Horse experts consider horse’s hooves as the most important body part of the animal. Made up of soft tissues and hard keratin (the same material that makes up human hair and fingernails), the four hooves are literally the only part that the horse can stand on. The hooves must be in healthy condition to support the movement and weight (which averages about a thousand pounds) of the animal.
A healthy hoof should, in general, have a:
* Rounded shape at the front feet and an oval shape at the back
* Fairly short toe (about 3 to 3 and a half inches) and heel
* Frog (the central part of the hoof) that is sturdy, tough and has the firmness of leather or rubber
* Hoof wall that is smooth and shiny with almost no presence of waves, crack or rings
* Bottom hoof that is thick and tough and slightly concave in shape
* White line at the hoof’s edge that is tight, but not stretched
Causes of Hoof Problems
Much as one would like to maintain a healthy horse, illness or accidents may still occur due to the environment, weather, or the natural instinct of the animal to roam to pasture.
The several factors that contribute to hoof problems are:
* Frequent injuries
* Poor body structure or conformation
* Poor hygiene and nutrition
Early Signs of Hoof Problems
Some signs that a horse’s hoof may have some problems include:
Light cracks on horse’s hooves should not be a major concern, and are considered to be the result of normal wear and tear. It’s the deep crack that’s troubling, for it may be the early warning sign of laminitis, or the possible entry of bacteria that may cause an infection of the soft tissues.
* Foul Odor
The smell of an unpleasant odor is a warning of infection, and may indicate the presence of an abscess, canker, or thrush.
* Shifting Weight or Side to Side Movement of the Horse
In general, a horse that shifts its weight on its back legs would indicate the presence of foot pain. If the animal bears its weight on its toes, it means that there is pain in its heels.
A flare is a condition in which the hoof wall separates from the sole, enabling disease-carrying bacteria to penetrate and infect the much softer inner tissues.
* Increased Foot Temperature and Pulse
The presence of above normal heat and increased pulse when touching a horse’s foot would indicate the presence of infection.
Caring For a Healthy Hoof
To maintain the health of a horse’s hooves, a horse owner must do the following:
* Maintain a close working relationship with the veterinarian and farrier
* Provide proper horse nutrition
* Maintain a regular schedule of shoeing and trimming
* Observe proper hoof balance
* Provide proper treatment when illness occurs
* Provide proper shoeing for different footing conditions and weather
Hoof care affects the state of well-being of a horse. Without working hooves, the animal is useless. Like what the horse experts say, “no foot, no horse.”