The hoof is essential to equine performance, as it supports and carries your horse or pony's weight. In this article, we discuss best practices for horse and pony hoof care and strategies for hoof improvement.
Regular hoof maintenance is critical for horse health and performance.
Check hooves daily for injuries or changes in condition.
Trim hooves approximately every 4-6 weeks.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine to preserve hoof health.
Use hoof supplements, like in-stride Hoof Supplement for Horses, to improve hoof quality.
Basic Horse Hoof Care Tips
Regular care is necessary to keep your horse healthy and comfortable, assuring maximum performance and longevity.
Check hooves daily for general wear and tear, looking for any signs of injury or changes in condition. Potential hoof problems include chipping, bruising, cracking and thrush. Hooves grow fairly quickly, and regular trimming and shoeing are necessary to encourage good hoof balance.
We discuss hoof care tips in more detail below and offer guidance on what constitutes good everyday care for a horse's hooves.
How to Care for Your Horse's Hooves Daily
Consistent hoof care and maintenance make horses happier and healthier, so checking and caring for your horse's hooves (and overall condition) daily should be part of your routine.
Keep Stables and Pastures Well-Maintained
Assess the horse/pony's environment regularly, as this can significantly impact their hooves. For example, if the horse is spending a lot of time in wet or muddy conditions, this can create an environment where their hooves are more prone to bacterial and fungal infections.
The ideal living environment for hoof health promotes dryness and cleanliness. Stables should be clean and free of excess moisture, with plenty of bedding material to absorb dampness. Pastures should also be well-maintained and have minimal mud patches, as horses tend to stand in these areas for long periods, which can lead to hoof problems.
Hoof Moisturizers & Oils
Hooves that are too dry are just as much of a problem as hooves that are too moist. In low-humidity environments, hooves can dry out and become brittle, leading to cracks and chips.
To combat hoof wall dryness, use hoof moisturizers to keep the horse's hooves hydrated and healthy.
Encourage Movement and Exercise
Regular movement and exercise can help strengthen the horse's hooves and overall health. Activity can promote new hoof growth and improve blood circulation to the horse's feet.
Exercise can also help to strengthen the horse's core muscles, which further contributes to the horse's health.
Keep the Hooves Balanced
Having a horse's hooves trimmed regularly by a trained farrier is paramount. This helps prevent hoof imbalance because a farrier can ensure the pressure is evenly distributed across the four hooves.
Over time, hoof imbalances in the horse/pony's hooves can lead to discomfort, poor performance and even long-term damage.
Good Shoeing and Trimming
Hooves should be trimmed about every 4-6 weeks, depending on the horse or pony's activity level and unique needs. Unshod horses may need more frequent trimming than shod horses. The farrier will provide appropriate shoeing if necessary.
Trimming and reshoeing may also be required after major events, such as horse shows, competitions, etc., in order to foster healthy, balanced hooves.
Regular Cleaning and Picking
Riders should clean horse hooves regularly. A pick should be used to carefully remove dirt or stones from the hooves on a regular basis and after every ride. Clean hooves are healthier and easier to monitor for problems.
Hoof-protecting products, like horse boots, can be used in certain cases to aid in horse hoof care. These products protect horse hooves during shipping or in the pasture or stable, reducing the risk of injury.
Therapy boots are also available to help safely rehabilitate horses with cracks, injuries or other problems, such as laminitis.
Provide a Healthy Diet
Horse or pony owners should pay attention to their equine's diet as this directly impacts hoof health. Proper horse nutrition is vital to healthy growth.
Ensure your horse has access to good quality hay or grass and the vitamins and trace minerals needed to sustain optimal health. If you need help determining what feed to provide, consult your vet or an equine nutritionist.
Supplements and Hardening Products
In some cases, horse hooves need extra care and attention. In such cases, special supplements and hoof-hardening products may be used to gradually improve hoof health.
For example, in-stride Hoof Supplement for Horses stimulates strong growth and maximum hoof hardness, and in-fusion msm Joint Supplement (see our article on how MSM supplements can benefit your horse) increases Keratin production, a major component of hooves. Both these supplements also aid hair and skin health.
Horse owners can also facilitate overall health with holistic supplements, like in-sideout Pre & Probiotic, Nutriceutical and Gut Health Supplement for Horses & Ponies. The horse's nutritional intake is vital to its hooves, and holistic supplements like in-sideout enhance immune, intestinal and digestive performance.
Winter Hoof Care
The winter months can be tough on horse hooves. During colder months, the horse hoof tends to grow at a slower rate. This means that horses typically need to be trimmed or shod less often in the winter. However, this is highly variable from horse to horse and depends on how much the hooves grow during that time.
Problems to Look for with Your Horse's Hooves
When caring for horse hooves, look for signs of trouble. Trouble may range from cracks to white line disease (white tissue where the horse's hoof wall and sole separate). Serious hoof problems indicate the immediate need for a veterinarian and/or farrier.
Other hoof problems, like small chips and stone bruises, are common and often aren't a cause for alarm. However, they still require prompt attention.
Hoof Cracks and Chips
Hoof cracks and chips are standard hoof problems often caused by poor nutrition, over-exertion or genetics. If you notice any chips or cracks in the hoof wall, it is crucial that you contact a farrier for proper treatment and care.
A deep crack in a horse hoof can become a source of infection and be challenging to treat.
Laminitis (founder) is a hoof condition caused by inflammation of the horse's laminae, which are tiny structures in the horse's hoof that help attach the hoof to its bones.
Laminitis can cause pain and severe lameness if left untreated. If you suspect laminitis, reach out to a veterinarian immediately.
Genetic abnormalities may cause hoof problems. For example, Navicular Disease, which affects the navicular bone in the hoof, is believed to be genetic.
You will likely need to consult a specialist farrier to diagnose and treat a genetic condition.
Injury or Infection
Hoof injuries and infections can occur due to poor horse quality, trauma or environmental conditions, such as excessive wetness. Thrush, a smelly discharge from the horse's frog, is an especially common infection, especially in poor-quality hooves.
Injuries and infections should be treated promptly to prevent further damage and pain.
FAQs About Improving Your Horse's Feet
We answer a few frequently asked questions about hoof health below.
What Does a Normal Hoof Wall Look Like?
The horse's hoof wall should be relatively even in appearance, free of blemishes or cracks, and have a strong colour and shine. If the horse's hoof wall has any patches of discolouration or missing parts, then this may be a sign that the horse has an infection or injury.
What is a Hot Nail or Street Nail?
When a horseshoe nail is forced into the sensitive area of a horse's foot, it becomes what we call a "hot nail". Hot nails inevitably lead to lameness. Additionally, a foreign body penetrating a horse's hoof is known as a street nail.
For a hoof pierced by a hot nail or a street nail, treatment usually includes removal of the nail, cleaning and disinfecting. Most vets keep the hoof bandaged while it heals.
How Do Supplements Help with Poor Hoof Quality?
Hoof supplements can be used in conjunction with other supplements, like in-sideout horse, in-force, in-fibre and in-take, to encourage a strong appetite, good digestion and a robust immune system, which can also improve hoof quality.
Stay Dedicated to Your Horse's Hoof Care
Routine hoof care is another chore you must undertake to keep a horse sound, and it may seem overwhelming at first. But with frequent trimming or shoeing and proper nutrition, horse owners can support excellent hoof health, helping their horses lead longer and healthier lives.
By Dr. Guangda Xue (Danny), BSc, MRes, PhD
Animal scientist specialised in gut health development and inflammation management