Strengthening Hooves:
What You Need to Know!

Strengthening hooves

Yes! We’ve finally got there! The nitty gritty of how to strengthen the hoof capsule! I feel a little mean though, because it may turn out just a little anti-climactic after the build up we’ve had! If you missed the awesome build up, then I’ve listed the articles below. Please do read them first, as the information in this article simply won’t help on it’s own. (well it might if you’re lucky, but it’ll be luck not judgement)

In Good Condition
A Sensitive Situation
You Aren’t Quite What You Eat

Now you know whether your horse has weak hooves, if there’s a foot sensitivity problem, and you’ve got an idea as to whether the internal organ function is working well, and the good nutrition you’re feeding is not only being digested, but delivered to the foot by a healthy circulatory system. With all that in place, when you exercise the hooves, they’re going to get stronger, quickly and easily.

What stimulates hoof growth 101

Pressure

That’s it!

Well in the 101 class, that’s it. Pressure stimulates growth. That simple principle can tell you all sorts of things about a horse. Too much pressure will do 1 of 2 things, depending on how much, too much pressure you have. A little bit too much pressure causes growth to speed up, so fast growth isn’t necessarily a good thing. Think low grade laminitis.

Waaaay too much pressure causes what’s called pressure necrosis. That means enough pressure to squeeze the life out of stuff. It dies. Think acute and chronic laminitis.

Correct pressure stimulates correct growth ie. strengthening hooves, and incorrect pressure stimulates incorrect growth ie. weaker hooves and weird shapes.

When you’re looking a hoof capsule, and there’s something there that shouldn’t be, where’s the pressure coming from? When there’s something missing, why isn’t the pressure there? If it’s just plain wonky, how is the pressure being applied to stimulate things in the wrong direction?

Unlike behavioural training where you need to expose your horse to the actual thing you’re trying to desensitise them to, with hoof conditioning it’s all about stimulating a strong hoof capsule. Much like lifting a weight in a gym, will strengthen you to be able to lift a heavy box out in the real world, strengthening a hoof using sand, can strengthen it to the point where it can cope with stones.

Ways of Creating Correct Pressure Stimulus

Sand

Sand is great stuff, it exfoliates all the nasty bits off, and it gets up into all the contours and crevices of the feet meaning you get pressure everywhere. Sand is awesome for strengthening feet in just the right way. There’s no point pressure problems like you can get with stones so it’s suitable for horses who would find stones painful.

Warning: If your horse has a deep central sulcus, which will look like a crack or narrow crevice in the middle of the frog at the back, don’t go on sand. It will get into the crevice and irritate, possibly worsening infection and causing a split up the back of the foot.

Stones

Different types of stoney surfaces cause problems, or will be comfortable for different horses. I’d, love to be more specific than that but I’ve found that some horses will be fine on big stones but find small stones more challenging, other horses are the opposite.

I don’t actually like stones as a conditioning surface. Often when you hear people talking about stones being good for strengthening feet it’s under quite controlled conditions. They’ll select the right sized stone, and install a prepared surface to a suitable depth depending on their requirements.

While I’m not against doing that, I feel that for most people, the time effort and money can be better spent. I guess it all depends how many horses, how much money and how much control over your environment you have.

Let’s assume we’re talking about a stoney track, which for most people is what they have access to and for some, it’s what they can’t avoid even if they wanted to! In that case the stones tend to be of varying dimensions, with a hard surface underneath depending on weather conditions. The stones may be sharp, smooth or a mixture of both.

This gives you no control at all over what your horse is walking on. If the hooves aren’t strong enough to do the work then doing the work may cause bruising to the underlying structures, just as it would for you is you went for a jog up a gravel track in your slippers. It may not be a big bruise, it may just show up as an overall mild inflammation in the foot.

Inflammation compromises the circulation in the foot and therefore inhibits it’s growing, healing and strengthening ability, which was the goal you were aiming for. In short, it’s going to be the slowest way to get what you want. You may get away with it, but that’s not the same thing as setting yourself up for success, which for me is a better way to live.

This doesn’t mean you can’t lead your horse across stones if you need to. If the feet aren’t quite up to stones, and it’s a realistic option, when you come across a stoney track, get off and lead, and get back on once you’re over the troublesome bit. Equally, if you have a stone track between your field and stable. In most cases your horse will be fine if they can pick their own way.

Use your judgement. You can tell if something is a bit uncomfortable or downright painful. If it’s uncomfortable, you’ll be fine letting your horse pick it’s own way, if it’s painful, try to find another option. Pain is the bodies way of saying damage is being done and what we’re trying to do here is undo damage, not do more!

Options for dealing with this situation are finding another route, hoof boots, homemade hoof boots, sweeping a path, moving your horse to a different field, or in some cases putting some carpet down. It depends how far they need to go and how sore they are. I’d suggest getting the carpet from the tip rather than buying new! Have a look around and see what will work for you.

It’s also worth mentioning that walking over big stones requires the joints to move and compensate a lot. For this reason most horses are careful, and a horse with joint issues may find it more challenging regardless of their hoof health. Don’t always assume the problem is in the feet. Look up! There’s a whole horse up there!!! 🙂

Hard Sufaces

Concrete and tarmac are great for stimulating more hoof wall growth. They’re also great for wearing hoof wall away, and if there’s any sort of gait problem, particularly one which involves a foot twisting as it lands or leaves the ground, the wear is likely to be increased and uneven. Don’t let that put you off though!

I conditioned my own horse JD from being footsore when lead her over a gravel track while shod, to being ridden through a quarry. At 5’10’’ to her dainty 14.2hh I’m a pretty big rider for her too. Don’t underestimate the power of simple hand walking along the road.

JD and I did 10-15 mins daily. I’ll be honest, it was years ago and I’ve forgotten how long it took. It all happened in the same summer though so not more than a few months tops.

Therapeutic Pads

The surface you can take with you wherever you go! Assuming you’re using the right kind of pad. The ones that hoof boot companies provide aren’t all that great for conditioning feet. Which is why they tell you they’ll make your horse more comfortable, which they probably will, but that’s all they do.

Remember that you strengthen hooves with exercise. Imagine this, you hire a personal trainer to help you reach achieve your perfect vision of how you want your body to be. You book 3 sessions a week, during those sessions he wraps you up in a snuggly duvet on the sofa, gives you a lovely cuppa with some biccies and you watch your favorite TV show.
Well you’d be comfortable for sure, but unless your goal was to make it onto Britain’s Biggest Loser at some point in the furture, this exercise plan would get you further away from your goal not closer to it.

While hoof boots are great, sometimes their advice about hooves is a little strange. I read on a hoof boot blog just yesterday that a good use for a farriers nail is to clean out thrush from a central sulcus. Sounds like a great way to make the thing bleed to me. Might I suggest flushing with a syringe (without the needle) or a cotton bud or running a piece of gauze through instead?

If you want to strengthen the hooves, you need to work them. Not work them to breaking point, lets be reasonable, but you do need to work them. Therapeutic pads must provide correct pressure, to stimulate correct hoof growth. The ones I use I buy from www.equinepodiatrysupplies.co.uk/pads

The easiest way to apply pads is with a hoof boot. The best boots for fitting pads in are the Cavallo, Old Mac and Boa. Most of the other boots on the market are too close fitting to the hoof to allow room for a pad. That makes them great for things like endurance riding, but rubbish for things like rehabilitation.

Other Things to Consider

The surface you’re walking on is one side of the equation, but there’s something else to consider as well. The hoof capsule. How is the hoof interacting with the surface?

If it’s landing toe first, you’re going to struggle to improve heel strength as the heels won’t be receiving correct pressure. You need a correct heel first landing for that.

If the toe is flicking up in the air just before landing, then the back of the heel, rather than the ground bearing surface. This will be pushing the heel forwards encouraging them to collapse.

To get the correct pressure, you need to get your horse moving freely, and then build from there. It really is all about getting the horse healthy, and then everything else falls into place much more easily.

Conditioning For Shod Feet

Conditioning doesn’t really work for shod feet. The shoe is too effective as a support structure so the structure of the foot never really get worked to the point where they increase their strength. Methods for helping the sensitivity, circulation and nutrient absorption all still apply though, and will have improve the whole health of your horse, including giving you stronger walls so the hooves hold a shoe on better.

What do you think?
Put your 2 cents in and tell me in the comments below or on the Facebook or Twitter page.

Debs

Want to read the rest of this series?
Part 1 http://hoofgeek.com/in-good-condition
Part 2 http://hoofgeek.com/a-sensitive-situation
Part 3 http://hoofgeek.com/you-arent-quite-what-you-eat

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