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Utah’s horse world; hoof care reminders for the healthy horse

Pay close attention to hoof health between trims!
Pay close attention to hoof health between trims!
photo by Sarah, with Meisja Wagner and Tuffy

Horses’ hoofs generally grow faster in the summer and most owners move their scheduled trims up from every 6-7 weeks to approximately once a month. As a result, we assume that the hoof health, whether barefoot or shod, will be well-managed with such frequent attention.

However; when we have extreme weather changes (dryness or unexpected down pours and excess rain), or if any outside distractions interrupt our diligent cleaning schedules, we need to remember to take a close look at the possible impact on our horses’ feet.

Of vital importance to the stalled horse is cleanliness. A thorough stall cleaning once a week is simply not enough. Stalls should be carefully and thoroughly cleaned daily. Six days is passable. Five would be the absolute minimum. The acids from urine and feces can quickly eat through the sole (no; it does not matter if the horse is wearing shoes. Debris and waste will still contact the sole even on your shod animals).

In extreme cases, particularly if soles are weakened by a good deal of moisture, the waste can eat holes through the sole to the extent that the coffin bone is exposed, opening the horse up to potentially life-threatening infection.

What if you do not have the time or strength to clean properly yourself? There are always options for the conscientious horse owner; you can place your horse in a full-care boarding facility that offers cleaning at least 6 days per week. If at a self-care facility, you can hire someone responsible and reliable to do the cleaning for you. You may also consider relocating your horse to a pasture board environment (some are available in Grantsville, Tooele and near Ogden, Utah) where they have the option to avoid standing ankle deep in manure and urine.

If out on pasture, you will still want to be diligent about checking your horses’ feet on a routine basis. Running out in the open, they may be more susceptible to stone bruises. Birds often fly overhead and drop shiny treasures (bits of glass, pieces of metal) that can penetrate the sole. Having the horse on pasture doesn’t entirely free you from the obligation to routinely watch your horses’ hoof health; you’re simply presented with a different set of challenges.

As we’ve had quite an unusually wet and rain-filled August, many stall-bound horses (whose shelters are impacted by the weather) or those who are in more open paddocks or small pastures, are showing less than ideal hoof conditions.

So, what should you do to keep your horse as sound and comfortable as possible while you nurse them back to health?

  1. CLEAN the stall daily. That means picking up all manure and wet shavings. Remove the soiled shavings and waste from the stall. Do not skip even one day of cleaning.
  2. Soak the infected hoofs for at least 15 – 20 minutes each, every day. Use Epsom salts or a diluted Povadone iodine and water solution (the mixture should be the color of strong tea). You cannot skip a day. If you do, all your prior progress is likely to be lost.
  3. After the hoof soak, allow the hoofs to dry. Apply an antibiotic ointment. Cover with gauze, then wrap the entire hoof (don’t forget the heels) in vet wrap. Make sure the wrap is snug but don’t take it up tightly above the hoof wall; this is only a hoof wrap. Cover the vet wrap either with a secure hoof boot, or cover it with duct tape, to help keep out debris, bacteria and moisture. Expect the process (all 3 steps) to take approximately one hour for one horse (if working on all four feet).
  4. Repeat this process for a minimum of two (2) weeks.

Other tips for maintaining healthy feet? Even while healing, light exercise (in hand walking or a little time out with gentle equine friends) can be helpful.

Maintain a consistent feed schedule (time, quantity and quality are relevant). It’s important not to stress your animals when they’re using up so much energy to heal. Do what you can to keep them comfortable and content.

You may want to add a supplement (biotin and flax are great for feet). Soaked hay pellets or soaked hay cubes can be mixed with supplements to easily introduce them to your horse.

No hoof, no horse. Take care of those feet!