How often do you look, and I mean really look, at your horse's feet? Do you know, for instance, whether they are flared out on one side? Would you be concerned if they were?
Keeping your horses feet healthy and strong
It really is wise to get to know your horse's feet for so much depends on them! Obviously, your horse's hooves are the first part of his body to make contact with the ground at all gaits and it's the sensory input from the feet that helps your horse's body cope with the terrain - just think of all the ups and downs of ground an event horse experiences as he gallops across country.
Sensors in the horse's heels communicate with the brain so that many aspects of the horse's body - from muscle co-ordination to balance and sequence of limbs - all work as required according to the conditions being experienced.
There are lots of forces that the hoof has to deal with as the horse moves - and the hoof is not totally rigid so it can dissipate and absorb these forces.
It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realise that if the hoof is neglected then problems can be caused throughout the horse's body.
If a horse's feet are too long he will try to remove the discomfort in his feet by landing incorrectly on the foot, so placing more strain on other joints, such as the fetlock.
Horses are good at adopting new patterns of moving if they are trying to avoid pain - so it's important to ensure your horse receives good farriery care, even when he's turned out in the field without shoes.
Have a good look at your horse's hoof wall - can you see any sign of change eg a bulge running around the hoof from heel to heel? These ring-like bulges show foot growth when nutritional changes were happening. If the condition of the hoof above the rings is dry and rough, then the changes were not good!
Keep an eye on your horse's hoof walls and if you notice changes speak to your farrier. He should be able to advise on whether any nutritional supplementation is necessary. You could also speak to a feed company's helpline specialists as well.
Make a point of checking your horse's feet and shoes as you attend to them daily.
So what about the flaring we mentioned earlier? This is usually associated with the hoof making unbalanced contact with the ground and may be because of conformation, poor balancing of the feet or can even be due to pain in the foot or leg. It is certainly something that needs further attention and investigation.
How your horse distributes his weight when standing will also have an effect on his feet. If your horse always takes more weight on one fore foot that foot will became 'flat' whereas the opposite fore foot takes less weight and has more of a 'boxy' appearance.
Some horses and ponies have long toes and under run heels. These result in lots of problems in the joints, tendons and ligaments. The long toes mean that the body weight is forced backwards on to the heels which gradually collapse. The angle of the foot to the ground is changed which in turn means that the joints above the feet also have altered angles, causing increased stress on the tendons. This problem can be very common - it takes time to rectify and it's far better to avoid it in the first place!
Ten Hoof Care Tips
1.Pick out your horse's feet before each ride, after you untack him, when you bring him in at night and before you turnout in the morning. This is the single most important thing you can do for his hooves and will give you a head start on keeping his hooves healthy and take early action on many common hoof problems. Remember - You want to be able to see the sole's entire surface, so finish the job with a stiff brush.
2. Establish what's normal. When picking out take notice of the foot’s temperature; when all is OK, they'll feel very slightly warm. Locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of his pastern. Check the frog’s texture and firmness which is similar to that of a rubber eraser when it's healthy. Don't be alarmed if the frog is peeling off--most horses shed the frog at least twice a year, sometimes more often. You may not have ever noticed this before in between you farrier's regular trimming of the frog.
3. When picking out the feet, look for signs of... •Thrush •Puncture wounds •Cracks •Abscess
4. Schedule regular farrier visits according to your horse's individual needs. Although six to eight weeks is the average, there's really no standard interval for trimming and shoeing. If your farrier is correcting a problem such as under-run heels, a club foot, or flare in the hoof wall, your horse may benefit from a shorter intervals.
5. If your horse is shod, check his shoes each time you pick out his feet. Look for: Risen clinches and a sprung or shifted shoe
6. Learn how to remove a shoe Many farriers are glad to teach clients how to do this If you can remove a sprung or shifted shoe, you may save your horse unnecessary pain and hoof damage and make life easier for your farrier or veterinarian.
7. Help your horse grow the best possible hooves. Some horses naturally have better hooves than others. Your horse may already be producing the best hoof he's capable of, or the following steps may enable him to do better.
•Fine-tune his diet. Ask your veterinarian whether your feeding program is appropriate for your horse's nutritional needs.
•Add a biotin supplement to his ration (ask your farrier for a recommendation). Some hooves benefit from these supplements; use the supplement for six months to a year; that's how long it takes for any benefits to show up in new hoof growth.
•Consistent exercise. Work on good surfaces, especially at walk and trot and increases circulation to your horse's hooves to promotes growth.
8. Avoid the "summer cycle" of alternate soaking and drying of hooves. Your horse's hooves will adapt well over time to conditions that are consistently dry or consistently damp, but hooves suffer when the environment fluctuates between wet and dry. Unfortunately, this is often the situation during the very months when you want to use him the most: late spring, summer, and early fall. For example long Summer evening turnout puts the hoof in contact with biting insects and dew-soaked grass; the hoof will swell and soften with moisture, much as your fingernails soften after hours in water. Back in a dry, hot environment during the day, the hooves dry and contract, with this constant repetition the horseshoe nails loosen as their holes enlarge slightly. Such summer activities as work, stomping flies, or (if your horse is restless) walking the fence accelerate the loosening; pretty soon you're asking your farrier, "Why can't my horse keep his shoes on?"
There are a couple of things you can do to minimize this pattern:
•Cut back on summer turnout time. Try to reduce by a few hours the amount of time your horse spends standing in a dewy nighttime paddock or stomping flies outside during the day.
•Avoid unnecessary baths. Sponging the sweat off your horse after schooling works just as well, without causing him to stand in a puddle for half an hour or more. Save the full-scale bath for just before the show.
•Shorten his summer shoeing schedule. A lost shoe often means hoof damage, which escalates the cycle of summer shoeing problems. Spacing your farrier's regular visits a week or so closer may avoid emergency calls.
•Toughen his soles with a daily application of turpentine.
9. Try not to turn out in deep, muddy conditions. Hours of standing in mud may encourage thrush or scratches or even a skin infection in the fetlock area which can cause lameness. The suction and drag of mud is hard on shoes, too and can loosen them.
10. Protect your horse's hooves during transport. Cover his heels with bandages or boots as your horse can easily step on the edge of a shoe and pull it partially loose--then spend the remainder of the journey standing on the nails of the sprung or shifted shoe. Another vulnerable area is the coronet band: the rim of tissue at the top of each hoof that generates new hoof-wall growth. Injury to this area (for instance, if he steps on himself while struggling to keep his balance in a moving trailer) can interrupt hoof growth in the area below the affected spot.
Remember that an experienced and knowledgeable farrier can do a great deal to help your horse's feet but an inexperienced one may create problems. If you've had trouble with your horse's feet you'll know that a really good farrier is well worth the money!
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