7 Tips to Horse Hoof Health

You said it wouldn’t happen again, but here you are: Your horse is confined and your checkbook is out, as you wait for your farrier to come and fix your horse’s ailing hooves. Meanwhile, you’re missing out on another weekend of team roping. Could this scenario be avoided? Yes. Organize your approach to horse hoof care, farriers say, and your riding time is more likely to be uninterrupted by emergencies, equipment failures, and last-minute fix-ups. Following are farriers’ top seven secrets to keeping your horse sound.

Secret #1: Check your horse’s hoof history. 
Check back through your records and bills to see what problems your horse has had in the past. Did some keep coming back? Is your horse prone to infections or injuries such as bruising at certain times of the year? Ask your farrier and veterinarian what you can do this year to avoid those problems.

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Secret #2: Plan ahead. 
• Farriers have lives, too. Ask your farrier well ahead of time if he or she is on call during the year-round–or if you should have the name and number of an apprentice or colleague on hand just in case. Make sure that he or she knows your plans for the roping season. If you say, “I’ve been waiting for years to go to that roping and we’re leaving June 1st” your farrier will know how important the trip is to you. Your farrier might reply, “Too bad-I’ll be away the month of May, so I won’t be here to check him before you go.” If you know your farrier’s availability in advance, you’ll know when to prepare a backup plan, in the case of emergency. But if you find out at the last minute, this information can throw you into the panic zone.

• If you have a trip planned that’s much more ambitious than your normal schedule, ask your farrier for a checkup appointment the week before you plan to leave and another a few days after you return. Paying a small fee for a maintenance checkup is worth it, especially if your horse’s feet show a bruise or infection that might cause problems at the roping. Also, have your farrier check your horse when you return to make sure that no excessive damage or wear has put your horse at risk. A bonus: If your horse comes home sore or even lame, you’ll already be booked for a checkup. (Note: If your farrier suggests that you call your vet, heed the advice and reach for the phone.)

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Secret #3: Know thy shoes.
• Ask your farrier to give you the specifics of your horse’s shoe size and style, and the manufacturer (for example, “St. Croix Toe-and-Heeled, Size 1”). Note whether your horse’s shoes are clipped (specifically side clips or toe clips) or unclipped and whether his hind shoes are squared at the toe. If you’re away from home or if your regular farrier is unavailable, a stand-in farrier will then know right away how to shoe your horse. And if you report that your horse wears, for example, “clipped aluminum GE egg bars with Impact gel pads and Equithane wall filler,” a potential farrier might ask that you find a more experienced farrier who’s accustomed to working with complex shoeing packages. Get information about both front and hind shoes: It’s not unusual for horses to wear different types and sizes of shoes on hind and front feet.

• Tip: If you haul long distances to ropings, consider paying your farrier to fit up spare shoes to take along, just in case.

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“Organize your approach to hoof care and your roping time is less likely to be interrupted by emergencies, equipment failures, and
last-minute fix-ups.”
-Fran Jurga

Secret #4: Check wear patterns.
• Ask your farrier if you can keep the old shoes the next time your horse is due for new shoes. (Ask that they are marked left or right, or you’ll be confused!) Study the shoes carefully. Where’s the most wear? Looking at a worn shoe will show you if your horse “breaks over” (brings his weight over) at the center of his toe, or to the outside or inside. Some horses will show excessive heel wear.

• Turn the shoes over and look at the foot surface; you may find abrasion marks where the heels “expand” across the steel or aluminum surface. Some wear it is normal, but excessive grooving may be a red flag to discuss with your farrier.

• Look at the nail holes–are they enlarged? Shoes with heavy wear will have deformed nail holes, caused by nail movement in the shoe (and hoof wall). This is often the result of long miles on the hard ground, but also can be caused by your horse repeatedly stomping at flies or kicking stall walls.

• Keep worn shoes in a plastic bag, or photograph them. As the summer goes on, compare your horse’s current wear pattern with the shoes you’ve labeled “normal.” Is the wear the same? Changes in wear patterns are subtle early warning signs that your horse is changing his gait or loading pattern (how he distributes his weight over his hooves as he moves). He may be swinging a leg out to avoid a bruise or swelling, or landing toe-first to avoid heel pain. Point out any changes to your farrier, and ask for his or her advice.

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Secret #5: Check for worn-out shoes.
• An active roping season can make quick work of a horseshoe. You may be riding on pavement more often, or riding in rocky warm-up areas more than the soft terrain of an arena. Warn your farrier well in advance if your horse’s shoes look thin or if the clinches are weak. Be prepared to haul your horse to the farrier, if needed, but don’t ride on thin shoes held on by weak clinches.

• Consider investing in farrier tools, so that you can safely remove a loose shoe. I recommend a pair of pull-offs, creased nail pullers, and a rasp, available from a farrier supply store. (Two are Brighton Feed and Saddlery, www.brightonsaddlery.com, and Harry Patton Horseshoe Supply, www.harrypatton.com.) Your horse can become badly injured by stepping on a bent shoe or broken nails–but if you try to remove the shoe without the proper tools, you risk removing a chunk of hoof wall or bruising his hoof.

Secret #6: Protect your horse’s feet.

• You might think that going shoeless is the ideal state for your horse–and your budget. Most of the time, that’s right. But an active roping schedule can put too much stress on some horses’ bare hooves. Ask your farrier whether your horse might need shoes for the heavy roping season.

• Don’t abuse your horse to show off how tough his feet are. If his feet are tender, the walls have worn lower than the sole, or you notice him “dancing in place” and shifting weight from one front foot to the other, stand him in an ice bath or cold running stream while you call your vet.

• Invest in an EDSS First Alert Kit (www.hopeforsoundness.com). This kit contains Styrofoam pads you apply with duct tape to protect your horse’s sore feet until your vet arrives. Don’t ride a hurting horse.


Here’s the good news: Riding doesn’t necessarily stress your horse’s hooves, in fact, the opposite is probably true. Too little exercise limits circulation to your horse’s feet and curtails horn growth, particularly if he lives in a confined space, and/or is overweight. If his hooves are properly cared for before, during and after a ride and if your riding schedule is consistent and reasonable to ensure that your horse’s fitness matches his schedule you both should sail through roping season. Here are some bonus tips to keep him sound.

Pre- and post-ride checklist

Image placeholder titleWalk your horse without the saddle. Make sure he walks freely and willingly. Look him over from head to tail–and down to all four toes. Note any cuts or scrapes that might cause soreness or irritation.

Clean your horse’s feet with a hoof pick to remove any irritating rocks and packed dirt/manure.

As you clean your horse’s feet, run your hand around the nail clinches in the hoof wall. The wall should be smooth. If you feel a rough bit of metal, a clinch is “raised” or “popped,” and the shoe may be loose. A horse can also cut himself on a ragged clinch.

Check the shoe heels. If you find one that isn’t directly under your horse’s heel, he may have a “sprung heel.” That is, his heel is hitting the shoe’s edge as it expands and contracts. Your farrier will need to remove, re-level, and reshape the shoe, and then nail it back on. Riding on a sprung heel can cause corns or more severe hoof injury.

Run your hand around your horse’s coronets at the hairline, and feel for bumps, swelling and/or heat. (If you’ve clipped your horse’s pasterns, consider applying bell boots to protect his coronets.)

Run your hands down each of your horse’s legs, feeling for heat, swelling and/or tenderness,
especially on the inside.

Check old injury sites/hoof cracks, and make a mental note of their condition before you ride, for comparison when you return.

When not to ride:

Don’t ride if your normally obedient horse resists when you try to pick up a foot, seems tender to your touch, you see swelling or redness at his coronet, or you see red marks on his hoof sole. Don’t ride if you see any signs of a loose shoe. Don’t ride on an injured or cracked hoof.

When to turn back:

Stop at the first sign of lameness, altered gait, or repeated stumbling. Dismount, loosen the cinch/girth and get your horse home.

Expert tip:

Photograph your horse at different times through the year. You’ll notice how his body shape changes as his haircoat and fitness level change his feet will show changes, too. Take close-up photos of each foot and shoes. You may be surprised to notice how his hoof shape and hairline junction contours change. A jammed heel may come down, or a bump in the hairline over a wall flare may subside or worsen, a warning sign of unequal pressure on the wall, or abnormal footfall. Photos of such changes will be valuable if he ever suffers a serious hoof injury or contracts a serious hoof disease, such as laminitis. Your farrier needs to know what’s normal for your horse, so he or she can better judge abnormalities. For instance, it’ll be helpful to know that your horse’s right front foot was always a bit steeper than his left one, or that his heel bulbs had been prominent before the injury or disease.

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Secret #7: Become equipment savvy.
• Clean all your tack, boots, wraps, and trailering gear well and often. Horses change shape with fitness level and age, so don’t assume that tack will or should fit the same from year to year. Make any replacements or adjustments in advance of the heavy roping season. Dirty, ill-fitting, uncomfortable tack can cause your horse to change his gait and/or loading patterns, which, in turn, can create hoof problems.

• Avoid attending a competitive roping in new tack, support boots, and other gear. Take the time to gradually break in new equipment for an optimal fit. Be especially gradual with martingales and tie-downs, as your horse may need extra time to adjust to their feel. Start in the practice pen, and let your horse tell you what feels right and what doesn’t.

• During breaks, loosen the cinch/girth and other strapped tack, and check for irritation. Carry a spare, so you can switch at the first sign of a welt or rash. Even if your new cinch/girth technically fits your horse, it can irritate him if it’s left on too long on a hot summer day. To avoid discomfort, your horse may shuffle at the jog or widen out his front end. This can lead to early fatigue, stumbling, abnormal head carriage, or interference (his hind or diagonal legs may overreach, causing him to strike a front hoof with a hind one, which can cause an injury).

• If you sense your horse trotting unevenly or resisting the canter, dismount and check all your gear. You may be amazed to find that removing a martingale or tie-down will improve your horse’s energy, gait, and even soundness.

• Check your horse’s legs and inside boots and straps. Neoprene sports-medicine boots can create heat against your horse’s skin, and sand particles trapped under boots and wraps can be irritating.

• Fit your boots to your horse, don’t borrow someone else’s horse boots, and trim any excess from straps. Keep hook-and-loop fasteners clean so straps lay flat. Flapping straps from brushing boots or even an ill-fitting bell boot meant to protect your horse from interfering can backfire, causing your horse to widen his stance behind or shorten a stride, leading to early fatigue or stumbling.



Get a Green Barn

Did you know that over a million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by pollution every year? And that 46 percent of lakes in America are too polluted for aquatic life to survive? It’s not only fish and wildlife that suffer the ill effects of pollution; worldwide, over 5,000 people die every day due to dirty drinking water.

Agriculture, which includes horse-keeping, is one of the most significant contributors to both pollution and habitat destruction. That’s right: How you keep your horses can affect not only the wildlife around you but also can be a significant contributor to environmental hazards. And these hazards have wide-reaching effects.

Can you make a difference? Absolutely. In 2010, recycling and composting alone prevented 85 million tons of material from being disposed of in landfills or dumped into the ocean—an increase from 18 million tons in 1980. I’ll give you seven steps you can take to minimize the environmental impact of your barn, from manure composting to establishing a recycling program. You’ll soon discover that what’s good for the environment is good for you, and good for your horses as well.

What’s the Problem?

When you think of a horse farm, do you have visions of pristine pastures with perfect fence lines, where fat, sassy horses roam and graze to their hearts’ content? Yet what about the manure pile and muddy areas around the water troughs? Or trashcans filled with old feedbags and baling twine?

There’s no doubt about it, housing horses can be hard to the environment in a wide variety of ways, and even on the most beautiful farms around. Manure, insect sprays, and weed killers on the pasture all can play a role in contaminating local streams and waterways, while trash bins filled with plastics, empty containers, and other waste contribute to the landfills. Even turning on the lights, bedding your stalls, or repairing fences puts pressure on the environment by using up important resources. Here’s how you can help.

Step 1: Manage Pastures

One of the most important parts of green horse keeping is this: Keep pastures healthy and mud to a minimum. Less mud means less standing water and no more runoff that’s likely to contaminate nearby streams. If your pastures are healthy, they’re also more likely to be weed-free, with a reduced need for toxic herbicides.

To keep your pastures as healthy as possible, avoid overgrazing by rotating horses off the pasture when grass is grazed down to approximately three inches. A single horse generally requires between one and two acres if he’s going to be maintained on grass, so don’t overcrowd. Remove manure regularly from smaller pastures and paddocks to avoid build-up and minimize groundwater contamination. Submit soil samples for analysis annually, and add lime or fertilizer according to the results of this analysis. (Your local feed store should be able to provide this soil analysis, and advise you about lime and fertilizer.) Finally, you can over-seed as needed in the fall. Healthy grass will choke out weeds, minimizing the need to spray.

Step 2: Set Up a Recycling Center

Barns generate an enormous amount of trash, ranging from the pop cans and water bottles that accumulate on hot summer days to feedbags and plastics used to bale shavings. You might be amazed at how much of this trash can actually be recycled—depending on where you live. Start by checking out earth911.com to learn what can be recycled in your area, and where. Then designate one or several recycling collection centers on your facility to collect these items.

The list of products that can be recycled is practically endless and includes paper, wood, metal, and Styrofoam packaging. If you have curbside recycling in your state, many of these products simply can be collected in a bin that’s picked up with your regular garbage service. Other items may need to be transported to specialized facilities. If you set up an organized area with separate bins for collecting different items, it’s easy to make an occasional delivery. And if you have a large facility, setting up several different collection areas in convenient locations will encourage recycling rather than disposal. The key is convenience. If you have an office at your farm, even non-working electronics and print cartridges can be dropped off at your local Goodwill for recycling.

Step 3: Compost Manure

A single horse can produce as much as 50 pounds of manure per day. That’s nine tons a year. Obviously, what to do with the manure on your farm is an important question when it comes to protecting the environment. Composting is an ideal solution.

Composting your manure can be as simple or complicated as you’d like to make it, and has a wide variety of benefits. Heat generated during the composting process not only kills parasite eggs and fly larvae but also can help break down toxic chemicals. A well-composted manure pile will shrink in size to as little as half its initial volume, and produce an end product that can benefit gardens or pastures. Some farm managers can even sell their compost to generate a little extra cash.

Successful composting depends on controlling three factors: moisture, heat, and airflow. Simply covering your manure pile can help you control heat and moisture while turning it regularly either with a tractor or by hand provides airflow. You also can set up your pile with pipes designed to blow air through the center of the pile, thus avoiding the need for turning. A cover will keep the manure from getting too wet while watering it with a hose will keep it from being too dry. Ideally, your pile will be as moist as a wrung-out sponge, and internal temperatures of 135 to 150 degrees F are easy to achieve just by covering it with a tarp. If you set up three separate piles, you can rotate between your current dump pile, a “cooking” pile, and a finished product.

Concerned about a number of shavings in your stall waste? The ideal carbon (sawdust, straw, or shavings) to nitrogen (manure) ratio for composting is between 25:1 and 30:1. With careful stall cleaning, combined with manure picked from pastures and paddocks, this ratio shouldn’t be hard to achieve. Although more bedding than poop means it may take a little longer for the compost to break down, the end product will be perfect for the garden.

If you find that you have too much manure and too little time to make composting work for your farm, an alternative is to arrange with a local nursery or garden center to haul away your manure into their own composting facility.

Step 4: Plan Carefully

If you’re lucky enough to be building a new facility, plan your site layout carefully. Place buildings on high ground, with pastures or paddocks sloping away from buildings. A good excavator is a must and can help you plan drainage routes.

In a perfect world, you’ll build sacrifice areas associated with your pastures or paddocks. These closed-in, graveled areas will provide turnout for your horses, and prevent your pastures from turning into mud pits during wet months. This not only prevents runoff that can contaminate local water sources but also makes your property less attractive to flies and other insects, thus minimizing your need for pesticides.

If completely separated sacrifice areas simply aren’t an option and you have large enough pastures to support the number of horses that live there, you can do a lot to minimize mud by laying down gravel in places horses like to congregate, such as around gates, loafing sheds, and water troughs. A base layer of three-quarter minus rock that’s six to 12 inches deep and well compacted, with a four- to six-inch layer of one-quarter minus rock on top is a good combination for controlling mud, without causing bruising to your horse’s feet. Road fabric placed under your gravel areas also can help, but beware: It’s common for horses to dig or roll and cause the road fabric to be exposed. If you do decide to use it, make sure it’s completely buried, with no exposed edges.

Finally, when you develop your site plan, be sure to allow a buffer between your pastures and any streams or wetlands on your property, to further protect water quality. In some areas, this is required by legal statute.

Step 5: Build Responsibly

Whether you’re just building your barn, are making an addition, or are simply fixing fences, the type of construction you choose is an important environmental decision—beginning with your choice of wood.

If you really want to “go green” and can handle a little extra cost, you can consider bamboo as a wood option. Bamboo is one of the earth’s fastest growing plants and is typically grown without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. Not only that, but bamboo also is strong and tough, making it a good choice for fences and barns. Another option to consider is a wood composite. This manmade, wood-like product is made from as much as 65-percent recycled materials, including both recycled wood and plastic.

Conventional wood still can be an environmentally responsible option, but consider looking for a source that’s certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. This non-profit organization certifies wood products that are grown and harvested from managed forests with an eye on sustainability. (For more information about the FSC, check out fsc.org.)

Make sure your building plan includes gutters that direct rainfall to appropriate drainage routes. Also, consider such finishing touches as rubber pavers made from recycled tire rubber for barn aisles and walkways. With a little bit of effort, you can find a wide variety of environmentally friendly options to include in your barn design.

Step 6: Let There Be Light!

If you’re in the design or remodeling stages, consider how you can maximize natural light in your barn construction. Stalls with windows to the outside world and roof cupolas not only give your barn a nicer look, they also let in the light. (As a side benefit, these construction options generally allow for better ventilation.)

For your artificial lighting, replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs. Fluorescents use one-quarter the amount of electricity of incandescents and last approximately nine times longer. An even more efficient lighting option to consider is LED lights; these use only 10 to 20 percent of the energy of incandescent bulbs, and last 20 times longer. (For more information about barn-friendly lighting options, visit equilumination.com.)

Finally, install outside lights on motion detectors so they’ll come on when you approach the barn, but won’t be left on all night long. And if you’re looking for other ways to conserve energy, consider solar power. Small solar panels may be all you need to generate enough power to open that electric gate or keep a water heater running.

Step 7: Pest Control

Where there are horses, there are flies. Where there’s grain, there are rodents. The United States applies 1.2 billion pounds of pesticides annually; that’s 20 percent of global pesticide use. Make the right choices when it comes to controlling pests, minimizing the need for toxic chemicals.

Careful construction, pasture management, and manure composting can go a long way toward minimizing flies on your farm. But no matter how hard you try, the flies still will show up. Consider using predator wasps on your manure pile as an environmentally friendly method to control remaining flies. Flysheets and natural sprays such as those containing citronella can give you a final layer of control. Finally, if barn swallows come to visit, think twice before chasing them away. Yes, you’ll have to clean up after them, but a family of swallows nesting in your rafters can virtually eliminate flies in your barn.

When it comes to rodents, proper grain storage is crucial for keeping rats and mice away. Metal storage containers will prevent rodents from getting into the grain bins. Old freezers often can do the trick, but take care to remove the locking mechanism to prevent curious kids or pets from being locked inside. Sweep barn aisles regularly, and keep feed rooms clean. Finally, consider adding a barn cat to your roster of employees. A good mouser can be worth his weight in gold!

If you care about the environment, don’t be overwhelmed by the idea of going green. Remember: Any little bit can help. Start by taking just one or two simple steps to make your barn more environmentally friendly. It’s not that hard to change some light bulbs or get a cat! Before you know it, you’ll be composting manure and have a pasture management plan in place. Your farm will be cleaner, your horses will be happier, and the world will thank you for it!