‘Establish a routine of picking out his feet each morning and evening,’
Nothing rings truer than the old saying ‘No Foot, No Horse’, without good hooves you quite literally have no horse to ride. A good foot care regime is vitally important to keep your horse’s hooves healthy.
The most important thing you can do is to pick out your horse’s feet, by doing so you get a chance to take early action on many common hoof problems. Establish a routine of picking out his feet each morning and evening, to check for heat and pulse, remove manure, or stones from the field, and check for signs of thrush or injuries. It is good management to check his hooves before and after you ride as well.
Each time you clean your horse’s hooves, take an extra couple of minutes after you’ve pried out any packed debris to gently clear the crevice of the frog, and scrape any remaining bits of matter off the sole, with the tip of the pick. You want to be able to see the sole’s entire surface, so finish the job with a stiff brush. Some hoof picks come with brush attached, or you can buy a brush separately and inexpensively.
While handling your horse’s feet to pick them out, notice their temperature; when everything is normal they’ will feel very slightly warm. Take a moment to locate the digital pulse with two fingers pressed against the back of his pastern; you’re interested not in the rate of the pulse, but in its strength under normal conditions. Check the frog, which has about the texture and firmness of a new rubber eraser when it’s healthy.
When picking out the feet, look for signs of…
The first clue to this bacterial condition (usually caused by prolonged standing in manure, mud, or other wet, filthy conditions is a foul smell and a dark ooze coming from the cleft of the frog. Later, the frog becomes cheesy in texture. Although thrush can eventually cause lameness and significant hoof damage, its early stages it is simple to treat. Use an over-the-counter remedy recommended by your farrier or Vet–follow directions carefully–and make sure your horse’s stall is clean and dry. If you normally bed with straw, consider a change to much more absorbent shavings. Some horses–especially those with upright, narrow feet with deep clefts that tend to trap more dirt, debris, and manure–are predisposed to thrush even when well cared for.
If a nail or other object pierces your horse’s sole and then falls out, the entry wound will probably be invisible by the time you pick his feet and you’ll be unaware of it until it causes an abscess. But if you do discover something sticking into the horse’s foot – DON’T PULL IT OUT. Put your horse in his stall (protect the punctured foot, and help the foreign object stay put, with wrapping and duct tape, or with a slip-on medication boot), and telephone your vet right away. An X-ray of the foot can show how far the object has penetrated and which structures are involved. If you pick your horse’s feet out regularly, you will see the problem fairly soon after the puncture has occurred. Once he has assessed the situation your Vet can remove the object and advise a course of treatment.
Some cracks are superficial but others may worsen to involve sensitive hoof structures unless appropriate action is taken. If you notice a crack in your horse’s hoof, call your farrier and describe its location and size so he can decide whether it needs attention now or can wait until the next regular shoeing.
If your horse’s digital pulse feels stronger than usual and/or the foot is warmer than normal to touch, the cause could be an abscess inside the hoof from a badly placed shoeing nail, a bruise, or an overlooked sole puncture. Routine checks will alert you to the problem and enable you to get your Vet or farrier involved before your horse–probably at least slightly lame already on the abscessed foot, which throbs from the pressure of increased blood flow to the infected area–is in even greater pain.
By simply taking just a few moments a day you can keep your horse’s feet healthy and prevent any lameness problems which will make it impossible for you to ride.