How to Keep Your Horse's Hooves Healthy
There's a reason for the long held adage, 'no hoof, no horse': even the best bred, fittest horse is unable to perform if his hooves are unsound. Your horse's hooves carry him through each and every training session, competition or lazy Sunday trail ride, so taking good care of them is essential for a long and happy riding career together.
The Role of Nutrition
As well as impacting on overall health and energy levels, poor nutrition can result in poor hoof quality. Making sure your horse is fed a balanced diet is key, as a precisely balanced combination of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids are essential to healthy hoof formation.
Your horse's hooves, including the wall, frog and sole are primarily composed of a protein called keratin, which is integral for strength. In order to be formed, keratin requires an adequate supply of biotin, vitamin E, betacarotene, zinc, omega 3 fatty acids and methionine, an amino acid. While in general simply supplementing one of these factors alone will not improve hoof quality, research has shown that in some cases megadoses of biotin can help to improve the quality of new hoof horn.
Biotin is a B group vitamin, and while present in a variety of common feedstuffs for horses, including oats, molasses and rice bran, the main source of biotin utilised by horses actually comes from microbes fermenting feedstuffs in the hind gut.
Research has established that administering megadoses of at least 15 to 25mg of biotin to horses daily over a period of eight to fifteen months can improve the quality of new hoof horn as it grows. It is important to note that biotin supplementation only has an effect on the new hoof as it grows, so it takes the time required for the hoof to grow out completely (eight to fifteen months) before results are seen. If a horse's hoof condition does improve on biotin supplementation, it will need to be continued long term as the hooves will likely regress if the supplementation is withdrawn. While many premixed feeds may contain added biotin, most will not supply the recommended minimum amount of 15mg a day, so an additional biotin supplement such as IAH Bio Hoof Care and Repair, Ranvet Hoof Food or Vetsense Biotin Hoof Powder is needed.
Common Hoof Ailments
Hoof abscesses are a pocket of infection within the hoof, usually causing intense pain and acute lameness, Abscesses may be triggered by a puncture wound or any other disease process favouring bacterial growth such as thrush or sole bruises. Your vet or farrier can pare away the hoof to allow the abscess to drain and confirm the diagnosis. While some abscesses are unavoidable, good general care practices such as regular farriery, daily picking out of hooves and keeping the hooves dry and conditioned can all help to reduce the risk of abscesses occurring.
Also sometimes called stone bruises, sole bruises usually occur when horses stand on stones or hard, uneven ground. While in some cases a bruise may become visible on the sole, generally the lameness occurs before the bruise appears. The lameness associated with sole bruises can vary, and in some cases may not be evident until pressure is applied to the sore spot with hoof testers. If you suspect that your horse may have a bruised sole, you can try standing his hoof in a bucket of ice water to help reduce inflammation. If symptoms persist contact your veterinarian or farrier for further advice.
Wet, softened hooves are more likely to bruise, so keeping your horse's hooves clean and dry is one way to help reduce the likelihood of sole bruises occurring. Remember to pick your horse's hooves out daily to remove any stones and if stone bruises are a regular occurrence talk to your farrier about different shoeing or trimming techniques which may help. Another option often used by endurance riders are protective boots designed to cover the whole hoof when travelling over very hard or rocky terrain.
Seedy Toe (White Line Disease)
Seedy toe, or white line disease, is a condition where anaerobic bacteria or fungi invade the space between hoof wall layers. Once inside the microbes eat away at hoof tissue, causing it to become unstable and crumbly. In many cases seedy toe will not cause lameness unless severe, and may simply be detected by your farrier during regular visits. Treatment of seedy toe involves exposing the affected areas to air, creating an unfavourable environment for the anaerobic organisms within. Your farrier can do this by removing part of the hoof wall in the affected area and outfitting your horse with a supportive shoe while it grows out.
While not all the causes of seedy toe are well understood, keeping your horse on a regular farrier schedule, cleaning his hooves out daily and avoiding housing him in damp conditions can all help to reduce the risk of seedy toe.
Thrush is an unpleasant smelling infection involving the collateral grooves and sulcus of the frog of the hoof. Along with a distinctive smell, thrush can easily recognised by a black discharge in the affected areas. Generally caused by bacteria but sometimes also fungi, thrush occurs generally as a consequence of poor hoof maintenance, unhygienic environmental conditions, poor conformation or a combination of all three.
Uncomplicated cases of thrush may be treated by removing the horse to a clean, dry environment. A vet or farrier may also need to pare away all of the diseased hoof tissue until healthy tissue is reached. Paring should then be followed with an antiseptic treatment such as Kelato Hoof Prime.
Tips for Healthy Hooves
- Pick out your horse's hooves every day and examine them for signs of injury.
- Find a reputable farrier you trust and stick to a regular schedule of trims, with or without shoeing.
- Make sure your horse is fed a balanced diet to promote strong hooves as well as good general health and well being.
- Keep your horses hooves as clean and dry as possible, particularly during periods of wet weather.
- Condition your horse's hooves with a hoof dressing during dry weather to prevent them from drying out or becoming brittle.
- If you horse is lame or you suspect he may have a hoof condition, it is always best to consult your veterinarian or farrier for expert advice before attempting treatment yourself.
When Teagan's not busy sharing her knowledge of all things pets as Pet Circle's resident vet, she is the human companion of two intense English staffies and a three-legged cat named Steve.
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