As I was sitting in the nail salon getting my toe nails painted I looked down and was relieved to finally have nice toe nails again. I am sure that all us horse girls know that taking your feet out of your boots and seeing chipped nail polish is NOT the best feeling. Just like looking after our own nails I bet you and your farrier are best friends. The horses feet were most likely done way before you got the chance to get the nail salon but I am about to explain why it is EXTREMELY important to maintain your horse's feet!
As the old saying goes 'if you don't have feet you don't have a horse!' This could not be more true, horses are four legged animals that rely on their feet for the support of their whole body. It would be similar if our finger and toe nails were on the ground to support our bodies. We are lucky that it isn't the case for us but for the horses, it is! Over the many years I have had dealing with horses I know how important hoof care is. Most likely when a horse is experiencing a hoof problem they will show us by being lame. Being able to spot lameness in a horse is really important because if it is missed a bigger problem can occur from a simple issue that could have been resolved earlier. I am not saying that all lameness is due to the feet but it is important to have a detailed look over their feet first to rule out any issues in this area.
So firstly I just wanted to share some useful tips on ways to spot a lameness in a horse. Front leg problems are generally the easiest to identify. When the horse has a front leg lameness generally there will be a bob of the head either in the walk or trot. When the good leg hits the ground the head will bob down and when the bad leg hits the ground the horse's head will go up.
'Ouch = Head Away/up from pain, when bad leg hits the ground'
Hindquarter lameness is a lot harder to identify and sometimes this can be mistaken for a front leg lameness but things to look for are a pelvis hike, when the sore leg hits the ground the hip will be raised compared to the other side (observe by standing from behind). The hock will also be carried higher than the other side.
This video is great for explaining a hind leg lameness!
Once a lameness has been identified it is then important to firstly check there is no rocks or objects sticking into their feet causing the lameness. Who wants to waste money on a professional when it is only a small rock annoying them! If that is not the issue using hoof testers to check for any sore points in the hoof. If there are any concerns in relation to their feet it is best to contact your farrier as soon as possible. I have seen horses in the past when their feet are not looked after appropriately and they have experienced long term damage from this and the farrier has had a mighty task to repair the damage already done!
Basic care such as oiling the feet, cleaning them out daily and getting a trim or shoes every 4-6 weeks (or directed by the farrier) are all ways we can help protect our horses feet. Keeping horses that are not shod off hard big stones can also prevent stone bruising. Diet is also another factor to consider when thinking about hoof care. If the horse is fed a lot of grain containing high carbohydrates, sugars and proteins the feet can become hot and inflamed increasing the risk of the horse being lame. Laminitis can be a long term issue if this diet continues.
A good way to test that your horse's feet are not getting to hot is when they are cool and standing in their paddock just by simply placing a hand on the outside of the hoof you can feel if there is any heat. If it is warmer than usual there may be an issue, ideally you want to be feeling a mild to cool temperature. One hoof may be warmer than the other as well!
This picture is a great example of a few different hoof issues to be aware of and to make sure that if your horse is experiencing any of these a farrier is aware and looking after the issue accordingly.
If we don't look after our horses feet like we look after our own nails our horses will be very sore and not be willing to work with us! Behavioural side effects can occur with the horse becoming very defensive due to being in pain. Healthy feet means a healthy happy horse!
I have only touched on a few little tips to look for in regards to horse hoof care, if there are any topics you would like to know more about feel free to contact me!
P.S If ever in doubt call your local vet or farrier!