Hoof Care for Senior Horses
With senior horses, it’s sometimes easy to let hoof care slide. To maybe stretch those farrier visits out a little further. After all, they’re just hanging around the pasture, not doing much of anything. What’s the harm in letting those feet grow a little more before trimming them?
If you’ve ever had those thoughts, you’re definitely not alone. But I’d like to explain why regular hoof care for senior horses is just as important as it is for any other horse.
Though hoof growth may slow some with age (often due to nutrient absorption issues), it’s important to regularly monitor your senior horse’s hooves and keep them trimmed them on a regular cycle. Even small hoof irregularities or overgrowth can affect the the joints, tendons, muscles, spine, and/or teeth (see this interview with Dr. Teskey for more on the feet/teeth connection). Since older horses are most likely already dealing with some joint deterioration as well as wear and tear on their bodies, neglecting their hooves can set off a chain reaction, increasing the amount of inflammation in their body, not to mention, discomfort. Toes left too long are especially stressful on joints and tendons.
Personally, I trim my elderly guy, Hershey, every four to five weeks. His feet don’t grow as quickly as my two younger mares’ feet do, but I’ve found that this schedule is best for keeping him comfortable and preventing excess flare. Your horse’s schedule will depend on his environment, amount of natural wear, and hoof growth rate.
Something else to bear in mind is that senior horses tend to have some special requirements when it comes to hoof care. I know I’ve certainly had to make a few adjustments with Hershey. I’d like to share a few tips which can make trimming easier on everyone:
- Feed a daily joint supplement or natural anti-inflammatory such as turmeric, glucosamine, Hyaluronic Acid, or Devil’s Claw to keep your senior horse more comfortable. This is especially important for horses who may have trouble holding their feet up for trimming.
- Allow your senior horse to have frequent rest breaks while trimming. Don’t expect them to hold their foot up for five minutes like a younger horse can. Hind legs are often more of a challenge to trim since many of these horses are dealing with arthritic hocks. Trimming two hooves, letting the senior horse rest while you trim another horse, and then finishing the last two hooves is often a good idea.
- If using phenylbutazone (bute) for your senior horse’s farrier visit, make sure to give it 8-12 hours in advance so it can take full effect. But please keep in mind that bute should never be used long-term. The homeopathic remedy, Arnica, can also be used in preparation for a farrier visit (in place of bute).
- Modify trimming techniques as needed for senior horses. If a horse can’t lift his hind leg into the normal trimming position, try using a wooden block or holding the hoof closer to the ground.
- Most importantly, have patience (or hire a farrier with some!) Most older horses are not trying to be “naughty” when they pull their foot away. This is usually their way of saying, “I need a break.” Listen to them.
Sources and Further Reading