Although in the perfect world with the proper care your horse will maintain a healthy and well-functioning foot, unfortunately the world isn’t perfect. Although you trust your horse’s hooves in the hands of your barefoot trimmer, the trimmer only sees your horse’s feet every 6-8 weeks. It is your responsibility as an owner or care provider to check the hooves on a regular bases. If you notice a problem beginning, treatment can start immediately rather than waiting several weeks for your trimmer to catch the problem. If you feel at any point that a hoof ailment is causing your horse unsoundness, it is important to talk both to your barefoot trimmer and depending on the severity, your vet. For many years I felt that the only options to many hoof ailments were to put various pads and shoes onto your horses feet; however, the more I learn, the more I realize that natural barefoot treatments are not only available, but are often more effective for your horse’s soundness.
Thrush is an anaerobic bacteria that is a common problem in an unhealthy foot. Anaerobic bacteria thrives in conditions that lack oxygen, and live off of the protective layers of the hoof. Thrush often impacts the frog most significantly. Thrush is quite common and very treatable if caught early and be very invasive and damaging if left untreated. Thrush can be identified by its distinct smell, you will notice it when you smell it, and associated black colour. In some cases thrush is associated to poor living conditions such as standing in mud and/or manure for extended periods of time, there are other factors to consider as well. A properly functioning hoof is able to expand and contract pushing dirt and other materials out of the hoof. If your horse is living conditions with some areas of mud, but other areas of solid ground with a persistent thrush problem, it is important to consider all possible causes.
In terms of treatment, many vets and farriers recommend treatments such as “Thrush buster” or other over the counter ointments. Although these can be effective, there are other natural options for your horse. The first of which is to ensure that your horse has the correct environment and hoof function. If you are not sure how to provide these, have a discussion with your hoofcare professional! A daily treatment of a mixture of apple cider vinegar, colloidal silver and essential oils can help to naturally and quickly stop the bacteria.
Hoof cracking is another common hoof ailment. Hoof cracks can occur in a variety of severity and locations on the horse’s hoof. It is important to treat the crack immediately and consider why the hoof is cracking. Bacteria can easily get into these cracks and turn a relatively small blemish into a large source of lameness if they do not receive treatment. A good way to ensure that bacteria cannot live in these cracks is to treat with a natural antibacterial spray; this can include a mixture of apple cider vinegar, colloidal silver with various, beneficial essential oils.
- Grass Cracks
- This type of crack is generally non-invasive superficial cracks. Beginning at the ground, they are thin and do not penetrate into live tissue or split the hoof wall. These can be caused by changing environmental conditions, poor nutrition or lack of exercise
- Sand Cracks
- This is another form of superficial crack. Opposite to a grass crack the sand crack begins at the coronary band and moves down
- Heel Cracks
- Unlike grass or sand cracks, the heel crack can be quite painful for your horse. The most common cause of heel cracks is improper shoeing. Shoes that are too long or too short, changing pressures as the horse lands. In a barefoot horse, uneven heel loading may cause this type of crack
- Bar Cracks
- Similar to a heel crack, bar cracks are painful to the horse. They are most commonly caused by an isolated trauma incident to the underside of the hoof.
- Toe Cracks
- This type of crack can be either superficial or invasive, depending on the severity and progression of the crack. This crack is most often caused when the horse walks toe to heel, rather than heel to toe. This uneven pressure loading causes stress on the hoof resulting in cracks. The horse most often walks toe to heel, when they are experiencing heel pain.
- Quarter Cracks
- Similar to toe cracks, this type of crack can be quite severe if left untreated. There are several causes or toe cracks, the most common is the inability for the harmonic grove to expand down to the ground. The harmonic groove describes the shape of the quarters, in a hoof that has been maintained with the natural trim. In a traditional trim or a shod hoof the quarters are trimmed flat, as the quarters try to expand downward, they are faced with extreme pressure that may cause cracking. Quarter cracks can also form due to hoof neglect, imbalance or coffin bone defects.
An abscess occurs when bacteria gets into the hoof causing a localized infection inside the hoof capsule. Abscesses can appear to appear over night, when the buildup of infection, inflammation and white blood cells expand causing pressure on the live tissues on the inside of the hoof capsule, causing pain. There are several causes of abscesses, including environmental cycling, penetrating wounds, nail holes from shoes, internal bruising and/or poor hoof balance/condition. It is important to note that in regard to treatment of an abscess there are two very different and common schools of thought. One idea is that the best way to relieve the horse’s pain is to cut out or pop the abscess, allowing the infection to drain out of the hoof. The problem with this is that there is a chance of permanently damaging live tissue, which could potentially cause a permeant hoof abnormality. The second school of though is to treat the abscess through soaking and continually applying natural poultice. The problem with this method, is that it can take a longer period of time for the horse to recover, but it lowers the risk for permanent damage. Although abscesses are generally not severe conditions, it is important to get your vet out to recommend a treatment plan and to ensure that there isn’t a larger problem that is the cause of the abscess.
Punctures in the hoof can be very serious. If you suspect that your horse has a hoof puncture, call your vet. A puncture can occur if your horse steps on a sharp object such as a nail. A deep puncture has the ability to damage deep connective tissues including but limited to the laminae or the navicular bursa. Serious infections can develop within the hoof capsule, causing pain for your horse. Trauma to these internal structures will alter circulation and blood flow both in the hoof and the horse’s leg. Although in some instances it is very obvious that there is a puncture in the structures of the hoof are elastic with a high water content, and may close at the penetrating point of the wound.
Laminitis or Founder
It is important to point out that laminitis and founder are not two terms that are interchangeable, but are often associated with each other. Laminitis is when the sensitive connective tissue (laminae) become inflamed. This can be very painful for a horse. If a horse is currently experiencing an episode of laminitis, they will likely be standing is a way that takes the pressure off the front of their feet. Laminitis is often caused when a horse or pony eats too much rich grass at one time, however it can also be brought on by a multitude of different hormone or chemical imbalances in the body. Laminitis is not permanent, and can be controlled through careful management. Founder can occur after an episode of laminitis. Founder is when the coffin bone moves away from the hoof wall and rotates downward toward the sole. This is both painful and permanent. You will often notice that a horse who experiences laminitis or has foundered, will have a “dish” shape in their hoof. Both of these conditions are serious and should be monitored by a vet, your horse can be brought back into a state of comfort through correct barefoot trimming methods. Many vets recommend various metal shoe solutions, although your vet is extensively trained, I urge you to question exactly HOW a metal shoe is able to provide comfort to your horse.
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