Maintaining a healthy horse is easier said than done because you have to be a step ahead of equine health at all times. There is a lot you have to take care of. While your attention will mostly be on your equine friend’s coat, teeth, bones, and digestive health, hoof problems may quietly creep in and cause more trouble than you imagine! Looking after your animal’s hooves is vital because they support the animal and keep it standing, moving, healthy, and active.
Looking after equine hoof health can be a daunting task considering several factors determine the health of your horse’s hooves. Major problems can arise even if a minor factor is out of place. If you want to ensure the best hoof care for your equine, learn everything you can to spot any trouble early and help keep your horse active, happy, and comfortable at all times.
Here are some expert horse hoof care tips that will help have you covered:
Know the culprits
Even before you learn about hoof care, you must understand the possible reasons for potential problems. Your equine may suffer due to hereditary issues, living environment, terrain, and weather (like lush Spring grass). Movement and exercise also have a role to play because an active animal is less likely to experience hoof problems, while an obese horse is at higher risk.
Lack of nutrition is another risk factor, as are a pre-existing disease or injury. It is vital to know and understand the risk factors for your particular horse before you create a comprehensive hoof care plan for it.
Choose between shod and barefoot
As a horse owner, you likely have strong opinions between going shod or barefoot. The choice depends on several factors including the current hoof health, the animal’s living environment, your planned activities, and personal preferences. If the hooves are healthy and the environment ideal, you can forgo shoes and keep them unshod so long as your horse’s hoof wear doesn’t exceed growth. Conversely, your horse will benefit from being shod if it has a weak hoof structure or if you’re involved in sports activities with your equine friend.
Letting the animal go barefoot isn’t a good idea if your horse will be exposed to a wet environment or hard, abrasive surfaces regularly because the hooves will be more susceptible to damage in adverse conditions. Be sure to speak to your farrier and your vet to make an informed decision for you and your horse.
Keep the hooves clean
The simplest way to care for your horse’s hooves is to keep them clean and checked, which isn’t a lot of work if you know the basics. While it should be a daily routine, it is absolutely imperative you clean your horse’s hooves before and after each ride. Pick out its feet, pry any debris stuck in there, clear the crevice of the frog, and clean the surface with a stiff brush. As you complete the process, look for any signs of distress such as cracks, abscesses, punctures, injuries, and thrush.
Don’t overlook the slightest problem because early treatment can prevent it from getting aggravated and worse! If you notice anything amiss, give your farrier and/or veterinarian a call and get it checked out as soon as possible.
Understand what is normal
Apart from looking for visible signs of problems or injuries while cleaning the hooves, you must also know the subtle indications of something being amiss. Everything boils down to understanding what is normal for your horse. You can often spot hoof problems early on if you know what your horse’s normal habits, routines, and conditions are like. If you find your horse laying down more than usual, or standing a bit off-kilter (in an effort to shift weight off their front feet), check the hooves.
Notice the temperature of your horse’s feet as you pick them out. They will feel very slightly warm when everything is fine. Check the frog and assess its texture and firmness, which should be much like a new rubber eraser. Locate the digital pulse and check if it is too fast, which could be an indication of laminitis in horses. If you see something amiss, schedule help as soon as possible.
Maintain moisture during seasonal changes
Horse owners need to align their hoof care routine according to the changes in the season. Depending on the climatic conditions of your area, seasonal changes can lead to moisture issues with your animal’s hooves. You have to make sure they do not get dry or cracked in dry weather or soft and “thrushy” in wet weather.
Fortunately, it is easy to deal with both situations, provided that you jump into the action early. Applying a moisturizer to the sole can prevent cracking during dry weather. You can use a hoof sealant to cut out the excess moisture in wet weather.
Be extra conscious in summer
If you are regular with the use of moisturizers and sealants on the horse’s hooves when needed, things tend to go pretty well. However, it can get harder to manage hooves when the weather fluctuates between wet and dry, which often happens in the summer months.
While you may use evening turnout as a strategy to avoid biting insects, it can lead to swelling and softening of hooves due to prolonged contact with dew-soaked grass. They also tend to dry and contract during the day. The repetition of this cycle can cause the horseshoe nails to loosen. It means that you need to go the extra mile with your hoof care routine at this time of the year. Start taking the right measures in late spring, carry on through the summer, and follow them till early fall.
Pay attention to nutrition
Nothing is more important than good nutrition when it comes to maintaining the hoof health of your horse. A balanced diet can alleviate many equine health issues, so make sure that you feed it quality hay that delivers the right levels of minerals and vitamins. Access to clean drinking water is equally crucial. You can consider using supplements to fill the nutritional gaps. Essential supplements for healthy hooves include zinc, biotin, iodine, and methionine.
While a mineral block is usually a great idea, be sure to speak to a veterinarian or horse nutritionist to recommend a good nutrition plan for your specific horse and its condition and then follow their advice religiously.
Horse owners must do their bit for hoof care by investing time in cleaning and regular care, but you must also make efforts to ensure overall health for your equine friend. Activity and exercise can go a long way in boosting horse health, including keeping their hooves in good shape. It prevents obesity, which is a risk factor for hoof conditions. Make sure your animal gets enough exercise at all times of the year.
In addition to riding and hanging out with your horse, go out for walks and play games, as it will develop a bonding with your horse in addition to making it strong and healthy. It is great if you can do it in an open field or pasture, but you can always exercise in a paddock as well.
Schedule regular farrier visits
Regular farrier visits are vital to ensure that your horse’s hooves are always at their healthiest best. While there isn’t a standard recommendation for trimming and shoeing schedules, the standard rule of thumb is to have it done once every six to eight weeks. You may want to schedule at shorter intervals if there is a problem with the hooves. Your farrier will know best!
Being regular with your schedule and checking early in an emergency keeps the horse comfortable and the owner one step ahead of any issues. It makes sense to detect them on time and get them treated as early as possible.
Stock supplies ahead of time
One of the most often overlooked part of horse hoof care is having supplies on hand when you need them. Most horse owners have a hoof pick (or five) on hand, but when a problem presents itself it helps to have things handy. Beyond the hoof pick and brush (or the pick/brush combo tool), it helps to have Epsom salt and iodine on hand as well as a bucket, rubber pan, or boot you can use for soaking a hoof.
Hoof moisturizer, hardener, and gauze pads also come in very handy for keeping your horse’s hooves healthy year-round. It also helps to keep Animed Remission (to help maintain natural gut health and regulate insulin levels) and CBD oil (to help relieve the pain and inflammation) on hand for horses that are prone to founder.
If you have been around horses long enough you’ve heard the old expression, “No hoof, no horse. It is often noted and quoted because it’s true. Hoof problems can cause a lot of trouble, especially if they’re left to go untreated. As a horse owner, you must keep an eye on the slightest signs of hoof problems and deal with them right away. Regular cleaning and care can help you prevent them from happening at all, so try to stay a step ahead. Also, pay attention to the horse’s diet, exercise, and living environment. It is also vital to get checkups by a farrier and a vet to keep your horse’s feet happy (and healthy).