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10 Steps for Healthy Hooves!
by Michele Anderson

I know you have heard this before, but I will say it again, pick out your horses feet. This may be the single most important thing you can do for your horse's well being.

1. Pick out your horses feet before each ride, remove any stones or small objects that may become lodged in his feet before you add your weight to the situation and to check the condition of his/her sole and shoes. (We well address more on this later on.)
When you bring him in at night, pick again and check for injuries or bruising from their day out.
Each morning, remove manure, and check for signs of thrush, don't forget to check for signs of heat and pulse, (more details on that below).

2. Look for signs of:
Thrush- Your first clue to this bacterial condition is a foul smell and dark ooze from the cleft of the frog. Again this varies according to the degree of thrush. You may only have a slight odor or if caught early none. The horses foot may be tender, another sign! If the condition is left to long the frog becomes cheesy in texture. Although thrush can eventually cause lameness and significant hoof damage, its early stage is simple to treat. Use an over-the-counter remedy recommended by your blacksmith or veterinarian (most blacksmith's have their own secret recipes)

This is important and I can't stress this enough, if you stall your horse keep the stall clean and dry! If you normally bed with straw, consider a change to much more absorbent shavings. Some horses -- especially those with upright, narrow feet with deep clefts that tend to trap more dirt, debris, and manure -- are predisposed to thrush even when well cared for. If you think your horse has an early case, ask your blacksmith to check your horses feet. The old adage, a stitch in time....I need say no more!

3. Look for signs of a puncture:
Sometimes a nail, wire or other object may pierce your horse's sole. It may fall out and the entry wound will probably be invisible by the time you pick his feet and you will not be aware of it until is shows up as an abscess. (More on abscesses later). But in some cases the object remains in place, to be discovered when you brush the last bits of dirt from the sole. DON'T PULL IT OUT. Put your horse in his stall (protect the punctured foot, and help the foreign object stay put, with wrapping or with a slip-on medication boot), and call your veterinarian right away.
An x-ray of the foot can show how far the object has penetrated and which structures are involved. (If you pick your horse's feet out regularly, you'll find the problem within a few hours of its occurrence.) Then your veterinarian can remove the object and advise a course of treatment.

4. Look for signs of an abscess:
Again this is where picking your horses feet on a regular basis comes in. If your horses digital pulse feels stronger than usual and/or is foot is warmer than normal to the touch, this is a sign of a possible abscess inside the hoof which may be caused from an overlooked sole puncture, badly placed shoeing nail, (this does happen occasionally) or from a bruise. Your routine check can alert you to the problem and get your veterinarian or blacksmith involved before your horse -- probably at least slightly lame already on the abscessed foot, which throbs from the pressure of increased blood flow to the infected area -- is in even greater pain.

Important: If you find heat and a stronger-than-usual pulse in both front feet, and your horse is shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, call your veterinarian immediately! These are signs of laminitis, an inflammatory condition that can cause severe hoof damage - and, if not treated promptly, can even be fatal.)

5. Check for signs of cracks:
Some cracks are superficial and a good supplement of Biotin daily will help. Deeper cracks may worsen, involving sensitive hoof structures, without appropriate shoeing. If you notice a crack in your horse's hoof, call your furrier and describe its location and size so he can decide whether it needs attention now or can wait until the next regular visit.

6. Schedule regular fairer visits.
Schedule regular furrier visits according to your horse's needs. Six to eight weeks is usually the average, but there is really no standard interval for trimming and shoeing. Some horses hooves grow faster than others so make your visits accordingly. If your blacksmith is correcting for a problem such as low heel syndrome, a club foot, or flare in the hoof wall, your horse may benefit from shorter intervals between visits. If everything looks fine but you notice that he begins forging (striking the back of a front hoof with the toe of a back hoof) in the last few days before his next shoeing, ask your blacksmith whether a shorter schedule might avoid the problem -- possibly four to five weeks in the summer, slightly longer in the winter.
7. If your horse is shod, check his shoes each time you pick out his feet. Look for:
Look for: a sprung or shifted shoe or missing shoe. (If your horse is missing a shoe, DON'T ride him, call your blacksmith right away and keep your horse stalled or in an enclosure until the blacksmith arrives). A sprung shoe is when the shoe is not sitting flat upon the horses hoof, it may even be bent or pulled away. If the shoe has moved to one side or the other, it has shifted. In both cases this can cause damage to the sensitive hoof structure of the horses foot when weight is applied.

Loose shoes or risen clinches. If you see the ends of the nails your blacksmith trimmed and clinched (bent flush with the outer hoof wall) are now sticking out from the hoof this is a sign that the shoe is loosening. This may cause an injury. Call your blacksmith and schedule an appointment.

8. Nutrition and your horses hooves.
Proper nutrition helps your horse grow the best possible hooves. Just like people, some horses naturally have better hooves than others. Your horse may have great feet but if he doesn't the following information may help:

Fine-tune his diet. Ask your veterinarian whether your feeding program is the best one for your horse's nutritional needs.
Add a biotin supplement to his ration (ask your blacksmith for a recommendation or use an over the counter supplement). Some hooves benefit from these supplements; others show little change. Use the supplement for at least six months to a year; that's how long it takes any benefits to show up in new hoof growth.
The old adage (you are what you eat) goes a long way in this instance. A change in feed rations always shows up in the hooves. If you change your feed rations, it should be gradual, the rule of thumb is a 10% exchange over 4-7 weeks.
Give him consistent exercise. Work on good surfaces, especially at walk and trot, increases circulation to your horse's hooves and promotes growth.

9. Avoid wet/dry summer cycle:
Avoid the "summer cycle" of alternate soaking and drying of your horses hooves. Your horse's hooves can adapt well over time to conditions that are consistent, such as constant damp weather or dry periods. Our environment fluctuates between wet and dry and this is not good for a horses hooves. Evening turnout is a summer strategy to avoid biting insects, and puts hooves in prolonged contact with dew-soaked grasses. As a result the hooves swell and soften with this moisture. Back in a dry, hot environment during the day, the hooves dry and contract. With the constant repetition of this cycle, horseshoe nails loosen as their holes through the hoof wall enlarge slightly. Such summer activities as work, stomping flies, or a restless horse pacing the fence line will accelerate the loosening. This makes it hard to keep shoes on and is costly for you the owner.

10. Deep muddy footing should be avoided is possible.
Hours of standing in mud encourages thrush or scratches (a skin infection in the fetlock area that can cause lameness). Mud is also hard on shoes. The suction of deep mud and/or water can drag off a shoe already loosened by alternating wet and dry conditions. Mud also makes picking up his feet a harder job and if your horse is a little slow about getting his front feet out of the way, he may end up pulling off the heels of his front shoes by stepping on them.

And please don't forget to protect your horses hooves during hauling. This is
very important for maintaining healthy hooves and preventing injury. Whether the ride is just a short haul or a long one, their feet need to be protected. The rocking motion of the trailer combined with the horses constantly shifting feet can cause tremendous damage.
Use shipping boots or wraps with bell boots to protect your horses hooves while traveling. Damage to the coronet band (where you horse produces new hoof, can interrupt hoof growth. If your horse wears shoes he can easily step on the edge of his other shoe and loosen it. Remember to use boots or other protection (wraps with bell boots) to reduce problems during shipping. With these tips in mind, I wish you and your horse "healthy hooves".

Written By,
Michele Anderson

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