Hoof Problems

Information on equine hoof problems, infections and disorders causing lameness in horses.

    learn about equine hoof problems causing lameness in horses

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    1. What are Hoof Problems?
    2. What Causes Hoof Problems?
    3. Help for Hoof Problems
    4. More Information on Hoof Problems

    What are Hoof Problems?

    Hooves refer to the hard outer covering of the horse’s foot. The outer and inner hoof is made up of bones and sensitive structures. The outer hoof consists of the coronet (the band around the top of the hoof where the hair stops) and hoof wall (horny exterior of the hoof).

    Under the hoof is the frog (spongy, triangular portion in the center of the underside of the hoof), sole (the concave, hard and tough underside of the hoof), bars (portion of the wall that curves forward at the heel) and the white line (narrow strip where the bottom edge of the hoof wall meets the sole).

    The inside of the hoof consists of the coffin bone (shaped like a hoof – held in place by the sensitive laminae and the insensitive laminae which form a bond), navicular bone (small bone which fits in the space between the short pastern and the coffin bone), short pastern (bone found above and connected to the coffin bone), and the lateral cartilage (wings of cartilage on either side of the coffin bone).

    Taking care of your horse’s hooves is essential because they grow about a quarter of an inch every month and should be trimmed regularly. Cleaning and caring for hooves daily as well as visiting a reputable farrier regularly will ensure that your horse’s feet stay in a healthy condition.

    What Causes Hoof Problems?

    There are various hoof disorders that your horse may develop
    and these include:
    • Thrush is a bacterial infection of the frog that is caused when the hooves are exposed to wet, dirty conditions. It is characterized by a foul-smelling odor with a powdery substance around the frog.
    • A hoof abscess is an infection of the soft portion of the hoof and caused by a puncture wound, injury, bruise or corn. Lameness in horses is a common symptom of an abscess. Sometimes a dark spot is visible on the hoof if the abscess opens and drains.
    • Corns occur when the sole at the back of the hoof becomes bruised by constant pressure to the foot. It is usually caused by improper shoeing or poor hoof trimming. When a corn develops, the sole becomes discolored and lameness occurs.
    • Cracks in the hoof wall may start at the bottom and move upwards or start at the top, then move downwards. When cracks start at the bottom, they are caused by improper shoeing and trimming, extremely dry environment or training on hard surfaces. Cracks that start at the top develop as a result of abnormalities in the hoof growth.
    • Laminitis also referred to as founder is described as painful inflammation of the foot. It develops in the front feet but can also affect the hind feet when circulation is disrupted. This condition is caused by overeating, foot injury, colic or certain steroid medications. Symptoms can develop slowly or rapidly – unwillingness to move forward, difficulty in walking and prefers to lie down most of the time.
    • Contracted heels are characterized by narrowing of the foot, and the frog shrinks and the heels are contracted in. This condition is due to unbalanced feet such as overgrown hooves, long toe or low heels, injury as well as improper shoeing and poor hoof trimming.
    • Navicular disease is characterized by inflammation and degeneration of the navicular bone (the small bone inside the foot and the tendon which passes over it). It is caused by genetics, poor conformation, improper nutrition and the continual impact of the toe on hard surfaces. Warning signs to watch for include lameness that progresses gradually, front feet are affected and the toe becomes worn when it hits the ground.
    • Seedy toe is a condition described as separation of the hoof wall at the white line in the toe area. The inside of the hoof starts disintegrating and becomes crumbly even though the outside appears to be healthy. It is usually develops as a result of poor foot care and laminitis.
    • White line disease occurs when the protein of horse’s inner hoof breaks down as a result of a bacterial or fungal infection. The hoof wall and sole become powdery and crumbly and then separates from the wall and the sole.


    More Information on Hoof Problems

    Tips to avoid hoof problems

    There are several things that can be done to avoid hoof problems in horses and these include:

    • Feed your horse an all natural diet without preservatives, additives and colorants
    • Exercise your horse regularly to ensure overall fitness and health, and also to prevent dry hooves
    • Visit a good farrier – this is very important as he will be able to recommend the proper shoes and inspect your horse’s hooves depending on where he was stabled and he is ridden
    • Trim or shoe your horse’s hooves every six weeks using a skilled farrier
    • Pick the hooves out daily using a hoof pick
    • When inspecting your horse’s hooves, place your back to the horse’s hooves so that you can get the best possible view of the hoof
    • Keep all areas where your horse stands dry and clean. Avoid wet footing as it can cause thrush and soft hooves
    • Make sure the horse’s feet are fitted properly with shoes and pads
    • Incorporate a biotin supplement to your horse’s diet to promote the growth and development of healthy hooves