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Healthy Horse Hooves

Healthy Horse Hooves

Powerful advice on keeping your horse’s hooves healthy – Originally posted by Eventing Connect

With a barnful of Thoroughbreds, I’ve seen my share of less-than-ideal feet. And the old saying is true: “No hoof, no horse.” Through a combination of an EXCELLENT farrier and proper management, I’ve been able to improve some horses’ feet and help them stay sound to do their jobs.

Your Farrier
First of all, I cannot stress enough that an educated, experienced, quality farrier is a must– someone who knows how to balance a foot, and understands how the horse’s feet will impact how the whole animal moves. My farrier is dedicated to improving his own skills and knowledge, attending annual conferences to further his own education. Horse shoeing is part art, part science, and a good farrier knows the fine line between helping a horse move better and fixing something that ain’t broke. You can’t shoe every horse “perfect,” but rather according to his natural conformation and way of going. When you find a farrier you can trust, TRUST HIM and let him do his job. Ask questions– not as police interrogation accusing him of doing something wrong, but because you genuinely want to learn what and why he trims and shoes your horse a particular way.

Discuss how your horse is going– does he seem sore on hard ground? Is he weak behind, could he use more support? Communicate well with your farrier, so he can best keep your horse’s feet sound for your use. Your farrier’s job isn’t easy: he has to keep the horse sound despite its natural flaws, maintain a quality foot (often starting with a poor one), and keep the owner happy while respecting the owner’s budget. Keep your farrier happy by offering him good working conditions– a clean, flat, dry work space, and a well-behaved, clean and dry animal. While your bank account might prefer a cheaper farrier, a good (if expensive) farrier will often save you money on the long road, by keeping your horse sound and able to do the job. An unbalanced, poorly shod foot can cause injury to tendons, joints, and back problems.

Your Part
Amazing as farriers are, they are not miracle workers. They cannot keep your horse’s shoes on under Any and All conditions. It’s up to YOU to hold up your end of the bargain and manage your horse’s care with good sense. If you turn your horse out in a deep, muddy paddock, and then bring all his friends in while leaving him out alone to run the fence line for an hour… whose fault is it if he loses a shoe? I wouldn’t blame the farrier for that!

I try to manage my horses with their best interest in mind, and that includes their feet. A dry foot is a hard foot, and a hard foot holds horseshoe nails much better than a soft, weak foot. Some horses are genetically predisposed to thin, weak walls, so it’s even MORE important to manage their feet carefully. Try to limit hosing and standing in the wet ground; if the horse is just barely sweaty, skip the hose and rub him dry with a towel. Perhaps turn him out during late morning or evening, rather than standing overnight in wet dew. I treat my horses’ feet with Keratex hardener before every ride, and then coat their hooves in Corona before hosing off or overnight turnout. The Keratex prevents cracking around nail holes, and the Corona sheds moisture to keep water out of the nail holes. The wet/dry cycle is what makes hooves chip and crack around the nail holes– when that area is weakened, the nails shift and wiggle, letting the shoe work its way loose. For this reason, painting with random hoof oils is not really advisable; you don’t want to make the hoof softer on a daily basis. I will use a cheap hoof oil right before hosing a horse off– again, to shed water from the nail holes– knowing that most of the oil will be washed off during the bath. My shod horses also wear pull-on bell boots 24/7; while bell boots won’t prevent all lost shoes, they do help and $12 is cheap insurance.

Management also includes good nutrition– without good feed, it’s harder for a horse to grow good feet. Quality feed and hay, with adequate protein, is enough for most horses. Others will see improved growth and horn quality by adding a supplement high in biotin, methionine, and zinc.

Mostly, use common sense. Look at your show schedule and work out your farrier dates in advance, so you don’t end up competing on long toes and loose shoes. Don’t put your horse in an avoidable situation where he’s likely to rip off a shoe and half his foot. If you notice a sprung shoe, call your farrier immediately and do your best to prevent losing the shoe. If you’re able, remove the shoe yourself so the horse doesn’t tear his foot and you’ll have the shoe handy when the farrier comes. If it’s just a minor sprung branch, consider wrapping the foot with duct tape to prevent grabbing it. Going cross-country schooling with a half-off shoe is not a good idea. Communicate with your farrier about your horse and your goals, and be willing to implement his suggestions.

Working together, you and your farrier can keep your horse’s feet sound and healthy, allowing him to maximize his potential. I often take photos when my farrier finishes, so we can look back on how far a horse has come after a number of shoeings. I’m always amazed at how he can place nails on a weak wall, and over time bring the toe back and encourage heel growth from some pretty terrible pancake feet. I appreciate him for his attention to detail, immense skill, and dedication to his craft. In turn, he appreciates my efforts to keep his shoes on and not screw up his hard work. 😉 In the end, we both win: he creates a better hoof to work on, and I get a sounder horse to ride.

Acknowledgment Eventing Connect: Healthy Horse Hooves – MD Barnmaster has partnered with the writers at Eventing Connect to share their expertise on a variety of horse subjects. Stay tuned for more valuable tips and insight from writers who are competitive riders.

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