4 reasons your horse’s hooves might be causing him pain

Is your horse letting on that he has pain in his hooves? Here are four common reasons why this might be the case.

Our equine partners’ hooves are a constant area of concern. The hooves provide the base for everything our horses do in day-to-day life – whether it’s the simple act of walking from the feeder to the water trough, or a training session in the round pen followed by a leisurely trail ride. Because horses are so often on the move, it’s important that we strive to give them the best quality of life possible, and that starts at the hooves. That said, you’ll likely notice pretty quickly if your horse’s hooves start causing him pain. Let’s take a look at some of the common culprits for hoof discomfort, and what you can do about it!

1. Nutritional deficiencies

As horse caregivers, there are many things we need to consider for the formation and maintenance of a healthy hoof. First and foremost, nutrition plays a vital role. In light use horses, a mixture of good hay, free choice salt and plenty of clean water may provide the necessary nutrients. However in working or performance horses, a mineral supplement or complete grain may be needed. Without the right diet, the nutrients lost due to workload aren’t properly replenished, which can affect hoof health. Consult your feed specialist or farrier to ensure your horse is getting all he needs, and always check with them before making large feed changes.

2. Rough surfaces

When a horse is in training we tend to do a lot of our work in arenas or round pens. While these are excellent enclosed environments, the footing can be hard on joints and hooves. Be mindful of your horse’s habits at rest – does he rest to one side or slightly elevate one hoof more than the others? This can be an early sign of bruising or joint soreness. There are several products on the market that work to alleviate these discomforts when in training.

If you are working and training your horse on heavy gravel or stone, watch for bruising and abscesses. An abscess can occur if a small rock or pebble works its way into the hoof and brings bacteria with it. Likewise, trail riding is a great way to enjoy your equine partner in a relaxing manner, but often the uneven and varying terrain can put the hoof under stress. When returning from a trail or hack, physically inspect and clean out your horse’s hooves. This will ensure that nothing has harmed the hooves; if so, it can be addressed right away.

3. Harsh climates

Depending on where you call home, your geographical area can bring with it a large number of new challenges around conditioning and hoof care. In arid and desert climates, hooves tend to become hard and are prone to cracks and chipping. In wet and moisture-heavy climates, you’re more likely to see cases of thrush, scratches, and increased bruising. In arid climates, products that focus on hoof moisturizing are suggested; and in heavy work, hoof boots will mitigate the chances of chipping. In the high-moisture climates, products to fight thrush and bacteria are helpful. Diligent cleaning and proper trimming will lessen the buildup of most content within the hoof. In the more wet climates, it’s best to remove the mud and soil buildup from the legs and inspect the hoof and frog regularly for bacterial infection. Signs include odd tearing and shedding of the frog, and a foul odor.

4. Lack of proper hoof maintenance

Proper trimming and maintenance can make or break our equines’ hoof quality – and quality of life. For the best hoof conditions, we must consider the shape, angle, and length of the hoof. If there are underlying health issues, special considerations must be made to promote comfort and health. Navicular, founder, and ringbone are examples of conditions that require specialized care and consideration as to the method of trimming and shoeing. For caregivers who want to maintain their horse’s hooves on their own, it is advised to do so under the direction of a farrier, or after receiving some form of formal education on the subject. When this is achieved, the caregiver can often stop small issues from becoming large lameness problems until the farrier arrives. Trimming and shoeing can differ greatly depending on breed, condition, and discipline. Your farrier will be able to guide you and apply the proper shoes or trimming solution for your desired application.

One of the great things about the equine industry and lifestyle is that there’s always something new to learn. For the betterment of yourself and the ability to care for your horses, don’t shy away from searching for additional knowledge. Most farriers and veterinarians are open to helping their clients build a metaphorical toolbox to ensure their equine companions live and perform at their best. Start by getting to know your horse’s hooves – clean, pick out, and inspect them whenever possible. This will give you a good understanding of his feet and the opportunity to spot trouble before it becomes a soundness issue.