‘No foot, no horse’: The importance of hoof health
Far from just being another old proverb, ‘no foot, no horse’ couldn’t be more true. If you think about it, a horse carries anywhere between 500kg and a whopping 900kg of body weight on four slender legs and relatively small hooves! If these hooves aren’t a picture of health, then chances are we’re in trouble.
Between the 1500s and 1800s horses were absolutely essential to life in Britain both economically and socially. They were our transport, our farming help, our partners on the battlefield and a source of enjoyment and leisure. It’s no surprise that even centuries ago, owners paid careful attention to the health of their horses’ feet.
Before the Royal Veterinary College was established in London in 1791 there was no regulated veterinary care in the UK. There was plenty of literature around horse health that had been passed down through generations. In fact, it was a lot earlier, in 1356 that the farriers in London established a Fellowship You’ll know this today as the Worshipful Company of Farriers. Farriers were very much involved in overall horse health back then. A lot of the hoof remedies they were using to heal dryness, cracking and sores are still used in products today, for instance cod liver oil and neatsfoot oil.
Neglecting a horse’s hoof care can lead to any number of problems from thrush to canker, abscesses, bruising, cracks and even serious conditions such as laminitis and navicular. If your horse is lame, there is a high possibility it’s something in the foot.
There are many causes behind common hoof problems. Some horses just have better feet than others, it’s in their genetics, but external factors such as injury, bad shoeing or trimming and even diet can all have an impact.
If you are at all worried about your horse’s feet, or can see any signs of lameness, then contact your vet as soon as possible.
With winter on its way, keep an eye out for thrush. It’s a bacterial or fungal infection of the hoof that develops around the frog and is caused by damp conditions, such as muddy fields or wet stables. Regular hoof picking will help you to look for signs of infection; you’ll notice the feet become quite smelly and moist. In the early stages, you can treat thrush simply with an iodine or betadine solution before it gets worse and moves to the more sensitive areas of the foot causing lameness.
An abscess is a bacterial infection in the sensitive tissue of the hoof. They can result from injury, such as standing on a nail, or picking up bacteria from soil or mud. The body defends against the infection by producing pus, which then builds up in the layers of the hoof putting pressure on it and causing a lot of pain for the horse. Gradually, the abscess drains out through either the coronary band or the bulb of the heel. A vet may also make a small incision and drain the abscess manually, if it’s not too deep. In any instance, a vet must be consulted and a poultice will be needed for healing.
Cracks from the ground to the coronet band (or vice versa) could be caused by poor hoof condition or a specific injury. If your horse has generally poor hoof condition and growth and is prone to cracks in his hooves, then a dietary supplement of biotin can help. Your farrier will also be able to advise on the cracks. If consulted early, he may be able to stop them from spreading further and causing more damage on already brittle hooves.
Bruising can be very painful and cause lameness. Your horse may stand on something hard or experience concussion from fast work on hard ground. Whatever the cause of the bruising, the horse should be moved to a soft surface with restricted movement and a vet called to check for any sign of infection.
Navicular is a degenerative disease of the navicular bone and its surrounding tissues. Horses will generally experience lameness, a reluctance to walk out and stumbling. While it can’t be cured, good hoof management, adequate rest and treatment from your vet can all keep a horse well and sound for as long as possible.
Laminitis is an extremely painful condition that affects the blood flow to the laminae (the inner sensitive layer of the hoof wall) causing inflammation and swelling in the tissues. If left untreated, the cells become more and more damaged and the sensitive laminae start to die as they no longer receive adequate oxygen through the blood supply. The laminae are responsible for supporting the pedal bone, which in turn supports the weight of the horse. This is why early detection and intervention are so important. Laminitis can be managed and treated if caught early. Read our laminitis article here
Did you know the word ‘poultice’ comes from the Latin for a thick porridge? It is used to help with a range of foot conditions such as general soreness or bruising, or to draw out an infection in the foot from an abscess. It helps keep everything clean and prevent further infection.
Poultices should be changed at least once a day and a wet poultice should only be used for two to three days at a time before using a dry one, as continued moisture may weaken the horn. It’s very important to keep an eye out for any swelling coming up the pastern. This can suggest the infection is moving from the foot up the leg, so call your vet straight away if this happens.
While traditionally bran or herbs were used, most poultices today contain some type of clay, just like the Ecohoof Pink Hoof Clay that we stock here at Comfy Horse. It’s a bentonite clay and essential oil mix, which is very absorbent. It works on hooves, soles, white line areas and even skin issues and stays on for around 12 hours before naturally flaking off.
Cover it up!
A poultice boot is a great investment to make sure all your hard work doesn’t go to waste and you won’t have to resort to the old plastic sack and duct tape method! It can also be used when treating other issues such as bruising to keep everything clean and comfy.
The boot we have handpicked is made from waterproof canvas with a PVC base for extra strength. It is shaped to the leg for comfort and fastened around the pastern with a velcro strap, so it’s super quick to get on and off. You can take a look at the link below.
Comfort is key
All of the conditions we have mentioned can be extremely painful for the horse – and distressing for us owners too – so creating as much comfort as possible is crucial. Therapeutic hoof pads can be used to prevent hoof conditions as well as treat them. They are:
- Great if your horse loses a shoe.
- Effective at relieving symptoms of arthritic joints and many hoof diseases.
- Excellent for horses with Navicular and Laminitis.
- Good for going inside hoof boots for extra cushioning and support.
- Antibacterial and antifungal.
The pads can be used in a poultice boot, under bandages or with a barefoot boot for extra protection. They are made from a special high density, slow release memory foam that is temperature and pressure sensitive, thereby relieving pain and helping the healing process.
For our full range of hoof care products go to: https://www.comfyhorse.co.uk/product-category/healthy-horse/poultice-boots-hoof-socks-and-pads/