In Cracks Pt 1: The Real Cause of Hoof Cracks we talked about imbalance in the horse and the hoof. In Cracks Pt 2: Hoof Wall Cracks we covered how the hoof landing affects the structure of the hoof wall and how different kinds of crack can develop. Now lets look at why cracks get worse and the effectiveness of treatment.
What Makes Cracks Worse?
I may have mentioned this a few times, but… growth rate! A hoof wall crack that’s at the bottom of the foot, will have more leverage on it when the hoof wall gets longer. Particularly if the crack is due to uneven loading, or static imbalance of the hoof capsule as the longer the hoof is, the more unbalanced the forces are.
Often as the hoof wall gets longer, so does the crack. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the crack is travelling up the hoof wall though. Look at it this way. In a newly trimmed hoof, a crack goes 3mm up the wall. You have 3 mm of growth over the next 6 weeks. That means the crack will be 6mm long, and still be in the same position.
It’s double the length, but it isn’t any worse. The trim makes it look much better, because it halves the length. This gives the impression that the crack is being trimmed out, but it’s not, it’s just excess hoof being trimmed off. It also gives the impression that it keeps getting worse, which it isn’t, the hoof is just getting longer.
The Cause of The Problem Getting Worse
Whatever it is that’s causing your crack, if it gets worse for any reason, then the crack will get worse. That sounds kind of obvious, but sometimes this gets overlooked. It’s not uncommon for a physical therapist to blame a crack getting worse, as the cause of a worsened physical problem.
It’s not often that way round. Usually something will have made the physical problem worse, so the crack got worse. This can make you feel like you’ve got lots of problems going on, but what you’re seeing is lots of symptoms, often there is only 1 problem.
If you’re treating symptoms, you’re going to need lots of different treatments, repeatedly. If you’re treating the cause, you may only need 1 treatment to see improvement in lots of different areas. Treating symptoms is stressful because it doesn’t get you anywhere, though obviously there’s a lot of value in managing symptoms while treating the root cause.
Unfortunately there aren’t many problems that are mutually exclusive. This means that if you have 1 problem that’s causing a crack, and you add a second (or third, or fourth…) problem into the mix, then you’re going to get a worse crack, or more cracks.
This is one of the reasons why I like to use preventative methods. Addressing an issue while it’s still a small warning sign usually means you only need a small intervention. Waiting for problems to build up before you take notice means you’ve got a much longer journey back to a good place.
It’s sometimes harder to identify smaller problems, and harder to be sure they’re improving, by the nature, that smaller things are harder to see. It’s usually fairly easy to see a broken leg, or that a horse is 100lbs overweight. Less easy to notice a horse being 5lbs over weight, but so much easier to lose 5 lbs than 100lbs.
Stepping in early makes for a more consistent lifestyle, with fewer ‘big’ issues and a quicker recovery when the ‘big’ issues do happen. It can however make you feel like you’re worrying about everything all the time.
I try to go for awareness rather than worry. Awareness comes from clarity and observation and puts you in a position of strength. Worry just makes you feel like crap without doing anything productive, often while sabotaging your best efforts, and blinding you to your successes.
If you’ve read the Hoof Geek Guide: Infecction Free Hooves you’ll know that infection loves little cracks and crevices to live in. So does infection cause cracks? It’s possible, but I think it’s the other way around. I think a crack develops and infection gets in and sets up camp.
Will infection management get rid of a crack? I don’t see how. Cracks don’t heal. They grow out. Yes you can get rid of the infection that’s in a crack, and that will stop the infection getting to the healthy structure, but generally healthy structure is pretty resistant to infection anyway.
Not to mention, once you’ve disinfected a hoof, you put it straight back on the ground where it picks up infection again.
Years ago when I first started out, I was definitely ‘treat infection happy clappy’ (to give the condition a technical name!) Any spot of infection, I pointed out and suggested people address it. As it turned out, about half of my clients, for one reason or another, didn’t address the infection. The other half did.
I didn’t notice a huge difference in the speed with which anyone’s cracks grew out. It’s for this reason, that I now tend to recommend infection management for 2 reasons.
1. (most commonly) because the owner is worrying and they NEED to do something. If I give them something safe to do, it means I don’t come back 6 weeks later to find they’re slathering the hoof religiously twice a day with some toxic junk that says it will cure all their ills but in fact will cause hoof wall damage (see the article in Cracks Pt 2: Hoof Wall Cracks)
Seeing someone spending half an hour twice a day doing something costly that’s damaging the hooves, just breaks my heart. Having to tell someone that’s what they’ve been doing and could they please stop, is even worse! Not least of all because by that point they’re usually too stressed out to listen, and they can see things are getting worse, which makes them less likely to listen.
2. The infection is bad, and the wall quality is poor, making it more likely that the infection will run rampant around the foot faster than the improvements grow through.
Better Than All That…
There was a horse who taught me a lot about many things. Handling her feet was a bit of an issue. It wasn’t something she allowed daily. She’d had injuries to her legs, and some very poor handling. While she’s a poppet now, back then – well she’s the reason I learnt to trim for myself.
She had infection in her hooves. I was well motivated to find a way to address this without having to touch the feet. And I did – can you guess??? Yep – NUTRITION!
My fabulous little pony (fabulous as long as you weren’t trying to pick up her feet that is!) got over infection problems much faster than anyone using (or not using) topical solutions. When I remarked on this to clients, they were interested. A scoop in the bucket is much less effort that disinfecting feet. Turned out to be more effective too.
I’ve definitely said this before – nutrition!
There’s a saying amongst Personal Trainers and Coaches who have an interest in health. ‘You can’t out train a bad diet’ The same would be true of hoof health. You can’t out trim, or trim out a bad diet.
Here’s an interesting study. I may be setting myself up for a load of abuse here, but hey – that’s always a risk if you’ve got a blog I guess 🙂
A Case Study
Here’s a progression of photos of a horse I took on a few years ago. The top photos are the first trim, the second 2 photos are 5 weeks later and the bottom 2 are 8 months after that.
In the first set of photos you can see there’s a crack on the inside of the of the hoof wall, when you look from the underside, there’s definitely seedy toe there (that’s white line disease in a pocket at the toe).
You can also see there’s no other infection anywhere in the hoof wall. This is one of the main reasons I think the infection gets in because of the crack, not the other way round. If the infection came first – then you’d see it in more than 1 place.
You can also see a big chunk of calcification up at the top on the left. Calcification develops due to imbalance…
In the second set of photos you can see the crack is already starting to get worse. (YAY ME!) Haven’t I chosen my first set of progressive trimming photos to show to the public well!
Why didn’t I worry? (well ok I certainly gave it serious consideration, and still do) Because this was also the first time in years that the horse had been sound after a trim and remained sound until her next trim.
I was trimming very differently to the person before me. The horse had been barefoot, retired and had the calcification for years before I started. But if you do something different, you’re going to get a different result. If you keep doing the same thing you’re going to get the same result.
The owner and I decided the result we were more interested in was the comfort of the horse, rather than making her hoof fit what was generally believed it should aesthetically be.
In the third set of photos you can see that the crack is still there, though the calcification has reduced in size. Interesting isn’t it. It seems the strain of the imbalance moved from the internal structures of the hoof, to the hoof wall.
Infection management has almost no effect. We do do it – mostly to make us feel like we’re trying 🙂
All the way through you can see the hoof wall is beautiful from underneath, except for the crack – the site of weakness. There are some superficial cracks to the outer layer of the outer wall. In the first 2 sets of photos these cracks were trimmed off with the removal of flare. You can see however, how the quality of the hoof wall is poor around the site of the calcification.
In the third set you can see outer wall cracks all over. This is due to the pressure put on the coronary band. It’s causing a circulation problem – one that is managed as well as possible, but as the underlying cause isn’t likely to be cured, the effects will continue to be seen. Her diet is awesome, which minimises the other problems as much as possible.
The horse is as sound as can be expected. ‘Soundish’ is the term I use to describe her. The calcification causes a restriction in the movement of the joint, so she’s always going to have difficulty turning to the right, and arthritis in other joints will affect her overall comfort and soundness, however, she’s enjoying her retirement and is, happy and comfortable.
What does the hoof look like now? Here’s a pic of the last time I saw her. Unfortunately it was dark and only the sole shot came out. You can see however that the crack is a little worse, but the hoof wall quality is amazing. For those of you wondering – I took this pic before I finished the trim, so it would show the quality of the whole thickness of wall, which you can’t see after you’ve applied a mustang roll.
Can you trim a crack out?
Generally no. You can when they’re so superficial it’s hardly worth bothering. In the above example you can see that I could, and did when removing flare. When I didn’t need to remove flare, I didn’t. There is some value in being able to see the cracks. If I’m always rasping them off, I can’t tell if they’re changing.
There’s another point. A crack is a point of weakness, and the bits that aren’t the crack are strong healthy horn. You have to trim away the strong healthy horn until it matches the most internal bit of the point of weakness to trim the crack out. In other words, you’re removing good structure to make it match the bad structure.
A crack is a hole. Can you dig out a hole? Think about it. Yes you’re making it look neater, which pleases the eye, but are you adding to the strength and structure of the foot by doing it? Not always.
Separation is slightly different from cracks, and that you can sometimes, but not always trim out. We’ll cover separation another time.
In short, you can only trim off what the horse isn’t using (assuming you want a sound horse after the trim – which – erm – you do!) I used to have a client who was more concerned with how the hoof looked than how sound the horse was. Like I said – used to!
So how do you address cracks? Find out what the root cause of the problem is and treat that. Sorry I can’t give you a one size fits all answer to that question. I would if I could, but there’s multiple causes and multiple combinations of causes. The best I can do though the medium of a blog is suggest places for you to look and explain why.
I think we might have made it to the end!! Though now I realise we need to cover separation… We’ll do that another time. Surely we’ve had enough of cracks by now!
What do you think? Do cracks worry you? Are you more interested in sound hooves than pretty ones? Do you seem to spend you life messing with lotions and potions to put on hooves?
Put your 2 cents in and tell me in the comments below or on the Facebook or Twitter page.
Want to read the rest of this series?
Part 1 Cracks Pt 1: The Real Cause of Hoof Cracks
Part 2 Cracks Pt 2: Hoof Wall Cracks
The Healthy Horse: Feeding and Nutrition
We Are What We Eat
It's easy to see why diet is so important. The body is always regenerating, it needs good nutrition to be able to build healthy cells. Nutrition is such a confusing subject though!
There's so much advice, and so many different choices, how are you ever supposed to figure out what's right for your horse?
That was fascinating information. Thank you so much. I was hoping you would say how to improve nutrition and which products eg supplements
were best for hoof health. My 24yr old laminitic gelding (retired and unshod) has numerous cracks, but the farrier says his feet are in great condition. So what supplements should I be looking at to prevent further cracking?
Sadly there isn’t a one size fits all answer to that. There’s quite a few articles on nutrition on this blog that may help.
Thanks for your blog! I recently brought home a 20yo ex-campdrafter/endurance horse to retire and he has lots of cracking to his hooves, a couple obviously have seedy toe going on but there’s cracking on all feet extending quite high. Initially I was worried even though he has no signs of lameness and appears otherwise to be quite sound all round. Your blog has given me confidence in my assumption that his diet has been lacking in good stuff so will start him on a multi vitamin & mineral, in addition to my barefoot trimmer paying us a visit to assess and trim. I really hope that if it’s 9 months for the toe area to grow out that I can look forward to seeing much healthier hooves within a similar timeframe and he can live happily ever after as lawnmower/companion for my other horse =)
Yes, lots of cracks is very often nutritional. You should be seeing improved hoof wall coming down from the top in a month or two. If you’re not seeing a clear improvement in horn quality, then it could be inflammation. (technically that’s still nutrition, but the inflammation prevents good circulation to the hoof, and thus the nutrition never reaches it’s destination)
Sounds like your boy has found a great retirement home 🙂
In my experience, about 10 yrs trimming, I have only ever witnessed cracks in conjunction with seedy toe. I also know that seedy toe can be grown out with the crack, but ONLY by rasping across the toe/sole juncture. After adding this rasping style, which can also be called taking the toe down, not back, I do not ever have seedy toe or cracks in any of the horses I trim. By rasping across the toe, only mildly…..a few millimetres in most cases, any sign of seedy toe is clearly visible and can be removed before it creates a crack/problem. You cannot fix what you cannot see and most trimmers do not trim across the toe so the first sign of seedy toe they see is a wall/toe crack.
I do think infection will get into a crack, but I’ve seen cracks for many reasons 🙂
Please would you start to go through the many possible causes for cracks appearing and how to decide? Diana
That’s a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question. Generally it always comes down to imbalance. That imbalance could be in the diet, environment, hoof, or horse. Generally if the cracks are everywhere, it’s going to be diet or environment. If there’s just a few, or only in 1 or 2 feet, it’s more likely to be in the horse – posture, gait or circulation. If it’s in the hoof – the cause is either the trim or higher up in the horse (and the trim is blamed more often than it should be, imho)
I have enjoyed reading about the hoof care with cracks. This brings me to a question about my donkey hoofs, in winter I have a problem with seedy toe it gets muddy where they hang around the gate at feed time, I was told by a farrier to give their feet a spray with bleach after cleaning them, do you have any idea about this. Also I sometimes have a young donkey with nice straight legs and by the time it is half grown a front foot will turn out can you tell me is this due to farrier work or could there be another problem. Thank You Hazel
Donkeys really don’t do well with mud. They’re not made for wet environments, so if you can give them somewhere dry for part of the day you may find that helps (it may be a tall order in winter though!) I’d worry about using bleach. It’s fairly harsh stuff. Are you struggling with wall infection or frog infection.
If it’s just one wonky foot, it’s unlikely to be the farriers fault. It’s much more likely to be a problem higher up. It could simply be they need trimming more often and they’re getting too long if it’s more than 1 foot.
Hi, yes its the same horse! He has had a couple of sessions with a good physio since I originally contacted you who says she can see an improvement in his asymetry since the first visit. He is like a jigsaw horse – the entire left side of his body is more built up than the right. The hoof in question is the left fore which is the one which the vet thought may need a shoe because he suspected sidebone as the outside edge goes straight down and the right side flares somewhat (not as much as originally). However when he x rayed both fore feet from the front and back he was very surprised to find that despite the very odd apperarance (physio refers to it as congenitally deformed!!) the foot was perfectly balanced and a credit to the trimmer. He always looks a little short on that leg and when the physio first attended she was of the opinion that he has had in the past a double pelvic fracture i.e. both sides and also possibly fractured ribs on the left side. This would have been way back before I got him. And yes I am also crooked which probably wont help him, so I guess when you say “look up” theres quite a lot to look at!! Thanks for your help
well, if you don’t wash the mud off the feet you won’t see the crack – that’s almost like it not being there 🙂
I’m actually only half joking there. You know you’ve got good balance, you’re working on the physical problems for both you and your horse. Give yourself a break and a bit of reward for everything you’re getting right. Very rarely do I see a crack causing a lameness. I’d never aim to have a crack, and I’d always try to improve it, but equally, I’d rather the horse and owner be happy and stress free. It’s not that cracks don’t matter, it’s that what you’re putting in (time, emotion, money, stress, worry etc) has to be worth the result. There is definitely no infection remedy that I know of that can correct 2 fractures of a pelvis…
It could be that the crack went away because he wasn’t placing much weight on the hoof. Now it’s come back because he’s more comfortable, so using the leg and hoof more, so the hoof is under more strain. Oddly, that would mean he’s improving over all. 🙂
hi. Ive read this with great interest as I feel as though you are describing my own horse! I switched to a barefoot trimmer about 8 months ago (shes terrific, and has sorted out my horse`s deep central sulcus cracks with Hoof stuff after I had spent considerable time coating them liberally with NT Dry). His feet look very different now to when he had the farrier trim, though he does have a crack up the left fore which seems go be looking worse as the winter wears on. He used to have this crack years ago when he had shoes on and when the farrier took them off it started to grow out until it was not noticeable at all, however the farrier kept his hooves short and he was trimmed every 4 weeks. The crack has returned and it appears to be seedy toe as my trimmer can get the bradle in on the underside about an inch. She has packed it with Hoof stuff on the last trim in the hope that it will stay put till the next trim. She has advised to use Miltons at a l:9 ratio twice a week and the NT Dry twice a week. Interestingly, (and this is where I take on board your comments about trying to heal and possibly do too much) – she feels I may have created a problem with his feet as she has detected some white line/thrush in the back feet which was not there on the previous trim. I had been using NT Dry powder 3 times a week and every other day I had been applying very liberal amounts of apple cider vinegar to the entire surface of the bottom of the hoof including of course the frog which got a good soaking. She felt maybe it was too acidic to be used so regularly so suggested switching to the Miltons instead. From your article regarding cracks – and my horse`s crack looks exactly like the one in your photos – I assume you would probably advocate the less is more policy? so should I not worry too much about it. I can certainly splosh the feet with the Miltons solution in the hope that it will help keep infection at bay but as you say – once out in the horrid muddy fields, it will presumably get reinfected? The crack has always worried me, but maybe I am just panicking unnecessarily? It is only one crack in an otherwise healthy (albeit slightly flaring) hoof which leads me to assume as you suspect that it is the crack that causes the infection and not the other way around. I have to admit that I do stress somewhat when I see the bradle vanishing up to an inch into the crevice though!! Sorry, waffled on a bit but this is a subject of concern to me. I would just like to add that switching to an EP is one of the best things I have done for my horse.
Bearing in mind the original problem you contacted me with (I’m assuming this is still the same horse?) was one of imbalance in the body, I’d suspect something similar here. The problem then was equal imbalance in all 4 feet causing massive imbalanced growth in the hooves.
This is just one leg, so it’s not going to be the same thing but it is a problem you had, it went away, and it came back, I’d suspect that it’s a tightness higher up the leg. Most likely up the top shoulder/pelvis (not sure if it’s a front or back foot). Possibly a saddle pinching, or are you out of balance? What was happening the first time this happened, what was happening when the problem wasn’t there, what’s happening now. Where’s the pattern? Look at non-hoof things.
He was on a very short trim interval with your farrier, which I think has been extended now. Personally I’d go with which ever system creates the soundest horse. If the hoof is growing out of balance again then more frequent trimming might help – but I’d always rather find the cause, so give yourself a break from all the disinfectants and look up 🙂