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Published: 2017-01-21 17:34:50 Categories: Guides Rss feed , Horse health Rss feed

hooves' maintenance
 background source: Pimthida

We decided to gather 10 rules for you: how to properly take care of your horse's hooves so they stay healthy and strong for as long as possible. We all know the saying "no hoof, no horse," which is why the hooves should be no. 1 on your daily maintenance list :)

1. Regularly clean the hooves.

Yes, we know it's a cliché... but you'd be surprised how many owners neglect their horse's hooves already at this stage. Regular cleaning of the hooves is the very basis of their maintenance and the best prophylaxis that may prevent diseases and general health issues. Before each ride check if there is something stuck in the hoof's bottom e.i. frog, sulcus, or heel (a pebble, or glass pieces). If anything that may damage the hoof is in it while riding and you additionally load your horses with your body weight riding on a solid ground, the foreign body will get stuck even deeper. That can cause wounds that may eventually lead to a serious injury.

Few riders check the horse's hooves after the ride, or before and after transport. It is a big mistake! Checking the hooves will take you relatively short time in comparison to the possible consequences of your negligence. Unfortunately, horses in their natural environment did not encounter that much garbage and sharp objects they may encounter nowadays - broken glass pieces, tins, bottles, nails... The list goes on and on. What is more, such checking of the hooves will also give you a chance to watch your horse's legs and hoof wall, so you will be able to spot any abnormalities and possible wounds after a ride or transport.

Remember that a hoofpick might be a good option, not only one with a metal spike, but also with an attached stiff brush, which will allow you to easily and thoroughly clean the hard to reach places.

Busse, non-slip hoofpick Busse, non-slip hoofpick

2. Know your horse's hooves.

During everyday maintenance and observation of your horse's hooves determine what is characteristic for them. If you know them "by heart," it would be easier for you to spot any abnormalities.

Also remember that at least twice a year the frog peels. This process might slip your attention if the smith systematically takes care of your horse's hooves. However, if you do notice a dry part of the frog that flakes off, do not panic ;) Everything's alright.

horse's hoof

3. While lifting the hoof, pay attention to...

  • its smell and structure

If the hoof is soft and smells bad, it might mean that decaying process has started. Foot rot is a bacterial state usually caused by prolonged standing of the horse on an unchanged litter, mud or other wet and dirty ground. Another common causes of such state are: prolonged shoeing of the horse with the so-called "lines." Rotting is the most recognizable by its smell, gunky, wet, and soft hoof structure - frog, sulcus, and heel. Early stage of the disease is easy to cure. However, the later stages might eventually cause permanent invalidity and serious hoof damage.

If you notice bacteria growth in your horse's hooves, most of all try to provide him with more visits to the pasture. Of course, not when the ground is muddy, but when it's dry or covered with snow, or green grass. Try to keep him on a dry litter, preferably not on straw, but on something much more absorbent (you can find other litters HERE). It is also good to use specifics and care treatments that will help you eliminate the issue (more about this you will find HERE).

Horses differ in their hooves' structure - those with "tight" and "narrow" hooves will tend to have a kind of foreign body (nails, sticks, glass) and dirt (sand) "traps" and they will easily accumulate there. Such horses require more attention, you could also talk to a smith and try to eliminate this issue as much as it is possible.

rotting frog On the left: hoof with an ongoing decaying process. On the right: clean hoof; source:

As an example, we will present you a story of some owners:

The horse couldn't stand on his front leg. The issue was apparently a hoof. The hoof wall was hot and while touching, the horse was kicking, so the pressure was clearly causing him pain. What is more, there was a soft swelling around the frog and the sole, as if pus was inside of it. A vet came, took a look at the hoof, made a cut in it, drained the pus and found the source of the problem - a small splinter stuck in the horse's frog. A few days passed by while the horse was taking medications and having his dressings changed frequently. The pus was still gathering, as if the place was unable to heal, as if the source of the problems had not been eliminated. That was when the owners decided to call a smith, so he could find a deeper problem. How big was the surprise when the smith found a thick (5-6 cm) stick with a slightly sharp end stuck horizontally in the frog. It seemed physically impossible for such a big splinter to get stuck in the frog and stay there unnoticed during hoof cleaning. However it could have happened, because when the hoof is sick and its structure is too soft, the animal is more prone to injuries.

The stick cut into the rotten hoof easily to the point where it was completely impossible to see it. It could have happened on a pasture, beyond the owner's control. However, it was the owner's fault he or she hadn't checked the horse's hooves and hadn't prevented the advancing rotting process that was the result of the wound.

There are countless such stories. However, it would be good for you and your horses for such stories to never involving or concerning you legends :) Let's not ignore such "trivial" symptoms.

issues with horse's hooves source:, phot. Natalia Łabuzek
  • foreign bodies in the hoof

If a nail or other object runs through a horse's sole, the wound would most probably be invisible. However, most foreign objects are possible to notice them straight away. If you're not dealing with a slight splinter that is stuck very shallow into the hoof, you can take it out yourself. Then you should disinfect the wound, alternatively put a dressage on. However, if you don't know how long the object has been stuck in the hoof, how big it is and how deep it goes, do not take it out by yourself! Wrap the horse's hoof so the object cannot move and put the box into a stall with fresh litter, waiting for a vet to come. The wound might be infected, so a veterinarian should take a look at it, remove the foreign object and prescribe proper treatment.

  • cracks

Some cracks are superficial, other might go to deep and sensitive parts of the hoof. Causes might vary - for example: the hoof may be weakened by the horse's general poor health, so a slight mechanical damage occurred during a weak impact and thus there is a crack. Another cause for a crack may be an abscess. If you can see cracks on your horse's hooves, especially widespread and deep, call a smith, describe their position and size (preferably send him a photo). Let a specialist decide whether it requires special attention right away, or if it can wait for another regular cleaning.

  • increased temperature and blood pressure

A very warm hoof always means that there's something wrong with it. If after checking the pulse with your two fingers against the back part of a fetlock above the heel in a characteristic pit you state that it is very palpable and also increased, it should concern you (of course when the horse has been resting in his box, not right after some physical effort). Maybe these are symptoms of some mechanical damage that lead to pus gathering in the hoof? The horse has four hooves, so you can always compare them to check whether something should really worry you. It's good to call a vet and look for a cause together.

If such symptoms occurred right after shoeing a horse, you should call the smith again. This state may be caused by the nails being too deep, or simply wrong.

measuring pulse - fetlock Place of checking the pulse - fetlock, background source:

If you spot the increased temperature and blood pressure on both front hooves, and additionally the horse has troubles moving, tries to lie down, or takes the characteristic pose with both his front legs out, the so-called "sitting dog" position - it should be a clear signal it is laminitis. Laminitis is an inflammatory condition that may lead to serious hoof damage. If you don't react quick enough, it may even be fatal!

4. Set a regular schedule for smith's visits

It is generally agreed that a smith visit should take place every 6-8 weeks (1,5-2 months). However, in practice the breaks might vary depending on our horse's needs and whether we just want to clean his hooves or shoe them. If a smith during his visit is supposed to correct the horse's problems, more frequent visits are recommended.

It is also a custom that in winter the breaks might be longer (the horse works less, he doesn't require shoeing, etc.), and shorter in summer (riding season, competitions, shoeing, more frequent and longer stay on a pasture).

5. If your horse is shoes - check his hooves' condition

  • sharp ends of hobnails

Sharp ends of nails on which the shoe is attached should be cut and nicely bent towards the outer hoof wall. If that's not the case and the hobnails are bent the other way, sticking out of the hoof, it means that the shoe might have gotten lose. You should temporarily bent the nails yourself, so the horse won't hurt his limbs. If you see that the shoe is bending out or breaking away, you should call a smith for re-shoeing.

hoof care source:, phot. Klaudia Żyżylewska

6. Learn how to take your horse's shoes off by yourself

If you're dealing with a situation in which the shoe has bent out very much or is simply lose and looks like flip-flops while the horse is moving, it means that it doesn't fulfill its task. What is more, it can disturb the horse, or even be a contributor to an injury. Then, it's worth to take such shoe off by yourself, not waiting for a smith to come: he most certainly has a schedule. A shoe that's coming off is not the most urgent case in the world. So a smith will come to you whenever he'll find time, which may happen within a few days. You can't leave your horse with such shoe for a few days, because it's likely he'll hurt himself. What is more, if the shoe looks bad only on one leg, you should take the shoes off of two legs. If the bad shoe is on a front leg - take off both front shoes, the same applies to hinder shoes. Your horse can be shoed only on the front or only on the back, but he cannot train or move with three shoes. It's neither healthy nor comfortable. Additionally, it disturbs his balance. It's like sitting on a chair with four legs out of which one is shorter than the rest ;)

Most smiths will appreciate having less work, if you take the shoes off by yourself ;) What is more, with ailments and hoof diseases you also should take the shoes off, so the vet can take a closer look at the hooves. So don't expect your vet to do it for you. It's your horse and your responsibility.

7. Take care of your horse's diet

Horse's hoof is an equivalent of human skin - nail. Both - our nails and horses' hooves - are reflecting our diet and general health. Some horses are prone to have hoof problems, they are more delicate and fragile. Other horses always have strong and healthy hooves, regardless of their general health. However, it is crucial to attain the maximum, namely the best hoof health possible.

  • choose a proper diet

Consult your current diet with a veterinarian and, if possible, get interested in the horse's nutrition. It's important to match the diet to your horse's height, weight, sex, age, and intensity of his physical effort.

  • think about biotin

Fodder supplements have spectacular effects with some horses, e.g. biotin. It's worth checking how they'll work on your horse, administering the supplement for at least 6 to 12 months. Why for so long? Because hoof's growth takes a lot of time. Only after such a long time you'd be able to notice some effects of the supplementation.

  • train consistently

Try to systematically train on a good surface. Especially working in walk and trot improves blood circulation in the hooves and boosts their growth.

take care of your horse's hooves source:, phot. Julia Świętochowska

8. Avoid constant wetting and drying of the hooves in the summer

Horse's hooves are quite adaptable to new conditions that are drier or more moist than they used to be. However, they hurt when the ground or conditions change all the time. However, sometimes it's impossible to avoid such situations: especially in late spring, summer, and early fall.

For example: if it is scorching hot outside and the ground is dry, then after coming back from a not-very-green pasture or manage, the horse usually enters conditions completely different - to his stall. It's not easy to keep the litter clean in the summer due to high temperatures, which is why it is more often than not wet. The same effect as wet litter has a muddy paddock.

Horse's hooves act like human nails: they swell and become soft after prolonged contact with water. Such soft tissue is more prone to damage, when it comes to contact with solid and wet ground.

If such "shock cycle" repeats itself, soon the shoes might become lose and the hobnail holes might become larger. What is more, your horse moves and stumps more in the summer, when he's trying to get rid of the flies. So don't be surprised when the shoes are not as good in the summer as they were in the winder and don't blame your smith for this ;)

It's hard to protect your horse from such change of dry-wet conditions, but you can do a couple of things to minimize the possibility of negative outcomes of such situations:

  • Make your horse's hooves less absorbent with the use of various specifics and use them both on the bottom and outer layers of the hoof. If greasy, they will be properly protected.
  • Avoid unnecessary baths. Rinsing your horse with a sponge will usually be enough and it won't disturb his skin's bacterial flora and won't make a pool he'd have to stand in, wetting his hooves for half an hour or more.
  • Shorten the breaks between smith's visits in the summer, if you're shoeing your horse. Losing shoes usually means issues with hoof damage, and they (shoes) will easily fall off during the summer conditions.
hoof problems source:, phot. Klaudia Żyżylewska

9. Try to avoid mud.

Hours spent in mud, both during a ride or on a pasture might contribute to bacterial infections, which in turn contribute to hoof rotting and skin diseases, such as mud fever. Leaving the hoof in the shoe for the period of late fall or early spring is also not the best idea. Deep mud could suck the shoe and it might be slowly getting more and more lose, when the hoof will dry.

10. Protect the hooves during transport.

It's very easy for a horse to become injured during transport. Sometimes it may happen because of a rapid braking or other road issues, something may happen due to conflicts between the horse's companions. But most of all, the horse has to constantly keep his balance and injuries are most common when a horse loses it.

The area of the hoof that is most vulnerable to damage during transport is e.g. coronet - tissue girdle in the upper part of each hoof that is responsible for its growth. What is important is that damage to this part may stop the hoof's growth below the damaged place. Another part prone to injuries in the horse's heel, so the part of the hoof that is at the back of the horse's leg, below fetlock.

The simplest solution will be to invest in solid transport boots. Most of them are designed in such a way that they cover the most delicate part, including hooves..

travel boots Eskadron, Ripstop travel boots

If your horse is shoes, there is also risk that the shoe might become lose or shift during transport. For example, when your horse loses balance, he stands on the edge of his hoof. If such situation repeats many times, the fixing of the hoof might stop performing its function, and the shoe might twist. In order not to let this happen, invest in horse's boots, which will prevent dangerous situations.