The digital cushion is a major component of the circulation and shock dissipation apparatus of the horse’s digit. It is a elastic, wedge shaped mass composed of a fibrous fatty tissue that has the consistency varying between your earlobe and nose depending on it’s health. Ideally, the digital cushion takes up the majority of the rear 1/2 of the hoof. It’s nestled underneath the deep flexor tendon, between the lateral cartilages, and above the frog. The DC can be felt by pressing between the bulbs of the heel.
The DC has sheet like ligaments that stretch from one lateral cartilage to the one opposite, allowing for independent movement of the sides of the foot. The digital tarus, part of the DC, originates from the underside of the coffin bone and deep digital flexor tendon and sends bands of fibrous tissue toward the heels creating a a biologic lattice for the vasculature of the back half of the foot. There are also a series of trampoline-like ligaments traversing the inner surface of the frog, facilitating it’s expansion and contraction.
Horses have many ways to dissipate the concussion of moving at speed. One way is by hemo-dynamic shock absorption in which the digital cushion plays an integral part. Let me explain:
During the swing phase of stride, blood is pulled into the extremities via centrifugal force. Upon the hoof landing, the fetlock descends. This drop causes the veins to close, trapping the blood within the hoof and dissipating shock like a waterbed. Much of this trapped blood is in the matrix of tiny veins and capillaries running amongst the sub structures of the DC. As the horse passes over the hoof, the fetlock rises and the blood-way is open. This built up pressure then shoots the de-oxygenated blood back up the leg, returned to the body and heart.
It is important for the horseman to know that there is a wide range of variability when comparing DC between good and weaker footed horses. In a strong hoof, the ligaments of the DC are much thicker and the digital tarsus will have numerous fibrous connections . The reasons for this are thought to be due to the presence of a highly adaptable myxoid tissue in the region. Myxoid tissue is very adaptable and can become fibrous or cartilage. It is thought that the environment and how the foot is trimmed and/or shod can contribute to the makings of a robust foot.
Util recently, most discussions on hoof lameness were limited to deterioration or injury to the navicular bone, coffin bone, the deep flexor tendon, the navicular bursa, distal sesmodian (collateral) ligaments or the coffin joint capsule itself.
It is my belief that these structures are often damaged due to lack of a properly functioning digital cushion. Further, I believe that much of the objective of best farriery practices is to be aware of the health of this underrated structure. In my practical experience I have come to believe that digital cushion is very adaptable, even in mature horses or ones with already compromised hooves, Horses that are well managed with plenty of exercise over varied terrain and shod or trimmed in a balanced manner will tend to have a more fibrous DC than horses that are kept up and not shod or trimmed well.
Hoof Cracks: 3 reasons your horse has them and how to get rid of them
Cracked hooves are a common problem that can range from single, shallow, millimeter-wide groove that takes a good look to even notice, to multiple, full thickness splits of the hoof wall that cause lameness by pinching the sensitive structures beneath. This article explains the causes of these ugly splits and how to reduce and possibly eliminate them through good hoof management strategies.
Note: this article does not deal with the less common “quarter crack“. Quarter cracks extend from the hairline down and are generally the result of chronic imbalance under extreme loads in performance horses.
The dry hoof fallacy
This “dry hoof theory” is perpetuated by the plethora of hoof oils marketed to to heal split hooves. The ragged, shelly appearance of cracked hooves gives credence misconception that the hooves lack moisture. Often, under the advice of an otherwise knowledgeable horse person, attempts to hydrate the hoof via overflowing water troughs, applying hoof creams, or old timey treatments, usually involving automotive fluids, are made.
Hoof cracks are actually the result of too much moisture. Wet (anaerobic) conditions are a contributing factor for White Line Disease, the most common cause of hoof cracks . WLD describes a common fungal invasion of the hoof wall. For more on the causes, progression and identification of WLD, check out this.
How WLD causes hoof cracks
WLD fungi seek out deep, damp, airless cavities. Hooves with flares or other damage to the hoof wall have voids in the hoof wall. These nooks will fill with muck, creating the ideal anaerobic conditions for this horn ingesting microbe to thrive.
Once the WLD has established itself deep within the hoof via the original defect, it will spread to the surrounding horn, eventually making its way to the surface as a hoof crack. The hoof splits from the inside out. This is why WLD is impossible to eradicate through topical treatments.
Hoof cracks are remedied using a three step progress: address the underlying hoof balance issue, remove the affected, contagious horn and expose the area to air to eliminate anaerobic conditions that perpetuate this hoof funk.
Underlying causes of hoof cracks
1. Flares and hoof imbalance
The coffin bone is the core of the hoof which dictates the shape and size of the capsule that forms around it. Viewed externally, the hoof wall should slope evenly away from the coronary band so that shape of the bottom hoof should echos that of the coronary band.
A flare describes an outward distortion of the hoof wall due to imbalance. If part of the hoof is left longer than the rest, that longer hoof will yield and pry away from the sole creating a flare. WLD will soon occupy the cavity between the wall and sole. Flares can be blamed on too long of interval between shoeing/trimming or can be error on the farrier’s part (although some horses have conformation that makes this more complicated). In either case, When the hoof maintained by a competent farrier and a diligent owner, flaring will be minimized. The emerging, unbent horn will be much stronger and not prone to WLD invasion.
2. Loose shoes
Loose shoes cause hoof damage, creating ideal conditions for WLD. The constant movement of the nails erodes the adjacent hoof wall. Signs of loose shoes are raised clinches well before the next appointment, hoof wall loss below the nail line, shoe loss, and a ragged appearance.
Going too long between farrier visits and wet environments cause loose shoes. Shorting the shoeing interval by a week, especially during the warmer months, when fungal problems are worst, will help. Don’t keep horses in dirty stalls or mud-lots and pick out hooves regularly.
As with flares, this can also be a result of inattention on the farrier’s part. A slightly unlevel or misshapen shoe can become loose prematurely.
Hot shoeing is a WMD for WLD. A hot fit, clipped shoe, custom fit and burned lightly to the hoof will remain snug throughout the shoeing cycle. The searing of the foot also kills any nearby microbes while sealing the hoof against moisture. For more on hot shoeing check out my post “Hot Shoeing versus Cold Shoeing“.
3. Old abscess or hoof wall injury
Cavities created by past abscessing or hoof wall injury host WLD. Many horses have a small degree of this, especially in the center of the toe. This sort of cracking is so prevalent and consistent in location, it may associated with the mid-dorsal notch of the coffin bone. An inherent weakness combined with excessive toe length would explain why horses with no history of abscessing often have these cracks.
Another source of hoof cracks caused by WLD is past injury to the coronary band. Trauma to the coronary band can cause scarring. Hoof wall grown under the blemish can be malformed. This horn is very susceptible to WLD.
Expose WLD to air
Once the underlying hoof balance is identified and addressed, the current infestation of WLD must be debrided as much as possible. This may be achieved in one session like in the top picture, or an ongoing process depending on the extent of the damage. Clearing of the muck filled crevices in the hoof is necessary to rid the hoof of the microbes.
Medicate and evaluate
After the farrier work is done, make sure that you evaluate your horse’s home. Remedy wet conditions and make sure to keep scheduled farrier visits so any new WLD can be dealt with promptly. The damaged hoof wall should be cleared daily with a wire brush to expose it to air. After cleaning the foot I would recommend applying an antifungal to the area to discourage recurrence.
Thank you for reading my post on hoof cracks. If you liked it, please feel free to share. If you have questions or comments, don’t hesitate to post here or contact me directly, or here for information on my farrier service. Don’t forget the number 4 cause of hoof cracks is not following Elizabeth’s Farrier Service via your favorite platform ;).
Do you have any recommendations on glue on horse shoes. My 15 year old Paint horse gelding was born with a club foot. He wears Cavallo simple boots, which are great, but was thinking about glue on horseshoes for him.
Club foot is horseman’s term for contraction of the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT). The foot will have a steeper angle and smaller size than it’s mate. The most accepted causation is that horses with long legs and/or short neck adopt a grazing stance where one leg is constantly stretched while the other is not. Because grazing is a lifelong, primary activity, the unfavored limb can develop functionally different from than the other. DDFT contracture can also be acquired, resulting from hoof trauma while a young horse is still developing.
No matter the why, the abnormal hoof growth seen in club feet is nature’s way of allowing the shorter (or less flexible?) limb to compensate for this disparity by developing a more upright conformation in the affected limb. The good news is that the majority of horses with a club foot can be shod with modified but regular shoes or kept barefoot with the help of an experienced farrier.
Contracture of the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon
In order to effectively shoe or trim a horse with this contracture one must understand why the tendon contracture would have anything to do with the hoof in the first place.
The DDFT originates in the forearm, travels down the back of the leg and attaches to the underside of the coffin bone. When the horse engages the deep flexor muscle, the DDFT lifts the heels off the ground.
Shoeing and Trimming Low Grade (a.k.a. Subclinical) Club Foot in Horses
The farrier must be conservative and mindful of the desired result when trimming this sort of hoof. Over-trimming the heels will cause more strain on the DDFT, possibly even suspending the heels above the ground! Although gentle stretching may have benefits, too much strain on the tendon will make the sore and susceptible to further DDFT problems. Under-trimming the heels will leave the hoof overly steep, misaligned and prone to concussion related lamenesses . Excessive toe length will flare and attract White Line Disease as well as strain the DDFT. There must be equilibrium.
As mentioned, a skilled farrier can keep this hoof in that “just right” position. If this sweet spot is found, maining it by keeping the horse trimmed and/or shod on a 4-5 week rotation may be all that is needed to keep a horse with a low grade club foot sound. I use four point trimming methods and will forge a broad-toe shoe to protect the sole and ease breakover for these slightly abnormal hooves.
Adding a bit of length via a pad on the club foot only may help some horses. This extra material shims the small hoof slightly. Pads can be added or subtracted at the next shoeing depending on the results.
Options for More Severe Contracture
Corrective horseshoes for DDFT contracture will incorporate an elevated heel, a toe that is beveled to ease breakover and some kind of frog support . Also, the web of the shoe is wider in order to protect the tip of the downward pointing coffin bone.
A farrier can custom make a shoe from scratch or fabricate a package that combines a premade shoe with solid, pour in, impression material pads to elevate the heels and support the frog.
Nanric and Grand Circuit both make a wide variety shoes specifically for tendon contracture. These shoes are also used in laminitis as that is a disorder of the DDFT as well. These shoes are designed by leaders in the industry and made from aluminum and incorporate the elevated heel and eased breakover. The lightweight, one piece design make these shoes the best choice for nail-less shoeing. Check out these links as the huge array of shoes available.
A farrier may also “rock ‘n roll”, “banana” or “add mechanics” to the shoe as well. This means the shoe will have a convex profile to the bottom to further reduce strain on the DDFT. This is an advanced technique.
Management of the club foot in horses primarily depends on keeping the the hoof aligned with the DDFT. Regular and corrective shoes as well as barefoot trimming can all benefit a horse with this type of conformation. The decision on which route to go will depend on the severity. Radiographs are very helpful.
For further reading on this, I highly recommend reading this Ric Redden article that sums up his grading system and further explanation, Thanks for the question, Laurie, and for reading!
If you liked this, free to pass it along and be sure to follow me, submit hoof questions or inquire about my farrier service.
White Line Disease: Progression and Identification
White linedisease describes the result of an establishment of hoof eating micro-organisms within the hoof wall, usually concurrent with another hoof defect, imbalance or injury where the microbes gain entry. WLD feeds on the intertubular horn which fill the tiny voids between the strands of horn tubules. Affected areas begin as areas of wall/sole seperation. Untreated, these voids fill with the digested hoof material, manure and other debris combine creating ideal conditions for the proliferation of the microbes and more hoof loss
This article attempts help horse caretakers understand and identify white line disease in horses.
Tubular and Intertubular Horn
The hoof wall is composed of countless whisker-like horn tubules. These horn tubules are constantly produced at the coronary band by the horn papillae. Horn tubules provide structure, shape and resistance to vertical compression of the horse above. Intertubular horn is also constantly emerging from the coronary band, but from in the spaces between the horn papillae. Intertubular horn fills the gaps between all of the individual strands of horn providing cohesive stability, resistance to wear, and mass to the hoof wall. Both components are made the same keratinized horn material, but this matrix gives the hoof great strength while remaining flexible.
How White Line Disease Affects the Hoof
Many horses have a small degree of WLD , especially horses in wet environments. Any defect to the hoof wall not open to air flow such as nail holes or old abscess tracts will be prone to WLD invasion.
Grass cracks, named for the dewy fields that can lead to chronically overly wet hooves, describe numerous, small, superficial splits caused by the erosion of the binding intertubular horn beneath the surface of the wall from white line disease. Like grass, they start from the bottom and progress upwards. The loss of intertubular horn is what causes this delamination of the hoof wall and the weakened areas to fray and split.
Premature Loose Shoes and Clinches Due to WLD
Horseshoe nails, especially loose or ill-fitting can exacerbate WLD. When the wall looses it’s intertubular horn, it loses stability. The damaged wall near the shoe is the most damaged and will not resist vertical compression. Instead of growing down, it will flare out to the side. This causes the clinches to loosen. Loose nails move with each step, enlarging the nail holes, leaving even more weakened hoof for WLD to homestead. Clipped shoes that are nothot fit will also cause this sort of damage because WLD will invade the tiny crack between hoof wall and clip.
A toe crack will originate from the center of the toe where the WLD first gains entry. The weakness can be from an old abscess, laminitis, clubby foot, excessive length of toe or from an inherent weakness in some hooves associated with the mid-dorsal notch of the coffin bone.
If the hoof is not returned to a state of balance and the WLD isn’t addressed with methods I will cover a future article, the crack will get larger.
Until you have a full thickness crack extending upwards into the coronary band and inwards towards the laminae. This shearing will cause lameness and even rotation of the coffin bone similar to laminitis.
White line disease is a very common condition in horses, especially those that already have compromised hooves. Horses with WLD are easy to spot due to the predictable progression of these hoof-hungry microbes. Fortunately, most cases can be improved with best farrier practices, more frequent trimming/shoeing and environmental changes. I hope to share my thoughts and methods for the management of white line disease in an upcoming article, so please like, subscribe for updates.
Most Hoof abscesses are pretty simple to treat at home, I recommend this method after consulting with your veterinarian. Other than losing training time and a small fortune in elasticon, your horse will recover, the damaged hoof will grow out, and only the memory will remain.
Unless it doesn’t. This article , although absolutely no substitute for veterinary consultation, will go over the causes of your garden variety, inconvenient “gravel” abscess, as well why some horses seem to always be either having or recovering from abscess related lameness.
Symptoms of a hoof abscess
the horse may go from normal or slightly off to a grade 3-5 lameness rapidly and unexpectedly in one limb. An affected forelimb will be more obvious.
Swelling or sensitivity of the coronary band, pastern or fetlock.
a bounding digital pulse can be felt on one or both branches of the arteries that run down each side of the back of the pastern of the lame leg (medial versus lateral pulse can help pinpoint location of the infection).
Not always true, but abscesses often occur after paying nonrefundable horse show fees but prior to events such as a motivated buyer coming to see your prospect, trail ride vacation, graded stakes races etc..
Causes of abscesses
“An accumulation of purulent exudate. In the foot, this usually refers to a localised accumulation of exudate between the germinal and keratinised layers of the epithelium, most commonly subsolar or submural.”
Equine Veterinary Education, Vol. 19, June 2007
The above excerpt is a great definition of a hoof abscess, more simply, an abscess is (usually) a pus trapped between the insensitive and sensitive tissues.
The author then goes on to divide the abscess by it’s location: either between the sensitive and insensitive sole (subsolar) on the underside of the foot or trapped behind the hoof wall (submural) .
the “gravel” abscess
This is, by far, is the most common cause of abscessing in my experience, especially if the horse is barefoot.
The “gravel” type of abscess is caused by a small piece of debris getting jammed into a weakened spot in the white line or seat of corn area of the hoof.
Horses affected with white line disease , a common, fungal invasion of the insensitive horn. are even more prone to the gravel type of abscess.
If debris manages to penetrate beyond the protective and insensitive hoof wall, bacterial invasion into the soft, sensitive tissue (corium) inside the hoof will follow.
Once the body barrier of hoof is penetrated, the abscessing process begins. The horse’s immune systems goes on the offence to prevent further damage from the foreign body: inflammation sets in, a thin, new layer of horn is produced to wall off the debris. White blood cells flock to the site. to fight off the bacteria. Enzymes released by this liquefies the now necrotic tissues involves, which produces the dark grey exudate associated with this condition.This pocket of serum trapped against a minimally elastic hoof wall and the sensitive tissues within the hoof capsule. This combination is very painful for the horse.
Bad or close nails
Bad/ “Hot” nails
A misplaced nail can be the cause of an abscess. The nail is driven inside the white line and penetrates the soft tissue within the hoof capsule. You will know this because the horse reacts suddenly. He may not set his foot down, instead shaking it inches above the ground. Blood will seep from the clinch or nail head.
Hopefully farriers will circumvent the abscess cycle at this point. They will remove the nail, pour some antiseptic into the offending and resulting hole, and most will inform the owner so they will be especially observant of that foot.and ensure the horse is up to date on his tetanus vaccination.
By removing the offending object and disinfecting, it is likely that the horse will suffer no more from this incident.
A close nail is a nail that is driven into insensitive horn, but displaces hoof material in a way that affects the functioning of the hoof. There is no blood as the sensitive tissue hasn’t been breached. The horse may react to the nail being driven, but not the “kicked in the gut” reaction of the bad nail.
The close nail impedes the function and circulation of the adjacent sensitive foot. This may not become obvious for up to two weeks after the nail was driven. At this point the abscess will run its course as described for the gravel.
It is a good idea to remove the shoe and treat the hoof to speed recovery and ease pain.
Horses with thin walls, previous hoof damage, clubby or low heels , and wry hoof are more likely to have close nails than a strong footed individual.
Horses that do not stand patiently are also more likely to have a close nail as the farrier cannot distinguish the horse dancing around the aisleway from pain or lack of manners.
Driving nails into a horse’s foot takes years and years to become skilled at. There is a very small area where nails can safely be places and no two feet are quite the same. The last thing a good shoer wants to do is hurt your animal, but it will happen occasionally.
A good shoer will take responsibility and be glad that this injury is fairly easy to treat.
Abscessing from the inside
Horses with diseases or injuries to the hoof sometimes suffer from abscessing without any external cause. Horses that do not receive regular hoof care and horses with known hoof problems will often suffer from chronic abscessing because there is a ongoing internal abnormality.
This is not meant to be a thorough guide to all hoof infections and horses with problems like these should be seen by an equine veterinarian for best results.
Chronic laminitis and pedal osteitis
Horses with a history of laminitis/founder are an excellent example of abscessing due to septic pedal osteitis (coffin bone infection). The coffin bone of the laminitic horse gets progressively more damaged with each episode. These abscess can be submural or subsolar depending on which portion of the bone is affected.
Horses with chronic laminitis are also likely to have chronic submural abscessing in the toe. This is a result of malformed, scarred and or damaged horn that is a result of laminitic cycle is prone infection.
The coffin bone may fracture. A fragment of bone that is broken away is called a sequester. The sequester can result septic pedal osteitis, lameness and abscessing. The offending segment may require veterinary intervention to end chronic abscessing.
Horses with coffin bones that have be damaged from trauma can abscess if the injury leads to infection.
Horses with thin soles and/or worked on hard surfaces can also develop pedal osteitis. Horses with coffin bones weakened by any disease are also predisposed to this internal abscessing.
Horses in the acute stage of laminitis can suffer from abscessing from the extreme internal injuries taking place within the hoof capsule.
If a horse presents this type of abscess you are in need of qualified professionals with experience dealing with laminitis.
If a “professional” attempts to pare away at the solar surface of this horse to “dig out” the “infection” please reconsider this person’s expertise in dealing with hooves in general. This practice generally not recommended. The soft tissue will almost always prolapse through the sole causing further insult to an already bad situation.
” Again, under no circumstances should an opening be created in the adjacent sole. This seldom leads to the abscess, generally leads to hemorrhage and may create a persistent, non-healing wound with increased potential for bone infection.”
A keratoma is tumor made of a horn (hoof material) that develops between the coffin bone and the hoof wall. Keratomas are not common, usually benign and a skilled horse person may be able to identify an affected hoof as the growth causes distortions in the hoof wall and white line.
Occasionally, pressure from the growth can cause necrosis of the adjacent portions of the coffin bone leading to Osteomyelitis abscessing. These keratomas may need to be removed under veterinary supervision to end the cycle of chronic osteomyelitic abscessing.
For more on keratoma read Dr. O’Grady’s case study.
A horse with an abscess is a common occurrence if one keeps horses for any length of time. Luckily, most are treated, recovered from and back to work in under two weeks.
Horses that have chronic abscessing may be helped if the causation of the infection is identified. More aggressive treatment may be necessary for horses with certain types of abscesses.
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When asked how to treat hoof abscess, I recommend using an Animalintex hoof pack to draw the infection from the hoof capsule. Abscesses will usually resolve themselves given enough time, however, it is far better to be proactive because:
The hoof abscess will usually resolve quickly if the abscess is poulticed and drained.
The poulticed abscess is more likely to be drawn out through the ground bearing surface. If left to resolve itself, an abscess will generally blow out the coronary band. An abscess venting through the top of the coronary band damages the entire hoof.
Animalintex packs are the most convenient way to draw the pus to the surface to using an isotonic solution. It is preferable to the traditional “hoof soaks” which call for repeated, lengthy immersions of the whole foot because:
multiple hoof soakings water logs the foot. This will compromise the already weakened foot. Using a warm, damp poultice is a better alternative than repeated, lengthy soaks.
The pack can be left on for 24 hours at a time.
Getting a horse to stand in a soak is difficult unless you have a special boot.
If the abscess does drain, it will be evident if the spent hoof pack is inspected.
If Animalintex is not available, one part epsom salt and two parts wheat bran moistened with warm water and using a diaper as a vessel is a time tested alternative.
I do not think that ichthammol is a good medication for hoof abscesses at all. It contains formaldehyde which hardens the hoof wall, making it more likely the abscess will vent through the skin at the coronary band. Again, it is much more desirable to get the abscess to vent through the bottom of the hoof. Also, it’s tarry texture and strong smell will make it impossible to tell if you have drawn the abscess out.
Elizabeth’s abscess poultice method:
1. Make a hoof-sized hash tag of tape
This will serve as the protective outer shell. Gently place this near where your lame horse is for use later.
2. Cut a hoof sized piece of the Animalintex
Animalintex comes in squares and hoof shaped pieces. I think the square is the better value.
3. Dampen the Animalintex with warm water.
Don’t wet it too much or you will wash out the medicine! The moistened Animalintex pad clings to the foot making the pack easier to put on.
4. Don’t medicate the dirt! Clean the foot thoroughly with the wire brush.5. Place the t Animalintex on hoof.
If you have determined that the abscess is in a specific area of the foot such as heel or toe, center the poultice over that area. If unsure, use a big piece.
6. Use Elastikon or Vet-wrap to secure the wet Animalintex.
Elastikon is more expensive because it is better.
I alternate catching the heels in a figure eight pattern and circling the perimeter of the hoof. Be careful to keep tight bandages on the hoof only. The bandage needs to be snug or it will fall off. Make sure you get a snug pull when you figure eight the heels to the toe.
7. Place duct tape square over foot and form to fit. 8. Finish by circling foot with more duct tape and put leg down.
9. Clean up edges with knife or scissors and make CERTAIN that this pack does not come above hairline to avoid cutting off the circulation to the foot.
10. Put a call in to your veterinarian, let them know you have a horse with a possible abscess.
Some vets and farriers like to cut a big hole in the hoof searching out the abscess. I do not care for this practice as
More often than not, they do not find the abscess because it is still too deep in the hoof. It is better to continue to poultice until the pus is drawn just below the surface.
Now the horse has a foot wound in addition to the abscess. This horse now requires weeks of stall rest and bandaging as his delicate sensitive hoof and possibly bone are now exposed to the environment.
An experienced hoof person can look and palpate the hoof and have a pretty good idea of where the “track” is. The track is the spot in the hoof where the original breach of the hoof capsule occurred and an excellent place to drain it. It is best to wait until only the slightest nick allows the pus to be expressed. I prefer allowing more time and poulticing to invading the hoof capsule in search of an abscess. It is usually not necessary to whittle the hoof until it bleeds.
Once the abscess is vented and drained , the horse will become noticeably less miserable and will continue to become more comfortable. I recommend flushing the tract with hydrogen peroxide and iodine. There may be some residual foot soreness because the hoof has been traumatized. This should steadily improve until the previous level of soundness is achieved
When the horse is non reactive to reasonable palpation of the affected area, the shoe may be reapplied and the horse may be gradually returned to work.
Hopefully “How to treat hoof abscesses in horses” helps you in your hoof care endeavors. For more information on the causes of abscessing, including information on horses with chronic hoof abscess check out Hoof Abscesses; symptoms and causes.
As a kid riding lesson horses first and then grooming and exercising privately owned horses for lesson money. I got pretty far without knowing much about horse hoof care other than to always pick the hooves before and after riding.There were a lot of boring hoof products my horsey catalogs that I didn’t understand. I figured some horses had good feet, some horses had Navicular disease.
I did like those bell boots with the interchangeable colors a lot. Maybe dramatic foreshadowing?? Farriers love bell boots.
Farrier science takes years of study and thousands of feet in your lap to really wrap your head around how they respond to trimming, shoeing, time, the environment, management, use, etc..
The hoof is so perfect, it seems simple at first glance. It is anything but.
This simple appearance is a source of many misconceptions. What seems like the obvious answer to an otherwise seasoned horse person, or sometimes fellow shoer, is not actually correct once the true complexity of the hoof is considered.
Here are a few examples:
1. Some horses just have good feet.
There are horses born with good feet, however, usually have some other things in common other than the prized, high quality hoof wall. Often good feet reflect of other nice things about the animal or where he lives.
Horses with legs that are mostly straight with hooves pointing in the same general direction will wear their feet evenly and be free of distortions like dished toes and flares
Horses with cupped hooves
Horses that are in dry environments
Being related to other horses with good feet, intended or otherwise
There are also animals with not so great feet. This is not necessarily because they have actual “bad hooves”, it can be a result of one or a combination of factors.
Horses with conformation that causes them to paddle, rope walk, drag a toe, stab, be lame, etc will wear unevenly. Without the regular intervention of a conscientious farrier one side will get wore to a nub while the other side grows long and flares outward.
Horseshoeing or trimming by an unqualified or careless farrier can cause problems, especially if the same mistake is repeatedly made.
Hoof left not level or not trimmed often enough. The hoof will flare on longer.
Shoe doesn’t fit foot or left on too long. This causes corns or bruising of heels.
Shoe doesn’t fit, or left on too long. The nails waller out hoof wall of an loose shoe. Excessive nails.
Excessively wet environments are very detrimental to hoof quality.
Repeated shoe loss
Horses with sloping pasterns and low heel angle conformation
Nails behind the widest point of the foot restrict hoof function. This can lead to or exacerbate chronic hoof problems.
Horses that I would classify as having truly “bad feet” may have issues such as club foot, chronic laminitis, horses with “no heel”, and or moderate to severe white line disease. Feet like this have weaker or distorted hoof due to pathologies in the hoof capsule. This will require more frequent visits from a farrier with experience in managing imbalances and management of their environment.
Fortunately, even horses with compromised and diseased hooves can improve when hoof care is a priority.
My best advice is to be proactive and get your horses feet done before they look overdue and evaluate management practices in regard to the daily care and conditions. A step such as waiting until the dew has dried from a grassy field to turn out a horse would be a good example of this.
If your horse has distressed looking feet that are not improving and you are not getting a satisfactory answer of why, just like in other aspects in life, it may be time to try a different approach.
2. Feeding supplements will cure my horse’s feet.
I do not recommend hoof supplements until all other balance, management and environmental issues have been resolved. Horses with bad feet have normal levels of biotin in their blood. Despite what you may have heard, there is little evidence that supports that they have a significant impact on hoof growth or quality. These products cost well over $1 per day and there are valid, industry-wide concerns about the lack of regulation in the supplement industry. There have been recent allegations by scientists claiming these products do containing any evidence of containing what the label promises.
Biotin is he main ingredient touted by the supplement makers to promote hoof growth and it is required for not only hoof growth. It is required by every cell in the body. What no one ever mentions is that biotin deficiency is extremely rare. It is found in oats, hay and grass which is what most horses eat anyway. If you are feeding quality horse food, you should be fine.
Also, because hoof grows so slowly, it will take more than a year’s worth of supplementation to see the purported “results” that the supplement makers promise. I would like to suggest that it is more likely that improvements in the horses environment, management and farrier work is what leads to better looking hooves.
It is possible that since there are products that are touting other ingredients not as present as biotin in the equine diet. This may be of real benefit to some horses, I am not a nutritionist. People seem to really like to feed the hoof supplements for the right reasons. They want to avoid or remedy a nasty hoof problem, and of course I do too. I don’t think it is possible to “supplement” your way out of the majority of the hoof problems I come across.
The efforts and resources need to go into good shoeing and management first.
3. Judging the quality of a shoeing job by how long the shoes stay on.
No one likes a lost shoe, but losing shoes is a part of shoeing horses well. The best way to never have to go back and replace lost shoes is to use a shoe that is too small for the foot.
I was reading an olden time farrier book that has all horses on a 3-4 week cycle and going any longer was asking for trouble. Those people needed those animals so they did what it took, that may be the case with some today.
A properly fit horseshoe is going to be slightly larger than the horse’s hoof, especially in the heel area. The hoof repeatedly expands as it strikes the ground, supporting the horse and rider then contracts as the hoof is picked up. The shoe must be fit to accommodate both phases.
Although this extra lip of shoe is needed to avoid heel pain, it is more likely to get pulled than one that is too small. Fortunately, an expertly applied shoe should come off without damaging the wall.
Using a hoof gauge to determine toe and heel length
A hoof gauge is a protractor for the hoof that measures the toe angle in relation to. Mathematically, the correct answer would be “not enough information”. No two horses are alike it is not possible to determine optimal balance without first addressing the animal.
I have worked for many nationally respected farriers and have attended many continuing education clinics and none give any credence to this measurement that seems so important to some people.
Toe angle is important in the way the hoof relates to the limb and the horse’s conformation, not the ground, which is what the gauge is measuring.
The hoof angle should match the angle of the pastern. The length of the pastern will dictate the hoof angle and no farrier can change the conformation of your horse, nor is it a good idea to try.
5. Don’t touch the heel!
The heel should be brought back to the widest point of the frog. Attempting to make the toe steeper by leaving the heel sounds like a good idea, but since the hoof grows forward and down, this practice is detrimental to the health and proper functioning of the foot.
6. Using topical products to “fix” imbalance issues.
There are many premade hoof dressings on the the market and many more old-timey recipes that people claim will heal hoof cracks, grow hoof fast and cure what ails your horses troubled soles.
Hoof dressings can enhance the water repellency of hooves in some environments. It may help with some fungal/bacterial invasions as the ingredients usually contain some kind disinfectant like pine tar.*
Topical dressings do not grow new hoof or do anything to heal the sensitive structures within the hoof capsule no matter what they claim.**The hoof is dead, it is not possible for it to heal, it only possible to create conditions where it will be eventually replaced with undamaged horn.
*Horses with cracks in their hooves are very common in the Southeast that is related to year round wet/dry conditions that is hard on all of us. It is usually a white line disease related problem and needs a farrier with experience to debride affected horn. I do recommend antifungal topicals to fight fungal and bacterial invasions of the hoof wall.
**I do think hoof poultices are helpful to help with inflammation and isotonic soaks/packs to draw infections from the hoof, See this for more.
Thanks for reading my blog, please spread the word. If you have any questions about consultations on your horse or general hoof care questions you would like to see my take on, feel free to contact me here.
It takes a “special” type of person to sign on for twenty or so years of avoiding poop, drool, kicks, and sometimes bites courtesy of very large beast . Add in the desire to hammer hot metal, hold thousands of nails in ones mouth and having hands that seem to permanently smell of thrush.
In addition to the physical demand of the craft, this person shall also have a complete working knowledge of equine anatomy and locomotion as well as being an entrepreneur, teacher and salesperson.
Sometimes with all of this knowledge and experience comes the tendency to become annoyed when non-farriers are not aware of things that can make our job harder, more dangerous or our work less effective.
There are some things you can do to becoming a favorite on your hoof care professional’s calendar. Here is a list of farrier visit suggestions I believe the horse-owner can do to make the experience better for everyone involved.
1. Do your homework. There is no prerequisite to buy one of these animals and the instruction manual is sold separately. If you are new to the sport seek some sort of guidance. Horse are big and can become very headstrong and if they think they have the upper hoof in the situation.
I highly recommend taking some lessons at your local stable before acquiring a horse. A little supervised instruction will save you a lot of headaches and money down the road. If you can’t do that, buy or borrow a more experienced and older horse to learn on. You will enjoy horse ownership much more with a reliable and steady partner.
2. Provide me with a level, dry work area free of clutter. If the horse decides to have a come-apart I want to be able to get away from him without tripping over your hay string collection. Also, it is dangerous to work in the field where other horses are loose.
Keep animals at bay as they are all very curious, Dogs like get underfoot, sometimes literally, trying to nab hoof trimmings.
3. In the summer it is too hot to work in direct sunlight. Let’s try to set up under a tree if there is not a barn to work in.
4. In the winter having some shelter is great, however, I work for plenty of people without a barn happily. Those people have a well drained sunny place and maybe a building acting as a wind break. I’m happy to reschedule if the weather is truly awful.
5.If I am shoeing your horse, being close to my truck would be appreciated. I will have to make a lot of trips back and forth when fabricating and fitting the shoes.
6. Train your horse to be able to stand patiently. If your horse is shying away from me and defecating constantly it is usually because he’s nervous. Most likely he just needs more good experiences being handled. Work with your horse from the ground regularly and watch him transform into a more confident and agreeable companion.
Tie him regularly and he will become accustomed to being confined and messed with. If the only time this horse is handled is for farrier and vet work it is understandable that he would be suspicious.
7. Make and keep appointments. Not all horses are going to be able to go the maximum 8 weeks between farrier visits and trying to save money or time will yield unsatisfactory results. The farrier must stay ahead of the hoof growth especially with distressed feet.
8. Have all the accessories. A minimum of working halter and lead rope with the animals in a nearby confined area ready to be caught. Bonus points for having your horse fly sprayed in the warm months. Super bonus for cleaning the horses feet out.
9. Follow follow up directions. Your horse has white line disease or thrush? Treat the hooves with the medication and they will be WAY more likely to improve. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling whenever I see purple stains as evidence of your campaign for hoof health, Thrush busted!
10. For the love of all that is good, pick your horses feet out as part of your pre-ride or grooming routine. Horses are not naturals at standing on three legs. At all. The more you handle your horses legs the more skill he will have at balancing his thousand pound frame over a triangle instead of square.
Doing so on a regular basis helps me so much. Most of the reason for farrier anxiety in horses is based upon the fear of the unknown. Problems start when the horse looses balance. The animal gets nervous which causes the farrier to also become nervous. This is a vicious cycle that can end in all sorts of tragedy! Don’t let it start by having your horse comfortable and bored by the whole procedure.
In conclusion, I would like to add that I strive for progress not perfection. The fact that you have read my little post about my preferences goes a long way. Us cantankerous, crumpled and stinky farriers thank you for your interest. In the end, I love being a part of team “your horse” and want to right by him, and sincerely appreciate your business.
I love being able to have choices when selecting the shoe for the horse in front of me. I carry different versions of each size of shoe in order to truly customize the job depending on the horse’s individual needs. How does a farrier or horse owner chose the most appropriate footwear for a particular horse? To have this discussion let’s talk about the terms farriers use when describing a shoe.
Size: The most obvious, big hooves = big shoes and vice versa. Using too small of shoe is a sure way to rob a horse of years of productivity, one that is too big is more likely to get pulled off, possibly damaging the hoof, and inconvenience everyone involved.
Usually the small horseshoes are labeled “0” or “00” and pronounced “ought” or “double ought” in reverence of the old fashioned word for zero . I have seen as small as “four ought”. Shoes larger than “0” will be labeled 1,2,3….
Just like any shoe shopping experience, there is no universal system for shoe sizing. Not only is there huge variation in comparing different brands take on what a size one is, but there are completely different systems especially if you are using European shoes, racing or polo shoes.
Material Most commonly cast or machined from mild steel or aluminum. Steel is more durable, easily worked in the forge and less expensive. Aluminum shoes are much lighter, able to be applied with glue and available in many styles for therapeutic applications.
The market for shoes made of even less traditional materials like plastic, rubber and fiberglass or the combination of seems to be growing. I’m sure as 3D printing becomes more accessible, choices will continue to increase.
Web size describes the dimensions of the metal used to make the shoe. Narrow webbed shoes will sink into the earth easier and give a better grip. Wider ones will float the foot over soft footing, provide a more rigid support, more protection and allow for more slide. A wide webbed also offers more surface area to distribute the horses weight which better mimics the barefoot horse.
Weight of shoe: the heavier shoe the higher the arc of stride, the lighter the lower.
Traction devices: the shoe can have modifications to limit the sliding of the hoof. A harder metal (tungsten carbide, tool steel, borium) can be attached to the shoe by brazing or welding that allows the animal to be used on pavement. Calks can be built into the shoe or holes can be drilled and tapped to accommodate screw in studs that can be changed by the rider to suit the going.
Plain shoes give less traction than the barefoot so it is very common for those shoes to have a grove (farriers would called this a “fullered” shoe as the tool used to make the crease is called a fuller). in the ground bearing surface to break up the surface area to prevent the horse from slipping under normal circumstances. The fullering also allows nails to be removed one at a time.
Reining horses are often fit with plates that increase the slide phase of stride.
It is imperative to understand the perils of over-using traction devices as it can negatively effect the shock absorbing mechanisms built into the horse’s limb, especially on young stock. The animals caretakers need to know which horses have special shoes as they can injure themselves and others without proper precautions.
Therapeutic shoes: Heart, egg, and straight bar shoes are available off the rack. Shoes with enhanced breakover built into the toe as well as ones with elevation built into the heel can help horses with some types of injury or disease.
Those are the most common ways to classify horse shoes. I am sure that I missed some, especially now as it seems that there are new brands coming out all of the time. I believe in keeping things simple and mostly shoe with a steel clipped medium-wide webbed shoe until there is a reason to use something else. When an exception comes along it is great to have all of these options to chose from.
I hope this will help make conversations about your horses hooves more effective. Some books do not go into great detail of farrier terminology as much of this was news to me as a horseperson entering farrier school. These are terms I learned which seem to be commonly accepted.
Hoof Wall: This is the most obvious and largest external structure. It is produced at the coronary band and grows distally, meaning towards the ground. The farrier mostly trims hoof wall hopefully and if shod, it is what the shoe is secured to.
The majority of the horses, shod or barefoot, weight is supported by the hoof wall. It is strong, durable yet surprisingly flexible in order to accommodate for the constant expansion and contraction involved in locomotion.
Heel: I consider the heel as an extension of the hoof wall. The wall actually bends inwards sharply next to each side of the frog. Those sharp “V” corners form heels. You can be more specific if you are referring to one or the other by using the term medial, lateral or inside, outside. Left and right become too complicated when dealing with horse feet.
Bars: the bars are a continuation of the hoof wall that protrude from the heels towards, while becoming less prominent as they near the tip of the frog.
The tapered bars become increasingly more weight bearing as the foot is loaded. As the foot expands the bars are pushed towards the ground to aid in shock absorption.
Sole: this is the horn that covers the majority of the ground bearing surface of the foot. It is constantly produced and within the hoof capsule and self exfoliating. The ideal sole is concave and thick enough to protect the coffin bone, blood supply and other sensitive structures just millimeters above.
The sole is not considered load bearing, although in horses that are kept barefoot the sole with thicken to the extent that there may be ground contact.
White Line: a bit of a misnomer, the white line is a yellowish , insensitive substance that is sandwiched between the hoof wall; including heels and bars, and the sole. It may be difficult to see the white line unless the foot is clean and recently trimmed.
The white line is produced internally peripheral edge of the coffin bone and lies beneath the laminae and fills the void that would be left between the sole and hoof wall. You could think of it as a border and bond between the sole and wall.
Nails are driven into the white line ideally and exit via the hoof wall.
The white line is a load bearing structure except for the area called…
Seat of Corn: sometimes called the seat of heel. This is an area not a structure. This is the point of the foot where the hoof wall folds back on itself. That juncture is especially prone to irritation in some modern horses and a lameness caused by this is called a corn.
Frog: this is the triangle pad of moist and pliable horn situated between the heels. The frog aids in traction, shock absorption and circulation.
The frog, like the other structures are continually produced by a corresponding sensitive structure .
The frog is a weight bearing structure.
Commisures or Medial and Lateral Frog Sulci: these are the two groves formed by the joining of the frog and the bar. This is the “V” shaped area that is cleaned with a hoof pick.
Frog cleft or Central Sulci of the Frog: This is the grove that is made between the left and the right side of the frog, Some horses are prone to getting a deep thrush here that can go undetected.
I hope this helps you say what you mean, hopefully I will be adding to this in the very near future.