Horse Hoof Care

Claire Dunling

There are many conditions that can affect the feet of a horse. It is important to clean and examine your horse’s feet on a daily basis to clear any bad stuff and check for potential problems.

Shoeing horses is an essential process but unfortunately not one without risks. Accurate placement of the nails is essential. Not only to ensure a firm hold within the wall of the horse hoof but that the nail does not penetrate too deep as it can irritate sensitive structures beneath, primarily the sensitive laminae.

When the shoeing nail has been placed too close to the sensitive laminae this is called “nail bind” and if the nail has penetrated the sensitive laminae this is called “nail prick”.

What are the signs of nail bind and nail prick?

The first sign is lameness. This usually does not occur immediately but will be seen over the following few days after shoeing. Application of horse hoof testers or tapping the hoof around the nail will elicit pain. Also, if removal of the nail is attempted the horse may resent it. There is an increased digital pulse in the palmar digital arteries, which are located on the side, or lateral, aspect of the fetlock and can be felt by placing a finger over them.

To prevent ‘nail bind’ and ‘nail prick’, regular attention from a competent farrier will ensure that your horse feet are in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can help maintain a healthy hoof, advice on the best treatment for your horse can be obtained from your veterinary surgeon.

What are hoof cracks?

Cracks can occur in the horse hoof walls and can originate from either the hoof or the coronary band. Cracks that originate from the base of the hoof are called grass cracks, while those that originate from the coronary band are called sand cracks. They can be either partial cracks extending only part of the length of the hoof wall or complete cracks extending the entire length of the hoof wall such as those depicted.

What causes hoof cracks?

Grass cracks are more common and are usually caused by overgrown hoof walls or unbalanced horse feet. Sand cracks however occur due to an injury to the coronary band or as a result of abnormal stress at the coronary band caused by unbalanced horse feet.

Hoof cracks are obvious to the naked eye but may also cause lameness. Grass cracks seldom cause lameness unless the underlying tissue develops a secondary infection or if they extend to the coronary band. However, sand cracks will almost always cause lameness as they involve the coronary band.

How can I prevent hoof cracks?

Regular visits to a competent farrier will ensure that your horse’s feet are in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health, ask your vet for advice on the best one.

It is important that veterinary advice is sought with all lameness, so that a precise diagnosis can be made as early as possible and an appropriate course of treatment undertaken.

You've got a horse so you know this, but I'll say it anyway. Find a good farrier and develop a good relationship with them, they play a big role in preventative healthcare
John Campbell, Head Vet of Pet Drugs Online

Horse bruised sole

The sole of the hoof is that part which is bordered by the white line and the frog. The parts of the hoof that normally contacts the ground on an unshod horse are the dorsal wall (the hard hoof) and the frog. Normally, the sole of the hoof does not come into contact with the ground.

What causes bruised soles?

Beneath the sole lies sensitive blood-filled tissue called 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, beneath the sole and therefore cause pain and lameness.

Injury to the laminae occurs due to the horse treading on a stone or another hard object, particularly when on stony hard ground. Other causes include poor fitting horse shoes and excessive work on hard ground, especially in horses that are unshod. Some horses with particularly sensitive soles may become lame after foot trimming when they do not have horse shoes replaced.

What are the signs of a bruised sole?

The most obvious sign of a bruise is lameness. The lameness usually develops immediately the bruise occurs but may reappear the next day once the horse has seemingly recovered. The lameness should be confined to the affected leg and pressure applied with hoof testers should demonstrate the area of the sole affected.

How can I prevent sole bruises?

All horses’ feet should always be picked and thoroughly cleaned out before exercise. Exercise on uneven and stony ground should be avoided, particularly for thin-soled horses. As per usual regular farrier checks will ensure that your horse’s feet are in optimal condition. Specific supplements are also available which can aid in hoof health, as well as protective hoof pads.

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!