Items you should find in any well-stocked hoof-care box
Deb Simone goes through the same hoof-care routine before every ride on her Trakehner-Hanoverian cross mare, Lovey: She uses a hoof pick to remove debris from the mare’s feet, and then she applies hardener to each hoof wall. Simone believes this simple ritual is critical to keeping Lovey’s hooves free of cracks, splits, and the infection-causing microbes that love to set up shop within them. She also believes this ounce of prevention is cheaper than the added veterinarian and farrier visits that become necessary if Lovey’s feet are neglected.
“I’ve had so much trouble with her feet in the past, I just try to pay attention to them,” Simone says.
But even she admits that her cache of hoof-care tools is probably lacking.
“The hoof hardener and the pick are about all I have,” she says. “I know there must be other things I should have on hand.”
In fact, most horse owners do not have a kit specifically dedicated to hoof care, says Dave Farley, CF, past president of the American Association of Professional Farriers, who shoes sport horses around Coshocton, Ohio.
“In the old days, everyone had a hoof box, but now most people don’t,” Farley says. “Fortunately, people are getting back to at least having (a community hoof box) in their (boarding) barns, and that’s good for the horse.”
That’s because regular hoof care is key to a horse’s general health, says Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of the Minnesota-based practice Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery. His research focuses on the connection between performance and equine podiatry.
“If you’re a jumper you land on it; if you’re a racehorse it propels you,” says Turner of hooves. “There are 100 cliches, but it’s true: No foot, no horse.”
Fortunately, keeping a horse’s feet clean and in good condition is not complicated, he says. All it takes is some time, know-how, and a well-stocked hoof-care box. Here’s what Turner, Farley, and other professionals recommend owners keep in it.
The Essential Ingredients
A hoof pick
Available from just about any tack or farm supply store, a serviceable hoof pick can be had for between $1.99 and $3.99; higher-end ones run as much as $20. Hoof picks are intended to do just that: pick or remove all manner of debris, including sand, pebbles, and even bits of wood or glass, that horses pick up roaming pastures, navigating trails, or performing in arenas. Though using a hoof pick seems like a no-brainer, some horse owners don’t know how to use one properly, says Jeannean Mercuri, New York-based professional trimmer and member of the American Hoof Association.
Mercuri says most owners use a hoof pick to knock out loose clumps of manure and dirt that accumulate in a horse’s hoof. But there’s much more to it than that, she says.
“People usually don’t go deep enough when cleaning,” Mercuri says. “You want to get everything—sand, small stones—out of that hoof.”
She also warns against spending too little on this simple but indispensable device. That’s because cheaper picks are made of softer-quality metal, rendering them impractical for everyday use.
“As a result, people use the pick, and the metal bends, and they think, ‘Oh no! I’ve pressed too hard,’ when that’s probably not the case.”
Similarly, Farley recommends avoiding cheap plastic-handled hoof picks that come with an attached brush.
“I would rather see a quality hoof pick with a handle, period,” he says. “Besides, the really cheap ones wear out really fast.”
A hoof brush
Another simple but critical tool in the hoof-care box—a hoof brush—helps sweep away debris loosened or missed by the hoof pick. These brushes are composed of stiff synthetic PVC bristles. In addition to cleaning the horse’s hoof, careful brushing gives owners a chance to examine the animal’s feet from heel to toe, says Farley.
“After you use the pick to clean every part of the sole and every side of the hoof, brush the sides of the frog and then brush the sole so that you can see all the debris that might be in the hoof,” he says. “Work forward from the (heel) bulb.”
Likewise, Farley advises owners to invest in a quality free-standing hoof brush.
“If you get a good one, you’re only going to have to buy one,” he says.
In any case, a thorough hoof cleaning is well worth the time it takes to do it. “It keeps the hoof clean, and it gives you a chance to examine the hoof and find things before they become big issues,” Turner says. “You don’t have to make a science project out of it, just do it regularly.”
Farriers use a rasp to finish and smooth the edges of a horse’s hoof. For them, the tool is indispensable, but you should include it in your hoof-care box, too, says Lori McBride, CJF, a farrier based in Louisville, Ohio.
“You should ask your farrier if he or she has an old one you can have,” McBride says. “It’s probably too old and worn for his or her use, but it’s just fine in case you have to file away a piece of hoof or file down a crack in the hoof that is bigger than it appears—just like filing your nails.”
A crease nail puller
Basically a long-handled pair of pliers, this tool allows owners to remove individual nails from the “crease,” or the groove in which the nail sits in the shoe. Once you’ve removed the nails you can remove the shoe itself.
“It’s good to have one on hand in case a horse comes in with a shoe that’s twisted or damaged and the farrier visit is about a day away,” McBride says. “You can find an inexpensive one for about $25.”
You can also use this tool to remove “hot,” or painful, nails.
Topical hoof hardener
Brushed directly onto the horn, which makes up the hoof wall, this liquid is available under many names. The substance is intended with regular use to protect the hoof against weakness created by moisture from urine or wet ground and to fortify the hoof against cracking. Most simply, hoof hardeners are designed to balance moisture content and might help prevent shoes from coming loose or abscesses from developing.
When they do appear, cracks and splits create the perfect habitat for the microbes that cause thrush (a bacterial infection that occurs in the frog tissue) and other equine foot infections. This is one reason every hoof-care box should contain an antithrush product or mild antiseptic such as povidone-iodine (Betadine).
“Get a good thrush product that is not corrosive and will not eat away at healthy tissue,” Mercuri says.
Easy-to-apply poultices such as Animalintex help draw out inflammation and infection and are commonly used to treat issues such as foot bruises and encourage hoof abscesses to drain.
A hoof-soaking boot or bucket
These can make soaking abscessed feet or applying treatment for conditions such as white line disease easier.
Self-adhesive flexible bandage and duct tape
Tucked someplace in the barn is at least one roll of the strong, stretchy, gauzy material you can use to bandage wounds, hold medicinal or liniment poultices in place, or wrap a foot that has lost a shoe until the farrier arrives (Vetrap or Co-Flex are some examples).
Duct tape has a million uses around the farm, but it is most useful in a hoof-care box to help wrap a foot that has lost a shoe or is healing from an abscess.
“I like duct tape because it stays on; Vetrap is not as durable,” Turner says, which is why many horse owners use a combination of the two when wrapping a foot.
Whether for dressing a wound or applying a poultice, every hoof-care box should include a stack of 3-by-3-inch or larger nonstick gauze bandages or dressings such as Telfa pads, says McBride. Some people use disposable diapers as an alternative, she says.
A sharp hoof knife (or scissors or a single-edge razor blade) comes in handy to cut gauze pads, Vetrap, or duct tape to the desired size.
Mercuri says she always keeps a pair of sharp kitchen shears, for instance, on hand to remove a piece of frog that might be hanging from a hoof.
A clean towel
Farley suggests also including an absorbent towel in your hoof-care box. After you clean and brush the horse’s hoof completely, use a towel to dry it thoroughly before applying any hoof hardener or other treatment, he says.
“Pick up the foot, wrap it in the towel, and really cradle it for a minute,” he says, to soak up surface moisture. “It will make the treatment more effective.”
The list of additional hoof-box contents is seemingly endless. Work with your farrier and veterinarian to craft one that’s practical for you and your horse’s needs.
Whatever you put in your hoof-care kit, Turner believes the benefits of routine attention to a horse’s feet go far beyond what’s in the box.
First of all, when you pick up your horse’s feet on a regular basis, you’re training him to do it for you, for the veterinarian, and for the farrier, Turner says. It will make hoof procedures much easier when they’re needed, which is not the time to train.
Regular hoof care has even more subtle benefits. “It does so much for the horse, for his mind, and for his body, and it helps horses and owners bond,” says Turner.