Hoof Ailments: signs to look out for that tell you something is wrong
Knowing what hooves in good condition look like is one thing, but knowing when there could be something wrong is essential knowledge every horse owner should have. Being able to identify hoof ailments quickly is essential to reduce potential pain and suffering, plus costly vet bills. So, what are the most common hoof ailments and how do we spot them? Can we prevent hoof ailments from developing, and are there cures for them?
This artiflce contains affiliate links. Click here to learn more
- Red or bruised marks on the hoof wall.
- Red or bruised marks on the sole of the hoof.
- Lameness, that become progressively worse.
To prevent the occurrence of bruised soles, reduce hard work on hard ground. Bruising of the hoof develops due to concussive work or standing on hard objects. Opt for riding on soft surfaces, such as an arena. You can still reap the benefits of hacking, just opt for grass routes when working in faster paces and avoid paths with lots of loose stones. Loose stones can become stuck in grooves of hoof and, with consistent loading, can develop into bruising. Make sure to pick out your horse’s feet after turnout and ridden work too, to make sure there is nothing wedged in your horse’s feet.
To treat bruising of the sole, restrict movement to soft surfaces, such as arena surface. Bedding should be deep to maintain comfort and ensure their feet are picked out regularly. Avoid riding until your horse becomes sound again. However, if you believe your horse to be in severe pain, call the vet who may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs and check for any infection.
- Strong digital pulse (pulse at pastern)
- Heat of the hoof wall.
- Posture altered to weight-bear on the heel.
- Walking heel first, rather than toe first.
- Reluctance to move.
- Raised rings around the circumference of the hoof.
Laminitis is caused by the ingestion of too much sugar and starch. The overload may be as a result of rich grazing or could be from feeding too much concentrate feed for your horse’s size and work load.
Take a look at 5 steps you can take to prevent laminitis.
Call the vet immediately and follow the treatment plan given. Remove the horse from grass and take him into a deep bed of shavings, cardboard or sand until sound.
Sand cracks are superficial cracks to the hoof wall, beginning at the cornet band; they can travel all the way down to the toe. Meanwhile, a grass crack begins at the toe and, likewise, can travel all the way up to the level of the coronet band.
To prevent hoof ailments such as cracks, ensure regular and correct farriery. Poor farrier care and attention can make hooves prone to developing cracks, as they lose shape, are exposed to wear and tear and uneven loads. Brittle hooves can also suffer from cracking, which is a common summer hoof problem. Maintaining hydration of the hoof through topical treatments such as balms and oils, can maintain moisture levels. As the crack will not heal, it is a waiting game as the crack will eventually grow out. You can support hoof wall growth through supplements, if your horse is deficient. However, always consult a vet as supplementing in surplus can cause adverse side effects.
In minor cases of grass and sand cracks, maintaining hoof moisture may be all that’s needed whilst you wait for the cracks to grow out. However, in more serve cases calling the farrier is essential. Farrier’s can stop the spreading of cracks through marking a groove in the hoof wall above or below the crack. With horse who are shod, application of shoes with clips centred around the beginning of grass crack can prevent further spread and reduce damage, such as chipping of the hoof wall.
- Black colouration to the frog and sole.
- Discharge with and abnormal smell.
- Soft, flaky soles.
- Heat present on the sole of the foot.
This is caused by continuous exposure to a damp environment without sufficient care and attention to the feet, such as poor stable management, wet or damp bedding, and wet, muddy fields. It is a bacterial infection and if left untreated, it can move to the sensitive, internal structures in the foot.
To prevent thrush, keep the feet clean, scrub them out and apply eucalyptus oil at least once a week during the winter, and when necessary in the summer. Make sure that there is a dry area in the field, for example hard standing, if the horse is out all the time. Make sure bedding is kept clean and dry.
The treatment is to scrub out the foot and apply eucalyptus oil (available from most chemists) repeatedly along the grooves of the frog until it clears. The farrier should trim the sides of the frog to remove any damaged tissue. If there is infection and lameness call the vet and follow the advice – it may need poulticing.
- Crumbly texture to the hoof wall.
- Formation of a cavity at the white line of the hoof
- Cavity at the toe, filled with white, dead material.
Seedy toe normally occurs when the toes are allowed to become too long. As toes become longer, it put high amounts of strain on connection between the hoof wall and the underlying laminae underneath. As the white line is representative of the hoof wall-laminae connection, the excessive strain on this link cause separation and the formation of a cavity. Therefore, seedy toe can also be the result of laminitis or concussive injury from hard ground.
To prevent seedy toe occurring, it is vital regular farrier visits are maintained. Recognising and preventing laminitis is also essential, as well as keeping an eye out for sole bruises.
A hoof ailment such as Seedy toe needs to be managed by regular and correct trimming by a farrier. This care will aid the cavity to eventually reduce in size, as it grows out. In more serve cases, farriers may decide to fill the cavity with putty, preventing further damage to the rest of the structure. Owner’s can support the growth of the hoof wall through supplementing, if their horse is suffering from a deficiency.
Infections in the hoof
- Increased digital pulse.
- Above normal temperature.
- Yellow or cloudy discharge from the foot.
- Development of cavities in the sole of the hoof.
Infections of the foot are usually resultant from puncture wounds, seedy toe, or bruising, and is one of the most common reasons for lameness. Ensuring you monitor hoof condition is essential to ensure that the delicate structure beneath have not been exposed to the external environment. Look out for any developments of cavities in the sole or unexplained lameness. If you believe that the internal hoof has been exposed to the external environment, make sure it is appropriately disinfected and covered to reduce the chance of infection.
Call the vet or your farrier, as the infection should be released from the foot by digging out the infected area. Your horse will be alleviated from pain and lameness should have drastically reduced, providing there are no other underlying conditions. Any concerns for wounds to the hoof should be taken up with a vet, as if they are deeper enough they can cause bone and joint infections, which are extremely difficult to treat.
To draw out any remaining infection, the foot should be tubbed and poulticed. If the rest of the infection is not drawn out, this may lead to a more serious systemic infection, which may result in serious illness and even death.
Symptoms of nail bind/prick are lameness after shoeing, either immediately or up to a couple of days later.
Nail bind and prick is caused accidently. An easy mistake to make, it can only effect shod horses. Nail bind is caused by the farrier putting a nail too close to the sensitive part of the foot, the laminae. Meanwhile, nail prick is the actual piercing the laminae.
To treat it, the farrier needs to remove the nail and the foot should be tubbed and poultice to draw out any potential infection. If the lameness continues, your horse’s tetanus vaccination are not up to date or if your farrier advises so, calling a vet is essential.