What the Horse Hoof Care Process Should Actually Look Like in Practice


The adage, ‘no foot, no horse’ certainly rang true for Olympic hopeful Tanya Seymour, when her horse contracted laminitis just days before her first event.

Laminitis is a metabolic disease that’s manageable once diagnosed, and difficult to anticipate. Yet, there are ways to ensure your horse stays sound by placing a high priority on horse hoof care.

These are the basics you need to know about.

The Structure of the Horse’s Hoof

Horses and donkeys are the only remaining single-toed animals on earth. Way down the evolutionary chain, they started with four toes on their front feet and three on the back. 

As they developed a need for speed and agility to outrun their predators, horses slowly evolved into the single-toed beasts we know today.

You can still see evidence of these long-gone toes below your horse’s knees and hocks. Those hard patches of skin, known as chestnuts, are what’s left of the pad of one toe.

Moving down the leg, the horse’s remaining toe has become encased in a hard finger-nail-like substance, keratin. This hard outer shell protects the last bone in the horse’s leg, namely the third phalanx, or coffin bone.

Just above that, you’ll find the second phalanx, supported by lateral cartilage that adds extra strength and flexibility to the structure of the hoof. 

It’s amazing to think that the horse’s fingertips have developed enough to support its entire weight.

Behind the phalanxes, the digital cushion acts as a shock absorber and is part of the structure of the horse’s heel and the frog, which is visible underneath the hoof.

When you lift your horse’s foot, all you can see of this amazing design is the frog, the wall of keratin, and the sole of the foot.

The band of hair above the hoof wall is the coronary band, which connects the foot to the pastern. You might notice the white line inside the outer hoof line too. 

When the horse moves their foot, the digital cushion, and the frog compress, forcing blood flow in and out of the hoof. That’s why exercise is so important to the health of your horse’s feet. 

Apart from exercise, nutrition also plays a major role in hoof health. 

Feeding for Healthy Hooves

Abundant good quality hay or pasture grass is vital for your horse’s health. This is usually enough to provide them will all the vitamins and minerals they need for hoof health.

If you do give your horse hard feed, make sure it’s of excellent quality and has the correct balance of these essentials. Adlib access to fresh, clean water is vital to keep the hooves hydrated and free of cracks.

Some horses have naturally dry or weak hooves. In these cases, the following supplements can encourage strong, healthy growth:

  • 20 mg of Biotin per day
  • 1 mg of Iodine per day
  • 250 mg of Zinc per day

It’s important to consult a nutrition expert or your veterinarian before you give your horse any supplements.

A healthy horse produces new layers of hoof constantly, and the hoof grows longer at a rate of about three-eighths of an inch per month. So it’s important to trim your horse’s hooves regularly to keep them in good shape. 

The Shod Horse

If you prefer your horse to wear shoes, ask your farrier to visit at least every eight weeks to replace your horse’s shoes. When horses wear shoes, their hooves don’t wear down naturally, and can easily become too long, causing balance issues. 

A good farrier can remedy many foot problems with clever corrective shoeing and offer a wealth of information on how to keep your horse’s hooves in great condition. 

If your horse has a habit of kicking, and they’re turned out with other horses in a field, they could injure their companions if they’re wearing back shoes. That’s why some horse owners stick to front shoes only. 

Barefoot Is Best For Horses

In most cases, horses do best without any shoes at all, but you’ll still need to get your farrier to help you with horse hoof trimming to keep them in good health. 

Ask your farrier to trim and file your horse’s hooves every six to eight weeks. In the wintertime, horse hoofs grow slower, so you can get away with trimming hooves every six to twelve weeks. 

If you’re attending a show, time your farrier’s visit, so it’s just before the big day. That way your horse’s hooves will look their best for your outing.  

The Importance of Balance

Balanced hooves have a major impact on your horse’s movement and performance. Ideally, your horse’s hooves should:

  • Have a straight line from the pastern through the front of the hoof wall. 
  • Have a square, rolled, or rounded toe that isn’t too long
  • Land evenly from side to side when the horse walks

In the case of shod horses, the shoe must support the heel by extending to the end of the hoof wall. 

Daily Horse Hoof Care

You must check your horse’s hooves for stones and debris every day. Pick them out to keep them clean and prevent the smelly accumulation of thrush under their feet.

Apply a good quality hoof paint daily to prevent the hoof from drying out.  

Making the Most of Horses 

It’s important to prioritize your horse hoof care routine if you want to maximize the time you spend with your horse. Just a few minutes a day can make a big difference when it comes to keeping your horse happy, healthy, and on the move.

Work with your farrier to ensure you iron out any problems before they start, and take care to clean and care for your horse’s hooves every day.

Browse my blog for more useful information and interesting snippets about horses and their care.

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