horse hooves Archives - Life Data® Blog

Soft Hooves: Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

Soft Hooves in Horses

Soft hooves are one of the more common problems associated with wet and muddy conditions. When discussing the topic of soft hooves, it’s important to understand that the hooves’ main purpose is to support the horse. The hooves are designed to provide balance and stability while carrying the full weight of the horse. When a horse develops soft hooves, other hoof problems that can lead to lameness are likely to follow. In this blog we will discuss:

  • How Soft Hooves Develop
  • Problems Associated with Soft Hooves
  • Prevention and Treatment

How Soft Hooves Develop

The anatomy of the hoof wall plays a large role in how the hoof softens. The hoof wall is composed of horn tubules that provide strength and density to the hoof wall, while at the same time allows the hoof wall to be porous. In normal environmental conditions, these tubules will remain tightly packed and the hoof will remain strong. In wet environmental conditions, the porous structure of the hoof acts like a sponge and will absorb moisture. This excess moisture weakens the connective tissue crosslinks that hold the tubules in place. These bonds will continue to weaken and stretch if the hoof is exposed to moisture for an extended period. This process causes the hoof to lose its structural integrity and shape.

The Effects of Soft Hooves

Under normal conditions, the sole of the hoof is concave. This concave structure helps protect the more sensitive parts of the hoof and acts like a shock absorber. When the hoof absorbs too much moisture, the hoof wall expands. The expansion then stretches and separates the white line area. When the weight of the horse is applied to the softened hoof, the hoof begins to pancake, causing the sole of the hoof to drop. Hoof pancaking will also cause the hoof wall to weaken, crack, and split. This creates the perfect environment for numerous hoof related issues to arise. 

Farrier Shoeing Horse

“The first thing that is noticeable when I see a softened hoof is the enhanced aspect of distortion. When softened, the hoof wall is not as strong and can become difficult to manage during rigorous work. When the hoof capsule is weakened, we must worry about the development of cracks and the hoof’s balance. Right now, I am seeing a lot of clients that are being affected by hoof abscesses. Especially in areas where the hoof tissue has become soft. It is important that your farrier is properly cleaning out the seat of corn area, enhancing the vertical depth of the hoof, and paying attention to the sole. This will help ensure your horse does not become too sensitive.” – Darren Owen, Professional Farrier

Problems Associated with Soft Hooves

  • Poor Hoof Quality
    • Hoof cracks, splits, chips, and distortion can form due to the development of soft hooves.
  • Sensitive Hooves
    • Hooves may become tender to hard and rocky surfaces. Foreign objects, rocks, and other material can penetrate and bruise the softened sole. If the hoof becomes too tender, the horse may have difficulty walking or become lame.
  • Hoof Abscesses
    • A softened hoof increases the likelihood of abscessing. The weak hoof wall, stretched white line, and softened sole make it easier for bacteria and/or foreign material to penetrate the hoof capsule. This can result in the formation of hoof abscesses.   
  • Shoe Retention
    • A soft hoof makes it challenging for a horse to hold a shoe. When the hoof becomes too soft, clenched nails holding the shoe will loosen, pull out, or tear away. This can result in chunks of the hoof wall tearing out; especially around the nail holes. The loss of hoof wall makes it more difficult to reset the shoe. The farrier may resort to gluing the shoe if too much of the hoof is damaged.
  • Thrush and Crumbling Hoof Horn
    • Wet and muddy conditions expose hooves to “hoof-eating” microbes that cause thrush and crumbling hoof horn. Crumbling hoof horn, cracks, chips and flat soles are entry points for microbes to invade and thrive.
  • Lameness
    • A soft hoof is susceptible to a wide range of hoof related problems. Your horse could become lame from one or more of the above problems.

How to Prevent Soft Hooves

Proper hoof care, clean and dry environments, and proper nutrition all play a role in maintaining a healthy hoof.

“If your farrier does not have a good solid hoof to work with it is challenging to properly shoe the horse. This is where proper nutrition and prevention come in. This allows the horse to maintain a strong hoof even in times when we are experiencing challenging wet environmental conditions.” – Darren Owen, Professional Farrier

Steps to Prevent Soft Hooves

  • Avoid allowing your horse to spend extended periods of time in wet and muddy environments.
  • Use shavings and provide your horse with a clean and dry environment.
  • Routinely dry and clean your horse’s hooves of any mud, debris, or foreign material.
  • Keep a regular farrier schedule.
  • Provide proper nutrition and a quality hoof supplement such as Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength to develop a denser, healthier, and more resilient hoof.
  • Regularly apply a non-caustic hoof conditioner such as Farrier’s Finish® to help regulate moisture balance.
    • TIP: Adding 2-3 tablespoons of table salt or Epsom salt to a 16 oz bottle of Farrier’s Finish® will help pull out excess moisture and harden the hoof.
Topical for Soft Hooves

If your horse develops soft hooves or other hoof related issues, consult with your farrier and veterinarian. If you have any questions on utilizing Life Data® products to help treat or prevent soft hooves, contact us at 1-800-624-1873 or by e-mail at cservice@lifedatalabs.com.

Hoof Health Takes Patience

Hoof Health and CareThere is one important fact to remember when it comes to growing a healthy hoof, it takes patience. Hoof health is a long-term commitment and takes time to develop. It can take up to a year for the average horse to completely regrow a hoof. Depending on the age of the horse and the severity of the hoof’s condition, it could take even longer. There are other factors that can affect the health of the hoof and, although there are a few factors we cannot change such as genetics, there are factors we can address. If we are willing to put in the time and effort, we can develop the best hoof genetics will allow.

Hoof Health and Nutrition

Nutrition is one of the biggest factors that will affect the health of your horse’s hooves, but this will take time and patience. Changing your horse’s diet will not fix the issue in just a few days. Adding a hoof supplement, such as Farrier’s Formula® Double Strength, to your horse’s diet is one of the easiest ways to provide your horse with the nutrition it needs to grow a healthy hoof. By providing the proper nutrients, you are building the hoof from the inside out. This process can make a world of difference for your horse’s hooves by improving the hoof internally and promoting hoof wall thickness and strength. But this isn’t a short-term fix. We are not preparing for a race, we are preparing for a marathon. Adding Farrier’s Formula® to your horse’s diet is a long-term investment. For many horses it will be a life-long investment.

As we said above, you are providing for the hoof from the inside out, which means you may not visually see results right away. This is where your patience comes into place. If you are not regularly feeding Farrier’s Formula® or are stopping and switching supplements every few weeks you will not receive the same results. Be patient, give the nutrients time to build up in the horse’s system and work from within the horse. When regularly feeding Farrier’s Formula®, it could take up to eight weeks before you begin seeing new hoof growth around the coronary band. In fact, many of our customers have even reported seeing a healthier hair coat before ever seeing new hoof growth. Once Farrier’s Formula® has had time to build up and provide the important nutrients your horse needs, it will then promote better quality and faster growing hooves.

The Environment and Hoof Health

Nutrition is only one aspect of hoof growth and quality, and we cannot discuss nutrition without also addressing the environment. Where nutrition plays a key role on the inside health of the hoof, the environment plays a role on the outside. If you’re not protecting the hoof from the outside environment, you are not protecting the investment you’ve made internally. Even with proper nutrition and supplementation, the environment can wreak havoc on your horse’s hooves and destroy any new growth your horse has made. Regular farrier work, clean stalls and proper nutrition can help prevent many of these environmental issues from developing, but they do not always stop it.

Regularly applying Farrier’s Finish® Hoof Disinfectant and Conditioner to the outside of the hooves will protect the investment you have made with Farrier’s Formula®. Farrier’s Finish® will protect new growth from the environment by helping control microbial invasions, regulating moisture in the hoof capsule, and addressing other environmental problems. For example, Farrier’s Finish® contains yucca extract, which is beneficial to horses that remain stalled or have been exposed to neglected stalls. The yucca in Farrier’s Finish® “binds” with ammonia in the stall to reduce irritation to the hoof capsule. Farrier’s Finish® not only protects and disinfects the surface of the hoof, but it also penetrates deep within the hoof wall to combat microbes at the foundation of the invasion. By applying Farrier’s Finish® you are giving the hoof the chance to grow and flourish.

Full Hoof Protection

Hoof Topical and Disinfectant Farrier’s Formula® and Farrier’s Finish® are the perfect team to establish better quality hooves. By providing proper nutrition and controlling the environment you are promoting the best quality hoof genetics will allow. But you must be patient and consistent to witness the results. If you truly want to see the best hoof underneath your horse, you must be willing to put in the time, resources, effort, and patience that is required. If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at cservice@lifedatalabs.com or call us at 1-800-624-1873. We also recommend talking with your farrier and veterinarian about any hoof related issues your horse may be having.