We've all heard the expression, "No foot, no horse." In
the wild, horses don't have the benefit of vet or farrier.
A horse that goes lame in a wild herd is likely doomed to
die, since he will no longer be able to keep up with the herd
or outrun predators.
Domestic horses, while they have weaker feet than those
in the wild, have the advantage of human care. When done correctly
and taken seriously, most hoof problems can be avoided with
preventive maintenance. A horse with bad feet is a burden
to everyone, including himself. Therefore, proper hoof care
might be the most critical thing you do to take care of your
horse's physical needs. When you think about hoof care, there
are some basic things to consider:
1.To shoe or not to shoe?
Most regular riding horses don't need shoes. Barefoot is
best. The types of horses that commonly need shoes are: •Those
with a foot deformity (like club foot or weak hoof walls),
where a vet and farrier have recommended corrective shoeing
as a remedy;
•Those recovering from a bad founder (aka laminitis);
•Those that are star athletes (like jumpers or racing horses);
•Those that are regularly ridden on very hard surfaces (like
a carriage horse or police horse).
There's a common perception that white feet are weaker than
dark feet. There is no scientific evidence to support this,
but many people swear it's true, and so will shoe a horse
for no other reason than that it has "weak" white feet. The
bottom line: Unless a vet or farrier tells you to shoe your
2.To supplement or not to supplement?
There is no evidence (other than anecdotal) that giving
your horse oral vitamins or supplements do anything to change
the feet God gave him, but if you have money to throw away
on that stuff, go right ahead. The best way to improve your
horse's feet through diet is simply to make sure he is eating
all the things a horse is supposed to, and is getting all
the vitamins and minerals a horse should get from that diet.
For example, all horses need to eat grass and other roughage
(hay and whole grains). All horses need fresh, clean water,
and lots of it. All horses need certain minerals in their
diet, and if the soil where your horse is pastured doesn't
provide them, you need to give him a mineral block or add
loose minerals to his feed. If your horse is not thriving
on a diet like this, consult your veterinarian. If a supplement
is recommended, by all means, try it. Perhaps it will improve
your horse's digestion or help him grow more foot faster,
but it won't change feet that were bad from birth.
3.How often does the farrier need to visit?
Your horse's feet need to be trimmed or shod anywhere from
every four weeks to eight weeks. This will depend largely
on how fast your horse's feet grow. If you have more than
one horse, and want them all on the same schedule, every six
weeks will usually work for just about everyone. However,
if your horse has a foot problem and needs special care, follow
the advice of your vet or farrier on the frequency of trims.
4.What are some common hoof problems and how do I spot
Some of the most common hoof problems are:
•Thrush: Your horse's frog will be mushy, will smell bad,
and look eaten away. In bad cases, when you pick your horse's
foot, it will bleed. An old fashioned remedy is to kill the
fungus by applying bleach water to the affected hoof, but
this can be very hard on your horse's feet and really dry
them out. These days, there are lots of thrush remedies available
at the local feed store. Coppertox and Absorbine both make
hoof rinses that do a good job of getting rid of the fungus
that causes thrush.
•Bruised sole (or "Stone Bruise"): This is caused when a
horse steps on sharp rock and bruises the bottom of the foot.
If your horse is shod, and the shoes aren't fitted correctly,
this can increase the chances of injury to the sensitive sole
of your horse's foot. The treatment, in most cases, is rest:
turn him out in the pasture and give him a few days off. Most
horses do not need to be kept stalled unless the bruise is
very deep and the horse is totally lame. If this is the case,
it's best to get the vet to test the hoof, evaluate the severity
of the bruise, and possibly give your horse some pain and
•White-line (or "seedy toe") disease: This one can be a
real pain to get rid of once your horse has it. It's characterized
by a "white line" that becomes visible around the edge of
the underside of the foot, and can cause weakening of the
hoof wall if left untreated. Horses that chronically founder
are more susceptible to this ailment. Your farrier will have
to help you with this one by digging out the bad part of the
wall and putting on special shoes that support the hoof while
allowing the wall to re-grow. Keeping your horse's feet as
clean and dry as possible, and keeping his feet regularly
trimmed so that the toe cannot grow too long are the best
ways to prevent this condition.
•Abscesses: When your horse punctures the bottom of his
foot, and the top seals over before the wound heals, an abscess
can form. Depending on the severity of the wound, you might
be able to treat it yourself. Scrape off the top of the abscess
and drain the infected fluid. Soak the foot twice a day for
a week in Epsom salts and warm water. If it doesn't look significantly
better by the next day, or three soakings (even though you
should continue the treatment for a week to be sure you kill
all the bacteria causing the infection), call the vet or farrier
and get help.
5.How often do I need to pick out my horse's feet? The answer
is simple: every day! If you are caring for your horse's feet
every day, picking them out and removing rocks and other debris,
you will be more likely to spot and prevent problems before
they have a chance to start.
The final word in hoof care is "prevention." The recipe for
healthy feet is: Pick them out daily, have the farrier out regularly,
and feed a balanced diet.
About the Author
Horse trainer for as long as I can remember and a horse lover
for even longer. I am currently spreading my experience and
knowledge through the horse community as I am not getting any