Horse Hoof Stressors

Learn to recognize common indicators of hoof stress, then work to eliminate or minimize their causes

When you head to the barn to care for your horse, are you often lost in your thoughts rather than focused on his subtle signs of wellness? Have you found yourself tossing him hay, dumping his grain, giving him a pat, and then rushing off to school or work?

To help you spot potential problems before they become major issues, take a few minutes each day to be mindful of your horse and his well-being. Hoof health is paramount to his overall wellness, and a quick daily head-to-toe once-over—with emphasis on the toes—can help you catch anything out of the ordinary.

Then, if you spot something unusual or if something does squeak by and become an issue, you can work with your hoof care professionals, which include your farrier and/or a veterinarian with a special interest in hoof care, to combat the issue and restore your horse to soundness.

Read on to learn what two veterinarians passionate about hoof care—Debra Taylor, DVM, owner of Twin Creeks Podiatry, in Auburn, Alabama, and emeritus associate professor of equine medicine at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine; and Tracy Turner, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, ACVSMR, of Turner Equine Sports Medicine and Surgery, in Big Lake, Minnesota—suggest for identifying and dealing with the hoof stressors they encounter most frequently.

The Big Six

The six things our sources see stressing their patients’ hooves most often include:

Ground conditions (dry and hard or excessively wet) “I think wet is even worse than hard and dry, because the hoof wall soaks up moisture and allows the hoof to distort more easily,” Turner says.

Immune stress “You can certainly get inflammation due to immune-related issues,” says Turner, “and the inflammatory process in the coronary band (at the hairline) can create abnormal horn and conditions.”

Mechanical stress “I see this as ground reaction force (GRF, the force transmitted from the ground to the ground surface of the foot, into the hoof wall, and through the laminae—the Velcro-like tissues that attach the wall to the coffin bone within— and bony column above) being applied to a distorted hoof,” Taylor says. “One example would be a hoof that cracks due to the GRF of shoeing a flared hoof.”

Excessive sugar in the diet “This is the most common stressor I see,” Taylor says. “Sugar in the diet turns on an abnormal endocrine event that weakens dermal (laminae—these reach out from the coffin bone to interlace with the epidermal laminae on the interior of the hoof wall) connections, which leads to either flaring or pulling the laminae apart, which can also lead to laminitis,” Taylor says. “Sedentary lifestyle and nonstructural carbohydrates lead to obesity, which in addition to hoof problems can lead to insulin resistance.”

Failure to recognize hoof distortion For example, shoeing to accommodate a hoof flare rather than correcting the flare and then shoeing the properly shaped hoof, says Taylor.

Expired hoof care This involves hooves that aren’t getting trimmed regularly— horses should be seen by farriers every four to eight weeks—or shoes that have been left on too long.

​This article continues in the July 2020 issue of The Horse: Your Guide to Equine Health Care. Subscribe now and get an immediate download of this issueincluding this in-depth article on learning to recognize common indicators of hoof stress, then working to eliminate or minimize their causes.

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