Healthy Horse Hooves
Healthy hooves are supported by normal limb and foot conformation, regular exercise, a good hay-based diet and knowledgeable farriery--all important care for a horse that is not too thin or too heavy!
How Each Question on the Healthy Horse Hoof Test Relates to Hoof Health
Question 1: A horse that has foot pain, shorter stride than expected, starts out of the stall stumbly or stiffer, but warms out of it when first ridden, potentially has a lameness problem or foot pain that needs to be investigated. Obviously, a lame horse needs to be evaluated by your veterinarian with consultation with your farrier.
Question 2: When looking from the front or back, the ideal conformation is straight limbs that have feet evenly under the limbs for good support. Toed-in foot conformation is harder on a horse than toed-out foot conformation. Feet that appear to have longish toes and low heels create more stress to the heels and the deep flexor tendon that wraps around the navicular bone and attaches to the bottom of the coffin bone. One foot wider or narrower than the opposite front or hind foot potentially demonstrates that the horse doesn't bear equal weight on each side of its body. Obviously, any cracks or separations of the hoof makes normal trimming/shoeing more difficult no matter what the conformation. These can all be a direct cause for lameness.
Question 3: Horses are big animals and ideally, the normal horse needs structured exercise at least 5 days per week with not having rest more than 2 days in a row. Many horses, even when turned out, just eat or stand. Obviously, a horse in a stall gets minimal exercise. Structured exercise means exercise directed by a person for the purpose of training and moving specific muscles. It can include ground and pen exercises, and any form of driving and riding.
Question 4: Horses developed primarily as a high desert animal, walking many miles per day on dry ground, "foraging" for grass or dried grass. Today, the grass we turn out horses on was developed to have high sugars for adding fat to cattle. This is just the opposite of what our horses need. So, lush pasture (green, rapidly-growing, well-fertilized pasture) can be too much for many horses. Horses that are easy keepers (keep or gain weight easily) need reduced or no exposure to lush pasture. All horses need access to salt (NaCl). Your county extension agent is an asset to your veterinary/farrier team for pasture evaluation.
Question 5: Since a horse's diet should be forage, any grains are a supplement. Supplemental grains provide concentrated energy, vitamins, and minerals that can be a help to hard working horses. So, the harder the horse works, the more grain it will need. However, added grains and all other supplements should be evaluated for their potential good or harm to the horse. The weight of your horse's total daily intake from all food sources (hay, grass and supplements) should be about 1% to 3% of your horse's weight. For example, a horses that weighs 1000 lbs. requires about 10-30 lbs. daily from hay, grass, and (if needed) supplements. If an easy keeper, the horse should receive closer to 10 pounds of total feed per day.
Question 6: Just like humans, being overweight is a serious problem for horses. The most tragic disease horses can get – laminitis – is common to overweight horses on high-energy diets of lush grass and/or grain. Heavy horses are going to put more pressure on their feet and other joints. These excessive pressures will increase if conformation is less than optimal. So, excessive weight can increase foot problems and arthritis, reducing their athletic life. Excessive weight will also affect the health and happiness of your horse and thus ultimately their quality of life. So, seeing ribs on a horse with a shiny coat is ideal!
Healthy Horse Hoof Test
Sponsored by Equine Podiatry & Rehabilitation Mobile Practice of North Carolina
Richard A. Mansmann, VMD, PhD Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27517