Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health: PART 2

Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health: PART 2

Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health

In Part 1 of “Correlations Between Equine Hoof and Joint Health,” we discussed how nutrition and body condition are two major factors influencing the health of equine hooves and joints. In part 2, we will concentrate on external and mechanical elements that could be creating stress on your horse’s hooves and joints. Many of the hoof and joint problems we see today can be attributed to the long-term effects of offloading, exposure to hard terrain, and unbalanced hooves.

Offloading

Offloading occurs when a horse “offloads” its weight onto one side to compensate for pain, injury, or discomfort. This is common for horses suffering from a joint injury or a hoof issue such as an abscess. The horse’s anatomy is designed for the entire weight of the horse to be evenly distributed between all four legs. The weight distribution becomes unbalanced when the horse offloads, causing the opposite leg(s) to bear additional weight. Over time, the extra weight may adversely affect the health of the hooves and joints. Some of the problems that can develop are:

  • Joint Injury
  • Hoof cracks
  • Chronic Arthritis
  • Laminitis
  • Poor hoof quality
  • Hoof imbalance
  • Joint inflammation

Offloading: What to Do?

If you witness your horse offloading weight, contact your farrier or veterinarian to resolve the issue as quickly as possible. Your farrier and veterinarian can work with your horse to discover what is causing the pain and discomfort in the hoof or joint. If there is no permanent damage, they can work towards a solution to bring relief. Depending on the initial issue and severity of the problem, your farrier’s expertise in balancing and/or correct shoe application will assist in reducing the effects of offloading.

Terrain Impact

Hooves on hard terrain

Although wet and muddy environments take a toll on hoof health, terrain also plays an essential aspect in the longevity of the joints and the health of the hooves. When the hoof strikes a surface, the force from the landing is absorbed throughout the leg. Higher levels of concussion occur with the harder landing surfaces such as frozen ground, concrete/pavement, and rocky terrain. Frequent impact on hard surfaces can weaken hoof and joint integrity, leading to one or more issues such as:

  • Joint deterioration
  • Bruised /swollen joints
  • Arthritis
  • Road founder
  • Sore and bruised soles
  • Hoof cracks
  • Hoof abscesses
  • Lameness

Terrain: What to Do?

The most straightforward answer is to reduce the amount of time your horse spends on these hard surfaces. Unfortunately, this may not be possible due to your location or the horse’s work. The best way to prevent damage from hard surfaces is to build healthy hooves and joints with nutrition. A healthy, stronger hoof is much more resilient to hard surfaces. Healthier hooves also reduce the amount of impact felt through the joints. Stronger joints are also more likely to stand up to wear and tear. Utilizing nutrition and hoof and joint supplementation is one of the easiest ways to promote hoof and joint health. Regular exercise and maintaining balanced hooves are also keys to prevention.

Unbalanced Hooves

Farrier trimming and balancing hoof

A horse with unbalanced hooves is like a car out of alignment, driving down the road wearing down the tires. Unbalanced hooves predispose horses to hoof and joint issues. Ideally, the horse’s hoof contacts the ground as a unit, distributing the weight impact force evenly across the weight-bearing surface of the hoof. An unbalanced set of hooves will lead to an uneven distribution of weight and force across the hooves and the lower limb joints. The imbalance adds additional strain to the health of the hoof and joints. The risk of injury from tripping, stumbling, or an unnatural landing is more likely to occur, especially in performance horses who are actively running, jumping, and exercising. Unbalanced hooves can affect both barefoot and shod horses, and several problems can develop from this issue:

  • Hoof distortion
  • Increase risk of thrush and white line disease
  • Hoof abscesses
  • Hoof or joint-related injuries
  • Laminitis
  • Joint deterioration
  • Hoof wall defects and separation
  • Heel bulb displacement
  • Microbial invasion

Unbalanced Hooves: What to Do?

The best solution is to work with your farrier to balance the hooves. Horse owners should pay close attention to their horse’s hooves. Clean and pick the feet daily and examine the hoof for changes or problems. Never be afraid to bring up a hoof balance concern with your farrier or veterinarian. You can learn more about the importance of well-balanced hooves in our previous blog.

Protecting hoof and joint health is essential to the longevity of your horse. If you believe your horse has sustained an injury or has developed an issue, consult with your farrier and veterinarian. Contact us if you have any questions regarding this article.