Common Complaints: Prevalent Hoof Issues and How to Prevent Them

Photo by ES Equine Photography / Evelyn Szczepanek

Alicia Harlov’s passion for hoof care began after acquiring a BLM mustang who was quickly diagnosed with deteriorating navicular disease. On a mission to keep her dreams for him alive, she sought to learn more about hoof rehabilitation and the multitude of elements involved in hoof management and maintenance. A visit to Rockley Farm in England pushed her to pursue more knowledge on the subject, and in the years since she has gone on to study a variety of trimming philosophies and methodologies, as well as learn from nutritional webinars. She frequently seeks to continue her education and can be found attending clinics or hosting a clinic to share her knowledge. Harlov caught up with The Plaid Horse to discuss the most common complaints she’s encountered in the equine podiatry world and what she recommends.

What are some of the most common hoof complaints you hear of?

There are countless issues that have been brought to me over the years – more than I could list here! However, there are several frequently recurring issues that seem to be prevalent, no matter where you are in the country. The complaints I have heard most often have been for thrush, poor wall quality, and poor biomechanics. 

What are some ways you can identify each of these concerns? 

For thrush, some common symptoms include a deep “split” in the central sulcus, or middle of the back of the frog;  a “swiss cheese” type appearance or a frog with excessive flaps; or a frog that is softer or squishier in certain spots. In the case of thrush, severe infections can cause a split that extends into sensitive internal tissue and can become very painful, and an overly compromised frog can even bleed or harbor maggots! That being said, it is not always easy to identify for the average person, as not all thrush infections have an odor or specific color. 

For a concerning wall quality, the identifying factors are pretty obvious and transparent. Wall cracks, excessive chipping, and walls that are constantly crumbling or have trouble holding shoes are all very apparent signs that there is an issue. There are some products that are helpful to the treatment and care of poor wall quality, including Carr & Day & Martin’s Original Hoof Ointment. A horse with poor biomechanics is also pretty easy to identify. A “shuffling” gait, excessive stumbling, or excess wear on one area of the foot are all common tell-tale signs of a biomechanics issue. 

What do you recommend as the best practice for treating each of these issues? 

When it comes to thrush, feet must be cleaned and treated regularly. Immediate topical treatment is usually the best course of action to kill off any offending microbes. Ensure that the treatment is non-caustic, as some treatments may contact sensitive tissue, so don’t use any treatment you wouldn’t consider for a wound on your own body! Other things to consider are environment and diet. Make sure the horse’s surroundings are free of standing urine or manure, and limit any excess sugar and starch while providing proper mineral ratios. While a thrush-specific treatment is recommended, caretakers can also help to alleviate some issues by protecting their horse’s feet with Carr & Day & Martin’s Daily Hoof Barrier. This product can be applied both to the outside walls of the feet to help with crumbling and shoe retention as well as the sole and frogs of the feet to help naturally repel moisture while allowing the foot to continue to breathe.

When it comes to wall quality, a majority of issues have a diet component involved. Often horses with these issues can be found to have a diet too high in sugar and starch or too low in amino acids, copper, or zinc. While waiting for diet changes to take effect, plan on scheduling a shorter shoeing cycle to keep the foot in balance and stay ahead of cracks or chips.  

The treatment for poor biomechanics is a bit more broad and horse-specific, as poor movement typically stems from pain somewhere in the foot or higher up. Toe-first landings can be a result of a significant thrush problem, for example. A horse dragging the hind toes can have arthritic issues higher up the limb. An imbalance in wear can be a result of past injuries, body tension, saddle fit issues, dental issues, and more. Depending on the movement, further investigation is needed to find the source. A conversation with the hoof care provider, as well as a vet, bodyworker, or other equine professional may be warranted. 

In short, the best way to stay ahead of any hoof issue is to maintain a clean environment, include a healthy diet, and create a regimented schedule with your farrier. Products that help promote hoof growth and protect from outside damages are also considered an intrinsic way of preventing issues. Carr & Day & Martin understands that there is no single solution to remedy any hoof solution, and therefore a structured management routine is key. The company focuses on encompassing nutritional requirements as well as encouraging new growth and maintaining the current hoof wall with its range of hoof care products ranging from supplements to moisturizers. Their tailored approach to hoof management is centered around the idea of supporting a healthy hoof from the outside while nourishing it from the inside. In addition to the recommendation of a nutritious diet, they offer their Original Hoof Ointment to encourage growth from the coronet band. For daily care and maintenance, riders can cater to their horse’s individual needs with options like the Daily Hoof Dressing, Daily Hoof Barrier, the Tea Tree Hoof Oil or the Daily Hoof Moisturizer.

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