Walk into any tack store and you can smell the hoof care section before you even get there. Pine tar, petroleum, formaldehyde, and a long list of secret (and often smelly) ingredients tickle your nostrils. "Oh, well, it’s good for him," you sigh, remembering how many pairs of jeans you’ve ruined with hoof ointment, and the time you accidentally pushed back your hair with a brush covered in pine tar.

We have a long shelf of products that have been on the market for years. Many of these tried and true products are brushable "goop" that are believed to moisturize the hoof, often by using pine tar or petroleum.

A word of warning: No matter how much you love to brush on that Hooflex, or Rainmaker, or whatever your favorite moisturizing agent is, beware of applying it the day your horse is scheduled to be shod. Your farrier hates getting it on his or her clothes (or hair) just as much as you do!

Remember that the sensitive heel bulbs are frequent sites of cracks and scrapes from over-reaching or forging. Glycerine or lanolin agents such as "Dry Hoof Solution" are nice to have around when the heel bulbs start to take a beating. And remember those bell boots!

A new list of higher-tech (and higher-priced) products has been formulated to counteract environmental hazards that compromise your horse’s natural hoof health. The horse which lives in a dry climate such as Texas, but is bathed daily, has its hoof walls sanded for showing, and constantly has hoof blacking applied, is getting conflicting signals from its environment. Alternating messages of "Send more moisture!" and "Dry me out!" can cause havoc in the tiny keratinized tubules of the hoof wall.

The hoof care industry has responded with products that are designed to seal out the environment. These range from creating totally artificial hoof walls with acrylic compounds, to treating the exposed hoof wall with a protective coating of a sealant like Mustad’s "Tuff Stuff" or SBS "Farrier’s Hoof Sealant." Many farriers now routinely apply these products as part of their shoeing regimen; discuss with your farrier how often you should apply these sealants, and to which parts of the hoof.

Sealants are especially important for horses which have their hooves sanded (removing the periople) or have experienced excessive rasping of the hoof wall. However, you should not apply sealants without discussing the idea with your farrier first, and you should not think that any wall protecting agent is a substitute for regular shoeing and trimming.

Sole And Frog Care

What about the sole and frog? Many of our new shoeing ideas point out the danger of excessively thinning the sole, paring out the bars of the heels, and carving the frog until it is almost invisible. A "cuppy" foot, so desirable on a racehorse, can be created mechanically by a farrier, at the risk of ruining a horse’s natural protection from rocks, hard ground, and red-hot concrete. Many horses at the racetrack have their soles recarved on raceday to make sure that there is even more of a cup effect. Five years later, when that horse ends up in your barn as a hunter or dressage horse, you might have to cope with foot bruising and the soreness that stems from a long history of "stinging" feet.

Compensating for thin, sensitive soles is an age-old management practice on the backstretch. Once again, home remedies often are successful, and this summer at Saratoga, you still can find huge bags of "Bowie Clay" from the area of Bowie, Md., used to pack the soles of horses, and still marketed throughout the racing world. "Bowie Clay" is probably the ultimate in natural remedies on its own; creative grooms and trainers have added just about everything in the track kitchen and the maintenance shed to enhance it.

Look in a corner of any farrier shop, and chances are that you will see a big black bucket of "Forshners." This is a tried-and-true (albeit goopy) pine tar and peat moss hoof packing sold in bulk to smear in a horse’s soles to prevent over-drying or stinging.

A more modern approach to hoof packing is "Sole Pack" from Hawthorne Products. These handy plastic packets contain a hoof’s worth of medicated hoof packing, excellent for use on its own or under a pad to prevent thrush or sole drying.

What if your horse lives in a swampy area like Louisiana, or if your area is subject to hot, humid summers? What if your horse moves from one environment to another and his feet "blow out," as the farriers like to say? Each stride can tear tiny laminae in the hoof wall, bruise the sole, or create an uneven weight-bearing situation that leads to flares and other distortions of the hoof wall and sole.

Two products on the market are designed to help dry out the sole and encourage it to grow thicker and more healthy. "Keratex" is a British product sold in America by Advance Equine; "Crossapol" is a new product from Interhoof International. Both contain formaldehyde or derivatives and need to be handled with care. Do not give these products to children to apply. Use them only as directed, and with your farrier’s approval. Store them in a safe place, and do not transfer them to unmarked containers. Always give them time to work; hoof wall and sole tissue grow slowly!

Learn to read your horse’s feet. Are they asking you for help? Consult with your farrier about what exactly your horse needs to cope with his problem. There is a product–or two or three–for every problem. Getting them to work requires studying the instructions, using them correctly, and knowing when to stop.


Maximum Hoof Power by Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh; Howell House Publishers, 1994.

Sunday on the Farm by Bruce B. Daniels, privately published, 1995.

The Hoof and How to Protect It Without Nails by Bodo Hertsch et al., privately published, 1996 (in German and English).