Brittle Hooves

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Also Known As

Brittle hooves


Dried-out brittle hooves that are inflexible can be very painful, create lameness, and keep a horse from exercising and working properly. The dryness creates a tendency to split and fracture, especially at the points where the shoe is attached by nails. As a consequence, shoes are easily cast, leading to splits in the direction of the horn fibers.

These splits run dangerously near sensitive structures in the foot giving rise in many cases to lameness. Even when pronounced lameness is absent, the action in the hoof is affected and the utmost care is required in the shoeing to keep the animal in good shape for work and exercise.

Brittle hooves become more serious if they split or deeper cracks develop. These cracks affect not just the hoof wall, but also the frog and the hoof may become dry and hard as well, and contract along with the heel. When shoes are left on a horse too long, the shoes may become loose and pull off large chunks of the hoof when the shoes do come off.

When the shoes are pulled and the hooves are left unshod, the hooves may break around the edges, especially when weakened by nail holes. It is important that an unshod horse's hooves be trimmed regularly and properly. The edges of the hoof should be squared off and rounded as well.


  • The horn is hard and when cut by the farrier's tools gives the impression of being baked hard and stony
  • A tendency to contracted heels
  • The hoof fractures easily
  • Shoes are easily cast


Horses that live in hot, dry, sandy environmental conditions are especially susceptible to brittle hooves, but other factors may also contribute. Horses that originally lived where they either had their feet in water periodically or were reared on marshy soils are susceptible to brittle hooves when they are moved to a hotter, drier climate.

Previous hoof diseases such as laminitis can lead to brittle hooves. Also, poor nutrition, especially a diet low in protein or an unbalanced diet, may not provide the nutrition for proper hoof development and maintenance.

Genetics can also play a part in hoof health. A mare with brittle hoof problems is likely to produce a foal with the same kinds of problems.


Brittle hooves can be very painful and can result in lameness. Once the hooves become brittle, it can take up to 12 months for healthy new growth to reach the bottom of the hoof.

A proper evaluation of a horse's feet should part of scheduled care. Measures can be taken to ensure good foot health and avoid brittle hoof conditions that can lead to lameness

Since many factors influence hoof growth, good management decisions regarding nutrition, hoof care, exercise, and environment are all within your control as a horse owner.

An under-nourished horse will not have the nutrients available that assure good hoof health. Maintenance of adequate levels of protein, especially amino acids, is important. The need for minerals such as calcium and phosphorus is critical for horse hoof health.

Giving your horse access to water to stand in or soaking the horses feet on a daily basis is important, especially for horses that are recovering from hoof disease or those whose feet have become dried out and brittle.

Some horse owners go so far as to build "hoof spas" on their property for daily soaking. Also, keeping a spray bottle of water handy and spraying the horse's hooves and coronet bands with water throughout the day helps in keeping the hooves moisturized. Soaking boots can be purchased from horse supply stores and are especially helpful for horses with a tendency to dry, brittle hooves.


Prevention and treatment go hand in hand when it comes to brittle hooves. Management of dry hooves usually requires a multi-faceted approach. If the horse stands on bedding or footing that wicks moisture away from the hooves, such as sand or wood shavings, it is important to wet the horse's hooves on a regular basis.

Correction of the environment by providing a moist area, often around the watering facilities will allow the horse to maintain hoof health. One caution is necessary: Too much moisture over a prolonged period may lead to diseases such as thrush, so care needs to be taken to avoid such problems.

Proper hoof trimming and shoeing will help relieve any pain or discomfort and application of moisturizing hoof dressings may be necessary to help the hooves return to normal health.

Supplementation or correction of the diet to include necessary vitamins and minerals is important also. A veterinarian can give advice on the best supplements for a particular horse.

Exercise promotes blood flow in the hoof and is a good way to invigorate hooves that have become too dry.

Since horse's hooves grow at about the same rate as human finger nails and the new growth occurs at the coronet, the junction between the skin and the hoof wall, it can take up to 12 months for the healthy new growth to reach the bottom of the hoof. For that reason alone, it is important to be aware of the condition of a horse's hooves and catch any problems at an early stage.

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