Proper hoofcare requires that you, your veterinarian and farrier work together to make sure your horse has a healthy environment, proper nutrition and an appropriate trimming or shoeing schedule. Your veterinarian and farrier or barefoot practitioner can also help you decide whether going barefoot or wearing shoes is best for your particular horse and circumstances.
Most horses require shoeing or trimming every four to eight weeks. Whether your horse is trimmed or shod, where and how he's ridden, and his conformation and health are all factors for you and the farrier to consider when determining the frequency of hoof trimming or shoeing.
Keep in mind that hard ground or rough terrain is harder on the legs and hooves, as are higher speeds and sharp turns. Your veterinarian and farrier can help you determine the best footing for your riding arena and even your horse's corral.
A proper diet is also essential for healthy hooves. Discuss your horse's diet with your veterinarian to determine if any changes or supplements are needed.
Between trimming and shoeing visits, inspect the hooves daily and before and after every ride to access overall health and remove any sharp objects or debris. Also keep the horse's environment clean by regularly removing manure and soaked bedding.
The most common hoof problem you'll encounter is thrush, a fungal and bacterial infection in the frog area that smells foul and looks like black tar. Left untreated, thrush can spread to the sensitive parts of the hoof. Keeping your horse's environment clean and dry helps prevent thrush, but often topical treatments are needed as well. Ask your veterinarian or farrier which topical treatment they recommend and follow the manufacturer directions. Avoid harsh at-home treatments like bleach.
While hooves are strong, bruising is another common problem, especially in horses that are ridden or turned out on hard or rocky ground, and in horses with hoof conformation that predisposes them. A hoof bruise is formed when blood vessels rupture forming a pocket of blood (hematoma). Bruises are painful to the horse and can develop into an abscess (an infection within the hoof). If you notice a bruise or sudden lameness, consult your veterinarian. Your vet may pare away the superficial layers of hoof to look for the bruise. A tetanus shot, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDS) and antibiotics, along with rest, may also be prescribed.
Bruises can lead to abscesses. Puncture wounds or anything else that compromises the sole of the hoof and allows bacteria to enter can also cause an abscess. Signs of an abscess include lameness, heat in the hoof, a swollen lower leg and/or a throbbing digital pulse (the pulse taken in the lower leg). Veterinary treatment is required. A draining tract for the abscess if often created, and the vet may also prescribe NSAIDs, antibiotics and hoof soaks.
Cracks commonly occur but are largely preventable with a proper diet, healthy exercise and environment, and regular trimming/shoeing. Hooves that are too dry or wet, unbalanced, poorly trimmed or shod (or overdue for trimming or shoeing) can all be prone to cracks. A crack's size (length and depth) and placement determine its severity. Minor cracks are common when riding barefoot horses on rocky terrain, for example. However, deep or long cracks require attention from the farrier or veterinarian. Treatment may include balancing the hoof, using shoes with clips, notching the crack to keep it from spreading or using repair materials for severe cracks.
While these are only some of the more common issues you can encounter, working closely with a trusted farrier and veterinarian will enable you to tackle any hoof issues that may arise.