This topic reminds me of an old proverb:

                                                                      For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

                                                                      For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

                                                                      For want of a horse the rider was lost.

                                                                      For want of a rider the message was lost.

                                                                      For want of a message the battle was lost.

                                                                      For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

                                                                      And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Obviously, this is an old reference, but I still feel it shows the importance of horse hoof care especially if shoeing is needed for the horse’s job as in racing or other competition riding (barrel racing, team penning or a local 4H show just to name a few). This is also why it is important to know what job you want your horse to perform before even attempting to purchase one. Genetics and breed standards are a must to determine possible future problems with the hooves.

Carriage horse which may be on hard road surfaces.

Basic Horse Hoof Care

Generally, good limb confirmation means good hoof confirmation. So looking at the overall horse when before purchasing one is quite important. The hooves can be made to look excellent even with bad overall confirmation with a bit of work. The old adage “Buyer Beware” comes to mind as some people when trying to sell a horse with not be totally truthful about their horse’s problems!

Basic hoof care can be done at home with a few simple tools and a “good” horse. A simple pick and hoof knife is all the tools that are needed for routine cleaning.

Lateral cross-section of a horse’s lower leg and foot.

These pictures show the anatomy of the horse foot. It is actually a digit like one of our fingers and the hoof somewhat like our fingernail!

Picture of outer and bottom of the horse foot.

Lameness is more frequent in the foot than any other part of the limbs/legs. Not surprising as you consider the weight of the entire horse is spread over only the 4 feet. A 1200 pound horse therefore applies 400 pounds on each foot–seems like a lot for the size of the average foot! Different breeds and genetics determine most of the bone structure and foot size of any horse. This is important in preventing possible problems due to poor breeding practices. When purchasing a horse, I feel that the feet and teeth are the two most important factors to consider.

Jumping horses must have excellent feet and shoes-think of how much weight is on these front feet when they hit the ground.

Quality Horse Hoof Care

There are so many theories on how to trim a horse’s hooves, what type of shoes to use or whether to simply go barefoot. These decisions should be made for each horse individually and in conjunction with your farrier and/or veterinarian. A farrier is a specialist in equine hoof care which includes the trimming and balancing of horses’ hooves and placing shoes on them if necessary.

Throughout history, the jobs of farrier and blacksmith were often synonymous. For those of you interested in word origins, the term farrier probably comes from the Middle French ferrier meaning blacksmith.

Showing a farrier using an anvil and shaping the shoe to fit the foot.

In colonial America, a farrier’s job would have been shoeing horses as well as fabrication and repair of tools, including forging them when necessary. Modern day farriers usually specialize in only horse hoof care. This job requires combining both blacksmithing and some veterinary skills to care for the horses’ hooves. In some countries, farriers are regulated by laws, but this is not the case in the United States. So, when searching for a farrier, try to find out where they received their training and if they routinely go to continuing education courses to keep up to date on the newest and best methods and treatments.

Farrier working on rear hoof-could be a dangerous position!

History has shown that horses have been shod with metal shoes for over two thousand years. Shoes were needed to protect their horses’ hooves when they began being used as beasts of burdens and for riding over rough hard ground. A typical pasture horse that doesn’t “work” rarely needs shoes unless there is a lameness issue or genetics dictate its use because of poor confirmation. Corrective trimming and/or shoeing are essential for the working or performance horse. How often these shoes need reset or trimming needs to be done depends upon the horse and what “work” it does. The average hoof grows around 1/4-5/8 inches (5-9mm) each month. Therefore trimming may be necessary every 4-8 weeks. Some horses, if kept on a hilly, rocky pasture and have good hoof genetics, may not need trimming at all. These horses should be checked every 6-8 weeks just in case of possible problems. At times, farriers are better at dealing with acutely injured and diseased hooves better than some veterinarians especially if they do not do much with horses. They can use special shoes for racing, training and certain medical conditions that may require the use of special shoes to keep them healthy, productive and pain free.

Factors Affecting Horse Hoof Care

Genetics can play a major role in a horses feet. For example, some Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds often have very small feet in relation to bodies. Proper breeding practices can help eliminate some of these problems. The Arabian horse typically have small feet, but they also have smaller bodies and do not seem to have too many problems. Some breeds such as the American Saddlebred, Belgians and Tennessee Walking Horse are shod for show with special shoes that some feel force their hooves into an abnormal confirmation and can cause problems if left this way too long.

Think of the weight and pressure on these feet!

Think of this as you wearing someone else’s shoes or 6 inch heels when you usually wear tennis shoes! How are your feet going to feel after a few days in a pair of shoes that don’t fit your feet properly? Probably not too well! If you have ever worn heels and aren’t used to them, it also affects your leg and thigh muscles as well. Constant use of ill-fitting shoes can cause contracted heels, tendon injury and even thrush.

Other Hoof Problems

There are so many problems that may arise. Some of these include bone cysts, navicular disease, pedal osteitis, bruised sole, corns, quittor, sand cracks, scratches, seedy toe, sheared heels, sidebone, laminitis and puncture wounds to the bottom of the hoof. Many of these will need radiography (xrays) to diagnose. Their treatment and prognosis depends upon what is wrong and how long it has been going on along with the age and overall health of each horse. Some of these can be aggravated by mismanagement, hence it is important to learn how to take care of your horse’s hooves especially since some of these (laminitis for example) are often not treatable and can be life threatening.

Horse Hoof Care Supplements

Some problems with horses’ hooves can be helped with the addition of supplements either in their feed

One type of pelleted hoof supplement.

or topical application. There are many products on the market, so advice from your farrier and/or veterinarian may be able to help you determine which product might be best for your horse.

One type of topical hoof and skin medication.

There are products to help harden hooves, help soften them, help them repair themselves quicker and help with other specific problems.

Keeping your horse’s hooves healthy are of the utmost importance as without feet there is no functional horse. They may also as discussed above affect the rest of the legs and can cause other muscle, tendon and ligament problems.

One of the newest modalities available is digital thermal imaging which can tell if there is an area of inflammation/heat anywhere in the body often before it is can be felt, is visible or has become a problem. I feel this will be very important for those requiring a pre-purchase examination before buying a new horse and also for those with performance horses that are “just not feeling up to par” as I’m often told! It has been shown to detect areas where a problem may be brewing and help to alleviate future more major problems by getting treatment earlier.

New modality being used to find problems earlier.