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A firm foundation

Five summer hoof care tips
Story by Grey Parks, ProTrition Equine Specialist 8/23/2021

 

Hoof care is essential to good equine health. Here are five practices to practices to ensure your horse stays on solid ground when it comes to hoof care.
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Chips. Cracks. Lost shoes. Horse owners are likely all familiar with these common complaints. Summer can bring with it many hoof-care challenges. However, there are strategies that can be used to help keep your horse’s hooves in tip-top shape all year round. Here are my five top tips for summer hoof care.





1. It all starts with a good trim


Excessively long and/or imbalanced hooves stress both the hoof wall itself and the structures inside the hoof, including the horse’s skeleton. Whether the horse is barefoot or shod, the toe and heel of the hoof should be relatively short, and the angle of both should mirror the pastern angle. There shouldn’t be noticeable “flares,” or stretched-out areas along the hoof wall. When viewed from the sole, the hoof should be concave, with a tight white line, wide heels, and a well-developed frog. While hind hooves should be more shovel-shaped or elongated than front hooves, the widest part of both should be just behind the apex, or point, of the frog. 


The average horse requires a trim every four to eight weeks; some horses require more frequent trimming in the spring and summer and less in the winter, while others grow their hooves at a consistent rate throughout the year. Trimming frequency is especially important with “problem” hooves. 


The goal is to trim the hoof often enough to keep its form as consistent and ideal as possible, rather than making big changes less frequently. If you can glance at a horse’s hooves and notice that they need to be trimmed, you’ve probably waited too long. Talk to your farrier about what kind of schedule is best for your horse, based on its conformation, hoof quality, and rate of growth.





2. Hoof supplements: more than just biotin


Most horse owners are familiar with biotin and its importance to hoof health. Biotin is required for production of hoof keratin — a strong, fibrous protein forming the structure of hooves. Supplements containing at least 25 mg biotin per day have been proven to improve hoof and hair quality in many horses. 


Did you know, though, that there are other nutrients that are equally important to hoof growth? The majority of adult horses get more than enough protein in their diet, but that protein is not always composed of an ideal amino acid balance. This is most likely to be a problem for “easy keepers” — horses eating less than the recommended amount of a commercially balanced feed. Lysine and methionine are limiting amino acids needed in the formation of protein throughout the horse. Pinnacle Balancer (#336PE) is designed to ensure that these easy keeping horses will receive the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals they require while ingesting minimal excess calories. 


Mineral balances can also be an issue in equine diets. Soils (and forages) tend to be very high in iron, which means that many horses end up consuming much more iron than they require. Even though a large portion of the iron is probably not useable by the horse, the dietary imbalance that results leads to a copper and/or zinc deficiency. Copper and zinc in forage-based diets are usually already low. This kind of imbalance is often also reflected in the horse’s hair coat — chronic skin conditions (rain rot and “scratches”), as well as dull, excessively sun-bleached coats, are commonly associated with copper deficiency. 


Pinnacle Horse Mineral (#96633MA) has recently been re-formulated to reduce its iron content. This balanced mineral supplement can help improve the iron/copper/zinc ratio in its diet, especially for horses consuming little-to-no commercial feed. When adding a supplement, keep in mind that you will not see miraculous results overnight. It takes an average horse six to 12 months to grow a completely “new” hoof wall, so be patient!





3. Don’t underestimate the importance of fly control


The concussion of kicking and stomping to dislodge flies can wreak havoc on hooves, especially on horses wearing shoes. This can increase chipping and cracking in barefoot horses and loosen shoes on shod horses. Protective gear, including masks, boots, and sheets, offers horses physical protection from most of these pests. However, be sure that this gear fits the horse properly and check regularly for any rubs or skin irritation that may develop over time. This gear is best used on horses turned out in relatively small, mostly cleared paddocks and pastures, as they may be rubbed or torn off in wooded areas. 


Fly sprays offer short-term relief to horses and are best applied just prior to riding or working your horse. When using these products daily, be sure not to apply them just before a heavy rainfall or hosing/bathing your horse; this wastes the chemical and your dollars! There are also commercially available collars and leg bands, which contain insect repellants, available for pastured horses. Although many of these products are “all natural,” localized skin irritation and allergic reactions are always possible; horses should be examined regularly, especially when the bands are first applied. 


Environmental management can also help control insect numbers. Reduce or eliminate potential breeding grounds for flies, including standing water and accumulated manure. While this is sometimes easier said than done, it does work quite well. Flying insects tend to avoid moving air; fans in stalls and shelters can help provide horses with comfortable locations to escape these pests. On some properties, fly predators — parasitic wasps that prey on fly larvae – can dramatically reduce on-farm fly populations. These tend to be most effective on relatively large farms or in locations without neighboring livestock, and insecticide use should be avoided on properties where fly predators are released.





4. A dry hoof is a healthy hoof


It is a common misconception among horse owners that chipped, cracked hooves are “too dry.” In fact, the problem is usually just the opposite. A dry, hard hoof is a healthy hoof. Excessive moisture weakens the hoof wall structure, causing crumbling hooves. In our climate, repeated wet/dry cycles from frequent bathing, overnight turnout, and summer thunderstorms can be particularly problematic and lead to hoof wall cracks. Instead of bathing after every workout or on hot afternoons, sponge the horse off instead. Keep horses with hoof issues inside or on dry footing when pastures are damp, such as after a storm or during early morning dew hours. Minimize the use of hoof oils, dressings, and polishes. 





5. Consider possible metabolic disorders


Shelly, crumbling hooves and chronic abscesses are common in horses suffering from metabolic disorders. These include Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushing’s Disease. If left untreated, these conditions can result in laminitis. Early detection and intervention are critical. We often associate high sugar content with spring pastures, but summer pastures can be equally problematic, especially when the grass is stressed during summer drought conditions. If you suspect your horse might be suffering from a metabolic disorder, talk to your veterinarian about what type(s) of testing he or she recommends.





Finally, keep in mind that all horses are individuals. It may take trial and error to discover the best management routine for a specific horse. If you’re struggling with hoof quality, talk with your farrier, veterinarian, and/or an equine nutritionist. In most cases, it takes a multi-pronged approach to improve poor hoof quality. Hopefully, these tips will help you keep your horses’ hooves in excellent shape this summer and throughout the year. Be sure to visit your local Co-op location for all your equine and hoof care product needs!


 
 
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