Preventing Chips and Cracks in Your Horse's Hooves

Newsdate: Thu, 25 Apr 2013 - 7:16 am
Location: SAN DIEGO, California

Although a horse's hooves are generally strong and crack-resistant, the weight and pressure placed on the hooves may lead to cracks and chips that can cause lameness, infection, and damage to the horse's body if not repaired.

A chipped and cracked horse hoof

A chipped and cracked horse hoof

As a horse runs or moves over rough ground, the huge amount of weight and stress on the hoof can split the structure apart, and, once a crack or chip is started, it tends to grow.
© 2013 by April Raine

A horses hooves are composed of keratin, the same material that makes up human fingernails and toenails. In addition, they contain thin, hollow tubes and layered sheets of keratin-filled cells.

This structure is usually enough to stop cracks, but as the horse runs or moves over rough ground, the huge amount of weight and stress on the hoof can split the structure apart, and, once a crack or chip is started, it tends to grow.

In addition to regular cracks in their hooves, some horses are also subject to chipped brittle hooves, especially some trail horses and barefoot horses.

As the hoof wall grows, it also extends further forward in relation to the bones of the leg and foot. When the hoof lands, the bones stay in the same location, connected to each other, but the hoof wall expands.

This causes stretching and eventually crumbling of the white line, the layer of hoof wall that connects the outer wall to the sole and live tissues of the hoof. It also contributes to chips/flaps developing in the hoof at ground surface.

Eleanor Kellon, VMD has made a study of chipping of horses's hooves and how to prevent this from happening to your horses.

How to prevent chipped horse hooves

Schedule regular trimmings with your farrier and make sure the hooves are trimmed properly with a rounded edge to prevent chipping. 

Avoid chemical drying caused by the use of hoof products that contain such products as lime and other stall-drying products.

Overuse of harsh shampoos and coat leaners can strip protective fats and oils from the hoof surface.

Treat with care: When your horse’s hoof is dry, brittle, chipped and cracked, it sounds reasonable to try advertised products that claim to moisturize and help heal damaged hooves when the product is painted on the hoof. like a good idea to “treat” it by painting something on. Plus, these products are advertised to moisturize and even help heal/repair damaged hooves.

Excessive use of dressings and oils can over soften an already damaged foot. And horses with deep cracks can have sensitive tissues exposed to potentially irritating ingredients.

If you want to try a hoof dressing, ask your veterinarian and farrier what products they’d suggest.

Address cracks and chips as soon as they appear. For example, horses with under-run heels and long toes may develop heel cracks, toe cracks, or both. Horses that don’t have their point of break over correctly positioned directly in front of the tip of the frog are prone to toe cracking.

Note that shoes won’t help protect against these types of mechanical cracks. In fact, they often make them worse by concentrating all the weight bearing on the hoof wall.

Pay attention to your horse's diet and enhance its inner health. Once you’ve addressed mechanical issues, help your horse build a strong hoof from the inside out.

The outer layers of the hoof wall get their resistance to moisture and drying because of high content of fats and waxes. These serve as a “glue” and protector for the hoof-wall cells. Cholesterol sulfate is the major fat, followed by free fatty acids.

Your horse can easily synthesize all the cholesterol he needs for his hooves, but some fatty acids need to come from his diet. Horses on good pasture are getting ample amounts, but those on hay and processed grains might benefit from supplementation. If your horse also has a dry, dull coat, this will benefit too.

Rice-bran oil and soy oil are naturally high in the omega-6 fatty acids, while flaxseed oil is the best source of omega-3s. However, flax oil is fragile, expensive, and needs to be kept refrigerated.

Most people prefer to get the flax oil their horse needs from feeding a stabilized ground flaxseed product, such as Omega Horseshine and HorseTech NutraFlax, and get their omega 6s from stabilized rice bran, such as Omega Stablized Rice Bran and other commercial products.

Like a beautiful coat, healthy hooves begin with good nutrition, clean water, and exercise.

Study the nutrients your horse is getting to make sure they are adequate. Protein is by far the most abundant nutrient in feet. More than 90 percent of the hoof wall is protein. Protein deficiency can compromise hoof quality, but more likely than an overall deficiency is deficiency of key amino acids, particularly lysine and methionine.

Other nutrients critical to the production of normal, healthy hooves are biotin; vitamin A, E and D; nicotinic, pantothenic and folic acids; and the minerals calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, copper, iodine, cobalt, and selenium.

Small wonder that the condition of a horse’s feet can mirror his general health and nutrition. It’s also no surprise that when horses are on properly balanced and fortified diets, they rarely have hoof-quality problems.

One of the best known and effective hoof supplements is Farrier’s Formula, which provides a high level of methionine, other amino acids, biotin and zinc, copper, iodine and cobalt.

If your horse is already on a vitamin and mineral supplement, or being fed at least five pounds per day of a well-supplemented feed, but is on hay and not pasture, an essential fatty acids supplement and one that addresses the mineral shortages and imbalances in your hay will probably get you the best results.

In other words, with careful attention to your horse's hooves with regular visits from a farrier and by making sure that your horse has good nutrition, plenty of clean water, and  proper exercise, the battle with chips and cracks in hooves can be controlled for the benefit of your horse.

Learn more about Horse's Hooves

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.