From the extension office: Proper hoof care

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

By Levi Berg

Clark County Extension Office

Hoof care is essential to keeping your horses comfortable and healthy. Proper hoof care can help you enjoy your horse for a long time.

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Farriers and veterinarians are the experts when it comes to horse hoof care. You need to have a good working relationship with both. They can help you maintain a regular maintenance schedule and quickly address hoof-related problems.

You should clean your horse’s feet daily as a responsible horse owner. This practice makes them comfortable with handling their feet and helps ensure they stand for the farrier. This will make the experience safer for both the horse and the farrier. Have your horse’s hooves trimmed or shod as needed to protect your horse from developing hoof infections and lameness.

Horses’ hooves grow at different rates, depending on the horse’s intended purpose. For example, the hooves of performance horses may grow quicker than those used for pleasure riding. Generally, hooves grow faster during the summertime compared to the winter. In the summer, trim or shod horses every six to eight weeks. In the winter, you can stretch maintenance to every six to 12 weeks, but again, it depends on the horse.

Horses should have balanced hooves. They put less strain on the horse’s bones, tendons and ligaments, allowing easier and more fluid movements. When hooves are balanced, they have the following characteristics:

• A straight line from the pastern through the front of the hoof wall.

• Toes that are not too long, square trimmed or rounded and rolled.

• The shoe reaches to the back of the hoof wall and supports the entire leg.

A horse’s hooves can crack if you wait too long between trimmings. This can lead to serious health problems, including lameness. Their hooves can also dry and crack during dry weather, wintertime or frequent changes between dry and wet conditions. If your horse’s hooves become dry, brittle or start developing cracks, apply a hoof moisturizer to the hoof wall and sole. 

Wintertime calls for specific hoof care. Horses should be left barefoot if they are generally not shod. Bare feet can help them grip surfaces and prevent slipping. However, you may need to keep shoes on your horse during the winter if it is prone to bruising. 

Keep areas where horses are frequently clean and dry. Wet, dirty conditions can cause thrush, a smelly, black fluid that leaks from the hooves. It can invade the horse’s tissues and cause lameness.

Proper nutrition goes a long way to reducing hoof cracks and ensuring optimum horse health. Generally, horses need high-quality hay, the appropriate amount of vitamin and mineral supplements and fresh, clean water. You can also purchase a supplement containing biotin, zinc or methionine to improve hoof health. 

Information for this article was obtained from Dr. Bob Coleman, UK Equine Extension Specialist. More information on horse health is available at the Clark County office of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service