Hoof care support for performance horses 

The proper trim and hoof care tools, along with regular maintenance, can keep your horse’s feet healthy during performance season and beyond.

If you were an athlete who competed every week over the course of an entire season, your body and feet would be sore due to excessive training and competing. The same can be said for horses. Equines that compete in performance competitions are also athletes – and just like humans after racing or physical activity, their feet become sore. They require support and protection in order to compete and remain healthy at these high levels of repeated activity. Add to this the many hours horses spend on the road, and in changing conditions that require dynamic hoof care methods to keep them sound and comfortable. All that said, proper hoof care regimens for performance horses should start well before they step in an arena or on a track.

Changing conditions impact hoof health

Often, horses travel long distances to compete. The location in which a horse normally resides may have a completely different climate from the location where he competes, which typically means a change in atmospheric moisture. The amount of moisture in a horse’s hoof capsule can greatly impact the size and balance of his feet. In other words, a balanced foot in a dry climate can become an unbalanced foot in a wet climate, and vice versa.

A hoof capsule is like a sponge. When dry, it’s contracted and hard. Similar to adding water to a sponge, the hoof capsule changes its shape and size as it absorbs water. For example, if a horse lives in a wet climate and travels to a dry one, his hoof capsule will contract. Conversely, if a horse lives in a dry climate and travels to a wet region, his hoof capsule will expand. It’s important to be aware of changing climate conditions in order to properly protect your horse’s hooves.

When a horse goes from wet to dry conditions in a short time, chipping, cracking and a change in shoe size can occur. The feet shrink as they dry out, so if the horse is shod, the shoes become too big. It’s critical that a farrier examines the hooves when this change occurs so the horse has proper support, and to mitigate the possibility of abscesses due to the cracking and chipping that may be caused when the sole dries out.

To avoid infection or injury in changing climates, horse caretakers can also use pour-in pad materials (more on this below) to help maintain optimal sole health. These pads bond to the bottom of a horse’s foot, sealing out moisture and preventing debris from being packed in the foot. Pour-in materials infused with copper sulfate also help effectively manage mild and moderate cases of thrush.

Protecting against impact

Equine hoof pads are commonly placed under a horse’s hoof for shock absorbency and protection. Historically, it was thought that any material could be put underneath a pad for extra cushioning, but this is not always the case. For instance, traditional silicone from the hardware store placed under a pad poses many potential drawbacks:

  • a long set time of 24 hours
  • messy application
  • the acid base can leave a smelly residue
  • the material does not absorb concussions, sending pressure up the horse’s leg.

An alternative to traditional pads and silicone filling is a liquid pour-in pad made of urethane adhesive. Products like these offer versatile solutions that are easy to apply, set quickly, and produce soft and resilient supportive pad materials. A pour-in pad material has several advantages:

  • creates an immediate bond to the sole, sealing out moisture and debris
  • the material can be filled to ground level for maximum support and concussion absorption
  • supports the bony column by loading the entire solar surface (bottom of the hoof), rather than just the wall; this reduces the “pull” on the lamina between the hoof wall and internal structures.

Soft pour-in pad materials can be used during travel periods to support the hoof capsule and keep horses comfortable while standing in trailers for hours on end.

The importance of regular maintenance and trimming

Hooves need to be trimmed regularly since excessive growth weakens durability and causes them to split, crack, chip or break off. That said, excessive trimming can be painful and lead to significant complications. To maintain optimal hoof health for performance horses, it is important for caregivers to continue regular trimming cycles, and provide proper discipline-specific care to hooves, especially when the horse is sore or on the road.

Keeping up with regular trimming cycles also allows your farrier to regularly monitor your horse’s hoof health. It is vital that your hoof care professionals become familiar with the growth rate of your horse’s feet, so they can provide a proper trim. A normal trimming cycle is typically every five to six weeks, depending on how fast the feet are growing due to the time of year.

Hooves are the foundation of performance

When it comes to a horse’s well-being during any type of competition, his feet are the foundation it all rests upon. If his hooves are not properly protected or treated during all stages of the performance season, he risks unbalanced feet and potential lameness or injury.

When a horse is training, travelling and participating in competitions, it’s important to have a hoof care plan and regimen in place that will support the repetitive impactful movements involved in these events. Hoof boots, pour-in pad materials and other tools, as well as regular discipline-specific trims, can provide the support and durable protection needed for these kinds of events.

More than ever before, veterinarians and farriers have the ability to use materials that will help maintain hoof function. Talk to your hoof care professional about the importance of keeping your horse comfortable and competing at his full potential.

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Tab Pigg is a Certified Journeyman Farrier and Farrier-at-Large for Vettec Inc., a manufacturer of innovative sole support products for horses. In his role at Vettec, Tab leads hands-on clinics throughout the U.S. to teach shoeing and forging techniques to equine owners, farrier and veterinarians. He also visits veterinary and farrier schools exchanging information about hoof anatomy and shoeing and continually deepening his knowledge base. Tab shares his expertise via a popular video and blog series “Two Minutes with Tab” on Vettec.com where he addresses questions and shoeing predicaments from the equine community. Tab began his career shoeing horses in 1983 after he became a Certified Journeyman Farrier. In 2000, Tab became the president of the Texas Professional Farriers Association.