Michael J. Waldorf CF APF-I

541-607-0277 (Call or Text)


A Horseowner’s Guide To Proper Hoofcare

Maintaining proper care of your horse’s feet can have a critical effect on their overall health. Through proper care, many of the costs of horsekeeping may be avoided. Your farrier and veterinarian can advise you and help establish a hoofcare program that will provide optimum benefit to the health of your horse.

1. Environment: No matter where your horse spends their day, the area should be a safe environment, free of wire, nails, garbage, or any potentially dangerous debris that may injure the horse. Objects such as sharp rocks, briars, nettles, and similar material should be removed from where horses congregate, feed, or rest.  Hooves are a good reflection of their environment. For example, wet conditions produce soft hoof walls; dry conditions produce hard hoof walls, and dirty conditions produce unhealthy hooves. Extremes should be avoided as much as possible.

2. Nutrition: The overall health of the horse may be judged by the condition of the feet. Health problems are often first noticed in the feet. Your veterinarian can advise you on some feed supplements that may help to grow healthier hooves. Topical applications to the exterior of hooves generally offer little benefit. Some may build up on the wall and cause too much softening.

3. Handling: Foals should be imprinted for later life, by handling the feet shortly after birth. All feet should be lifted and held immobile for several minutes, until the animal has overcome its fear of restraint and handling. Older horses should be taught to stand quietly while all feet are handled. If restraint is necessary, the horse requires more training. It is usually more affordable to hire a trainer than a farrier for this task.

4. Trimming: Excess hoof wall is removed to allow a natural way of going for the horse. Sometimes trimming may be done in a specialized fashion, such as to alter the horse’s foot flight pattern, or the way in which the hoof structure provides support to itself and the limb structures. Trimming often changes the appearance of the horse’s feet and legs. Trimming should leave the foot’s ground surface on a nearly level plane from the toe to the heels, at right angles to the bone column, and preserve the equine's natural hoof/pastern/shoulder axes. Removal of too much wall causes the horse to be sore or tender-footed. Removal of too little wall may cause angle and balance problems before another trimming is scheduled.

The trimming schedule depends on several factors:

  • health of the equine (how fast the hoof wall grows)
  • how much the horse is used ( how much or how little of the hoof wall is worn away)
  • hardness or softness of the terrain over which the horse is used
  • the kind or amount of use or activity the horse endures
  • the relative durability of the hoof wall.

The time interval between trims may vary depending on multiple factors, but on average, healthy hooves may be maintained on a six week schedule.

5. Shoeing: Horses need to be shod only when specific conditions are met:
  • when wear exceeds hoof wall growth
  • to enhance athletic performance
  • as a therapeutic treatment to minimize effects of disease, trauma, or disability.

As with trimming, time intervals for having your horse shod will depend on several factors. For most horses, the elapsed time between a shoeing or a trim are relatively the same.  Hoof wall tends to grow faster in warm, moist environments. (A horse living in the tropics may need a trim a whole month before his Oregonian counterpart.)  Colder, drier climates retard growth and may thus lengthen the time between treatments.  In circumstances where an equid exhibits certain hoof problems, more frequent attention to hoof growth and condition is recommended. Your veterinarian and farrier should be good resources for understanding these conditions.

6. Disease: Several diseases of the horse’s foot may cause you and your horse problems. While your farrier may be of great help to you, your veterinarian should also be consulted.

Some common ailments:
  • Thrush: This is an infection of anaerobic bacteria that is most prolific in damp conditions. Keeping stalls, paddocks, corrals, and feet clean will help to relieve the problem. That includes picking the feet out to oxygenate the hoof environment. Many topical concoctions can be helpful to combat the effects of anaerobic bacteria, but simply the act of thoroughly cleaning the hooves on a regular basis is the best line of defense against hoof rot.
  • Navicular disease: This disease starts as a syndrome affecting the area around the navicular bone, inside the horse’s foot. It can eventually effect bones, joints, and tissue within the foot. Careful diagnosis by a veterinarian is necessary to confirm the disease. Trimming and shoeing to certain prescribed standards may relieve the crippling effects of the disease.
  • Laminitis and Founder: The result of some systemic stresses, these most crippling of problems can often be avoided by good husbandry practices. Trimming and shoeing may help to alleviate lameness symptoms.
  • Abcesses: This results when the sensitive foot structure becomes invaded by a foreign object or bacterial infection, and may lead to a festering within the live tissue. The horse experiences pain as pressure builds within the tissue. Although technically not a disease, if sensitive tissue is involved, it should be treated by a veterinarian.

7. Other: There are several things to be aware of in order to provide proper hoof care for your horse.
  • Whether or not you ride or use your horse, the hoof wall grows constantly. You can’t put the horse aside, ignore its requirements, and not pay the consequences in cost as well as risk of disability to the horse.
  • Look for evidence of neglect or needed attention to your horse’s feet. Cracks, dishes, and flares, loose nails, loose shoes, shoes overgrown by hoof wall or worn-out shoes are all indications that you need an appointment with your farrier.
  • It is not the farriers responsibility to teach your horse good manners. A good trimming or shoeing job is a well balanced, cooperative effort between you, the farrier, and most importantly the horse.
  • Don’t ask or expect your farrier to perform medical treatment on your lame, injured, or diseased horse. That is the responsibility of your veterinarian.
  • You are responsible for the well being of your horse. It can do nothing for itself to promote sound healthy feet. Your awareness of and proper attention to the peculiar needs of the feet should keep the horse healthy and better able to meet your need for pleasure and performance.