The Hooves Don’t Lie
Sometimes, while I’m out doing horsey chores or riding, a phrase or title for a blog post will just pop into my head. Such was the case earlier this week. This is what came to me: The hooves don’t lie. (Thanks, Shakira!) I don’t know about you, but this is a statement that I’ve found very much to be true. The horse’s feet will ultimately reflect the overall heath of the horse. And the hooves don’t lie!
I’ve learned over the last several years that the hooves can speak to us if we are willing to listen. They can tell us things about the horse that we otherwise may never know. Whether it be problems with the diet, the current hoof care routine, or something else, the hooves are good communicators. We simply have to learn to speak their language.
Now I’m not saying I’ve completely figured this language out, but I am getting there!
So what are your horse’s hooves trying to tell you? Something that you may think of as only pertaining to the hoof, itself, may actually be indicative of a larger problem. Remember that all parts of the horse are connected. The hooves don’t operate in isolation.
If your horse is currently experiencing a hoof issue, pay attention and listen to what the hooves are telling you! Here’s what some common hoof problems may really mean:
Abscesses can be quite distressing–your horse may become suddenly and severely lame, but they usually can be resolved with some time and care. But why do they happen in the first place? What’s going on with the horse?
Occasionally, an abscess can occur from a nail or some other sharp object penetrating the hoof. But more often, it results from damage to the corium–the middle layer of soft tissue connecting the coffin bone to the rigid hoof capsule and containing the hoof’s blood supply.
How does damage to the corium occur? Usually from solar bruising, laminitis, or a lack of circulation in the foot.
So if your horse experiences frequent abscessing or an abscess that is not caused by an external factor, it could be a telltale sign of one of the following:
- laminitis (even sub-clinical);
- thin sole which still needs protection (use hoof boots if riding over terrain the hoof is not yet able to handle); or
- poor circulation in the foot due to shoeing, improper trimming, or injury.
Abscessing can also occur as a horse makes the transition from shoes to barefoot. No, it doesn’t mean you need to return to shoes, it just means the hooves need a chance to heal.
Here’s what Dr. Hildred Strasses said about this particular issue:
“Corium or lateral cartilage areas, which have been compressed for a long time, die off. After circulation is returned to these areas, the dead pieces of tissue are removed from the living tissue and carried to the outside by pus, since the dead pieces of tissue cannot be transported away through the microscopically small blood vessels of the corium.” (cited from this article)
So in the case of transitioning from shoes to barefoot, give it time and have patience–the abscessing should eventually stop.
I’ve written about thrush before and noted that not all cases of thrush are gooey and smelly (though some are). Thrush can occur in a dry hoof and frequently does. A deep crevice in the central sulcus (center of frog) usually indicates thrush is present. If the thrush does not clear up fairly easily with treatment, it’s usually a sign of a mineral imbalance. Take a look at your horse’s copper, zinc, and iron intake. Usually copper and zinc are deficient and iron may be overabundant. (see this post for more on mineral balance).
Cracked or Brittle Hoof Wall
Once upon a time, I would put hoof oils or creams on a dry or cracked hoof. After I took equine nutrition courses, I realized that this problem usually comes from within the horse though. If your horse has brittle or chipping hoof walls and you know trimming is not the issue, diet is likely to blame once again. Here are some possible candidates:
- protein deficiency (sometimes you just need a variety of proteins);
- methionine (a specific kind of amino acid) deficiency;
- trace mineral deficiency/ imbalance (again, pay close attention to copper, zinc, and iron); or
- B vitamin deficiency.
Flares, Hoof Wall Separation
Flares (often seen as hoof wall separation from the bottom of the hoof) usually stem from two causes: improper trimming or diet (can be both also). Carbohydrate overload is usually the issue if it’s diet-related. If your horse’s hoof looks like this, I would get rid of any sweet feeds and use a low-starch feed if a concentrate is even necessary.
Carbohydrate overload can also come from grazing on grassy pastures and not enough movement to offset the carbohydrate intake. This one can be tricky (and this is something I struggle with where I live). Managed grazing (at night and early morning is when the sugars are lowest), use of a grazing muzzle, or building a paddock paradise track system are all better options than keeping the horse in a stall or dry lot though.
Katy Watts’ website has some great information on grass for horses.
Ripples in the hoof are indicative of some type of systemic stress within the horse. They could be dietary (carbohydrate overload again) or could be the result stress caused by vaccines, deworming, or even illness. If your horse has one ripple, try to think of any changes in recent months–that could be the cause. If there are many ripples, it’s probably an ongoing problem.
So those are just a few of the problems we might recognize in the hoof. Of course, there are others. We just need to learn to view the hoof as part of the larger whole of the horse. Try to connect the dots and figure out the true cause of these issues. What is the hoof really saying when it shows you these problems? The hooves will always lead us to the truth!
Sources and Further Reading