Tag Archives: hoof cracks

Hoof Cracks: 3 Reasons your horse has them and how to get rid of them

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.

The black lines are evidence of WLD's presence deep within the hoof
The black lines are evidence of WLD’s presence deep within the hoof

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.

this foot is free of flares and reflects the rounded shape of a front coffin bone
front coffin bone photo chestofbooks.com
Ideally, the shape of the hoof will echo that of the coronary band
Ideally, the shape of the hoof will echo 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.

Excess hoof length leads to flares. photo: horsefarrier.com.au
excessive toe length causes this minor toe crack
excessive toe length causes this minor toe crack

 

with shoe removed, the toe is flared away from the sole. There is a deeper crevice at the toe where the WLD is the deepest.
with shoe removed, the toe is flared away from the sole. There is a deeper crevice at the toe where the WLD is rooted.
After trimming
After trimming, new shoe, clearing WLD affected horn and medicating toe crack.
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.

Loose shoes damage the hoof, perpetuating WLD invasion. photo:horsehero.com

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“.

level foot ready to nail a shoe on\\\\\\\
Hot shoeing is a WMD against WLD!

 

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.

small crack from old abscess tract
small crack from old abscess tract or inherent weakness 
entrance for WLD in toe
entrance for WLD in toe

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.

Injury to coronary band leaves area producing malformed horn that is susceptible to WLD
Injury to coronary band leaves area producing malformed horn that is susceptible to WLD. Timely trimming with attention has allowed for solid regrowth in this case.

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.

hoof crack
Flare combined with WLD and wet conditions caused this superficial crack
After opening up the crack edges to air the crack is exposed to air
After opening up the crack edges to air the crack is exposed to air.
hoof cracks
Muck fills the cavity throwing fuel on the WLD flame. Notice the wall flaring  that  caused this condition in the first place. Treatment of more infested and imbalanced hooves often takes multiple shoeings, however, progress should be evident. Note the new tighter growth emerging from the coronet.
After removal of the majority WLD affected horn.  The WLD extends even deeper up the wall behind the highlighted black void.
clearing smaller sur
clearing smaller surface cracks with dremel tool
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 ;). logo best lines only

 

 

White Line Disease: Progression and Identification

White Line Disease: Progression and Identification

White line disease  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

White Line
Seedy toe or WLD associated with laminitis. The damaged wall is removed and the remaining horn disinfected. This foot will need shoeing. Note the new, tighter growth emerging.

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.

how to treat hoof abscess
minor case of White Line Disease, this one may be from a resolved submural abscess

Grass Cracks

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.

Grass Cracks. photo: tribeequus.com.
Delamination appears as loose, shelly wall is caused by WLD
Delamination,  breakdown of the hoof wall in layers, appears as loose, shelly wall.

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 not hot fit will also cause this sort of damage because WLD will invade the tiny crack between hoof wall and clip.

WLD worsened by ill fitting clip, long toe and loose nails. photo: atlantaequine.com
loose clinches, overgrowth, bad clip fit=WLD photo: stabletostable.com

Toe Cracks

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.

The mid dorsal notch of the coffin bone may be a weak spot in the hoof wall. Photo: equinepodiatry.com
entrance for WLD in toe
entrance for WLD in toe
Same foot, from above
Same foot, from above

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.

White Line Disease
Toe crack combined with hoof imbalance creates a larger void leading to more WLD

And larger.

White Line Disease
Toe cracks due to excessive toe length and white line disease

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 originally caused by abscess. Neglect has caused a laminitis-like version of white line disease.
White line disease originally caused by abscess. Neglect has caused a laminitis-like version of white line disease. The crack is shearing the sensitive structures and causing inflammation and pain.

Conclusion

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.

UPDATE-Check out my article Hoof Cracks: 3 reasons why you have them and how to get rid of them  for my methods of managing WLD.

 

 

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Horse hoof care, fact and fiction

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.

hoof care
rock crushing appy 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.hip number 666
  • 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.

Seedy toe
chronic laminitis and a nasty fungal invasion causes a condition commonly called seedy toe or white line disease. This foot requires a high level of management between farrier, owner and vet.

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 can't cure hoof imbalances
Biotin can’t cure hoof imbalances

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.

proper heel fit
the heels should be fitted slightly wider than the hoof from the mid line back towards the heels. This is to accommodate and protect  for expansion of the back half of the foot under full load

 

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.

pastern anlge

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.

heels don't grow down, instead they migrate forward causing stresses in the back half of the foot. hoof care
heels don’t grow down, instead they migrate forward. This loads the foot  inappropriately, causing heel trauma.

 

hoof care long heels move the base of support towards the toe. Normally the weight is born on the cushy back half of the foot. With the heels left long the bony structures are taking the majority of the load. This can lead to navicular syndrome.
Long heels move the base of support towards the toe. Normally the weight is born on the cushy back half of the foot. With the heels left long the bony structures are taking the majority of the load. This can lead to navicular syndrome.

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.

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to shoe or not to shoe?

 

There are a few factors that you should take into account when determining the hoof care needs of and individual.  Ask yourself:

What are you going to do with this horse? 

A lot of times the answer is not much. If the horse is going to be used lightly on easy footing like sand or grass, the horse may be fine shoeless. On the other hand, if your plans include extensive trail riding or the footing you have is abrasive, I would recommend having some hoof protection.

Competition horses benefit from horseshoes because of the increased traction can give an edge to the horse. In horse racing, shoeing choices are made known so the bettors will have more information to base their wagering decisions on.

People who show or ride their horses away from home may need shoes as the venues may have unpredictable footing.

shoes can give horses extra traction
adding studs shoes can give horses extra traction
2014 11 05_0255
high performance shoes can make the difference in speed events

 

lightweight race shoe
lightweight “queens plate” with no toe grab for flat racing , notice how the frog takes up a third of the area. A big healthy frog indicates good circulation and fuction of the foot

 

What is the quality of the horn?

The hoof wall is made of horn. The horn can be thought of as lots of tiny “straws” starting at the top of the hoof and growing towards the ground. Horses with horn that grows pretty much straight, without flaring (“platter foot”) or bending at the heels (“crushed heels”) are candidates for barefoot.

This is not a static state either, once hoof imbalances are addressed and a new growth pattern is established by a few cycles of timely shoeing  the barefoot option may be asked again. A goal of mine when shoeing any horse is bringing the foot to equilibrium with or without shoes.

Horses of all breeds can be successfully kept barefoot but ponies, gaited horses, drafts, appaloosas, paint and mixed breed horses usually have inherently good hoof quality.

plz pass the biotin, I need some shoes!
plz pass the biotin says this “well bred” QH broodmare, I need some shoes!
rock crushing appy feet
rock crushing appy feet , the stripping in this foot shoe that the horn tubules are growing  uniformly

Is growth exceeding wear?

If the horse grows two nipper round of hoof in four weeks, it may not get them nailed back on. The hoof is excellent and gives excellent traction on a variety of surfaces. A horse like this may be able to perform at high levels without shoes.

hmm, wear exceeding growth...not today!
hmm, wear exceeding growth…not today!

 

Does the horse have a condition that the shoes help alleviate? 

Therapeutic horseshoes can be of great value to the unsound animal. Veterinarians will recommend shoeing protocols designed to help the limb function more normally. Wedge heels can decrease pull from certain tendons, leather pads can protect a thin-soled foot and modifications to a basic shoe will help ease breakover (the phase of stride where the foot rolls off the ground). Good horseshoeing can enhance performance.

2014 11 05_0213
injured sole will love a shoe and pad to protect it

 

pad to protect sole
pad to protect sole

Some horses will transition without missing a beat when taken out of shoes, some will require a little time to get used to it especially while the old nail holes grow down. Most performance horses need shoes because of the demands upon them.

I recommend evaluating your current situation and discussing the options with your farrier or hoofcare provider.

strong and straight horn growth  and a concave sole are an effect of good genetics and regular hoof care.
strong and straight horn growth and a concave sole are an effect of good genetics and regular hoof care.