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Common Hoof Problems: Keeping Your Horse Happy

11 August 2014

UK - Horses’ feet support their full weight over a very small area, so it’s really important to take good care of them.

There are a number of common ailments that can leave horse with not-so-happy feet, and in most cases of lameness the cause is usually found in the foot.

Bruised soles

Injuries to the sole of the foot are usually causes when a horse stands on a hard object. They can also be due to poor trimming or shoeing.

Symptoms include acute lameness that gets worse over time, red or bruised areas seen on the sole, and a reaction when pressure is put on the sole.

Restrict your horse’s movement and keep them on a soft surface to treat bruised soles. If your horse is in severe pain, call the vet.


Long term exposure to damp, plus a lack of care and attention to the feet, is a main cause of thrush. Wet bedding, poor stable management and wet and muddy fields also contribute.

Thrush is a bacterial infection and if it is not treated the sensitive structures inside the foot can be affected.

Symptoms are a black, smelly discharge around the frog, and possibly lameness if severe.

To treat thrush, scrub out the foot and apply eucalyptus oil (available from most chemists) repeatedly along the grooves of the frog until it clears. The farrier should trim the sides of the frog to remove any damaged tissue. If there is infection and lameness, call your vet.

You can prevent thrush by keeping the feet clean, scrubbing them and rubbing on eucalyptus oil once a week during winter, and when necessary in the summer.

Make sure that there is a dry area in the field, for example hard standing, if the horse is out all the time, and keep bedding clean and dry.

Seedy toe

Seedy toe is the separation at the white line. It usually starts at the toe and gradually moves up the hoof wall. The hole becomes filled with white, dead material.

It normally occurs when the toes are allowed to become too long, but it can be a result of laminitis or of concussion on hard ground.

Regular visits from the farrier will help this condition. Some of the tissue may need to be cut away and packed with putty. If the horse is lame, call the vet, as antibiotics may be needed if the foot is infected.


When the blood flow to the inner layer of a horse’s hoof wall (laminae) is affected, the hoof tissue becomes swollen. Laminitis can be fatal so it’s important to take seriously.

Many factors can be responsible for laminitis but the main cause is too many soluble carbohydrates in the digestive system.

Symptoms are a reluctance to move, increased digital sesamoid pulse, walking heel to toe, and leaning back onto the hind feet.

Call the vet immediately and follow the treatment plan given. Remove the horse from grass and take him into a deep bed of shavings, cardboard or sand until sound.

Prevent laminitis by feeding a high fibre diet with strict weight control, and make sure a farrier checks your horse regularly.


The most common reason for lameness is an infection in the foot, caused by wounds, seedy toe or bruising.

A horse will feel pain in the foot, and you might see pus if the hoof is infected. Foot infections need to be treated, so contact your vet or farrier.

A vet should see all puncture wounds in case they have affected in inner foot, which might cause serious damage or require surgery.

Nail bind/prick

This is caused by the farrier putting a nail too close to the sensitive part of the foot (nail bind) or actually piercing the sensitive part of the foot (nail prick).

Symptoms are lameness after shoeing, either immediately or up to a couple of days later.

To treat it, the farrier needs to remove the nail and the foot should be tubbed and poulticed as with a foot infection. Call the vet if lameness continues, or if the farrier recommends it.

Sand/grass cracks

A sand crack starts at the coronet band and works down, whereas a grass crack runs from the ground towards the coronet band.

Both are caused by poor foot conformation or condition, poor or irregular farrier attention, or an injury.

Call the farrier for treatment. Cracks can be stopped from spreading by marking a groove in the hoof wall above or below the crack, or by putting clips around the start of a grass crack. With regular care and attention, the cracks should grow out.

Prevent cracks by having a farrier make regular checks. A dietary supplement of biotin can also promote good hoof condition and growth.

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