Pick out your horse’s feet. It is the single most important thing you can do for your horse’s hooves. Before each ride, remove any stones or small objects lodged in his feet before you add your weight to the situation, and check on the condition of his shoes after you untack him.
Each time you clean your horse’s hooves, take an extra couple of minutes after you’ve pried out any packed debris to gently clean the crevice of the frog, and scrape any remaining bits of matter off the sole with the tip of the pick. You want to be able to see the sole’s entire surface, so finish the job with a stiff brush. Some hoof picks come with the brush attached.
While handling your horse’s feet to pick them out, notice their temperature; when everything’s OK, they’ll feel very slightly warm. Take a moment to locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of his pastern; look for the strength of the pulse under normal conditions.
Check the frog, which has about the texture and firmness of a new rubber eraser when it’s healthy. Don’t be alarmed, though, if everything else looks OK but the frog appears to be peeling off.
When picking out the feet, look for signs of thrush. The first clue to this bacterial condition (usually caused by prolonged standing in manure, mud, or other wet, filthy conditions, is a foul smell and dark ooze from the cleft of the frog. Later, the frog becomes cheesy in texture. Although thrush can eventually cause lameness and significant hoof damage, its early stage is simple to treat. Use an over-the-counter remedy and make sure your horse’s stall is clean and dry.
If a nail or other object pierces your horse’s sole and then falls out, the entry wound will probably be invisible by the time you pick his feet and you’ll be unaware of it until it causes an abscess. But in some cases the object remains in place, to be discovered when you brush the last bits of dirt from the sole. DON’T PULL IT OUT.
Put your horse in his stall (protect the punctured foot, and help the foreign object stay put, with wrapping and duct tape, or with a slip-on medication boot), and call your veterinarian right away. An x-ray of the foot can show how far the object has penetrated and which structures are involved. Your veterinarian can remove the object and advise treatment. Some cracks are superficial; others can worsen, involving sensitive hoof structures, without appropriate shoeing and also make sure the saddle is fitting properly.
One cause of a crack is a hoof abscess which breaks out through the coronet band at the top of the hoof, creating a weak spot in the hoof wall that must be attended to as it grows out. If you notice a crack in your horse’s hoof, call your farrier and describe its location and size so he can decide whether it needs attention now or can wait until the next regular shoeing.
If your horse’s digital pulse feels stronger than usual and/or his foot is warmer than normal the cause could be an abscess inside the hoof from a badly placed shoeing nail, a bruise, or an overlooked sole puncture. If you find increased heat and a stronger-than-usual digital pulse in both front feet, and if he’s shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, call your veterinarian immediately. These are signs of laminitis, an inflammatory condition that can cause severe hoof damage.
Schedule regular farrier visits according to your horse’s individual needs. Although six to eight weeks is the average, there’s really no standard interval for trimming and shoeing. If your farrier is correcting for a problem such as under-run heels, a club foot, or flare in the hoof wall, your horse may benefit from a shorter interval. Mistico needs a trim every 4 weeks as he is plagued with under-run heels and long toes. His feet migrate forward and they look like paddles. If your horse is shod, check his shoes each time you pick out his feet. Please read also this post about horse stretching exercises that may be very beneficial to your horse as well.
Learn how to remove a shoe. Many farriers are glad to teach clients how to do this. Help your horse grow the best possible hooves. Some horses naturally have better hooves than others.
Fine-tune his diet. Ask your veterinarian whether your feeding program is appropriate. Add a biotin supplement to his ration. Plan to use the supplement for six months to a year. Give him consistent exercise as it promotes hoof growth. Avoid unnecessary baths.
Shorten his summer shoeing schedule. A lost shoe often means hoof damage, which escalates the cycle of summer shoeing problems. Toughen his soles with a daily application of Venice turpentine. This way, you can get control of your horse again in a proper way.
Try not to turn out in deep, muddy footing. Hours of standing in mud may encourage thrush or scratches (a skin infection in the fetlock area that can cause lameness). You don’t want to get in an emergency situation and find out your horse isn’t ready to go anywhere, do you?
Protect your horse’s hooves during transportation. A vulnerable area is the coronet band: the rim of tissue at the top of each hoof that generates new hoof-wall growth. Injury to this area can interrupt hoof growth in the area below the affected spot. Transport your horse with old-fashioned shipping bandages and bell boots or good quality Velcro-fastened shipping boots.