Foot Soreness Affects Many Horses, both shod and unshod 

It is not just a barefoot thing, though it is something that barefooters are paying more attention to because it does tend to show up much earlier in a barefoot horse. So the key is to figure out why the horse is sore and address those problems. You figure out what's going on, fix it. 

External solutions will help, but they are very much just covering up the problem. And that's not a bad thing. You do need something to help your horse be comfortable while you're fixing whatever the underlying cause is.

But just as long as you are actually addressing the underlying cause rather than seeing the external solution as solving the problem for you. So watch this video for the five things that you need to know about foot soreness in horses.

1. What Foot Soreness Looks Like 

Seems like a good place to start. There's three different ways, really, that a foot can show soreness. It could be sole soreness. This is the one most people call being footy and we'll see as a footiness.

You will see it as difficulty over rough surfaces, particularly stony surfaces, and that might be small or large stones or both. But some horses may only struggle with one type of surface and not the other. It doesn't always make a great deal of sense, but I guess it makes sense to them.

It's rare, but you can see them sore on sand as well as a result of foot soreness. If they are sore on sand, they probably really do have quite a problem with their sole.

There can be soreness in the soft tissue, so your digital cushions and your lateral cartilages. This tends to show up in difficulty with turning. Very often people will say that their horse is short on a circle but sound in a straight line. That one will show up with difficulty turning.

It might also show up as avoiding the camber of a road because that will cause them to use the side of their feet more often. The camber of the road can be a double whammy because it tends to be more stony at the sides. So it may be stones, it may be the camber. You can have a few experiments to try and find out for yourself.

Concussion - avoiding hard surfaces, shortening their stride. They may want to use verges rather than walk on the road. And the other thing is they may be walking quietly.

Very few of these things are mutually exclusive. You may find you have a combination of any or all of these things.

2. Infection 

Infection can cause soreness in horses. It doesn't always. Just because you've got infection doesn't mean that's the cause of the soreness. But when infection gets serious, and particularly when it gets deep into the frog, you can find thrush can cause soreness.

Part of this is interfering with the flexion of the hoof. The way in which the heel should be flexing up and down causes that deep central sulcus where the infection is stuck to be rubbing together and that can cause irritation.

It's particularly bad if it gets sand in there, that will really cause a lot of inflammation, which it makes it a wonderful warm environment for any infection to really run riot. And infection can go very, very deeply up into the internal structures and in very serious cases, split right the way through the back of the hoof and even start going up the pastern.

Infection can definitely cause foot soreness in horses.

3. Weak Soft Tissue

Weak soft tissue can cause soreness in horses. If the soft tissue inside the foot, your digital cushion, and your lateral cartilage is weak, then that hoof is not going to be dealing with concussion very well.

This causes concussion through the whole body and can make the horse sore, particularly the more work that it does, the more concussion it's got going through, and all of that concussion is just thudding because there's no soft tissue to deal with it.

It can be if your soft tissue is too weak that you're getting way too much flexion in the hoof, and that can cause soreness and inflammation.

You can also have damage to the pedal bone like pedal ostitis, which is a long term inflammation of the pedal bone. It causes some pedal bone erosion, and then you tend to have soreness in the hoof from that.

So problems with the internal structures, good reason for a horse to be foot sore.

4. hoof structures. 

If the hoof structure is weak, this can increase a horse's discomfort.

Healthy horn absorbs concussion. When the horn is weak, you're going to get increased concussion through the hoof, and increased concussion through the whole horse.

If the heel is weak, you're going to get increased concussion through the whole horse, probably more strain on your tendons and ligaments and joints. And the concussion won't be going through the right place.

The horse should be landing on their heel to the back of the foot, and you won't be getting concussion in the right place. The hoof will be not distorting in the right way because it's not landing in the right place. This will cause soreness.

You get a lot more stress on the bones. All the internal structures of the hoof, including the bones, but also the bones right the way through the horse, will be getting more stress and you'll be getting less stimulation of the soft tissue.

So I should say incorrect stimulation of the soft tissue. They won't be stimulated to grow strong, but they will be getting more bruising because of the lack of hoof structure.

Also, you will have very simple fact that if the hoof horn is too thin, any pressure point you want to think is going to be pressing on corium, rather than the same as us, if we've got a very thin soled shoe, we can walk over stones, we would be uncomfortable.

That structure being too thin can be a big cause of it, of soreness.

5. circulation problems. 

Inflammation causes circulation problems. Inflammation causes pressure in the hoof capsule, and that can make them really, really sore.

There's other reasons for pressure to develop in the hoof capsule, including lymphatic filling or pus from an abscess, but any of those things are interfering with the circulation and are causing soreness in the hoof.

You will also find that lack of circulation, so if there's any conditions that are causing poor circulation to the extremities, this can cause sensitivity in the internal structures and thus sensitivity to the whole hoof. No matter how good the hoof structure is, this can cause sensitivity.

Foot Soreness 

Pretty much anything causing foot soreness can be related to inflammation, also known as low grade laminitis. Hang in there. Don't ignore me just because I said the L word. Inflammation causes sensitivity.

If you're having hoof problems and you've got a weak hoof, you're overworking those weak structures, that in itself can cause inflammation. So a weak hoof capsule can be causing inflammation. That is a form of low grade laminitis.

Whether you've got structural issues or metabolic issues, inflammation is a factor in that foot soreness.
And inflammation will make a hoof sore very quickly because it's causing pressure inside that hoof capsule.

The horse is generally, one hopes, standing on the hoof capsule and that causes the sensitivity and the soreness.

So if your horse is suffering from any foot soreness, have a look at the Laminitis Warning Signs course, even if you think your horse can't possibly have laminitis. The best time to prevent it is before it happens.

Laminitis Warning Signs

Laminitis can affect any horse...

Does your horse suffer with Foot Soreness, Persistent Hoof Infection, Wall Cracks, Flare, or Underrun heels?

These problems can be signs of low grade laminitis. Inflammation (laminitis) in the hoof can cause deformity and soundness issues. Trying to fix the hoof without identifying and addressing the inflammation feels like pushing mud uphill.

Do you know what to look for? We discuss 35 different early warning signs that inflammation is affecting the hoof, explaining anatomy and function, what laminitis is, how it affects the horse and hooves and practical things you can do to address the problem without losing your mind!

About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

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