Your horse’s hoof care needs change with the seasons. Keep him sound and healthy this summer with these tips.
Most of us wait anxiously for winter to end so we can look forward to long trail rides, horse shows, parades, rodeos, and all those special activities we enjoy during the summer. It’s important to know that just as you planned for your horse’s hoof care when it was cold and wet out, you also need to plan for it when it’s hot and dry. So let’s talk summer hoof care.
Hot and dry
If you live in an area where sizzling summer days bring dry conditions, you will need to focus on adequate nutrition and water intake for your horse, plenty of turnout and exercise, and supplementation with electrolytes when necessary. You also need to make sure he not only drinks plenty of water, but that his hooves are exposed to moisture.
Any time the hoof does not have routine contact with water, contraction becomes a risk. Hoof contraction is a shrinking of structures with a corresponding potential for loss of function and greater exposure to injury or infection. The frog, bulb and white line, which contain large amounts of water, can dry out quickly. The drying of these structures results in:
- Loss of elasticity and resilience in the hoof
- The loss of optimal hoof shape as a result of shrinkage (which in turn changes contact with the ground)
- The loss of the hoof’s ability to serve as a “shock absorber”
- Open spaces where healthy tissues once were, enabling the invasion of bacteria, fungus, and parasites
- Chips and cracks becoming more prominent due to the loss of elasticity and structure.
Many horse owners try to treat dry hooves with a paint-on dressing. It is important to recognize that no topical application will take the place of natural moisture.
There are some simple steps you can take during very dry conditions that will help keep your horse’s hooves adequately hydrated so you can avoid contraction and other associated perils:
- When trail riding, let your horse stand in a stream or pond when crossing or stopping to drink. Those few extra moments give the hoof structures an opportunity to hydrate.
- When filling water tanks, let the tank “overflow” and leave some standing water. When the horse drinks, his hooves can also rehydrate.
- When hosing your horse to cool him, do so in an area where water can collect around his feet.
- Allow hooves to be exposed to water past the coronet band for at least 15 minutes each day during dry seasons. This is key. You could even use a “kiddie pool” during arena obstacle work — this is a two-in-one solution offering sensory work and hoof hydration!
- Avoid areas that will “suck” moisture out of hooves such as dry stalls or excessive bedding (shavings, sawdust).
- Know that horses who live or event primarily on sand may have a need for more moisture than those who stand or work in grass or soil. Sand tends to wick moisture away.
- If you boot your horse for events, remember to take the boots off when the activity is over to permit hydration of the hoof.
- Don’t forget the importance of providing your hoses with unlimited clean drinking water! This is moisture from the “inside out”!
In addition to these steps, assuring optimal circulation to the hoof is also important. Turnout, exercise, and regular balanced trims contribute to the overall well-being of the hoof.
Hot and wet
There will be some summers when conditions never seem to dry out! Or perhaps you live in an inherently warm, wet climate. While many of us plan for adequate hydration of hooves during dry spells, others are experiencing persistently wet conditions.
Too much water can also create problems. Hoof structures can swell, become super-saturated and lose their integrity. Waterlogged structures are prone to peeling cracks.
Warm, wet conditions promote the growth of bacteria, fungus and molds, and favor parasites and insects. This is similar to the problems we have with horses that live in stalls. They stand in moisture from urine and manure where all kinds of bacteria and germs prosper. If the environment is hot, these conditions create a virtual “incubator” for thrush and various infections. The hoof can wick these infections into the horn, and this can lead to disease that affects integrity and function.
If your horse lives in these types of conditions:
- Provide areas where he can be in “less wet” footing. But beware! Constant transitions from very wet to very dry (such as deep, dry bedding) can be very stressful on the hoof and may actually work against you. Instead, provide an area where your horse can simply get out of standing water or deep mud. It need only be a patch of higher ground.
- Clean his feet routinely. The accumulation of manure, urine, mud or any combination pf these around the frog or packed into the hoof will predispose the horse to disease.
- Provide exercise to promote circulation and function in the hooves.
- Treat specific diseases such as thrush.
- Use barriers as recommended by your farrier.
- Feed for general health.
A final word
Regardless of environmental conditions during the summer, our horses are remarkably adaptable. The road, however, can be a bumpy one if we don’t do our best to maintain hoof health and stability.
Warm weather signals the beginning of many great equine activities. We want to spend that time enjoying our horses, not treating a hoof condition that can lead to lameness or pain. Your barefoot trim specialist is a great resource for you. He or she can assess your horse’s hoof condition and make recommendations to you. Solutions and suggestions are only a phone call and a visit away!
Sherri Pennanen of Better Be Barefoot is a veteran natural trim farrier serving western New York and southern Ontario. She offers balanced barefoot trims, lameness evaluations, and holistic/rehabilitation services on her farm.