5 Early Signs of Unhealthy Hooves

Your horse will not verbally inform you of a hoof related problem. So, unless your horse is related to Mr. Ed, it’s your job as a horse owner to detect hoof issues. Luckily, there are signs to look for that can help you in this process. With a keen eye, knowledge of what to look for, and a commitment to maintain healthy hooves, these signs can help you address hoof problems before they become serious. Below are 5 early signs of unhealthy hooves:

1. Changes in Personality

Horse with pretty hooves

No one knows your horse like you do. Your horse’s mannerisms, movements, and actions are all part of its personality. A change in one or more of these things can be a sign of discomfort, tenderness, or pain in the hooves. Watch the way your horse is walking. Has the gait changed? Does your horse seem less energetic or moving more slowly? Pay attention to your horse’s actions. Is your horse resistant to work, perform, or walk on certain surfaces? Is your horse less social or acting moody? These changes may be a sign that a problem is developing.

2. Outer Hoof Health

Chipping and cracking are not normal for a healthy hoof. The development of chips and cracks along the hoof wall are signs of weakened hoof integrity. This can also be a sign that your horse’s hooves are too dry.  Cracks and chips predispose the hoof to bacterial and fungal invasions which can further deteriorate hoof health. Pay attention to the outer appearance of the hoof during regular cleaning and maintenance. During cleanings, be alert for odors coming from the hoof. If an odor is present, it is likely an infection is already present. The use of a non-caustic antimicrobial hoof topical or hoof clay can help protect hoof cracks from “hoof-eating” microbes.

Filling old nail holes in hoof

3. Dull Hair Coat

Your horse’s hair coat condition is a direct reflection of the internal health of the hooves. The hair coat, skin and hooves are all made from dermal tissue, and require many of the same nutrients. If the horse is under or over supplemented with these nutrients, problems with the hair coat are usually duplicated in the hooves. The hair coat is the first to show signs of these nutrient deficiencies. If your horse’s hair coat begins to lose luster, the quality of the hooves may soon follow. Review your horse’s current feeding program and consider adding a high-quality hoof supplement to the diet. Feeding a high-quality hoof supplement will help provide the necessary nutrients to promote the internal health of the hooves and hair coat.

4. Shoe Retention

Shod horses require a strong hoof wall to hold shoes. It is important to maintain a regular farrier schedule to ensure hooves are balanced and shoes are properly set. Although shoes may loosen over time, hooves should be strong enough to hold a shoe until the next scheduled farrier appointment. On average, that time frame should be around every 6 weeks. If the hoof is not able to hold the shoe for that period, the health of the hoof should be evaluated. This may also be a sign that environmental conditions surrounding the horse are influencing poor hoof health. Overly wet environments can contribute to the development of soft hooves. While overly dry environments can create hooves that are too brittle. Both conditions make it difficult for a hoof to retain shoes. 

5. Hoof Growth

Slow hoof growth is another indicator that your horse is not receiving the proper nutrition needed to promote a healthy hoof. In the spring and summer months, you should expect good healthy hoof growth. On average, you should see ¼ to ⅜ inches of growth per month. During the winter months your horse’s hooves will not grow as much, although it is still important to continue hoof care during this period. Hooves with a good growth rate tend to be healthier and easier to manage, trim and shoe. Feeding a high-quality hoof supplement can help promote hoof growth. Utilizing a non-caustic hoof topical is also recommended to protect new growth from the external environment.

Your horse’s hooves are essential to the soundness and overall health of your horse. Noticing these early signs of poor hoof health can not only save your horse’s hooves, but also save you time, money, and frustration. If you are witnessing one or more of these signs, consult with your farrier and veterinarian regarding the health of your horse’s hooves. If you have any questions regarding proper nutrition or hoof care, feel free to contact us at 1-800-624-1873, 1-256-370-7555, or cservice@lifedatalabs.com.

Complete Equine Hoof Care