Equine Hoof Care
Care of the horse's foot
for other species, see bottom of page
Horses depend upon the integrity and health of the hooves, for their very existence, let alone well-being, welfare and effective locomotion. Despite appearances, the hoof is a surprisingly resilient structure but, with our modern domestic management, some challenges can arise.
Firstly, there is the question of whether to shoe or to allow the horse to go ‘barefoot‘ or shoeless. It appears that a horse's hoof will adapt to prevailing conditions and demands, allowing many to go barefoot even when worked. If occasional exposure to stony tracks is necessary, a boot can be fitted (as long as it doesn't chafe). Allowing the foot some time without shoes, whatever long-term policy is used, is very important for foot health.
Image shows a traditional Western Irish method of hoof protection for the unshod working pony (leather boot). Modern versions are usually made of rubber.
Diet is an essential component of hoof health. The horn of the tough structure has to form properly, to give strength, flexibility and integrity of protection to the foot within. Feeding the correct foods is a vital first step.
The bedding upon which a horse is stabled can be important. Shavings may encourage ammonia, which is damaging and can dry the hoof excessively, so we do not recommend wood shavings for bedding.
Mud is another potential enemy. Muddy gateways and poached fields are likely to cause problems with hoof structure. Oiling of the hooves, to provide protection against this, may become necessary. However, too much oiling can prevent the correct evaporation from the surface of the hoof and cause damage that way (as in most fields of equine activity, there is a plethora of hoof care products vying for your money – we advocate caution).
Liming of gateways and poached areas is likely to reduce the population of damaging organisms in such areas (e.g. as might lead to thrush etc.).
Stones, particularly flints, can be a hazard underfoot, sometimes causing injury and leading to abscesses.
Cracked hooves (and ‘sandcrack' aka ‘sand crack') should be dealt with promptly, to prevent worsening and to reduce the likelihood of structural damage or of infection entering the foot. As might be expected, we have our own method of reducing or resolving cracks, should they prove refractory to normal farriery. Herbs, Homeopathy and nutrition can be very important in dealing with this problem.
Laminitis is likely to cause damage to the hoof's structure and function. We can only recommend very prompt natural medicine input, to deal with this issue. However, even chronic cases of laminitis, with hoof deformity, may not be beyond homeopathic help and a carefully planned trimming program.
Foot abscesses are a common enough occurrence but prompt opening of the hoof abscess to allow good drainage and the use of homeopathic medicines can usually resolve the problem satisfactorily. We have not had to use antibiotic for hoof abscesses. Quittor is a special form of infection and requires more specialist homeopathic input.
The AVMC offers advice and help for good hoof care, as part of the holistic package offered to patients/clients.
N.B.: While hoof care is especially important in horses, ponies, goats, camelids and farm animals such as cattle, sheep and pigs all require good hoof care for well being and health. Similar principles apply in all species. The hoof is of a similar structure and function, whether in a cloven-hoofed animal (even-toed ungulate) or in a one-toed or three-toed animal (odd-toed ungulate). Factors affecting the integrity of hoof structure are similar too (e.g. nutrition, injury, foot care and conditions underfoot).
BEWARE old nails, timber containing nails or other sharp objects, that may be left around after a clearing job or after builders or electricians have visited. In the case of horses, puncture wounds to the foot can occur as a result of losing a shoe and standing on the nails. Should a puncture wound occur, we recommend prompt homeopathic help (see also ‘first-aid‘)