Fri, 02 Feb 2018 18:48:00
Compare the size and weight of your horse to his feet! It becomes obvious that hooves are intensely load-bearing and therefore subject to a great deal of stress. Any problem with your horse’s feet and his hooves, will therefore impact on his health and performance.
Many non-horse people may believe a horse’s hoof is solid, tough and hard … but that is not so, as we know! The hoof is made up of different layers, each of which has been designed by nature to fill a different function, and can be damaged or harmed in some way to cause him pain and distress.
To properly care for your horse’s hooves you need to understand their inner workings:
· There are actually three bones inside each of your horse’s hooves. The short pastern bone extends from the long pastern bone in the horse’s leg. Then there is the coffin bone, which carries down blood vessels and nerves. Finally, there is the little navicular bone attached to which are tendons and ligaments running down from the leg.
· The bones are all surrounded by the laminae – a layer of tissue that brings blood to the hoof.
· Underneath the laminae is the digital cushion – a pad of tissue that forms a heel, to help absorb the shock of the hoof hitting the ground.
· Around the laminae is a horny layer (formed of the same substance that makes human nails and hair), which is hard and the part you see from the outside.
· The horny layer can be surprisingly thin, and grows continuously. It is attached to the inner part of the hoof from the “white line” which is familiar to farriers as the limit to which he can trim a hoof or set in nails for horseshoes.
· In the wild the horny layer is trimmed down naturally, but domestic horses need this to be trimmed by a farrier.
· The outside of the hoof is covered by the periople, a layer which keeps moisture in the hoof.
· The coronary band at the top of the hoof is like a cuticle on a human fingernail, and regulates how the hoof grows. Like a human fingernail, if this band is damaged it can cause the hoof to grow in a deformed way.
· At the very bottom of the hoof is the sole, or frog. This is a padded piece of hard tissue, that helps with blood circulation and shock absorption as the horse’s foot hits the ground.
When a horse is lame the cause will most likely be found to be a hoof problem. There are myriad things that can cause hoof ailments. Good routine hoof care can prevent most of them occurring, and feeding hoof supplements containing ingredients like biotin and zinc can help improve hoof quality.
To avoid hoof cracks – which can develop when the horse moves frequently from wet to dry conditions – you can apply hoof
One of the more serious conditions is a hoof abscess (click here for a special blog on the subject) that can be caused by a puncture wound, misplaced horse shoe nail or an untreated bruised hoof.
The best way to keep a good check on your horse’s hooves is to pick his feet every day to remove anydirt and gravel from the crevices. It’s not possible of course to comb every byway that you ride for potential hoof hazards, but you can make your own yard and field safe from foreign objects that might puncture or bruise his hooves.
If, while picking and brushing his hoof, you find it has been pierced by something, don’t pull it out yourself. Rather pack the foot well to avoid it being driven in more deeply, and call the vet.
Besides physical damage, a horse’s hooves are prone to diseases and conditions that can have drastic consequences if not properly treated.
Laminitis – inflammation of the laminae – for instance, should be treated as a medical emergency.
There are various causes for this painful condition that prevents the blood flowing to the sensitive laminae, which can begin to die. The most common cause is obesity, and a high intake of sugars and starch which overloads the digestive system causing a release of toxins into the gut and then into the blood stream. Laminitis can also result from Cushing’s disease, which is an abnormality of the pituitary gland.
You can help prevent laminitis by carefully monitoring your horse’s diet and restricting grass intake, especially in spring and early summer when grass is lush. Make sure your horse has plenty of exercise, and that a farrier checks his feet every six weeks at least.
Another hoof disease that can be caused by improper nutrition, and poor conformation (the correctness of the horse’s body proportions and bone structure) is Navicular Disease – the deterioration of the navicular bone. Expert hoof care from an excellent farrier can guard against this condition taking hold.
Thrush is a particularly unpleasant infection of the frog which can be prevented by the foot being kept clean and picked. Another bacterial infection is White Line Disease, caused by a continually wet stall and lack of exercise, that can lead to the breaking down of the hoof horn and the rotation of the coffin bone.
This is just a small sample of the ailments that can afflict your horse’s hooves. Many are preventable by practising basic daily routine hoof care and visual checks, as well as regularly scheduled farrier visits and – if in any doubt – a vet inspection.