Rehabbing Equine Athletes' Hooves

The steps veterinarians and farriers take to identify, evaluate, and treat riding horses’ hoof problems. 

Hoof problems can be time-­consuming and tedious—not to mention frustrating—to treat, especially when they’re plaguing an equine athlete who’s a few weeks from the regional show, preparing to canter down centerline at a year-end competition, or needing the performance of his life to make the national team.

This is where veterinarians and farriers come in to identify, evaluate, and treat hoof and shoeing problems. But even with today’s modern technologies and continuously evolving techniques, managing horses’ feet is no cakewalk.

Craig Lesser, DVM, CF, a podiatrist at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and Pat Reilly, Grad.Dip.ELR, chief of farrier services at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center School of Veterinary Medicine, in Kennett Square, explain their hoof rehab approaches.

Don’t Downplay Routine Hoof Care

First, let’s reemphasize the importance of preventive care, which is important to all facets of your horse’s health and soundness—including his feet.

“Proper farriery care from a skilled farrier is essential to keeping your horse working at its top potential for as long as possible,” says Lesser.

Researchers have confirmed that in healthy working horses, the long-used four- to six-week interval between trims and shoeings is effective for preventing unbalanced loading and reducing injury risk due to excess loading (Lesniak et al., 2017). Still, it’s important to work with your farrier to determine the ideal interval for your horse, as slightly shorter or longer cycles can be beneficial in some cases.

Routine farrier visits can also help your hoof care team identify problems early. One study on the prevalence of hoof issues in a group of nearly 950 horses in the Netherlands revealed that an “unexpectedly high prevalence of hoof disorders was observed during regular hoof trimming.” While most of the issues—including thrush, hoof wall and quarter cracks, sole bruises, white line disease and widening, and chronic laminitis—were in their mild stages when first noted, left untreated they could develop into more serious problems that could ultimately sideline an equine athlete during treatment.

When Things Go Wrong

Despite regular hoof care from a skilled and experienced farrier, things can go wrong with your horse’s

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