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A Guide to Horse Hoof Health – What to look out for with your horse’s hooves
Maintaining good hoof health is vital for your horse’s wellbeing. There are certain conditions that are common to all horses, and treating them quickly can prevent them from worsening and causing pain and damage to your horse’s hooves. Here’s a list of some common horse hoof health issues to keep an eye out for when you next carry out a hoof check.
There are many reasons as to why your horse may suffer bruising on their hooves. Usually caused by a direct trauma to the foot, bruising can occur after the hoof has made significant impact with a hard surface, such as a stable door or wall, a pole, or even one of your horse’s other feet whilst they are in work. However, bruising can also occur as a result of an imbalance if your horse is coming to the end of their shoeing cycle, as this can cause uneven pressure to be placed on the hoof wall.
Advice would normally be to shorten the time between farriery visits in order to ensure balance can be restored as frequently as possible. However, during lockdown, farriers are currently under visiting restrictions, and appointments are being made according to an assessment of the risk a horse may be placed under of suffering long-term health issues should a condition not be addressed. You can find out more about the system under which farriers are currently operating here. We also recommend contacting your farrier directly for advice relating to your specific needs.
If your horse has black hooves, bruising can be a little more difficult to spot than on hooves of a lighter colour. Try to look out for any unexplained lameness or differences in balance or posture whilst riding, as this can usually be a reliable indication that something is wrong.
Thrush is an infection which commonly targets the frog in horses’ hooves. The bacteria concentrates on the frog as it is the softest and most flexible horn in the horse’s foot, and essentially causes it to rot, the process of which will result in the frog becoming black and slimy, and secreting a black, foul-smelling discharge. The frog may also have softer spots and appear irregular in shape.
Despite the offensive smell and discharge, horses often show no signs of lameness when suffering with thrush. This is why it’s important to clean and pick out the feet thoroughly and regularly in order to prevent the bacteria that often gathers there from impregnating the horn. As well as preventing the likelihood of an infection, thorough and regular cleaning is also the best form of treatment for thrush, and will help to improve and maintain general hoof health.
If your horse is suffering with thrush, it is equally important to clean the stable as often as you can and disinfect the floor and bedding, avoiding the use of bare rubber mats if possible. It’s advisable to pick out the feet as often as a few times a day if you can. Scrubbing the frog with warm water and chlorhexidine before applying antimicrobial spray will help to combat the infection and prevent it from worsening or spreading.
Sheared heels are often the result of bad cases of thrush, but they can also be the cause of thrush, and involve the breakdown of the structure between heel bulbs, causing deep and painful cracks in the frog’s central groove. Sheared heels make it incredibly difficult for the frog to be picked out properly, and are most commonly found in horses with conformational deformities, or in horses whose feet have become imbalanced.
It’s highly likely that a horse suffering with sheared heels will display signs of lameness, as this condition is often very painful. Softer surfaces can worsen the effects of this condition, as they are more likely to ball up in the feet and apply direct pressure to the affected area.
Ensuring your horse’s feet stay well-balanced, and keeping on top of stable management duties, are key methods of managing sheared heels and treating the secondary problem of infection. If you believe your horse is in pain, you should seek advice on pain management from your vet. You should also ensure your farrier is made aware of the issue so that they can adapt the way that they work accordingly.
Seedy toe, or white line disease, is the result of a combination of bacterial and fungal infection and is often exacerbated if your horse is being kept in very wet or very dry conditions. Seedy toe affects the wall and white line of the hoof, making it crumbly, or “cheesy”, in texture.
Keep an eye out for changes in the appearance of the hoof wall. With this condition, it is common for the hoof wall to peel away, or for a cavity within the hoof wall to become visible.
Regular trimming and scheduling shorter shoeing cycles will help to maintain foot balance and reduce torque from uneven landing and loading on the shoes, thereby preventing the development of seedy toe. In terms of treatment, most vets will advise administering a topical treatment; we advise contacting your vet directly for further information.
Cracks in the hooves
Cracks are a common issue in horses whose feet are imbalanced or overgrown. It’s always a good idea to perform daily checks on your horse’s hooves in order to monitor the appearance or development of any cracks. Your vet will be able to provide a more specific diagnosis, and will also be able to confirm whether a crack is a superficial one, or the sign of a more serious health issue.
Many veterinary practices are currently only conducting appointments with animals whose health needs require urgent attention. It’s a good idea to make contact with your vet and explain any symptoms over the phone so that they can then determine whether or not your horse requires immediate care. If an appointment is to be made, most practices are asking for owners not to be present at the appointment in order to allow for social distancing rules to be respected, so be sure to ask your veterinary practice about the measures they’ve put in place amidst the pandemic to keep people safe.
Read our blog for more information on horse hoof health and guidance on taking care of your horse’s hooves amidst the Coronavirus lockdown.