White line disease…the name alone strikes fear into riders, filling their heads with visions of resections and aggressive shoeing and padding procedures. But these treatments may not be necessary.
White line disease (WLD) is a definite misnomer. WLD is not a disease, but a manifestation of infection. It is also referred to as “seedy toe”. Just to keep it confusing, the condition does not originate in the white line, although the white line may become affected in advanced cases.
If identified in the early stages, white line disease is similar to athlete’s foot in humans. But if left unrecognized and untreated, it will seriously damage the integrity of the entire hoof wall, and ultimately destroy the connections, the intricate bonds of the hoof structure. Causes of WLD originates in the white colored inner hoof wall (the nonpigmented part of the wall) and progresses up inside, weakening and breaking the bonds between the inner and outer hoof wall. In advanced cases, the infection can eat straight through the outer wall and affect the sole and even the frog. The debate goes on as to whether the infection is of a bacterial or fungal nature, or possibly a symbiotic relationship between the two.
White line disease can affect any horse, of any age, at any time when conditions are favorable. Consider this – white line disease is merely a symptom revealing that something is amiss in the horse’s diet, lifestyle, trim, or a combination of these. It is a secondary issue manifesting from a primary cause; for example, circumstances that cause the foot to stretch and open up spaces. Predisposing conditions can include founder, laminitis, thrush, lack of exercise, and poorly trimmed and shaped or poorly functioning feet. Diet and lifestyle (footing) also play a role.
One of the most prevalent causes of any hoof disorder is the lifestyle many domestic horses lead – stalls, small paddocks, limited turnout, and the lack of movement required to flush toxins out of the body system. This static lifestyle leads to low to non-functioning hooves. An incompatible diet can lead to ailments of the skin, coat and hooves. Similarly, poor trimming or shoeing will promote ill health in your horse’s feet and body. All these potential triggers are interconnected, so treatment of white line disease involves investigating each of these components and their connection to one another.
What To Look For
Mild cases of WLD can be seen from a solar view, and are usually accompanied by thrush and/or contraction. Advanced cases may show deterioration of the outer hoof wall masquerading as chips or peeling walls. X-rays will show exactly how much wall has been affected. Lameness is not generally present in most cases, but at any rate, if you suspect WLD you need to detect it by performing a thorough exploration of your horse’s feet. Before assessment, get those feet as clean as can be. Use an apple cider vinegar and water solution to wash the foot, and scrub with a stiff wire brush. Examine the individual parts of the foot and the connection between the inner hoof wall and the white line. Check for any gaps, separation, or black areas between the sole and the wall. Tap a hoof pick around the outer wall to check for hollow sounds.
Prevention is always best, but if you are faced with a case of WLD you need to act now. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition. Advanced cases should initially be treated with a deep penetrating soak, such as Cleantrax, to kill bacteria, fungus and spores. This treatment can penetrate up into the hoof capsule and is relatively harmless to remaining healthy horn. Generally a 45-minute soak followed by another 45 minutes with the feet wrapped in plastic will do the job. This should go with a trim treatment that encourages the foot to function fully, which helps circulation and speeds recovery and regeneration.
In lesser cases, a soak with a Borax/water solution can be used. About 1/4 cup Borax in a warm water footbath, soaking for about 45 minutes twice a week, will take care of most cases. In moderate cases or as a preventive measure, it is sufficient to soak or spray the feet (after thoroughly cleaning) one to two times daily with a solution of apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”) and tea tree oil. We call this “magik spray” because it works! With proper protocols, the horse can grow an entire new hoof capsule in as little as seven months!
Prevention is key Whether the infection is mild or severe, the horse’s diet and lifestyle need to be examined for contributing factors, as does the hoof care currently provided. Processed feeds and concentrates high in starch, fillers and preservatives are a common trigger for hoof ailments. Instead, keep it simple when feeding horses. Use whole foods and quality hays containing a variety of grasses. Give your horse regular foot cleanses and plenty of exercise. Combined with simple nutrition and good foot form and function, WLD will become a thing of the past. To learn more about preventing and treating WLD and other equine hoof disorders, check out equinextion.com and the new EOFA online forum academy.
To learn more about a healthy foot, what it looks like and how to achieve and maintain it, get the new Triminology 101 book by Lisa Huhn, available on equinextion.com. Join us on Facebook.
Lisa Huhn is the author of Make the Connection Triminology 101 field study guide, and the founder of equinextion.com and the EQ Awakenings Study Center in Alberta. She calls herself a lifetime student of the horse. Catherine Katsirdakis is a certified EqAT living north of Fergus, Ontario. She is currently keeping a client base for trimming and has a facility where she brings client horses in for rehabilitation.