Hoof Care for Horses


Hoof care is an extremely important part of responsible equine ownership. Unfortunately, as hooves aren’t generally visible day to day, they are something that easily get overlooked in favor of the more obvious aspects of looking after a horse. Nevertheless, daily care and attention to your horse’s hooves are essential, if you are to help your equine avoid serious and potentially life-threatening problems.

Why is hoof care so important?

While many people think of hooves are just like human feet, they are actually considerably more vital to the health of a horse. Horses don’t have digits or claws to support their weight, grip the ground and enable them to move. Instead they developed hooves, which are essentially overgrown toenails that have wrapped all the way around the large toe at the base of the leg. These are much more robust than the soft pads of other animals and can better support the weight of the horse as it moves quickly over hard ground.

However, much like regular toenails, hooves must be properly cared for or they can crack, chip, split or even break off in to pieces. If this happens, it can cause problems including:

  • Poor balance
  • Decrease in the stride of your horse
  • Pain when your horse stands, walks or canters
  • Lameness

Clearing her hooves of debris

You are responsible for the day to day care of your horse, including her feet. The single most important thing that you can do for her hooves is to pick them out each day, removing any stones or small objects that may have become lodged in them. You should also pry out any packed-in debris and clear the crevice of the frog part of her hoof. By the time you have finished cleaning each hoof, you should be able to see the entire surface of the sole.

Things to look out for when picking out your horse’s feet

There are various injuries and potential health problems that you may be able to identify when picking out your horse’ hooves. Spotting these and seeking treatment early is crucial if you are to protect the long-term wellbeing of your equine.

  1. Thrush. Characterized by a foul smell and oozing from the cleft of the frog, thrush is a bacterial infection that is normally caused by prolonged standing in mud, manure or wet hay.
  2. Abscess. If your horse’s foot feels warmer than normal, and/or her digital pulse feels stronger than usual, it could indicate that she is battling an abscess inside the hoof. These are most often caused by an overlooked puncture or a badly placed shoeing nail. Left untreated, an inflammatory condition called laminitis can occur. Laminitis can cause severe, irreversible damage to the hoof and in some cases, even be fatal.
  3. Puncture. Puncturing of the sole of your horse’s foot is a very common problem. Sometimes the foreign object may remain stuck in her sole. While it may be very tempting just to pull it out, you should instead stabilize the object using wrapping and tape and get your veterinarian to assess how deep the penetration is and whether removing it will cause any significant damage. Your vet has the skill and knowledge to be able to remove any foreign objects safely.
  4. Cracks. Most horses develop at least one crack in their hooves at some point during their lifetime. They can occur for many reasons, including nutritional deficiency, prolonged exposure to very wet or very dry conditions, or extensive time spent on rocky or paved surfaces. While most cracks resolve themselves as the hoof continues to grow, sometimes intervention is needed.

Checking the condition of shoes

If your horse wears shoes, it is also important that you assess their condition regularly. Depending on the workload of your horse, you can expect shoes to last between three and six weeks. We recommend checking them every two to three weeks and if the shoes are significantly worn, arrange for them to be replaced sooner.

Stable health

If your horse is stabled, it is essential that her bedding is kept clean and dry. Dirty, wet bedding is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and can cause your horse to develop bacterial conditions such as thrush. Cleaning and drying your equine’s hooves will help, but ideally you should ensure that your animal can benefit from a warm, dry and clean environment in which to rest and sleep.

Support your horse to grow healthy hooves

Finally, the most important thing of all that you can do in terms of caring for your horse’s hooves is to support their growth. While some horses naturally have better hooves than others, there are some additional things that you can do that may help improve their health and quality. This includes:

  • Ensuring her nutritional needs are met
  • Adding a biotin supplement to her diet
  • Providing consistent opportunity for exercises

If you would like further information on how to care for your horse’s hooves, our dedicated and knowledgeable team would be delighted to help. We have more than three decades experience in providing outstanding quality care to our equines clients and their owners.