With Spring upon us here in the US and Autumn in other areas of the world I know that many people are facing hoof cracks in their horses' hooves for various reasons.
Hoof cracks can be very simple aesthetic annoyances or they can be career-threatening to the horse and rider. They can originate at the ground and spread upward or they can originate at the coronary band and work down.
There are different causes for hoof cracks from something as serious as laminitis to something as basic as repetitive exercise on hard surfaces or improper hoofcare.
I have to say that MOST times the cracks that are seen are superficial and arise from a situation where the environment fluctuates from wet to dry, wet to dry, wet to dry over short periods of time.
I will say that MOST times these can be addressed simply with a change in trimming of the hoof as well as addition or change in diet.
(Photo Dr. Stephen O'Grady) ... depicts a true "Quarter Crack" which will require much more attention to detail in hoofcare than will a superficial crack.
The treatment of the hoof cracks will vary as to the type and severity of the crack. Some treatments will use the application of topical remedies while others involve filing a horizontal groove above or below the crack in an effort to prevent it from spreading. Many times farriers will suggest and apply corrective shoes as well as remove the affected portion of the hoof.
Again, it depends on the severity of the crack as to what treatment will take place and who does the treatment. I prefer to address hoofcracks by simply beveling the wall of the hoof from the solar view so there is no leverage on the wall during lifting of the hoof. Also I might be treating for bacteria or fungus which can get into the hoofwall and wreak havoc.
With barefoot hooves, if the hooves are in good condition and kept in proper form then the chances of getting cracks are diminished. Combine good, barefoot hoofcare with proper, natural diet for the horse and cracks can be almost entirely non-existent.
In "A Guide to Equine Hoof Wall Repair" by William Moyer and Robert D. Sigafoos, hoof cracks are categorized as follows:
Location--toe, quarter, heel, or bar.
Depth--superficial or deep. Superficial cracks rarely result in lameness and often can be cleared up quickly. Deep cracks that reach all the way to the sensitive inner structures can cause intense pain and lameness and might render a horse unable to perform. Deep cracks could require elaborate and costly procedures to remedy.
Length--complete (i.e., from coronary band to ground) or incomplete, which would be a shorter crack.
Origin--either starting at the coronary band and working downward or starting at the ground level and working up.
If the hoof is infected and sensitive tissue is exposed the horse is going to be lame. This situation can be treated mechanically with good trimming and topical applications of appropriate 'medicines', soaking the hoof in an activated hardwood charcoal bath and perhaps some bandaging might be indicated. I would also add appropriate herbs and essential oils or homeopathics to help balance the horse's system which will help the immune system to fight off the invading pathogen. A horse that is in such a state will need to be carefully tended and the hooves carefully trimmed for correct form.
If the cracks are superficial then mechanical treatment with good trimming is all that might be required.
Doug Butler, PhD, CJF, FWCF wrote in his dissertation, "American Youth Horse Council's Horse Industry Handbook" ... [my own insert]
"Balance, as it applies to horse shoeing [and trimming] may be defined as equal weight distribution around the center of gravity of the horse's limbs. It involves trimming the foot and fitting the shoe on the end of the limb [or, leaving the horse barefoot in good balance]. Perfect balance is rarely achieved. But the closer we get to it, the better chance we have for maximizing performance and sustaining soundness in the horse.
"Balance may be [MUST be] considered when a horse is standing or moving. Considerations of conformation or stance are called geometric or static balance. Considerations of movement or gait are called functional or dynamic balance. Geometric balance takes into account the horse's conformation and is the prime consideration that will provide for the needs of most horses. Functional balance deals with the alteration of foot movement and involves corrective shoeing.
"The horse's conformation, gait, speed, level of training (especially degree of collection), hoof length, shoe weight, head position and weight, and the rider's skill and weight or the load being pulled all may affect balance.
"Each time the horse is shod [or trimmed], the farrier should feel challenged to come closer to the ideal stance gait for that particular animal. At the same time, the farrier must place the minimum amount of stress on the limb. The object is to sustain soundness or return to it if the horse is lame. The hoof should be trimmed to land flat [heel first for barefooted horse] in movement if the joints are stressed, as well as to make a horse comfortable."
"Hoof quality may relate more to the hoof's ability to regulate moisture content than anything else, because as the moisture content of the hoof wall decreases, the hoof becomes harder and tougher. Commercial hoof dressings have not been shown to be helpful in increasing hoof moisture and improving hoof strength. Younger horses usually have softer hoofs than older horses. There is also a variation of moisture content between the young and old wall within the same hoof. This contributes to its biomechanics since the young wall of the heel and top is more flexible than the old wall of the toe and bottom." -- Doug Butler
MOISTURE of the hooves also affect the horn if it is predisposed to cracks or not. Wild horses will stand in their watering holes for up to 1/2 hour or longer per day. That will help replace the water that is lost through the tissue from dry conditions. On the other hand, if the horse is in a very wet environment then the hooves must be able to dry out each day for a fair amount of time.
Without going on with more details, suffice to say that hoof cracks are going to appear in hooves that are not healthy. The cause MUST be addressed with proper hoofcare, diet and environment.