An easy and effective solution for managing thin hoof soles

How to identify thin hoof soles on a horse, and why pour-in pads are a solution worth trying.

Being aware of a horse’s sole thickness is vital to maintaining his hoof health. Whether his soles are thin due to over-trimming, genetic predisposition, age or environmental factors, it’s important that hoof care professionals examine the conditions he’s in because they directly impact sole health. Having thin soles is similar to having thin fingernails; it makes the horse’s feet more vulnerable to injury or blisters. Fortunately, there are a number of different ways to help manage and regain sole thickness.

How to identify thin hoof soles

Lameness is a key sign of thin soles. Horses are often uncomfortable when walking, especially on hard, abrasive surfaces, and some develop sole bruising. When these symptoms are prevalent, it’s important to examine the soles. Are they soft and flexible when touched? Has the horse been exposed to changing conditions, such as wet-to-dry?

Here are some potential causes of thin soles:

  • Changing environments — a wet environment weakens the sole, and when the sole is moist, abrasion from rough surfaces wears it down quickly.
  • Genetic predisposition — some horses, like Thoroughbreds, naturally have thin soles, so it’s important that hoof care professionals are aware of this and avoid overtrimming during routine visits and shoeing. This is especially crucial for racehorses, because their extremely active lifestyle can cause more wear on their already-thin soles.
  • Over-trimming — hoof care professionals should be aware of whether a horse has thick or thin soles, and what conditions he resides in. This helps determine how much to trim and what padding is needed for the horse to remain comfortable and healthy.
  • Age — as a horse gets older, especially when he’s around the age of eight or nine, hoof growth slows down, and it becomes difficult for sole thickness to keep up with the wear and tear of ground surfaces.

Managing soles with pour-in pads

To regain and maintain sole thickness, pour-in pads can be a helpful way to protect the remaining sole and allow more to grow. When the soles are sealed off with pour-in pad material, they have a better chance of retaining thickness and re-growing. Along with allowing the sole to grow back, pour-in pads also act as a “fake sole”, preventing abrasive ground surfaces from wearing down the horse’s actual sole. Pour-in pads protect the soles when they wear thin, similar to how a glove could protect the fingers in the absence of fingernails.

Soles protect a horse’s hoof cavities, so it’s vital that they are maintained and examined thoroughly to determine a sole-maintaining regimen. If soles are not examined, trimmed or maintained properly, it can cause lameness, affecting the horse’s ability to do many daily activities. With consistent, proper trimming and treatment, a horse will maintain healthy sole thickness.

Selecting a pour-in pad material

Depending on the moisture in a horse’s environment, different pour-in pad materials can be beneficial. Look for one that’s soft enough that it will not irritate the sensitive area if the horse is lame. Ideally, it should be a fast-setting material that bonds directly to the sole and frog, and improves the depth of the sole. A high quality pour-in pad should stay bonded to the feet for two to three weeks when applied properly, even when used on equine athletes.

Talk with a farrier or veterinarian about your horse’s soles, and how pour-in pad materials can be helpful for gaining and maintaining sole thickness.

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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 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.