More horse hoof health

Claire Dunling

From pony to stallion, if you are a horse lover then you’ll know your horse’s hooves require much attention and maintenance – so to keep yours cannily cantering, here are some tips on keeping your horse hoof health in top condition.


Corns are simply bruises of the sole, which occur at the ‘seat of corn’. This is the part of the sole which lies between the bars and the wall at the back of the sole. Beneath the sole lies the sensitive, laminae. This tissue connects the sole to the pedal bone of the hoof. Injury to the laminae causes bleeding between the sole and the pedal bone. This can form a bruise or haematoma, which is a blister, filled with blood, causing pain and lameness. Unlike when a horse has bruised soles in which the lameness is evident almost immediately, corns can also develop over a long period of time.


What causes corns?

Corns can be caused by a number of things that traumatise the seat of corn. Most commonly corns are caused by too narrow or too tight a shoe. Stones can also become trapped between the horse shoes and the seat of corn or the horse shoes can be left on too long and begin to dig in causing damage. Poor conformation such as low heels means that excessive weight is put on the heels and may traumatise the seat of corn.

What are the signs of corns?

Lameness is the most obvious signs of corns. The severity of the lameness depends on how much damage has occurred. This lameness becomes more apparent if the horse is ridden on hard ground, in circles or lunged. Sometimes both front legs may be affected which can be difficult to detect. Pain can usually be elicited by applying pressure over the affected seat of corn.

How can I prevent corns?

Regular farrier work will ensure that your horse’s feet are kept in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health, as well as protective hoof pads. Advice on both of these products can be obtained from your vet.

What causes ‘pus in the foot’?

This is the most common cause of lameness in the horse, which is usually confined to one leg. Clinical signs will occur suddenly sometimes during exercise even when the animal has not been lame to begin with. The severity of the lameness is determined by the amount of pus produced and whether it has a means of escape. If there is no drainage, the pressure of the pus builds up between the sensitive layers of the hoof resulting in inflammation and pain.

Pus in the foot is simply due to the presence of bacteria and other germs within the foot causing infection. bacteria are introduced into the foot either by a puncture wound (nail prick) or through a crack in the white line or hoof wall.

Spotting pus (yuck!)

The first sign of ‘pus in the foot’ is lameness, generally in one leg. This may be only a slight lameness initially but can develop to the extent that the horse is reluctant to bear weight on that leg. As pain in the leg worsens the horse may sweat and blow and can even be reluctant to eat. The leg, in particular the hoof, will feel warm to the touch and when palpated the digital pulse will be strong or even bounding. The site of infection can usually be identified by applying light pressure with hoof testers over the sole. You may visually notice pus oozing from the site of infection. Occasionally if severe the pus will migrate upwards and burst out at the coronary band or track along the sole leading to a condition called “under run sole”. The shoe will need to be removed to allow an adequate examination.

World Horse Welfare - how to check your horse’s hooves daily

Puncture wounds to the foot

The equine foot is a tough structure which helps protect the sensitive structures beneath, and the hoof wall is similar to the human fingernail. Puncture wounds to the foot can range in significance from none at all to a severe life-threatening injury, depending on the site and depth of penetration of the wound. Puncture wounds usually occur on the sole of the hoof although can sometimes penetrate the walls.

What causes puncture wounds?

Puncture wounds occur due to penetration of the hoof and surrounding structures with a foreign body such as a shoeing nail, wire or glass. Other causes of penetration include sharp flint stones, needles, splinters of wood, etc. The severity of the injury is determined by the depth and site of penetration. Generally speaking, the deeper the penetration the more likely it is that an important structure is affected. For instance, if the wound penetrates to the pedal bone, it can cause a bone infection and may even fracture the bone. The most serious injuries are those to the back half of the foot. These may penetrate the navicular bursa and could even involve the coffin joint and cause a joint infection or damage to important tendons. This type of injury is very serious and can be life threatening.

What if my horse has a puncture wound?

If you discover a puncture wound to your horse’s foot, you should immediately contact your vet. Do not immediately remove the foreign item (if it still present) since it may be beneficial for your vet to X-ray the foot with it in place to gauge the extent of the penetration. Follow your vet’s advice on this. It is important that an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment is administered as soon as possible to avoid further complications and any potentially life-threatening situations developing.

It is also important that your horse has regular tetanus vaccinations as puncture wounds are an ideal route for tetanus to infect your horse. Again your vet will advise you on this.

This post is an opinion and should only be used as a guide. You should discuss any change to your horse’s care or lifestyle thoroughly with you vet before starting any program or treatment.

If in doubt contact your veterinary practice

And always keep your vet's phone number handy - just in case!