As the old saying goes ‘no hoof, no horse’ and considering the hooves support the entire weight of the body, hooves are notoriously fragile and conditions related to the hoof can have huge implications on soundness.
Winter brings with it a whole host of challenges to help keep hooves in good condition, especially if your horse has poor hooves anyway. Muddy fields, damp bedding and the constant changing from wet to dry conditions can all make life difficult.
It may sound simple, but it is essential that hooves are picked out daily and cleaned with a hoof brush and water if they are muddy. By thoroughly checking the hooves every day any issues can be caught early and action taken to minimise damage to the hoof.
Good stable management is also important to hoof health. Standing in damp, dirty bedding can predispose horses to thrush, a bacterial infection of the frog which is categorised by a smelly discharge or soft spots.
With thrush, prevention is definitely better than the cure so it is essential to ensure your horse is stabled in dry conditions and pay particular attention to the cleft of the frog when picking out the feet.
Hoof abscesses are more common during wet weather as the hooves become softer making it easier for dirt or foreign objects to penetrate the foot. When a horse stands in mud and damp conditions for long periods of time dirt can get under the shoe or into the foot of an unshod horse.
Infection then rapidly develops, with a build-up of pus within the confines of the hoof, which is extremely painful for the horse. Heat in the hoof accompanied by the sudden onset of lameness could indicate an abscess.
A vet or farrier will need to locate the abscess itself and fully drain the foot of pus. Once the pus has been drained the foot must be cleaned, before applying a veterinary licensed poultice.
The farrier is your greatest ally in the fight against hoof conditions so make sure your horse sees the farrier every six to eight weeks. Try to make life easy for him by ensuring your horse is brought in from the field ahead of his arrival and wash any mud from the hooves.
Provide somewhere clean and dry for the farrier to work and a hot cup of tea will always go down well – you never know when the farrier might be needed in an emergency, such as if the horse develops an abscess.
Keep an eye on your horses hooves, looking for signs the farrier is needed, such as raised clenches. However, this shouldn’t be a problem if they attend regularly.
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