Reading the horse’s hoof

Typically I write these blogs because a subject is brought to my attention by a friend or past client. I help them then come on here and share what I told them with you all. If one person is asking it, five are thinking it.

Last week I had a friend and past training assistant ask me for advice on hoof care. She recently acquired a mare who has poor growth in her feet, cracks and waves. She also needs to have shoes on her front feet. She knows the drill and accompanied a pic along with her question and asked for advice on the best way to grow a foot and reach proper hoof health. Her mare is a trail horse and she wants her to have a harder, healthier foot.

Any good farrier will tell you “no hoof, no horse!” And that is 100% accurate! Take proper care of the horse’s foot and learn to read it and you can help give the horse what it specifically needs.

Ok, so you’re wondering how the heck can you “read a foot” well, it’s very simple. All you need to do is make sure the hoof is clean and no mud is on the foot visibly as it’s standing. We read the outside of the hoof. If you look at a horse’s hoof you’ll see waves. Cracks horizontally, cracks perpendicular. In the photo I have provided you’ll see all these signs. First, the waves, the waves show stress or strain in the horse’s past. The hoof grows from the cornet band down. If your horse has waves it’s not able to be fixed now, they will grow out, but you can be aware of the horses strain in its past and make a change now for the future hoof. Stress can be caused by many factors. Change in environment, trauma (mental or physical), change in feed, intense training or neglect. It takes roughly 7 months to a year for a hoof to make a complete cycle from cornet band down to toe. Each horse is different obviously. This is a ballpark. But these waves will not hurt the horse. If the horse foundered the waves will not be small like these, they will be large, warped and those are reason for worry and immediately call your vet for X-rays.

Next is the horizontal crack you’ll see in the photo provided. That’s an abscess blow out from the horse’s past. If you think how long it takes the horse to grow it’s foot from top to bottom, this specific horse had an abscess roughly two months ago depending on how fast she grows her foot. this crack is nothing to worry about but your farrier can “score” it to make sure it doesn’t crack further.

And lastly the perpendicular cracks are commonly confused with serious cracks called “quarter cracks”. These small cracks you see in the photo are completely normal. The horse’s hoof is made of condensed hair. When the weather changes and the horse’s environment goes from wet to dry, the horse’s hoof expands and contracts to accommodate climate change. These are superficial cracks. They can be treated with mineral oil or hoof dressing if you’re too concerned. These cracks are nothing to worry about. “Quarter cracks” are cracks that are deep and go from the cornet band down to the toe and can cause a major weakness in the foot and a good cause for worry. Contact your farrier ASAP or your vet. Most of these are caused by a damaged part of the cornet band that no longer grows hoof which causes the horse to need shoes to keep the hoof together and hopefully prevent further damage.

The advice I gave my friend was to feed her horse hoof supplements to strengthen the hoof over time. Also I’ve used powdered jello to do the same thing for a horse I was rehabbing from navicular and it worked! Keep in mind certain supplements will work for some horse’s and not others. I also suggested she apply mineral oil to her horse’s hooves for the superficial cracks and to keep shoes on her horse until the hoof is noticeably thicker. Her farrier can tell her when the horse’s thin hoof has fully grown out.

Proper nutrition, managing stress and keeping the horse comfortable will all help the overall health of the horse’s hooves in the future. also keep your horse on a regular schedule with your farrier and they will help you further read the changes in the hoof in more detail as it pertains to your horse.

Horse happiness v.s human happiness

A horse’s happiness is opposite a humans happiness. Horses want space, friends and routine. Humans want convenience, cleanliness and fancy.

Horses are content in a large pasture, a good muddy area to roll, clean water isn’t always top of their list they sometimes prefer puddles or ponds over a clean water bucket. This is because they get added minerals in the dirty water. It’s not the kind of dirty that will hurt them they are smart and can sense harmful presence in their environment and will steer clear. Some horse’s won’t drink city water because the smell of chemicals, yet we see it as clean and filtered and safe. Maybe we should take notes from the horse? Just a thought. Too over filtered or too much chlorine isn’t good for anyone and the horse’s naturally know this. Don’t drink out of the pond by any means, we are sissy’s in comparison to animals systems. That being said, horse prefer to live simply yet they look forward to your visits and company because they are herd animals. Visit often even if you can’t ride.

A humans perspective of happiness in the sense of barn and stable conditions are ridiculous but for good reason. Our world revolves around the all mighty dollar. We would bubble wrap our horse’s if it meant they stayed unscathed. But a bubble wrapped horse is not a happy horse. Stalls, cement isles, feedings twice a day, over vaccinating, over feeding of supplements, hard work, sharp turns and extensive athletic demands are part of our horse happiness. Not theirs.

Horse’s can do many things with amazing agility and talent but asking them to do so too much will hurt them down the road. I’ve heard many horse body workers say “if a horse is worked in a straight line I’d be out of a job”. This means the circles we make them do and tight turns on barrels or cutting or roping and reining causes the horse’s added strain and needing to be adjusted more often to keep them comfortable and healthy.

Just keep in mind next time you’re looking for horse accommodations, think of what your horse would be shopping for as well so you both stay happy and remain a well communicated team.

Patience and respect

Teaching patience and respect isn’t just for youngsters, any horse can benefit!

I teach all my horse’s to stand untied patiently until asked to move. If they lose focus it’s regained with a snap of my fingers.

This method is the result of many steps leading up to it stemming from ground work in the round pen and teaching the voice command stop and there they learn to stand until commanded to do otherwise. We then go outside of the pen and enforce it in the grooming area. This way they know what is expected of them we just change the environment.

This helps them to stand tied with impeccable manners, helps them stay focused on you, keeps their respect for you and very convenient if you need them to stand where there is no place to tie.

This is the first step to ground tying as well so when you’re on the trail and you get off you can drop your reins your horse will stand as if it’s tied.

Remember there’s preliminary steps leading up to this in order to set the horse up to succeed but be patient and consistent it will come.