No Hoof, No Horse
By Scot MacGregor

     Acknowledgement - I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to my farrier, Larry Mullins, for his assistance and advice which enabled me to write this article.

      There are a few basic rules of hoof care.  Use a quality hoof care product that does not have a high petroleum base.  When applying hoof dressing, do not apply it more than an inch below the coronet band.  Let it flow down the fibers of the hoof by itself.  It is a good idea to remove hoof black to allow the hoof to breathe and to allow hoof dressing to penetrate into the hoof.  Control excessive moisture, do not over bathe or saturate the feet.  Control bacteria and fungus by treating feet once or twice a week with Betadine.  Lime stalls, paddocks and barn aisles regularly.
     When picking out feet, clean out the cleft area around the frog and large debris in the sole area.  Do not pick and erode the sole.
     Monitor your horse's hoof growth between shoeings.  Inadequate growth may be an indicator of a deficiency which can be remedied by a hoof growth supplement.
     Shoe on time.  If the hoof has grown over the shoe, you are more than likely overdue.  The same is true for a loose shoe that is working against the foot.  A low angle or loss of a solid sole structure can be crippling; do not be afraid to use a pad or wedge if necessary.
     Ask yourself, is that much weight really necessary?  Excessive weight is cumbersome and hard on the feet.  Re-evaluating shoe weight should be a constant consideration.
     Evaluate your terrain and workload; moisture and show weight; these conditions can be detrimental to solid, healthy feet.  And, lastly, do not be afraid to talk to your farrier, he does not bite.
     A strong, healthy frog should be clean and triangular with exit grooves at the heels so that collected dirt can work its way out.  The heels should be soft and growing horn down at the same angle as the pastern.  The heels should be wide and held open with a strong bulbous frog.  If the heels are narrow it will restrict the flow of blood that rushes into the frog with each step.  The frog is a blood pump pumping blood back up to the legs.

Abnormalities of the Hoof

     Contraction is a term used to describe a condition where the walls of the hoof in the area of the heel have pressed inward to fill the gap left by the absence of the frog.  The hoof appears very skinny and this condition is very painful to the horse.  Thrush is the main cause of this condition, but contracted heels can also be caused by anything that inhibits the outward spread of the hoof.  Contraction can be treated by leaving out the hind nails of the shoe to increase the ability of the hoof to spread and fitting the shoe fuller to the hoof.
     Thrush is a bacterial infestation of the frog and heel area and may upon extreme cases cause permanent damage.  We have all heard, "He only has a little thrush."
Thrush hurts!  It is a living organism eating away at your horse's foot and it can ruin him permanently.
     "But I brush and clean him all the time.  I even pick the dirt out of his feet!"  Thrush is a micro-organism that lives without oxygen.  It grows actively in unsanitary conditions in the absence of air and the presence of decaying matter.  If the hoof is not kept clean so that air gets to all of the external structures, it becomes an ideal growth medium.  The dirt can be hidden under parts of the hoof or shoe so even a clean appearing hoof can be a thriving colony.
     Thrush is present at all times in your horse's digestive system so it is found in the manure on the ground.  Thrush can also be found in any environment where there is dark, damp, rotting vegetation or matter like a pile of old leaves or in a drainage ditch.
     There are a number of defensive measures you can take.  As soon as you realize that your horse has an infestation of thrush, treatment should start immediately.  Thrush usually invades the frog, honeycombing it with tunnels of black odorous matter.  There are many thrush medications on the market, but one of the most effective approaches to treating thrush involves a daily thorough cleaning after trimming away all the loose or affected tissue.  Have your farrier clean the sulcus or V-shaped channel outlining the frog so that it is free of all loose or dead tissue.  The underhoof should be opened up so that dirt will not pack in the infected areas.  In extreme cases, the frog itself should be trimmed very short, up to the live tissue.  The farrier's trim must contact the shoe at all points on the outside curve so that dirt cannot collect under the shoe.  A silicone bead can be spread across the top of the shoe before nailing it in place to act as a sealant, but the hoof must be cleaned thoroughly with Betadine before this application is made.
     If thrush is found between the heel bulbs, spray water into the infected area and pack with cotton and soak with Betadine.  Check to make sure that there are no pockets where thrush can hide.  Re-apply Betadine every other day until the heel dries and hardens.
     When all signs of thrush are gone, you can maintain a healthy hoof by cleaning daily and using high pressure water spray to blast out all of the fine silt and sand particles.  When the heel is thoroughly clean, use a thrush medication like Thrush-X or Koppertox several times a week.  Peroxide is also an option.  To insure against a re-occurrence, keep your horses stall as dry as possible.  This will keep the moisture out of his hoof, which is where the problem started.
     A pushed heel bulb is caused by consistent poor trimming of the heel area.  One side of the heel is shorter than the other and the longer side pushes the whole heel upward disfiguring the hoof.  This lopsided condition can be seen by looking directly at the heels, comparing one side to the other.  There should be perfect balance.
     A dished toe is a structural flaw of the hoof and is usually caused by laminitis or founder.  Simply stated, laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive laminae of the foot.  "Founder rings" are the result of acute laminitis attacks.  Proper and careful trimming of the hoof to the angle found in the top third of the hoof will, in time correct or re-balance the shape of the hoof.
     Seedy Toe - negligent foot care is a major cause of seedy toe.  It can easily occur when the wall is allowed to grow too long.  In this situation, the weight of the horse itself can push the hoof wall away from the sensitive structures.  Frequently, debris packs into the hollow space and enlarges the hole. 

    White line fungus is a condition that weakens the hoof wall, causing it to break out at the nails.  It is a bacteria that eats away the thin layer between sole and wall leaving deep pockets or trenches in the open space.  This causes the wall to dry and break away.  To treat this condition you must clean the area by removing all infected debris.  Pack the area with cotton and soak with Betadine before replacing the shoe.  Use Betadine every other day until the wall reattaches or the area has grown out.
     Cracks in the toe or walls are only painful if they reach the coronet band, but they should always be treated.  A stitch or small nail can be driven across and behind the crack and then crimped to hold the crack shut.  This is called "lacing" and should only be done by an accomplished farrier.
     Rings that run the circumference of the hoof are usually caused by fever or dietary change and are a structural weakness.  As the hoof grows they can split into horizontal cracks that in extreme cases will break off.  These can be treated by keeping the hoof moist.
    Sheared heels is a term used to describe a condition that looks as if the horse has no heel and the whole hoof has moved forward.  Many times the hair on the heels above the coronet band is touching the shoe while the toe is four inches long.  This condition is very hard on the leg tendons and may predispose a horse to navicular disease.  It takes careful trimming to correct this problem and it is very important to cut down and maintain a shorter toe length during the correction process. The following list of shoeing suggestions will point out ways to correct some of the problems discussed above as well as enhancing correct movement.  Please consult with your farrier before applying any shoeing device.

Toe Clips
Holds the front of the shoe on and may help a dished hoof.  Toe clips also act as a slight rolled toe.

Side Clips
Holds the shoe on but also may cause the hoof to narrow over time resulting in contraction.

To Widen a Hoof
Leave a large frog and fit the shoe full leaving room for the heels to spread out as the hoof hits the ground.

Flat Shoe
This is neutral and with proper trim has no affect on leg movement. (Shown in Pictures 1 and 7)


Picture 1 - Trail plate with crease, rolled toe and clip


Picture 6 - Flat shoe on hind hoof showing normal balance
from hoof to pastern.

Swedge Caulk
For front or rear hoof.  The swedge caulk is shaped like a wedge instead of being squared off.  It will raise the angle of the hoof.

Folded Caulk
For front or rear hoof.  Used for traction.  It will help stop forging on a hind shoe.  Forging is when the rear hoof comes into contact with front hoof during movement.  (Shown in Pictures 2, 3 and 6)


Picture 2 - Lite shod show shoe with folded caulk


Picture 7 - Heavy folded caulk shoe with toe clip on front hoof
showing normal angles and balance between heel and toe.
Shoe is the correct size for the hoof.

 

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