Essential Hoof Care for Your Horse
For your horse to live in comfort and lead a useful life, his feet must remain healthy. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to hoof care. Properly caring for your horse’s feet will depend on your climate, terrain, his hoof conformation, and the ultimately how you use him.
As always, if you have any specific questions about hoof care, check with your veterinarian. You may also want to hire a qualified and dependable farrier to tend to his feet regularly, usually every four to six weeks.
Shoes or barefoot?
One of the biggest debates when it comes to caring for your horse is whether to shoe him or let him go barefoot. Horse owners and lovers seem to come down and one side or the other on this issue in a kind of us vs. them debate.
As mentioned above, each horse’s needs are different, and ultimately you must decide what will work best given your horse’s unique circumstances.
Consider shoeing him if he is routinely ridden—especially endurance riding—or if you work him consistently. Properly fitting shoes will go a long way toward maintaining his overall foot health.
You may consider other options such as boots or pads if you want your horse to go shoeless yet still have some level of protection. Your farrier can give you good advice about the different protection options available for you.
Letting your horse go barefoot may be a good choice if he isn’t ridden much, or isn’t ridden on hard, rocky terrain. If he spends most of his time in the pasture, barefoot may be just fine. Particularly in the winter months, shoes may be more of a hindrance than a help on icy, snowy ground.
If you’d rather keep your horse barefoot, then routine trimming is essential to keeping his hooves healthy. You should be able to do light trimming yourself, but if you feel more comfortable, let a professional hoof trimmer or farrier do the job.
Proper trimming will help prevent disease in the hoof. As such, the edges of the hoof should be rasped regularly to get rid of cracks and flares in the hoof wall. This will help eliminate infection and keep the wall from splitting and causing further problems. Just be sure to leave the sole alone, as it needs a thick callous to function properly.
Cleaning the hoof
Opinions different on cleaning the dirt and mud from the hoof. Julie Bullock, DVM says to leave it alone. She maintains that the frog and bars of the hoof are designed to allow dirt to pack in, creating a natural hoof pad.
AFA Certified Farrier Chris Volk disagrees. He says that picking out your horse’s feet is “the single most important thing you can do for his hooves.” His reasoning is that regularly cleaning and inspecting his feet allow you to catch problems such as thrush, abscesses, and laminitis early on.
You may want to consult with your own veterinarian and/or farrier on whether to clean the frog and surrounding area of the hoof.
Nutrition and exercise
To grow and maintain healthy hooves, your horse needs adequate nutrition with a good balance of proteins, fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals. Besides providing him high quality feed, you may want to consider adding a biotin supplement to support the growth of hoof tissue.
Horses were designed to move, so their hooves, and bodies in general, function better and are healthier when they have proper exercise. The more exercise your horse gets, the better his foot circulation will be, and consequently his legs and hooves will be healthier and exhibit fewer problems.
A horse’s feet are critical to his overall health and viability. Taking a little time on a regular basis to plan and maintain proper nutrition, exercise, and hoof care will pay big dividends in his long-term health.