Top Tips, Myth Busters and Finding the Balance for Horse Hoof Health

Thundering hooves of racing horses.
Thundering hooves of racing horses. Mark Higgins

Newsdate: Friday, July 16, 2021 - 11:35 am
Location: GUELPH, Ontario

The importance of a good farrier is well understood by knowledgeable horse owners who reap the benefits of diligent, routine care.  In an interview with Certified Journeyman Farrier, Sean Elliott,  readers and students gained some great tips for promoting hoof health and learned some pitfalls to avoid.

Farrier customizing a horse shoe.

Farrier customizing a horse shoe

Top tips for hoof health are nutrition, a dry environment and balanced hoof care.
© 2016 by Philip Eckerberg New window.

“If you go to the doctors and your fingernails are in a bad state, nutrition is the first thing they are going to address,” says Elliott right after stating, “I’m not a nutritionist.”  He certainly recommends working with an equine nutritionist to look at your program as a whole.

Sean is a big fan of keeping it simple with good quality hay, clean water and a ration balancer and not supplementing blindly. He cautions against just picking supplements that make claims to improve hoof quality as they may not give you the results you are looking for.  Horse people spend to excess on additives, with the greatest intentions, but  there may be more than one thing the horse is deficient in and therefore cannot absorb what you are aiming to supplement.  Having hay tested gives a clearer picture on how to balance a horses diet.  Bloodwork can help you determine what a horse is deficient in. “Each horse needs to be treated as an individual,” says Elliot and the nutritionist is part of your horse’s healthcare team. 

Dry environment:

“Horses were not meant to stand for extended periods of time in wet or muddy conditions,” says Elliott.  He goes on to dispel the myth of  overflowing of water troughs to add moisture to hooves.  “Yes, the hooves will get wet,” says Sean, “but consider why people put mud treatments on their faces – to remedy oily skin.”  As mud dries, it draws out the oils, however, oils in the hoof are an essential component to its health.  

Even horses that get bathed daily in the summer can suffer the effects of poor quality hooves from the constant cycle of going from wet to dry.  When asked about topicals, Elliott was quick to reply that he was not a big fan of hoof dressings and prefers to stay with the ‘KISS’ (keep it simple) philosophy, always trying to provide a dry environment.

Farriers need to have a solid understanding of conformation and anatomy.  They should understand the biomechanics of how the hoof handles concussion.  Elliott cautions against trimming to get the ‘perfect hoof’  “Horses rarely have 2 feet that look alike,” says Sean.  “You need to trim each foot to be in balance and not trim to make them look the same or to a fit a specific measurement.”  Shoes are meant to be shaped to the foot, not the other way around!

Common Hoof Issues

When to worry about hoof cracks

Some of the pitfalls that contribute to hoof cracks are toes that are too long, under run heels and exposure to too much wet.  Elliott relays one case he cracked  (pardon the pun), when he discovered the horse had access to a water feature in the paddock.  Routine care and a proper trim that balances the foot correctly is essential.

Superficial cracks are not an issue, most of the time they can be sanded out.  The time to be concerned with cracks is when they are all the way through or when they go all the way up to the hair line.  Then a plan for intervention will need to be discussed with your farrier.

What causes contracted heels?

Contracted heels are caused by improper balance, in most cases.

Too much stress on any part of the hoof or an area bearing inadequate weight can affect proper blood flow and hoof expansion.

What predisposes a horse to frequently abscess?

Hoof abscesses can be extremely painful and are often accompanied by sudden lameness.  An abscess starts with a bruise to an area of the internal structures of the foot.  If the bruise is severe enough it can cause a pulsing pain.  The analogy I use is, striking your fingernail with a hammer and not releasing the pressure through a small hole in the nail.  After the pressure is released, the throbbing sensation stops however there will still be some discomfort for a relatively short time period.

Read the full interview with Certified Journeyman Farrier, Sean Elliott including photographs and illustrations go to

Press release by The Horse Portal - Equine Guelph

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