush product such as No Thrush Powder or Thrush buster. Choosing a bedding that is more drying such as kiln dried sawdust can help speed the drying process and build a better balance until you can take steps to more effectively eliminate mud and welcome drier days.
Too Dry – Excessively dry hooves may be more inherently prone to form chips and cracks as well as heel and frog contraction due to a pure lack of moisture. This is frequently observed in horses that live in hot arid regions. Regular application of topical hoof products such as Hoof Moisture hoof oil, Hooflex conditioner or Leovet Summer Oil-Gel will help increase moisture content to some degree. Alternatively hoof sealants such as SBS TopCoat or Horseshoers Secret Hoof Sealant can help to seal in the hooves natural moisture and prevent excessive drying. For horses stabled a portion of the day, choosing a bedding that is slightly less drying such as peat moss, pelleted bedding or straw can help to contribute positively to hydration of the sole surface. However, to best avoid the risks of fungal and bacterial infections maintaining cleanliness of all bedding types is paramount.
Wrapping it up
The recipe for great hooves requires year-round dedication. First committing to feed a quality hoof supplement long term. Sticking to a scheduled routine for hoof care from an experienced farrier and providing a pro-hoof healthy environment to help build and maintain beautiful, strong and resilient hooves. Being attentive to seasonal changes and adjusting your topical and environmental care will help to ward off problems before they become more serious.
If you have already been feeding a quality hoof supplement for a year or more in addition to the other suggestions outlined above and are still struggling with poor hoof quality, it may be time to enlist the help of your veterinarian, farrier and an equine nutritionist for a full on hoof care intervention. While there is most definitely a subset of horses that suffer from poor hoof quality simply due to their genetics or past serious injury, in many cases with a professional diagnosis and care you can succeed in helping your horse to be more comfortable,
Do you have a hoof care journey that you would like to share? We would love to hear (and see) all about it!
Written by Jessica R.