Horse care can be quite complex. The purchase of a horse alone can be costly enough, but horses have certain requirements that need to be met that generally far outweigh the cost of the horse itself. One important facet of horse care, in addition to proper nutrition and regular veterinary care, is the maintenance of the hooves, a science that is usually performed by a specialist in farriery.
According to Jason Wilson-Maki, farrier at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, horses need their feet trimmed every four to eight weeks.
“Many factors need to be considered regarding your horse’s foot care schedule,” states Wilson-Maki. “Weanlings (baby horses that have recently been removed from their mothers) grow roughly half an inch of hoof in a month, while geriatric (senior) horses may grow only one-fourth of an inch. Mature horses generally grow three-eighths of an inch.”
Other factors that affect growth include time of the year and physical activity. Horses in high level training may need to be shod every four to five weeks, while older pasture pets may need to be trimmed less often, such as every eight weeks. The actual schedule for your horse’s feet should be dictated by its needs.
“Ideally, the foot should not be allowed to grow longer than three-eighths to half an inch away from its trimmed length,” explains Wilson-Maki.
A farrier can tell you if your horse requires shoes. They are generally necessary if wear exceeds growth or if a horse needs foot protection to perform its job. Some horses have tender feet and may need shoes if they appear foot sore in their natural environment.
Some other good hoof care practices besides regular feet trimming are providing clean stabling conditions and regular turnout. Horses should not be kept in excessively wet conditions, as the feet can become overly hydrated, which can lead to abscesses or infections like thrush and white line disease. Very dry and hard feet, however, can chip and crack, so some moisture is needed. Picking your horse’s feet several times a week and inspecting them often may keep small issues from becoming bigger problems.
“General good husbandry practices go a long way towards maintaining healthy feet,” adds Wilson-Maki. “But in very dry conditions, it may be helpful to overflow the water trough a few times a week in order to keep feet moisturized.”
Besides removing excess growth, what else can a farrier do with a horse’s feet?
“In addition to restoring order to overgrown structures, a farrier can also use some form of appliance to support a hoof, protect a hoof, alter the stresses upon a hoof, or provide traction,” says Wilson-Maki. “Farriery is only a component of the correction of hoof problems; a definitive examination and diagnosis by a veterinarian can greatly enhance the chances of a positive outcome.”
Should your horse come up lame, you can utilize the skills of two specialists for the creation of a well thought-out long term plan. Whereas the farrier trims and protects the horse’s feet with appliances, diagnosing and treating lameness is the area of expertise for the veterinarian. Often times, a veterinarian and farrier team is the best avenue for resolving lameness issues in a horse.
Finally, there are a lot of supplements available that promise to give your horse better, stronger feet. As with many human supplements, it is a good idea to check and make sure they actually perform like they are claimed to.
“Most supplements appear to be ‘multivitamins’ for the horse’s feet,” asserts Wilson-Maki. “They should use what they need and fertilize with the excess. If you have questions about supplements, it would be a good idea to consult with your veterinarian.”
The care of your horse’s hooves is essential to caring for it as a whole. A lame horse may not be able to be ridden and may also have trouble doing something as simple as walking around its pasture. By keeping a regular schedule with your farrier and monitoring your horse as often as possible, you are ensuring that it will live the best quality of life possible for the both of you!