Hoof Care for Horses

Hoof care is an essential part of maintaining healthy livestock including horses, cattle, sheep and goats. Livestock can weigh over 1000 lbs, all supported by four relatively small hooves. Problems with hooves can be very painful for your animals and can ultimately decrease their production and performance.

By utilizing good hoof management practices, hoof problems can be greatly reduced and this can ultimately lower treatment expenses for problems that could arise down the road.  

Difference Between a 'Foot' and a 'Hoof'

A foot refers to the hoof and all its internal structures including bones and sensitive structures. The hoof is the hard outside covering of the foot. 

Difference Between Horse Hooves and Other Livestock

Horse hooves are one single solid structure while cattle, sheep, goats and pigs have a hoof that contains two digits (referred to as cloven-footed). Each variety of livestock requires a different frequency and type of hoof care management.

Proper Hoof Care Practices for Horses

Cleaning

A hoof pick is an essential tool in a grooming kit. Always clean your horse’s hooves before and after riding. Whether or not they are ridden, horses kept in stalls or confined areas should have their hooves picked out daily to prevent thrush. Horses on pasture should have their feet cleaned periodically. 

Trimming

Just like our fingernails, a horse’s hooves grow continuously. They need to be trimmed every six to eight weeks to keep them in proper shape. Trimming should be done by a trained farrier. An inexperienced person can easily trim the hoof wall too short or pare too much sole, causing the horse to be sore. To avoid lameness, the hoof must be balanced precisely which requires the skill and expertise of a farrier. In the long run, it’s less expensive to pay for a good farrier than to risk the well-being of your horse.  

Shoeing

Horses doing a lot of work or working on hard ground will need to be shod. Some horses with weak hoof walls, flat soles or other problems might need shoes even if they’re not working. Consult your farrier or veterinarian for advice.  Shoes need to be reset every six to eight weeks, and leaving them on too long can damage the hoof.

Healthy hooves are key to the overall heath and productivity of an animal. Hooves kept in good condition reduce the expense of treating lame animals in addition to contributing to their overall health and well-being.

For more information on hoof care please visit the following links:

Hoof Anatomy, Care and Management in Livestock (Perdue University) (pdf)
Principles of effective hoof care (Alberta Horse Industry)
Looking for a local Farrier?  The American Farrier Association