Throughout the year hooves have to experience many conditions which can really stress hoof condition and certainly impede growth.
We all know here in the UK we experience four seasons each year, approximately 13 week periods make up each shift. With climate change impacting how we live our lives, extremes of weather are commonly witnessed which can make the traditional approach to the seasons harder to gauge. In these modern times the hoof is subjected to the variations in wet/dry conditions all year round. With extremes seen in each season, from dry arid spells in summer to long wet spells in the winter months.
When exposed to wet conditions, the horn itself expands as the moisture molecules force their way between the essential bonds. While the hoof may appear more ‘wholesome’ and to the naked eye give a smoother impression, the wet has actually weakened the overall integrity of the hoof itself. Once dry periods and conditions occur, the horn shrinks as the moisture molecules evacuate the horn leaving plenty of gaps. These gaps can lead to cracks forming and brittle horn itself, opening up these tracks for different bacteria to develop and play havoc with horn quality, and leaving our farriers with a difficult hoof to work with.
Lost work days and shortened shoeing/trimming cycles which leads to increased hoof care expenses can follow, this wet/dry cycle is one of the most common challenges faced by every horse and pony in the UK today.
The Structural Impact
- Water molecules can force their way into horn making it expand and weakening the overall structure
- Weaker structural integrity can be more susceptible to damage; hoof is more pliable
- Horn swells – the appearance can hide cracks and defects which can be falsely interpreted as healthy hooves
- Horn is at its strongest at around 25% moisture content
- Hooves drying out after a wet spell can lead to extensive cracking and brittle horn
- Increased farriery visits
Has our Horse Management evolved?
Ben Benson AWCF Master Farrier and Team GBR Farrier believes farriers have witnessed a huge change in the way we manage our horses over the last 20 years. With more horses stabled and schooled on manmade surfaces. This if not managed pro-actively can have a negative impact on the health of our horse’s feet. There is now an entire generation that has worked all its life on synthetic surfaces. The standards of which are dramatically varied from deep rubber or wood chip to a high wax sand to modern fibre sand blend, each of these brings a different level of footing, resistance and energy absorption.
We see more horses washed off each day rather than have the more traditional (and laborious) grooming routine they once had and we also have to take into account horses are now worked 12 months a year and to an older age, increasing the overall working life of the hoof.
Feet that may not be functional all year round
Andrew James AWCF Master Farrier explains that the shoeing routine tends to be on a 4-6 weekly basis – some go as long as 8 weeks. However, most horses require specific routines to effectively maintain their hooves. On average the horn grows around 6mm/month dependent on the individual. Some may grow plenty of horn but brittle and weak with little integrity to its overall structure, others, grow very slowly but strong, adaptable horn, trimming and shoeing can prove difficult on both accounts. For the weak horn, simply trimming and perhaps shoeing can be difficult for the farrier to achieve the desired result. For the strong horn, resultant paring down on trimmed hooves or re-shoeing can be difficult with little horn to work with despite the strong nature of the horn itself.
In both instances a hoof supplement can be highly effective, it should not be fed short term, and can take 3-6 months to typically see a difference and 9-12 months for the hoof to grow from coronet to toe! It’s a long process that should not be taken lightly, “no foot, no horse” is a performance limitation which can lead to a possible welfare issue for the individual.
A good tell-tale sign of improvement is witnessing a ring that develops from the coronet band and grows downwards with the hoof, this depicts a dietary change and in many cases can be a positive.
 Kainer, R.A. (1987) Functional anatomy of equine locomotor organs. In: Ah’ Lameness in Horses, 4th edn, Ed: T. S. Stashak. Lea & Febiger, Philadelphia. pp 1-18