If you’re considering getting a horse or are a first time horse owner, one of the more important aspects of their care is hoof maintenance. A horse’s hooves provide the foundation of a healthy life. Without healthy hooves, horses cannot walk, run, or carry. Horses can also get specific illnesses that enter through weak or damaged hooves. Thus, the best way to keep your horse healthy and happy is through routine hoof maintenance. In order to help first time horse owners, we’ve put together this guide that includes details about what hooves are, what kind of damage they can incur, and how to care for them. Let’s get started!
What is a hoof exactly?
Horses are ungulates, which are a group of mammals that support their weight using the tips of their toes. The hoof is made primarily of keratin, the same component that makes hair, nails, and horns. The sole of the hoof is soft and rubbery, surrounded by a solid nail rolled around the tip of the toe. Hooves grow constantly, like fingernails, and wear wear down from use.
The anatomy of a horse hoof
As a horse owner, it is important that you know the anatomy of a horse’s hoof. Knowing the anatomy will help you groom your horse and look for common hoof ailments. Here are the basic parts of a hoof:
- Hoof Wall: The hoof wall is essentially the nail.
- White Line: Though actually yellowish, the white line is next to the inner hoof wall.
- Frog: The leathery v-shape at the back of the hoof near the heel.
- Bar: The bar is an extension of the hoof wall that runs along the frog.
- Angle Of The Bar: The angle of the bar is where the wall angles into the bar along the frog.
- Collateral Groove: The collateral groove is the divot between the bar and the frog.
- Heel Bulb: Is the very back of the heel where you find a bulb-like shape on each side.
- Sole: The sole is the area inside the white line not including the frog or the bars.
- Central Sulcus: The divot inside of the center of the frog.
- Toe: The toe is the front third of the hoof.
- Quarter: The quarter is the middle third of the hoof, also considered the sides of the hoof.
- Heel: The heel is the back third of the hoof.
Common hoof problems
Hooves are vulnerable to a variety of issues. These can result from pathogens, poor diet, and poor grooming. Here are some of the most common hoof problems all horse owners need to know how to recognize:
- Hoof Bruise: Hooves can bruise from trauma, just like how our fingernails can bruise. Hoof bruises are fairly easy to recognize, you will see patches of discoloration on the hoof surface. Hoof bruises cause lameness.
- Hoof Abscess: A hoof abscess is an infection inside of the hoof. Although hard to see, abscesses will cause your horse to go suddenly and severely lame. This lameness can even come and go as your horse’s immune system fights the infection.
- Laminitis: Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive laminae of the hoof, which is the internal anatomy under the sole and behind the hoof wall. Laminitis is noticeable with lameness, refusal or reluctance to bear any weight, and warm throbbing feet.
- Navicular Syndrome: Navicular syndrome is a broad term that describes any type of pain in the heel or bulb. There are multiple root causes of navicular syndrome, and the best way to notice it is by lameness.
- Quarter Crack: A quarter crack is a vertical crack found on the quarter. Typically you will notice these between the widest part of the hoof and the heel. A severe quarter crack will lead to your horse limping.
- Thrush: Thrush is an infection in the frog of the hoof. There are two main ways you can recognize thrush. The first is by your horse’s hooves having a strong, putrid smell. The second is by sight. Thrush causes a black discharge in and around the frog.
- White Line Disease: White line disease is an infection of the white line. It causes the layers of the hoof wall to separate, so it is very easy to spot.
Most of these ailments can be prevented by following a routine of good hoof care.
How to care for your horse’s Hooves
Caring for your horse’s hooves comes down to four basic things:
- Trimming: Horse hooves constantly grow and just like fingernails, need to be trimmed on occasion. Trimming should be done every one to two months depending on how fast your horse’s hooves grow and wear down. Trimming is difficult and I recommend you work with a trained farrier if you are a new horse owner. Without the skill and technique, you could trim the hooves too short, causing lameness.
- Picking: Picking should be done every day, but especially before and after any riding. You will need to invest in a horse pick. A horse pick will help dislodge all the dirt, manure, and debris that gets trapped in your horse’s hooves. Picking out the dirt can help prevent infection from bacteria and fungus. It will also make your horse more comfortable. The best way to learn how to pick is by working with your farrier.
- Washing: Washing should be done after picking. Start by gently rinsing your horse’s hoof area with water and gently dry with a towel to remove any debris. Then spray the sole with Kiss a Frog Foot Wash and let dry completely. This will help to keep the area clean and protect your horse against infections such as thrush and mud fever, while keeping their sole from softening.
- Moisturizing: Moisturizing is important to help strengthen the keratin and make the hoof flexible to reduce damage. After you’ve washed and dried the hoof, spray the exterior of the hoof on the coronary band with Jojoba Hoof Moisturizing Mist then let it air dry. This fast-absorbing mist conditions the hoof to help reduce chipping and cracking. It will also help to improve the look and performance of the hoof.
During grooming, you should look for any signs of the common ailments that can hurt your horse’s hooves. If you notice anything, be delicate and contact your farrier or veterinarian.
There are many horse hoof care products on the market. However, most of them are made with chemical agents that can actually degrade the keratin and leave the hooves vulnerable to illness and injury. Horse hoof care products made with natural ingredients that strengthen the keratin like those made by Equi-Spa are the best to keep your horse’s hooves healthy and strong. You can read more about hoof maintenance on our blog, give us a call at 515-770-3517 or email us and we’ll happily answer any questions about our natural horse hoof products.