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Home:Equine Diseases:Hoof Damage



The hoof is the horny part of a horse's foot and it should be a priority of all horse owners to aim for the very best hoof quality possible. Equine hoof damage brings nothing but trouble, hinders the horse in his everyday performance and causes major problems for the horse, yourself and the farrier.

Your horse's hooves are made up of keratin. This is a complex, sulphur-rich protein which grows on a continual basis, similar to the coat, mane and tail. Hoof horn is constantly being worn away and replaced. The ideal equine hoof quality should be strong and pliable and not brittle and cracked.

The basic quality of your horse's hooves depends on factors such as breed,characteristics, diet, exercise, hoof care routine, weather, farrier, and bedding. You can influence almost all of these factors by good stable management, a good farrier and meticulous attention to diet. It is all down to you. Good stable management should be your gospel– even foals benefit from a good daily “hooficure”!


Some of the following symptoms may help you identify equine hoof damage :

  • A bad smell from the cleft of the frog.
  • A dark discharge from the cleft of the frog
  • Change in the texture of the frog
  • Overgrowth on the hoof
  • Lameness
  • Puncture mark in the foot
  • Hoof abscess
  • Hoof cracks
  • An area of separation in the hoof wall
  • Altered gait
  • Foot warmer to the touch than usual
  • Stronger than usual pulse in the foot
  • Horse shifting distractedly from foot to foot
  • Hollow sound when certain areas of hoof wall are tapped
  • Slow horn growth
  • Flatness on the sole
  • Tenderness when nailing


There are many and varied causes of equine hoof damage. Recognition of some of the following causes may help to eliminate damage and improve the quality of your horse's hooves.

  • Inherited factors such as mass and constitution
  • Nutritional factors e.g. lack of various proteins, vitamins and minerals
  • Environmental factors – climate, surface walked on, housing
  • Infection by bacteria, viruses and fungi
  • Lack of hoof hygiene
  • Allowing the hoof to grow too long causing it to break off
  • Allowing the hoof to be too short
  • Prolonged standing in manure, mud or other vile dirty conditions
  • Dirty bedding
  • Brittle hooves
  • Fissures
  • Sand cracks
  • Swelling of the coronary band
  • Lowered blood supply to the feet


The good aspect of E quine Hoof Damage is that you can do so much yourself to heal the damage and considerably improve the quality of your horse's hooves.

Hygiene is of major importance to the quality of hooves. Pick out the horses feet twice daily to remove any debris picked up such as dried manure. There is ammonia in manure and urine and this will cause the hoof to soften and lead to ideal breeding conditions for bacterial infections such as thrush and other fungal infections. Brush the dirt from the sides and bottom of the hooves and spray often with an iodine solution avoiding the frog and coronet area as iodine tends to dry these out.

Keep the stable and bedding clean. Some bedding can tend to dry hooves out - good quality shavings are recommended as bedding.

Avoid having your horse stand in wet, muddy and dirty conditions. This will help prevent the horn becoming too soft. In dry weather, daily rinses can help a lot.

Nutrition is the next area to tackle. Your horse's diet has a huge effect on the horn quality and growth rate. Major dietary components affecting hoof quality are calcium, zinc, methionine, biotin, lysine, MSM, ascorbic acid, vitamin B6, copper and sulphur. Your vet will recommend a good combination feed suitable to your horse's lifestyle. Consideration will need to be given to how much free range the horse has enabling it to eat plants which contain good sources of nutrients or how much it is confined to the stable and limited in what it can eat. No individual single nutrient is the key to a healthy hoof. Good quality hooves are the result of good overall nutrition.

Try to exercise your horse on suitable terrain and avoid pitted and the more uneven surfaces if possible.

A good Farrier is the last link in the chain. After you, the farrier has the most influence on keeping your horse's hooves and feet in good condition. It is an accepted and recognised maxim that “ good farriery is influenced by hoof growth and not shoe wear”. Make sure you get recommendations from your vet on which farrier to use.

A good farrier will

  • Firstly, do a thorough examination of your horse's feet and draw up a suitable hoof care programme
  • not allow the horses' toes to become overgrown
  • try to improve the shape and balance of the foot
  • make a shoe which gives the wall of the foot full protection
  • Drive his nails into the inside of the white line in such a way that they exit the wall at least an inch above the shoe
  • avoid using shoes which are too narrow
  • avoid using shoes which press on the horse's sole
  • avoid using pads if at all possible - they make the shoes less secure and trap moisture from the sole which can encourage horn infections
  • alert you to any abnormalities encountered

Your contribution to the farrier's service should be to

  • present him with a horse with clean, well maintained feet
  • provide a flat area in which he can see the horse walk
  • provide a covered well lit area in which he can work

If your horse's hooves were in bad condition it will take some time to see signs of improvement. Any problem horn needs to grow out first before the new healthy hoof horn appears. It could take many weeks after you have implemented new practices, to see improvement.

Lastly, why not pamper your four-legged friend by applying some hoof moisturiser to deep condition the hooves. There are some polishes and sealers which will give your horse's hooves magnificent gloss finish and shine on all hoof colours. They generally dry very quickly e.g. 60 seconds! Some products contain tea tree oil which is wonderful for fighting bacterial and fungal threats. There are many wonderful products which you can find online to enhance your horse's chances of having tough flexible hooves that very rarely have problems.