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“No hoof, no horse!” If you’ve been around the horse industry for any length of time, you’ve no doubt heard the saying. It may sound a bit cliche, but the maxim is absolutely true. After all, hooves are the literal foundation of the horse, responsible for its very function and survival. Healthy hooves are essential to a horse’s well-being.
We all know hoof health is essential all year round, but many of us are guilty of falling into a routine when it comes to hoof care. We don’t necessarily consider how the changing seasons can affect our horse’s hooves – and that impact can be significant. Danvers Child, a lifelong horseman, member of the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame and
Certified Journeyman Farrier, shares his top tips for keeping hooves healthy during seasonal challenges.
1. This is worth repeating again and again: regular hoof care is essential.
“When it comes to the basics of hoof health, your primary focus should be regular maintenance. Keeping a horse on a reasonable schedule – whether it’s every four, five or six weeks – is the first step in keeping your horse’s feet healthy.”
2. Seasonal changes affect the horse’s biology and therefore their hoof growth. During fall and winter, hoof growth slows down.
“Your horse’s coat and hooves are both keratin-based, so during the winter, your horse’s growing winter coat will use up a significant portion of these nutrients, so hoof growth will slow down a bit. When horses shed their coat, all of these nutrients go back into hoof production. So in the fall, you’ll see hoof growth slow down; in the spring, it will return. This will vary depending on your horse husbandry practices. Horses kept in a heated barn or with insulated blankets may not experience changes.”
3. Attention to the humidity level!
“I started heating in Arkansas and Texas, where I didn’t have many problems with the climate. When I moved to what I call the “great Mid-Wet” here in Northwest Indiana, I had to learn how to ride better. It may be harder for the farrier and tools to shoe a dry foot, but it is much more difficult to keep a wet foot.
“When there is a lot of moisture, the hoof capsule weakens and distorts, which diminishes its structural integrity and shock-absorbing capabilities. In addition, any deformity of the hoof can lead to a separation of the white line, which creates an opportunistic environment for bacteria. That’s where we have the most abscesses.
“Unfortunately, over-hydrated hooves often are look better, but everything is superficial. A dry hoof may have a few cracks and chips, but it is much stronger. The bottom line: Anything you can do to keep the hoof dry is usually not a bad thing.”
4. Turn your horse when there is less moisture in the environment.
“If you turn your horse at night or early in the morning, they will encounter more dew and moisture.”
5. Avoid sudden changes in humidity exposure.
“You’ll have a horse coming in from the morning pasture with a lot of dew on his legs, just in a box with dry shavings, which immediately wicks away the moisture. The hoof could go from 28% moisture to 26%. It may not seem like a drastic change, but this constant fluctuation can cause a breakdown of the keratin in the hoof. Anything you can do to avoid these constant changes is very helpful.”
6. Use hoof strengtheners more than hoof moisturizers.
“I want to reiterate that anything you can do to regulate humidity is a good thing. There are topicals such as Keratex Hoof Hardener and Durasole that will help strengthen the hoof structure and combat oversaturation. Again, I encourage using a drying agent rather than a moisturizing agent.”
7. Consider a shorter shoe cycle during the summer months.
“During the summer, horses not only have more nutrients available for hoof growth, but they tend to be ridden more. Activity increases vascularity, and vascularity increases hoof growth. During the summer, it’s not unusual to see your farrier more often, shortening the shoeing cycle by about a week.”
8. Supplements can help hooves stay healthy despite the elements.
“SmartHoof and Farrier’s Formula are my go-to biotin products. Biotin based products will provide a better and stronger hoof; however, they do not actually increase hoof growth. SmartCirculate is a product that will actually help hooves grow. It stimulates circulation, which in turn will accelerate hoof growth.”
9. Know the signs of unhealthy hoof structure.
“Flaring is probably the most obvious. The bottom of the hoof should mirror the crown band at the top; it should be reasonably even from that point down. If you have a lot of distortion in the bottom of your foot, this is a red flag in most cases.
“With cracks, you have superficial cracks and penetrating cracks. Superficial cracks aren’t really a cause for concern, but penetrating cracks are a problem.
“This is much harder for the layman to see, but the hoof should be under the bony column of the leg. The nature of hoof growth works against this as there is an oblique angle to the patern. The hoof grows forward as it grows downward. When you hear farriers talk about pulling one leg up, we’re trying to balance it under the limb; we want to keep the hoof capsule collected under the bone column. If you see a hoof that migrates forward and doesn’t look substantial under that bony column, you’ll start to see the soft tissue structures being adversely affected.
10. Fly control and joint health are also important to hoof strength.
“During the spring and summer, flies can cause horses to tread a lot. That repeated trampling can damage the hooves. Use whatever fly control methods you have available: fly control, insecticides, and topicals.
“There is also a tremendous relationship between joint health and hoof health. As horses age, they begin to develop arthritis and other joint problems, which can cause landing and uneven loading on the hoof. This imbalance can cause hoof problems. So it’s important to stay on top of your horse’s joint health for their hooves as well.”