Foot Soreness in Competition Horses: The Importance of Keeping Your Horse Comfortable Throughout the Winter Show Season


As the busy winter competition season gets underway, vets at Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, Florida, emphasize the importance of staying ahead of physical setbacks with preventative measures. Foot soreness, especially for jumpers, becomes more noticeable after a few months of showing and can lead to further complications. Therefore, the best course of action is to be aware of what impacts the health and condition of your horse’s feet and make a plan to help mitigate soreness. 

Foot Soreness Issues Surfacing Toward the End of Winter Competition Season

Well-respected veterinarian and farrier Dr. Stephen O’Grady of Palm Beach Equine Clinic has been treating horses across the country for more than 45 years. He also travels extensively all over the world, teaching and training other veterinarians and farriers on therapeutic farriery solutions. It’s obvious to Dr. O’Grady why foot soreness and problems are more common later in the horse show season.

“When horses arrive in Wellington in December, foot care starts with bar shoes, pads, pour-ins, etc. as a form of prevention for the busy three months. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to start the competition season by doing a conservative trim, leaving horn on the bottom of the foot, and making sure the proper size shoe is selected. The various farrier products may actually add pressure to the structures at the beginning of the season,” says Dr. O’Grady.

“When it comes around to March, the structures of the foot have been compromised by the intensity of the competition schedule. The protective farrier products have already been used, and there’s nothing more to absorb the shock and energy at the end of the season.”

Excess moisture on the feet can also lead to problems. Dr. Robert Brusie, head surgeon at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, notes that because the foot is the closest part of the horse to the environment, feet that are too wet can become sore.

“Horses that show or play polo sometimes get two or three baths a day,” explains Dr. Brusie. “That routine, coupled with rings that are sprayed with water to help the footing, can lead to problems.”

Preventing Foot Soreness in Competition Horses

To provide relief to sore feet, Dr. O’Grady notes that it is okay to use different medications and anti-inflammatories as long as the proper dosages and rules are followed as prescribed. However, to properly fix foot problems, he has one sure solution. “Time is the best cure,” he says. “The feet are the slowest structures on the horse to recover. There isn’t a magical fix.

If you cannot give your horse sufficient rest with the repetitive nature of the show schedule, there are still modifications to the horse’s program that can be implemented. As the season wears on, Dr. O’Grady believes that decreasing the amount of warm up, schooling, and lunging makes a world of difference in protecting the hooves.

“But if the feet are sore, the feet are sore,” explains Dr. O’Grady. “There’s no quick fix. It’s all about prevention.”

Snowballing Effects of Foot Soreness

Sore feet can cause numerous problems elsewhere in the horse’s body. If you have a sore-footed horse, it could lead to lameness and poor performance.

“The horses with sore feet tend to land funny, which can cause strained suspension ligaments or tendons,” says Dr. Brusie. “There also could be sore heels. Sore feet tend to make the horses short-strided, and that could lead to a sore back and or a sore neck.”

According to Dr. Brusie, one way to notice a horse with sore feet, especially among jumpers, is their reluctance to jump the fences, which causes frustration with riders too.

Both Dr. O’Grady and Dr. Brusie believe that taking proper care of your horse’s feet early helps them in the long run by eliminating other problems. If you have questions or want to know more about how to prevent foot soreness in your horse, reach out to Palm Beach Equine Clinic at 561-793-1599.