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Publication #AS38

Basic Hoof Care for Horses1

E.L. Johnson2

Hoof Care

The hoof is a vital part of the horse, and a healthy hoof is essential to the health, well-being, and usefulness of the horse (Figure 1). Trimming is necessary to prevent sand cracks, quarter cracks, and breaking off of the hoof wall, which often results in lameness. Trimming is also required to establish correct length and hoof angle and to balance the hooves so a horse moves consistently and easily. A horse that receives regular hoof care is potentially a safer horse to ride, both to the rider and horse itself. They are less apt to slip, stumble, or fall. Moreover, they are less likely to sustain injuries that would either put them out of service or require the services of a veterinarian.

Figure 1. 

Hoof.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Horses should receive routine hoof care at intervals of 4 to 8 weeks. Factors determining whether the horse should be shod or just trimmed are the health of the hooves, the potential or anticipated use of the horse, the amount of traction desired, the defects in gait or conformation, and/or the injuries or diseases plaguing the horse. Allowing the feet to accumulate an excessive growth of horn (wall) and/or continued use of the calk shoe (shoes with raised heels) may prevent the frog and elastic structures of the hoof from contacting the ground, thereby preventing the hooves from performing their proper functions. The results can range from contraction of the whole hoof to a splay foot. Either of these can lead to disease problems in the hoof.

Regardless of whether the horse is being shod or trimmed, it is important to keep in mind the feet should be trimmed in such a manner as to keep them in a condition as close as possible to that which nature intended. Trimming and selecting shoes should be consistent with the amount and type of work required of the animal, the environmental conditions, and the surface upon which the horse will be used.

If the horse is to be shod, the shoes selected should be determined by the primary use of the horse. To reduce fatigue and allow the most natural way of going, the horse should be shod with the lightest shoe that will withstand the stress placed upon it. Shoes come in a variety of designs or types that affect the amount of traction or grab the horse will have. The common types of shoes are plates, rim shoes, and shoes with calks either at the toes, heels, or both. Many horses used on turf or grass surfaces need more traction than plates can provide. Most horses used on grass or in speed events use some form of rim shoe. The most common types are the polo shoe, barrel racing shoe, race training plates, and the basic rim shoe.

Hoof Care Is Good Economy

Proper care of hooves is basic economy. Nothing is saved by using heavier shoes than necessary simply to get more wear out of them or by not trimming the feet as often as needed. Hoof care is even more critical in young, growing horses. This care should begin on normal foals at approximately one month of age. As long as everything progresses normally, the foal should be trimmed approximately every four weeks. The feet should be kept level and the edges of the wall rounded to prevent breaking. In the normal foal this will encourage correct bone growth in the hoof and limb. It is also important to keep flares from growing on one side of the hoof, which creates excessive stress on the bones and joints that may lead to lameness and/or incorrect bone growth.

An old adage, "Shoeing is a necessary evil," has been prevalent throughout the horse owning public for several generations. Though this old saying has been accepted at face value for many decades, closer scrutiny will reveal the error in this line of thought. Shoeing is not always necessary; neither is it always evil. Many factors determine if, why, and how a horse should be shod. Some of these factors are (1) the intended use of the horse, (2) the condition of the feet and legs, (3) the tasks to be performed, (4) the environment in which the horse is to perform, and (5) the surface upon which the horse will be working.

Another adage frequently heard is "No feet, no horse." This is as true today as when the phrase was first coined. This logic also serves to support the idea that shoeing may not be all evil.

It is not expected that all horse owners will or should shoe or trim their horse's feet; however, every horse owner should have a certain basic knowledge of hoof care and be able to evaluate the care given to their horse's hooves. To understand the principles of good hoof care and to evaluate a farrier's work require a basic working knowledge of the hoof and its care.

Hoof Anatomy

The foot of the horse is truly a complex, very efficient, and marvelous structure (Figure 2). It performs supporting, anti-concussion, circulatory regulating, and traction functions. The hoof is a highly specialized horny-shell that covers sensitive bones, nerves, blood vessels, and tissues. The visible outer covering of the hoof, viewed with the hoof resting on the ground, is called the wall. When the horse's hoof is picked up, it can be seen that the ground surface of the hoof consists of the wall, bars (an inward continuation of the outer wall), the sole (the concave area beginning just inside the wall), and the frog (a V-shaped structure in the center of the hoof).

Figure 2. 

Structure.


[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

Each portion of the hoof has a specific function. The wall is designed to carry the bulk of the horse's weight as well as protect the underlying structures. The bars act as a brace to control expansion and contraction of the hoof; the sole covers sensitive tissues and is somewhat concave to provide traction and allow for expansion, while the frog aids in absorbing concussion, circulation, expansion, and regulating moisture in the hoof. If any of these outer structures are abused by excessive trimming, injury, or infection, then normal function and soundness of the entire hoof are compromised.

Conclusion

Common sense, thoughtfulness, and good dialogue between the horse owner and farrier will help assure a horse is ready to perform when called upon. When selecting a farrier, the best is someone you have confidence in and who is readily available when needed. A farrier should not be selected simply to emulate someone else, but rather selected on his merits. However, if you have little knowledge about the work of farriers, the best means to find a competent, reliable farrier may be to ask horsemen in your area for recommendations. Your horse must depend upon you for proper care, and as a horse owner you have the obligation to provide for the horse's needs in the best possible manner.

Footnotes

1.

This document is AS38, one of a series of the Animal Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date November 1993. Revised May 1997. Reviewed June 2003. Revised October 2011. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

E.L. Johnson, associate professor, Department of Animal Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.