Optimising Hoof Care: The Importance of Hoof Moisture
Written by Dr. Peter H Kay
For many years, horses have been selectively bred for their conformation, performance and temperament. However, the industry has ignored hoof condition, especially the importance of hoof moisture, when breeding. This has lead to a steady decline to their natural state. This has caused more frequent and difficult challenges, to both owners and farriers, when keeping our horses sound.
Recently, the need for correct shoeing and hoof care has been highlighted. However, with the phrase “no hoof, no horse” being thrown around, is there more we can do to protect our horse’s hooves? Here we take a look at the hoof wall, the importance of moisture, the hoof's protective layer and what we can do moving forward.
The Hoof Wall
The hoof wall bears the entire weight of the horse, therefore it is vital farriers and owners work to keep it healthy. To maintain maximum performance and soundness, the hoof wall must be kept flexible. Flexibility of the hoof wall ensures that the structure can absorb the force produced by movement. Maintaining flexibility also means the hoof wall is not brittle, which would increase the likelihood of losing shoes. A flexible hoof wall is able to adapt to pressure and keep the nails, holding horse’s shoes to their feet, secure. Additionally, maintenance of hoof wall flexibility provides protection for sensitive structures inside the foot.
Flexibility of the hoof wall ensures that the structure can absorb the force produced by movement.
Hoof Wall Moisture
A factor which plays a major role in hoof wall flexibility is the moisture content of the structure. If the hoof wall becomes too dry and dehydrated, it may become brittle and prone to cracks and fractures. On the other hand, the hoof wall can also become over-hydrated. An over-hydrated hoof wall becomes soft and cannot absorb high pressures effectively. An inability to absorb high pressure at the hoof level means the pressures are forced onto higher structures in the leg. Pressure can affect soft tissue, such as joints, tendons and ligaments, and cause damage to these structures. Ineffective pressure absorption, at hoof level, is often a cause of lameness in horses.
The Hoof’s Protective Layer
In a healthy hoof wall, moisture content is naturally maintained at about 25%. Minimising excessive water gain or loss, is a natural barrier formed on the outer wall of the hoof. This barrier is a thin, waterproof layer, otherwise known as the stratum tectorium.
Charles Watson, a prolific farrier and author of ‘The Principles and Practice of Horse Shoeing’ explained the significance of the stratum tectorium with respect to hoof health. Watson explained that with removal of the natural covering “there is a disposition for the wall to develop toe and quarter sand cracks”. He continued to explain that this is because “the removal of this natural covering allows the wall to become dry and brittle”.
The stratum tectorium covers the entire hoof, from the coronet band to the toe. The layer is produced by the body in tissue located at the coronet band and around the heel. The tissue, called the periople, also acts to attach the waterproof layer to the hoof. The protective layer only forms as new hoof grows. Therefore, the protective layer cannot be replaced on old hoof, once lost.
What Can We Do?
There is very little on the market to help avoid or supplement loss of the hoof’s protective layer. However, recent research and technological advances have now made it possible to replace lost protective layers. The development of Pro-Stratec by Dr. Peter H Kay has provided an identical replacement for the natural protective layer, the stratum tectorium. The easy to apply, quick drying aerosol driven formula enables horse owners to enhance their hoof care programme and prevent lameness caused by hoof wall moisture gain or loss.
The developer of Pro-Stratec may be contacted by email on email@example.com
Coming soon article 2
Optimising Hoof Care: 3 Things You Didn’t Know Were Damaging Your Horse’s Feet