Over recent months, trying to avoid the prolonged wet and muddy conditions either in the field or out driving has been almost impossible. J. Frank Gravlee and Scott Gravlee, Equine Nutrition Consultants from Life Data Labs, Inc, look at the various issues that can arise and how best to prevent them.

Poor hoof quality is often associated with a wet and muddy environment. Extended periods of time where the foot is exposed to wet conditions can often result in the development of soft hooves, hoof cracks, Thrush, Mud Fever or other hoof related issues. The hooves are designed to provide balance and stability while carrying the full weight of the horse. When the hoof has been compromised, it’s important to understand that the hooves’ main purpose of supporting the horse is also affected. Protecting your horse’s hooves during periods of wet weather is an essential step in preserving its ability to work and perform.

The anatomy of the hoof wall plays a large role in how the hoof is affected by the wet environment. 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.

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. Below are a few examples of hoof issues that can develop under these conditions.

• Poor Hoof Quality: Hoof cracks, splits, chips, and distortion can develop.

• 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 wall is damaged.

• Mud Fever, Thrush, White Line Disease and Crumbling Hoof Horn: Wet and muddy conditions expose hooves to “hoofeating” microbes. 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.

Limiting pasture time and exposure to these environmental conditions can help avoid hoof problems, but there are other factors that must also be addressed. Balanced nutrition, proper hoof maintenance, and environmental conditions must all be managed to maintain hoof quality. For example, an overweight horse stalled in a clean and dry environment, with little exposure to the wet conditions is still likely to develop hoof problems. On the other hand, a horse fed a balanced diet that supports hoof health but is overly exposed to wet conditions and unclean paddocks will likely be affected by deteriorating hoof quality. Nutrition, Environment, and Maintenance are all factors that affect hoof quality. Ignoring one can make the difference between a healthy hoof and a lame horse.

Below are a few steps you can take to help protect and maintain hoof quality:

• Limit exposure to wet and muddy environments.  Use shavings and provide your horse with a clean and dry environment.  Dry, clean, and pick hooves daily.

• Maintain a regular farrier schedule.

• Support hoof health through proper nutrition.

• Utilise a quality hoof supplement to promote hoof quality.

• Apply a non-caustic hoof topical that regulates moisture balance.

Although wet and muddy conditions can wreak havoc on your horse’s hooves, properly maintaining hoof health is not a seasonal objective. Developing quality hooves require the horse owner’s attention year around, wet or dry. These preventative measures are most effective when conducted daily, and not on an “as needed” measure. It is also important to include your farrier and vet if your horse develops any hoof related issues.

Life Data Labs, Inc. Makers of Farrier’s Formula®: www.lifedatalabs.co.uk