Hoof care is one of the single most important routines you can get into when owning your own horse. From getting a flighty horse used to having his feet handled to learning how to spot problems in your horse's feet, here's a look at what care you should be doing regularly and why.
1. Picking your horses feet. Believe it or not a lot of people think that this is the job of their farrier, but cleaning your horse's feet gives you an up-close look at things and may help you identify problems and take early action. Always pick your horse's feet before and after a ride. Removing stones and any small objects that have gotten lodged in the hoof will keep their feet from getting bruised and injured while out and about. It also allows you to examine his shoes to make sure they are still intact. Check for heat and pulse and examine their feet for any signs of thrush, a bacterial infection acquired when exposed to wet environments for a prolonged period of time. There may a be a foul smell and a strange texture. Check for any puncture wounds from sharp objects. If you ever do find an object lodged in your horse's hoof, do not remove it. Protect the horse's hoof and call your veterinarian. Also look for any cracks and abscesses. If your horse's pulse feels stronger than usual or his foot is warmer to the touch than normal, there could be an abscess.
Each time you clean your horse's hooves, take an extra couple of minutes after you've pried out any packed debris to gently clear the crevice of the frog, and scrape any remaining bits of matter off the sole, with the tip of the pick. You want to be able to see the sole's entire surface, so finish the job with a stiff brush. Some hoof picks come with a brush attached, or you can buy a brush separately and inexpensively.
2. Establish what's normal. While handling your horse's feet to pick them out, notice their temperature; when everything's OK, they'll feel very slightly warm. Take a moment to locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of his pastern; you're interested not in the rate of the pulse, but in its strength under normal conditions. Check the frog, which has about the texture and firmness of a new rubber eraser when it's healthy. Don't be alarmed, though, if everything else looks OK but the frog appears to be peeling off--most horses shed the frog at least twice a year, sometimes more often. Your farrier's regular trimming of the frog may have prevented you from noticing this natural process before.
3. Schedule regular farrier visits. It is important to keep your horse well trimmed and balanced to keep them from any lameness or foot and leg issues.
4. Learn how to remove shoes, YES you! If you can remove a sprung or shifted shoe, you may save your horse unnecessary pain and hoof damage and make life easier for your farrier or veterinarian.
5. Help your horse grow the best possible hooves. Some horses naturally have better hooves than others. Your horse may already be producing the best hoof he's capable of, or the following steps may enable him to do better.
- Fine-tune his diet. Ask your veterinarian whether your feeding program is appropriate for your horse's nutritional needs.
- Add a biotin supplement to his ration (ask your farrier for a recommendation). Some hooves benefit from these supplements; others show little change. Plan to use the supplement for six months to a year; that's how long it takes any benefits to show up in new hoof growth.
- Give him consistent exercise. Work on good surfaces, especially at walk and trot, increases circulation to your horse's hooves and promotes growth.
6. Try not to turn out in deep, muddy footing. Hours of standing in mud may encourage thrush or scratches (a skin infection in the fetlock area that can cause lameness). Mud is hard on shoes, too: The suction of deep mud can drag off a shoe already loosened by alternating wet and dry conditions. Mud also makes picking up his feet a harder job; if your horse is slow about getting his front feet out of the way, he may end up pulling off the heels of his front shoes because he's stepping on them with his back toes.
Hoof Marvel and the Ultimat Hoofpick are a few favorites for hoof care maintenance.
Click on photos for more info.