Hoof Care & Horse Owners

Folks, I want to talk a bit about hoof care and your job as a horse owner. Believe it or not, it is not your farriers’ job to perform the only maintenance your horse’s feet ever receive. Your farrier visits, on average, once every six to eight weeks, and no matter how good he or she is, your farrier is NOT a miracle worker. If you live in an area where there isn’t a lot of bacteria and fungus in the soil and your horse has superb feet, then you may be one of the lucky few people who can get away with simply cleaning out your horse hooves once in a while and sending him on his way. But if you live in any of the tropical or subtropical climates (that would be anywhere in the South or South East) and your horse doesn’t have superb feet or an ideal environment, then you are going to be expected, no, required to perform weekly-to-daily routine hoof maintenance. Why? Because the weather conditions in these regions can be murder on your horses’ feet, not to mention the fact that bacteria and fungus thrives in this type of climate. Day in and day out wet / dry, hot / dry, mucky conditions, soaking wet in the morning and bone dry by afternoon just taxes your horses feet unmercifully. Not to mention what is happening to your horses’ immune system with the environmental stress and the way many of us feed our horses, but that’s a whole separate subject. Regular hoof maintenance on your part can very much help your horse maintain sound, healthy feet year round. Remember, the feet are the foundation to your horse’s health and well-being. Without good, sound, healthy feet, you do not have a good, sound, healthy horse, Period!

But Keith, you say, I don’t have the time to take care of my horse’s feet on a daily basis. I’m very busy and I expect my farrier to do that job for me. After all, what do I pay him for? OR, you may say, I’m afraid of my horse. He always snatches his foot away from me when I try to work on him. But at least I try. Isn’t that worth something? You may also say, My horse is fine. He’s never taken an unsound step in his life. Besides, the horses in the wild never have their feet tended to and they do just fine. Thank you for those comments, folks. Allow me to address each of them separately. I believe I can help you understand the importance of a routine hoof maintenance schedule and regiment.

First of all, please be aware of the fact that I am making a BIG assumption that you have employed and are regularly using only certified farriers. I’ve written a number of articles as to the importance of using certified farriers and how to locate them. Nuff said..

Ok, so you have a very hectic, busy schedule. Believe it or not, I can relate to that very well. For some reason, that seems to be the way life is these days. But that doesn’t give you the right to ignore your horse’s (or any pet’s) health needs. You must make it a point to perform some amount of maintenance. Why? Well, I’ll happy to list a few of them for you.

One, If you don’t have the time to take care of your horse, and you don’t have someone (competent) who can help you out, then in the best interest of the horse, you need to sell him or give him away to a good home. I know that sounds cruel and heartless, but it is said with the best interest of the horse in mind. Since we have domesticated the horse, it is OUR responsibility to take as good of care of these beautiful, graceful creatures as we possibly can. All too many horses are literally ‘loved’ to death. They were loved, but never messed with. They were loved, but never taught manners or discipline. They were loved, but never fed, or fed right. They were loved, but never given proper care. They were loved, but were forced to live in small, cramp, barren pens or stalls when they have barn buddies are roaming and grazing in decent pastures on a daily basis. (This isn’t to be confused with horses kept in areas like Southern California. That’s an entirely different issue that will be addressed in another article.) Ladies and Gentlemen, if you LOVE horses as I do, do what’s right for the horse, even if that means getting rid of them until you can properly care for them.

Two, If you don’t have time for your horse, how will you ever know if he is healthy, sound or even happy. Let’s say that you do feed and water your horse daily, but you are so busy and tired that all you do for your horse IS feed and water. Five, ten minutes tops, and you’re out of there. Unless there is something so blatantly obvious, how will you ever know if your horse is ok? Trust me, the ‘feed and run’ routine is going to catch up with you. And it will cost you! Perhaps all you needed to do was perform daily, routine maintenance to avoid big problems. Have you ever been so busy that you neglected your vehicles’ maintenance schedule? You had to put it off for this reason or that reason. What happened in the end? Chances are, it cost you more on your next visit to the mechanic. There use to be a commercial on TV for some auto maintenance company, it may have been some thing like Midas, I don’t remember. Their slogan was, “Pay me now, or pay me later.” The point to this is, pay attention to you horse. Take care of your horse, or it will bite you in the end, and wallet. Preventive maintenance is much cheaper than fixing a problem.

All right. Let’s move on. So you expect your farrier to perform all your horses’ hoof maintenance needs. After all, you are very busy and you are paying good money for his or her service. Folks, your farrier is only going to see your horse, on average, six to eight times per year. That is NOT enough to adequately treat some of the bacterial / fungal or other problems that your horse may have. What’s more, just because you use a certified farrier doesn’t mean your horse can’t or won’t develop some foot problem. That’s right, we’re farriers, not miracle workers! There are a whole host of problems that can develop over time, depending on your horses use, stall / pasture conditions, conformation, previous ailments / injuries, etc. Your farrier will identify any problems that may arise. They will treat the problem on every visit until the problem is gone. They will also give you their recommendation for treating the condition. But they won’t be there to treat your horse every few days. They have a business to run and they will have to see many horses within a month’s time. Your farrier should give you instructions on what to do between visits. If they don’t give it to you in writing, ask them to or write it down yourself. Have your farrier explain anything you don’t understand. Ask about chemicals to be used or treatments to be performed. Ask about the frequency of the treatment. You should also ask about alternatives or, plan A, plan B, etc. There is always more than one way to treat a problem / situation. Remember, this is your horse, your horse’s health, and you are the person who, supposedly, sees your horse the most. You will be expected to perform the prescribed maintenance. If you don’t treat the condition as prescribed, the condition will likely not get better, it will very likely get worse.

All right, let’s talk about the next statement. Let’s assume that you do spend time with your horse. You do pay attention to their health, etc. And let’s also assume that your horse has some condition that your farrier has to work on and expects you to continue treating in between their visits. But, you have an ornery or difficult horse, or the treatment gives the horse a bit of discomfort and this causes you to have some apprehensive feelings towards performing the necessary maintenance. Your horse is big and powerful and you don’t want to get hurt. This is very common and you have every right to be concerned for your health, as well as your horses’ health. How should you deal with this 1200 lb. of uncooperative bundle of attitude? Well? Sadly, there’s no magic wand. There is no magic drug (though some are close), and there is no single answer. Training and ground manners should be an obvious answer. Don’t over look that. Other than that, each horse is different and must be handled accordingly. I have a saying, ‘Horses are People, Too’. What this means is, horses have different personalities, just like people. For every human personality, there is pretty much an equal equine personality. The trick to dealing with each one is to understand the psychology behind each one and deal with it accordingly. Did I just come up with a new course curriculum??? Well, sort of. Equine Psychology- it should fall under the heading of Horsemanship. (I’ll talk more about this subject in subsequent articles.) Ok, Ok, so horses have different personalities. But what do I do about my difficult horse, you ask? The point to this equine psychology stuff is this, sometimes, not always, but sometimes by knowing and understanding your horses’ psychological makeup, you can finesse your way through various problems just by knowing how to handle your horse. Here are a few other helpful tips. First and foremost, ask your farrier to show you exactly how to handle your horse; where to be, where not to be and how to perform the treatment. This is not an unreasonable request and your farrier should be happy to help you. If he doesn’t, help, he is obviously not too concerned about you keeping up with the treatment and he’s also probably not too concerned about keeping you as a client. Second, you should pay close attention to where your farrier stands, sits, or kneels when lifting the foot and when performing the necessary treatment. He will always be where it is the safest. After all, it’s his job to know these things. If not, he won’t be a farrier long. Some day, some horse will put him right out of business! Ask your farrier to let you practice standing, lifting and treating the foot while he or she is there. This way you can get immediate feedback. You will also very likely get a newfound appreciating for what your farrier has to go through to trim, shoe or treat your horse.

Now to address the last statement. You say your horse has never taken an unsound step in its life. That’s great. Be happy about that. While there are a good number of horses out there that remain sound and don’t seem to have any ‘soundness’ problems, that doesn’t always mean that the horse doesn’t have any problems now, or won’t have any in the future. Your farrier should be able to advise you as to whether or not your horse has some kind of problem now or, in his or her best guesstimate, whether or not your horse will likely ever develop some hoof ailment. Now, you’re right, the horses in the wild never have any farrier appointments to keep and their feet seem to be sound and healthy. So why is this?? First off, most of the wild horses that are generally being referred to as wild, live in the arid, harsh Western part of the country. They travel great distances grazing and traveling to water. Their feet are very tough and have remained, pretty much, unchanged by human intervention, such as breeding. Their feet tend to grow about as fast as they are worn off. For the horses that don’t wear them off as quickly, nature performs it’s own regular maintenance by designing the hoof to chip and break off, thus resetting the hoof back to something close to a natural balanced state. Over the years, I have come to conclude that nature intended for the weakest part of the hoof wall to break off first, which would be the quarters. This allows the stress on the toe section to cause the toe to break off more easily as the horse travels over rough, rocky terrain. If the heels grow fast and weak, or become under run, they too break off, thus allowing the heels to grow back straight and strong, theoretically. There is one more fact most people aren’t aware of. (I hope I remember this fact correctly, it may have changed over the years, too.) As I recall, something like 5 out of 7 horses in the wild do not live past the age of five. This is largely due to hoof problems that prevent them from keeping up with the herd, which allows them to fall prey to predators or starvation. Unfortunately though, not all of our domestic horses have the same rough and rugged terrain to travel over. Therefore, their feet, if not regularly tended to, will grow very long, very out of balance and may eventually cause problems further up the leg; not to mention that fact that hyperextension of the joints is just plain uncomfortable to the horse. The bottom line here is, most of our domesticated horses don’t have the ‘luxury’ of living like their wild cousins. They don’t have the same predator issues to worry about, even though they do ‘worry’ every day, it’s innate, but they do have hoof concerns that must be addressed, or they will suffer the consequences.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your horses’ feet NEED to be tended to regularly be a certified farrier. They also MUST have you, as the horse owner, regularly clean and check their feet for thrush, seedy toe, white line problems, cracked or split hoof walls and/or any other abnormality. And when a problem is discovered, it is your responsibility to see to it that the problem is addressed and that the prescribed treatment is maintained between farrier visits.

Now, I know I’ve come across a little harsh at times in this article, but I care about horses. I’ve cared for them and about them practically my whole life. I will admit, I didn’t always know what to do or how to do it. I wish I had had someone who could have, and would have, given me lots of sound advice about caring for my horses when I was growing up. Had it not been for the fact that my horse developed a problem, under the care a $20 horseshoer, I never would have gotten in to this business. I decided then and there that I would do everything possible to try to prevent others from going through the same two-year long pain for something as simple as a case of seedy toe that was left unchecked, unreported to me and untreated. You love your horses. I know you do. They nuzzle with you, they whiny to you (mostly at feeding time of course). They carry you great distances. They perform under harsh conditions, and they are forced to live in unnatural surroundings. You buy them the best feed you can get. You buy the best repellents, supplements, shampoos and conditioners. You ride with the nicest saddles and bridles that you can. Don’t you think you should pay attention to the four, little feet that are the support structures to your horses’ complete foundation? And if your horse has some foot problem, any foot problem, don’t you think you owe it to your horse to take the best care, the most diligent care of his feet, that you possibly can? Of course you do. Otherwise, I know you would have done the right thing a long time ago and you would have let someone else, who has more time to devote, take your horse and treat your horse the way he should be treated. For clarification or correspondence, you may email me at keith@keithseeley.com, or phone me at 770-312-6909. Thank you for your time and thanks for reading. Now go visit with your horse and be sure to pay attention to his feet. Happy Trails.


Good Foot, Bad Foot – Can you tell the difference?

Can you identify a good hoof? Do you know what a good hoof looks like? Do you know the difference between a ‘good looking’ foot and a ‘sound’ foot? Is there a difference?

These are some good questions to ponder over, don’t you think?

I have come to specialize in lame and / or foundered horses and these days, I see many more unsound and unhealthy feet than I do healthy feet, so many of the horse owners I come into contact with are people who have forgotten what a sound, healthy foot looks like. I hope to be able to explain to you what a so-called good foot is. It’s not easy. There are a number of ways of looking at a foot and not everyone can or will agree on what ‘sound’ or ‘healthy’ looks like. This is a tough topic, but I’ll do my best to explain what we’re looking for or what you’re striving for based on my trim protocol and based on the findings of BOGHS***

So what does a good foot look like? Well, a good foot will generally be fairly round in shape, not necessarily perfectly round like a circle, but it will generally have a nice rounded or slightly elliptical shape. It will be of sufficient size to carry the animal. It shouldn’t be too large or too small, though larger would be more preferable, depending on the horses’ size, conformation, environment and his purpose or use in life.

The white line will be between 1/8 and 1/4 inch, should have a good uniformed tightness and should be of a nice tan color. There should be no stretching, no chalkiness, and no degradation of any amount. The closer to an 1/8” in thickness, the tighter and stronger the white line is. The white line, or lamina, is responsible for growing hoof wall.

The foot will have a frog that makes good contact with the ground, the frog will have a nice width to it for the size of the foot and it will generally be about two thirds the length of the bottom of the foot from heels to toe. It will have a nice triangular shape, should have a hard, but tough, rubbery feel to it when pressed and shouldn’t look too ‘moth-eaten’ or mottled. Mind you, depending on the time of year, the frog will shed, or molt, about three times a year. The healthier the foot is, the easier it is for the frog to molt and the easier it is to do so all in one piece. But, if it comes off in a few pieces, that’s not a problem. The frog is directly responsible for the health of the bars, for absorbing concussion when the foot strikes the ground, for dissipating energy and converting it to heat, and for pushing blood into the minute recesses of the foot throughout the thousands of micro vessels within the recesses of the foot. Dr. Robert Bowker VMD*, has performed many years or research to determine how the frog works and is directly responsible for each of the afore mentioned issues.

The bars should be nicely formed, reasonably well visible and should make contact with the ground. They shouldn’t stand too upright or lay too far over. According to Dr. Bowker’s research, the optimum angle for the bars is about 60 degrees plus or minus. Their heights will dependent on the environment the horse lives in. If the environment is hard and rocky, it’s likely that the bars will not be too overly noticeable. If the ground is soft, mostly dirt or sand, then the bars will be more pronounced and will be closer to the ground. The bars are another good indicator as to the health of the foot. If they are small, weak or laid over, then the bars aren’t likely to be healthy, which means the frog most likely isn’t healthy. If the bars are large, very noticeable and even has it’s lamina clearly visible, then there’s a good chance that they are healthy and strong. The bars are responsible for growing sole, as well as supporting the coffin bone. This is a fairly new discovery by Tommy Lee Osha** and Dr. Bowker. The inside of the bars make contact with as specific point underneath the coffin bone, which allows the coffin bone to pivot to a small degree inside the foot. If the bars aren’t healthy, then the coffin bone can’t be properly supported, nor can the coffin bone perform its full pivot range.

The sole will have a nice smooth appearance and texture, depending on the environment he’s kept in, it will have a good amount of thickness to it (at least 3/8” is good, but more is always nice to have) and depending on the time of year and region of the country, the sole will either be hard as a rock or will have just a slight amount of give to either testers or strong thumb pressure. However, there should be virtually no sensitivity to the horse when pressing on the sole. A ‘sound’ horse with a good sole will be able to encounter most any time of environment, including gravel, with virtually no hesitation or sensation. The sole will generally have some concavity to it. Don’t get too hung up on this point, because depending on the type of horse, the thickness of the sole and the environment he’s been kept in, you may see a fair amount of concavity or you may not. Just because there isn’t much concavity doesn’t mean the feet are unhealthy nor does it mean the horse will need shoes. Concavity is relative to each horse and his entire environmental variables. If the sole is thick and healthy, then likely the bars and frog are strong and healthy.

The bulbs of the heels should be nicely formed, independently distinctive and uniform to one another. When viewed from the rear of the foot, the shape of the bulbs should form a nice rounded “W”. If the bulbs are pushed out of shape or are lopsided, then there is likely a balance issue in the foot and the foot may not be healthy. The bulbs are a decent indicator as to whether or not the coffin bone is sitting level inside the hoof capsule. If the frogs are pinched together forming a very tight cleft, then the heels may be contracted. If they are moth-eaten, then the foot may not be completely healthy. If the bulbs, when viewed from the side of the foot, don’t have a nice rounded appearance, but rather appear to be more ‘V’ shaped rather than smooth, supple and rounded, then the heels may be under run. The bulbs are a good indicator of the health of the backside of the foot and of the condition of the heels. A well-balanced healthy foot will have nicely distinctive and rounded bulbs when viewed from either the rear of the foot or from the side view of the foot.

There should be a good ‘natural’ pastern angle and the feet should be able to stay balanced regardless of when the last trim was done, within reason of course. There should be good bone alignment coming into the hoof and the hairline should be smooth, soft, supple with virtually no pushing, jamming or unevenness from one side of the foot to the other. The foot should be able to bear weight in the center of the foot, not more on the heels or more on the toe. The pastern angle can’t be accurately determined by using a hoof gauge, but rather by the trained eye. When the leg is standing squarely under the shoulder with the feet placed side by side and chest-width apart, the leg should have a completely vertical line from shoulder to ground and there should be one crisp angled line from the pastern to the ground when viewed from the topside of the hoof wall. This crisp angled line will dictate the actual measured angle of the wall from pastern to ground. If the angle looks curved, broken forward or broken backward, then that foot is not properly balanced and the foot does not have a good, natural angle. The natural pastern angle dictates how the foot will land (toe first, heel first, etc.) and will whether the weight of the foot, the leg and the horse, is placed in the center of the bony column.

The hoof wall should be fairly smooth with little or no evidence of growth rings. It should have no splits, cracks or crevices in it and if in an environment conducive to self trimming, the ground surface of the feet should be smooth and rounded nicely to where there is little hoof wall actually on the ground. This should mean that the horse is getting the right amount of exercise and a good diet for his activity. In short, the foot should look like a good, well-balanced, virtually ideal looking foot. BUT, that’s not to say that a foot that doesn’t look quite like the ideal foot isn’t healthy. There are many variables to be considered and each of the components collectively should be taking into consideration. Wild horses don’t exactly have an ‘ideal’ looking foot, yet many of the wild horses have reasonably healthy feet. They are strong, tough and are balanced based on that horses diet, environment and body conformation. Please note, however, that not all wild horses have ‘ideal’ wild feet. Often times they do not, they simply manage to overcome the ailment and they manage to keep up with the herd well enough so as not to become some predators’ lunch. Wild horses’ feet should not be the ‘gold standard’ for the ideal, well balanced feet. They are not, and this is being proved more and more with the research that has been and is being performed on the wild horse feet. So please don’t be confused that wild feet are ideal feet.

Here comes a tough question for you. From all outward appearance, can you tell for sure that the foot described above is in fact sound and healthy (not the reference to the wild feet , but the other descriptions)? The answer is no. The outward appearance of the foot ‘can’ sometimes belie what’s inside the foot. In order to ensure the inside of the foot is just as sound as what it appears to be on the outside, x-rays will need to be taken from several angles to ensure the quality, placement and alignment of the bones is in fact as sound and healthy as is the outside of the foot. X-rays aren’t perfect, but for now, they’re the closest thing got to go by that’s affordable and available in most markets. MRI’s are an up and coming thing and they provide a lot of information, but not many vets have and MRI machine. Ultra sound is another tool, but again, they are few and far between and are more expense. Thermo graphic imaging is yet another useful tool for determining how the foot is being used. It locates hot spots, cool spots, etc., but it is only a tool for aiding in the diagnosis of a foot, and it shouldn’t be the only tool. So, for now, we’ll have to rely on the x-ray to interpret the health of the inside of the hoof.

The more we know about the inside of the hoof, the better we can ‘guess’ as to the health of the foot from the evidence seen on the outside. Every part of the foot is important and they are each important for different reasons or for different aspects of the inside of the foot. The bottom line is, no vet, farrier or trimmer has the ability to determine just how healthy, or unhealthy, a hoof is on the inside without the aide of an x-ray or other diagnostic tool. By the way, there is one diagnostic tool that, in my opinion, offers too little information at too high of a risk. That tool is the venogram. The horses foot has to be nerved, a tourniquet placed on the leg to slow blood flow and a radioactive dye is injected into the blood vein at just the precise time so as to take an x-ray of the foot. The x-ray is supposed to determine the quality of the blood flow through the foot. It’s virtually always painful for the horse, must be choreographed just perfectly between the vet and each of his aides and the horse can have a very adverse affect from the dye, which is not limited to founder alone. There are much worse affects that the dye, and the entire treatment, can have on the horse. It’s not pretty! So, PLEASE never allow a venogram to be performed on your horse. The information derived is inaccurate and is not healthy for the horse.

I hope I have managed to give you just enough of an idea of how a good foot should appear from the outside of the foot. As noted, the outward appearance is not perfect, but the more we learn about each internal component of the foot and how it affects the health and growth of the foot, the better we can be at guessing at the over all health by looking at the external components of the hoof. With the continued research from Dr. Bowker, Tommy Lee Osha and the entire BOGHS*** organization, the better off we should all be, especially the horse. After all, it’s all about the horse, right??

1. Dr. Robert Bowker VMD, is considered among his peers to be one of the leading equine hoof pathologists in the country, and quite possibly in the world. He currently still teaches at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.
2. Tommy Lee Osha is the founding member of BOGHS, is a former Aerospace engineer and is the entrepreneur of and president for TLOP International, a forward thinking company with ties to research and development, Orthotics aids for horses and humans. His contributions are just becoming widely known through out the world.
3. BOGHS is an acronym for each of the members of the BOGHS research corporation. Dr. Bowker, Tommy Lee Osha, Dr. Barbara Gideon, DVM, Dr. Mike Harry, DVM, and Keith Seeley, Farrier and Equine Lameness Specialist.

If you have any problems or questions, please contact me. 770-312-6909
Thank you and Happy Trails…