Agnote 396 No. J38 July 1996 Agdex No: 461/26 ISSN No: 0157-8243 Horse Foot Care P. Graham, formerly Extension Officer, Darwin INTRODUCTION In a wild or feral state, the horse may pick and choose where it wishes to travel and which route best suits it. In a domesticated situation, however, it is subjected to a range of environments which may cause damage to legs and feet unless the rider is aware of the potential problems. It is proposed to briefly examine the problems and necessary measures that horse owners should consider to ensure soundness of their horses feet. HOOF STRUCTURE The hoof consists of an outer layer of tough non-sensitive horn, the wall. The wall is thick in front and thin where it joins the heel at the back. The frog and heel are of tough, fibrous and springy tissue. The sole is concave and does not touch the ground, the weight of the horse being carried on the wall, frog and heel. The wall is fastened to the bone inside the foot by a strong fibrous band, the white line, which is vascular and sensitive. The bone of the foot is, in turn, attached to the bones of the leg by strong elastic tendons. The whole structure of the hoof has evolved as a hard wearing shock absorbing mechanism and shoeing is designed to improve this function. COMMON HOOF PROBLEMS Foot problems in the horse may be attributed to the following causes: • Incorrect shoeing. • Shoes left on too long. • Feet not rasped to a suitable shape. • Injury. • Genetic malformations. • Laminitis (founder) the cause of which is complex but often linked to feeding. • Bad housing or stabling. 2 Apart from genetic malformation, accident and some forms of laminitis, hoof problems may be avoided by good management. SHOEING On hard country, where the horse is in regular work, shoeing should be carried out about once every six to eight weeks. Where the horse is on soft country and doing little or no work there is no need for shoeing. There is however, a need to keep the feet trimmed and rasped into shape. Apart from the above, correcting problem feet is another good reason for shoeing. Split hooves or hooves distorted from founder may be improved by a good farrier and a set of correctly fitted shoes. The critical points of good shoeing are: • The shoe must be made to fit the hoof and not the reverse. • Hoof trimming must be done so as to evenly distribute the horse's weight. • The shoe should be fitted so that the frog of the hoof still has contact with the ground. This maintains blood circulation and shock cushioning. • Care must be taken to ensure that nails are driven through the hoof wall and not into the white line. If the hoof is "pricked" the horse may be lame for months. STABLES Bad stable or stall hygiene will cause foot problems. All manure, straw, hay and fibre should be removed form the floor regularly, preferably daily, and the area should be well drained. All stones and manure should be removed from the horses hooves with a hoof pick. Failure to follow this type of routine may result in such complaints as canker, thrush and greasy heel. It is advisable that when horses are stabled, the feet should be inspected and cleaned out daily. FEED Foot problems may sometimes be linked to overfeeding, or incorrect feeding. Too much grain or heavy feed may lead not only to colic but also to laminitis. Colic can be curable, whereas a foundered horse is liable to be permanently crippled. Reducing grains like oats, wheat and maize in the diet, and using cooler grains such as rice will help to reduce the potential problems. INJURY The majority of injuries to the domestic horse come from within its home environment, and take the form of staking, cuts and general abrasions. The horse paddock in the small block should be cleared of obvious danger and plain rather than barbed wire should be used for horse paddock fences. Stone bruising can also cause long term injury to the horse. The bruise may lead to corns requiring veterinary attention. Faulty shoeing may also cause corn development and bruising by contracting the hoof walls. This occurs when the hoof is shaped to fit the shoe and not vice versa. 3 To maintain and ensure soundness in the horses legs and hooves: • shoe and trim hoofs when needed. This should be carried out by a competent farrier; • keep stalls and stables clean and dry; • keep hooves clean; • avoid overfeeding and "hot" feedstuffs; • when riding, watch where you put your horse's feet. 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