Learn the facts on horse hooves and horse health
Ensuring your horse has healthy, strong, and well-cared for hooves is an essential part of horse ownership and riding. However, we understand that caring for your horse’s hooves can be overwhelming.
In this blog we give you knowledge you need about horse hoof basics, common horse hoof problems, and four essentials to good horse hoof care. As always, discuss horse hoof care with your farrier, veterinarian, and trainer. When in doubt – ask questions!
Understanding Hoof Health
These basics of horse hoof health are key to caring for your horse’s hooves correctly:
How Hooves Grow
Horse hooves are made of keratin, a protein that forms nails and hair. It takes roughly nine months for a horse to grow a hoof, which is equal to about a single centimeter a month.
Rough terrain can wear your horse’s hooves down more quickly, so you may not see a full centimeter of growth if you ride your horse without shoes. However, this can damage your horse’s hoof, so we suggest proper footwear, such as horseshoes or in some instances horse boots, to protect their hooves and legs.
Similarly, the weather may impact how quickly your horse’s hooves grow. If it’s dry or cold, your horse’s hooves may not grow as rapidly. Conversely, warm, and moist conditions can accelerate hoof growth and require you to schedule more frequent farrier visits.
The food and supplements you give your horse impacts not just how their hooves grow but also the strength of their hooves. It’s a good idea to discuss how feed and supplements impact horse hoof health with your veterinarian, farrier, and trainer.
Common Horse Hoof Problems
Make sure you know these common horse hoof problems and discuss the warning signs and symptoms with your farrier and veterinarian:
Thrush: Thrush is a bacterial infection of the frog, or the triangular underside of the hoof, resulting from the frog not being cleaned regularly.
Wall Cracks: There are different kinds of cracks that can occur in a hoof: grass cracks, which occur at the bottom of the hoof and go up; sand cracks, which start at the coronet of the hoof and go down; and horizontal cracks, which are also called “blow outs.”
White Line Disease: As it sounds, white line disease is an infection of the white line, which is where the sole and hoof join.
Hoof Abscess and Sole Bruising: An abscess is where the hoof becomes soft, and bruising is usually due to a bad shoe or poor visit to the farrier.
Inflammation (Laminitis): Laminae is the sensitive tissue inside the hoof. When it becomes inflamed, the horse suffers from laminitis.
4 Ways to Practice Horse Hoof Care
Remember to follow these 4 horse hoof care strategies to keep your horse’s hooves in top condition.
1. Visit the Farrier
Regular trimming by a professional farrier can make a world of difference for your horse. These specialists have the expertise to keep your horse’s hooves in the ideal shape and ensure they have the perfect balance. Farriers are trained to spot any potential problems, such as chipping or bruising, well before they turn into a serious issue for your horse.
How often you’ll need to get your horse’s hooves trimmed depends on the season and how quickly their hooves grow. This guide to horse hoof trimming from the University of Minnesota provides a good overview of when to visit a farrier and why.
Typically, you want to visit a farrier between 4 and 8 weeks, but your horse may need more frequent trims in the summer or if they have a higher rate of growth. During the winter, you may notice a change in growth patterns – discuss this with your farrier and veterinarian. This change in hoof growth can be result of change in nutrition and the amount of exercise your horse is getting in the winter.
2. Mind the Environment
Horses are hardy and adaptable, but the ground surfaces they spend time on plays a big role in their hoof care. Harder surfaces or anywhere with mud, for instance, can dramatically increase physical strain and potentially lead to injuries. Wetter environments especially can lead to hooves getting soft, which could result in issues like cracking or abscesses developing.
The ideal terrain for health horse hooves is a green pasture – this offers the perfect conditions for promoting hoof health, particularly when it comes to encouraging hoof growth and blood circulation.
Think about how your feet and legs feel after spending a day outdoors walking on pavement and concrete and compare this to how you feel after walking in a grassy park or on trails. Your horse feels the same way as you – so try to give your horse the most comfortable terrain possible.
Horses, by their design, are built to move. They have powerful muscles and joints to support their athletic nature, but they are vulnerable to wear and tear from everyday walking, training, and competition. And this is exactly why your horse’s hooves need to be correctly trimmed to prevent imbalances and wear patterns that cause muscle and joint injuries and discomfort.
Exercise and movement are essential to stimulating good blood flow to the horse hoof. This circulation boost is great for the hoof capsule, which is a key part of encouraging growth and keeping hooves strong and healthy. The right balance is essential, though, when it comes to exercise and activity. Pushing to extremes could itself put your horse’s hooves under so much stress that they might suffer an injury.
Pay attention to how your horse responds to activity – look for signs of discomfort such as limping, lack of interest in getting out for a walk, or changes in posture. These can all point to problems with your horse’s hooves. Do not force exercise on your horse if they are resisting – contact your farrier and veterinarian for professional advice.
4. Nutrition and Supplements
Let’s face it: nutrition is one of the most important factors in ensuring a healthy horse, including their hooves.
Unfortunately, a horse cannot simply create all the nutrients they need to support their hooves: they need a diet balanced with supplements that have fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (like copper and zinc), biotin, and methionine to get the right nutrition.
Methionine is particularly important: it’s an amino acid that your horse uses to make the proteins required to keep their hooves strong. Copper and zinc support how well your horse creates keratin and decreases their risk of developing white line disease.
How to Learn More About Your Horse’s Health
At Grand Meadows, we know how much you love your horse and want to ensure their lasting health. Hoof care is a part of overall health maintenance, but certainly not the only thing to consider. Take advantage of the many other resources we have to learn more about horse care:
- Why supplements are an important part of equine diet
- Joint health and your horse
- The vitamins and minerals your horse needs
If you have any questions about how to keep your horse’s hooves healthy, feel free to contact us.