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“How do you determine what is causing hoof cracks on your horse? If only one foot is affected, you can rule out dietary problems. If only the front hooves are involved, consider the footing and type of work your horse is exposed to, although rear hooves can be affected by cracks caused by this type of stress. If all four hooves are involved, you may wish to look at your feeding program, and how and how often your horse is being trimmed. As with all horse ‘problems,’ it’s important to ask why the problem is happening.”

to make sure your horse is receiving a balanced diet. For most horses, this means good-quality hay and pasture as this should make up the greater part of your horse’s feed. Testing your hay to fi nd out where defi cits may lie means you can supplement with fi ner accuracy. Simply adding a hoof supplement may not address the real problem and could cause more dietary imbalances.

You’ll also need to look

at the footing your horse lives and works on. The very dry conditions many of us have had to deal with in recent years mean our horses aren’t standing in the rain and dew that can moisturize their hooves. To compensate, many people allow the water trough to run over, creating a mud puddle that horses have to walk through. Paddock paradises could be set up so that horses must walk through a small stream or shallow pond to get to and from their feed, shelter or water. A more elaborate,

and expensive option if you expect your horses to live in very dry conditions is to build a small foot-soak pond. Alternately, some of us have had to deal with unusually wet condi-

tions. Allowing horses to stand on dry bedding (like wood pellets) that can absorb moisture for a portion of the day may help dry out the hooves. Foresight into designing the layout of our pastures in terms of where we place shelter, feed and water can help keep these resources high and dry, encouraging our horses to hang out in the driest parts of their homes. Many people use a variety of hoof ointments, salves and oils to help prevent or treat cracks. However, professional barefoot trimmer Kate


For more information about the best hoof-care products, see:

Cavallo Horse & Rider, p.4 Equine America, p. 31,32,33 JM Saddler, Inc., p.51 Horse Health USA, p.19 Select the Best, p.25 Smartpak Equine, p.15 Source, Inc., p.47 Wendals Herbs, p.13

Romenenko of Ontario, Canada, points out that “Hoof moisture comes predominantly from the inside out. Blood fl ow, which is increased by exercise, helps keep the hoof healthy.” She adds that high-sugar feeds, such as those mixed with molasses, should be avoided. If all else fails and you can’t seem to beat hoof cracks, you may want

to try shoes. Shoes can help prevent chipping, and good shoeing may help a support a cracked hoof. A hoof that is prone to chipping, however, may not hold a shoe well. Good communication with your farrier, an understanding of what you can reasonably expect and understanding the pros and cons of shoes, are essential. You may want to explore non- metal and glue-on shoes. Shoes can be a temporary fi x, or you may feel that your horse should remain shod, especially if his work load includes very rough, hard surfaces. Most horses should be able to go shoeless once the cracks have grown out. Once a hoof crack has developed, there is no quick fi x. Just as you

have to let a bruise or crack grow out of your own nail, hooves need time to grow out healthy. Most hoof cracks will grow out with basic maintenance. Very severely cracked, shat ered or chipped hooves or hooves that are showing signs of white line disease (that allows bacteria to fl ourish beneath the hoof wall and can lead to severe chipping and cracking) may need veterinary care. Medications, including antibiot- ics and hydrocortisone, may be used to clear infection and promote healing. T e farrier may need to clear away any soiled or infected hoof material, laying open the hoof quite dramatically. Sometimes this is all that is required. Alternatively, wire stitching, plates or staples may be used to reinforce the hoof wall and prevent further separation if the farrier feels the hoof needs more support. However, beyond these fi xes and good maintenance, the most reliable remedy is time.

Katherine Blocksdorf is a horsewoman and writer based in Ontario, Canada. She has been riding since before she was born and has experi- ence in the show ring as well as long-distance riding. Her education in horse care and riding continues with each horse she meets and each

lesson she takes. Visit her blog at


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