Maintain Hoof Health by Avoiding Frequent Wet-Dry Cycles

Mud isn’t the only moisture-related enemy of hoof health—consider dewy pastures and frequent bathing, as well.
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Maintain Hoof Health by Avoiding Frequent Wet-Dry Cycles
Applying a hoof sealant makes the hoof temporarily waterproof, keeping it from absorbing so much moisture during baths. | TheHorse.com/Stephanie L. Church
Constant change from wet to dry is detrimental to horse hooves. “Even in regions that don’t get a lot of rain, this can be an issue,” said Travis Burns, MSc, CJF, TE, EE, FWCF, chief of farrier services at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, in Blacksburg, Virginia. “Here, we have morning dew, then everything dries out later in the day. If we can bring horses in from pasture by late evening (before early morning dew) and then turn them out after the dew has burned away in late morning, the feet do a lot better.”

Continual change between wet and dry can lead to hoof cracks (just like our hands get chapped after being continually in and out of water). “This opens up the foot to microbes that can cause subsolar abscesses, white line disease, thrush, canker, etc.,” Burns said. “A strong, healthy hoof surface is the best defense against these invaders.”

Just as mud is the enemy of hoof health, so is frequent bathing. “Many people hose down the horse after a race or workout, getting the feet wet, then put the horse in a clean, dry stall where the foot dries out and shrinks,” he explained. “With these cyclic events the foot is constantly expanding (when wet) and shrinking as it dries. This leads to microcracks and fissures, which allow opportunistic microbes to invade.”

Even show horses in perfectly clean environments can develop hoof problems from continual bathing. “Clinches pop, the shoes come loose, their hooves crack,” Burns said. “We recommend applying a hoof sealant to the feet, allowing it to dry before you bathe the horse.” This makes the hoof temporarily waterproof and keeps it from absorbing so much moisture.

“This is much more effective than hosing the feet and then painting a sealant on after they are already wet,” he added. “Before you bathe the horse, you should pick out the feet, use a wire brush to get them clean, paint the sealant on, and let it dry—and then bathe the horse. It is remarkable, the difference this will make.”

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Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog, www.heathersmiththomas.blogspot.com, she writes a biweekly blog at https://insidestorey.blogspot.com that comes out on Tuesdays.

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