10 Tips for Healthy Hooves

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I've been wracking my brain today to think of a topic regarding equine hooves about which I could write. I realized I've done alot on different pathologies of horses' hooves, trimming horses' hooves, methods of trimming hooves and other ways of treating pathological hooves but have never really done a simple 'checklist' for preventative care for your horse's hooves. They are really quite simple and, I hope, will be helpful to you.

1.  Keep your stalls, stables and paddocks cleaned of manure and urine. Uric acid will eat away at the keratinized proteins that make up the equine hoof. Manure, of course, will pack into the hooves providing a totally anaerobic environment in which some bacteria (such as Thrush) and Fungi thrive. The hooves need *some* moisture and air but not a constant barrage of moisture with no air able to penetrate the hoof wall. Too much moisture can make a hoof too soft, mushy and fail to absorb its concussive load. It is now understood that the ideal hoof conditioner maintains the natural moisture balance found within the hoof wall.

2.  Check your horse's hooves at least once daily. Stones can become embedded in the collateral grooves or even in the white line if there is any separation at all at the white line. These stones and pebbles can cause pain and even bruise the hoof causing an abscess to form.  Even if you don't check a couple times a day be sure to always check the hooves for foreign matter before and after any ride.

3.  If your horse does wear shoes consider having them pulled. Winter-time is the best time to transition your horse to barefoot. If there is any tenderness to the soles or other discomforting situation boots are readily available to help cushion and protect the newly bare hooves.

4. Maintain regular trimming.  While shod horses are usually trimmed and re-shod every 8 - 12 weeks, barefooted horses should be trimmed every 4 - 6 weeks to maintain the balance and integrity of the strong hooves. Some horses that are ridden on solid ground regularly or have the opportunity to move over acres and acres of varied types of ground can maintain their own hooves nicely. However, it is always a good idea that, if that is the case, the hooves are examined regularly.

 5.  Ensure that a species-specific diet is established and fed to your horse. Horses were created to subsist nicely on forages and fiber. Only plants produce fiber. natural fiber is found only in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. Many of the ingredients in processed horse feed are merely fillers and don't provide the nutrients that the whole plant provides.

6.  Learn how to remove shoes if your horse is shod. Many farriers are glad to teach clients how to do this. If you can remove a sprung or shifted shoe, you may save your horse unnecessary pain and hoof damage and make life much more safe and comfortable for your horse.

7.  Water! Be sure your horse always has access to CLEAN, fresh water.I don't think I really need to expound on this most important fact. Water is the #1 nutrient for the horse.

8.  In addition to examining the bottom of your horse's hooves inspect the coronary band and the heels for cracks, abrasions, cuts, or sores. You might find wounds, a case of scratches, ticks, and even the beginnings of a quarter crack or abscess working it’s way out the top of the hoof. Getting proper treatment for these events early on can prevent a whole lot of painful times and heart aches for you.

9. Take your horse's digital pulse daily so you know what a 'normal', barefoot pulse feels like. If you find a strong or bounding pulse, call the Vet. This is a sign something is brewing inside of the hoof!  Check for heat on the hoof wall at the same time, this is also a sign of something brewing inside the hoof. 

10.  Watch your horse m.o.v.e. every day. Watch at the walk and at the trot on level surface. Watch for any sensitivity or head bobs. The head will "bob up" on the afflicted hoof. The degree of discomfort and the regularity will tell alot about what might be insulting the hooves.

These are really quite simple things one can do to help keep the horse's hooves healthy and strong. While horses in the wild thrive on their own, horses in captivity and living in 'un-natural' situations will need regular assistance from the humans in their lives.


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoof care for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE CT and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- or telephone in the US (774)-280-4227 NEW PHONE). For further information please click here:

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