Inflammation is a lot more common than we think, and it has a multitude of causes, literally so many causes. The internal environment of the horse, any kind of health issue, can be a cause of inflammation. So can the external environment of the horse, i.e. Everything around it and everything it will interact with.

This inflammation can have a massive, massive impact on the hoof health, development, and soundness of the hooves. So watch this video to find out the five things you need to know about inflammation in horses.

1. what is inflammation? 

Inflammation, is a natural healing response. The body does it in response to pretty much anything going wrong. Short term, it's helpful, but long term, it can cause other problems. Things like swelling, bruising, heat and pain, they all go along with inflammation.  

Whether it's localised, like the site of an injury, or whether it's systemic, so it's due to an environmental problem or a health condition, that inflammation is affecting your horse. Any sort of systemic inflammation will affect the hooves because the hooves are part of your horse.

If the whole horse is inflamed, the hooves are inflamed. This is what we traditionally think of as metabolic laminitis when a horse is getting too much grass. But there are other causes of inflammation that can affect the hooves.

Also localised inflammation, if it's near the hoof, can affect the hooves as well. For instance, things like mud fever, or mites, or any skin condition in the lower leg will cause a level of inflammation in that hoof, thus, essentially, low grade laminitis in that hoof.

2. how inflammation makes a hoof foot sore. 

Inflammation is swelling. It causes pressure in the hoof capsule, and that pressure is what's making the foot sore. Ironically, the stronger the hoof capsule, the more good structure the hoof capsule has, the more easily affected by inflammation it is.

This is because a really strong hoof capsule that is packed full of good soft tissue and good healthy structure simply doesn't have any room for any swelling. So any swelling is going to cause pressure very quickly. If you have a weak hoof capsule, it can bend and stretch and flex a bit more than technically it should, but that will actually allow it to stretch a little bit should you get inflammation in the foot.

This is most often seen by the fact that all of the horses we think of traditionally as good hooved horses, your cobs and your natives and your horses with good, strong hooves, are also the horses we think of as laminitic horses, your laminitic cob, your laminitic pony, same thing. So it's a bit of a double edged sword.

I personally would like good, strong hooves and no inflammation.

3. how inflammation causes hoof pathology. 

Inflammation causes pressure, and pressure stimulates growth. Too much pressure will stop all growth completely. You have a bell curve of more growth initially and then no growth at all.

This will be things like the hoof growing faster and you'll see cracks and flare and growth rings, often infection as well. Or some parts may grow slower, which is where you see no toe growth at all.

In a laminitic hoof, you'll see very fast growth at the heels and no growth at the toe because you've got the inflammation at the toe is too much. The inflammation at the heel is very high. So you get those two different completely opposite growth rates.

But you can also see the no growth in terms of thin soles, weak heels, any of those poor quality hoof horn issues.

4. inflammation causes infection. 

Inflammation causes bruising. Bruising is a really good source of nutrients for infection. Bruising can be pink, this we know. But it can also be yellow, same as with us. If you have just a very, very mild bruise on your arm, it'll just be a little bit yellow.

Same thing happens in the hoof capsule. So a yellower hoof capsule would be a sign of bruising. Of course, in a black hoof, you're not going to see the bruising at all because it doesn't show up. This doesn't mean that white hooves bruise more than black hooves. It just means you can't see a bruise in the black hooves.

The bruise is a really good source of nutrients. So any of the bacteria in the environment will get into that hoof and eat away. Inflammation also causes heat. And of course, infection loves that warm environment.

So inflammation causes infection.

5. how inflammation changes their movement. 

Inflammation causes soreness, generally anywhere, but specifically in the hooves. And your horse is going to do what they can to avoid that sore area.

They might do this by flicking their toes in the air and landing more heavily on the back of the heel, which can cause problems for the way the hoof develops and problems for the joints higher up.

They might be shortening their stride, which generally causes them to land toe first. And a toe first landing causes problems all the way throughout the body as well as for the hoof capsule.

You might find that they're nappy when you're riding or generally reluctant to go forwards.

You may find that maybe they won't go through gates. Now, it's not usually the gate itself that's the problem, but the change in the ground, particularly if one side is harder than another, you might find it more difficult to get them to go onto a harder surface, which can sometimes look like they won't go through a gate.

You might find that they're sluggish or lazy. Again, this is reluctant to go forwards because their feet are sore or shortening their stride because their feet are sore.

You may find that they're rushing. They might be doing the other thing, which sometimes when you walk over something that isn't comfortable, you rush forwards to get over it. Either of those things can happen as well.

When a hoof is mildly affected by inflammation, we call it low grade laminitis. So I'm not talking about acute laminitis.

Low grade laminitis is a whole different thing. It's not just for fat ponies.

Many hoof problems are as a result of underlying inflammation and often unnoticed underlying inflammation.

So if your horse is having hoof problems, I highly recommend the Laminitis Warning Signs course. That's not just because it's my course that I wrote, it's because I created it with the express purpose of helping you solve these problems for your horse.

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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