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


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 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.


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 EPS 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.


Want to read the rest of this series?
In Good Condition
A Sensitive Situation
You Aren’t Quite What You Eat

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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.

  • I want to try my barefoot mare with boots and pads but she doesn’t seem to move well in the bigger, more enclosed boots that will accommodate pads easily (Old Macs, Cavallo, etc.) She moves like she is wearing snowshoes. Her movement is more natural in basic Easyboots but she doesn’t keep them on. She tore the back off the Epic boots I tried. I’m still looking for options.

    • I don’t often find boots a problem for horses. If they are, often there’s a problem with the way they’re moving.

      As effective as boots and pads are, you can improvement without them, so if your horse really can’t handle them, you will get there with diet and exercise. You just have a few more restrictions without boots to help.

  • What about a horse with Navicular and also has sensitive hoofs, or bruises easily… Interesting articles…Desperately looking for hope for a horse with Navicular

    • I suspect that the inflammation is causing the sensitivity, the bruising and the navicular symptoms. Obviously I haven’t seen your horse, but I’ve always found that addressing the inflammation in the body massively reduces the lameness with navicular, which allows for corrective exercises (or rest if needed) to heal the problem.

  • I am going to print this out and put it on our tack room wall. Informative, accessible and concise,have a hearty handshake from me.

  • Sand makes sense, but my OTTB still hates it 6 months into barefoot transition. The outdoor arena is fine sand, and my mare is particularly reluctant she’s when the sand is wet. She’s happy as a clam on grass, but will try very hard in the arena to stay out of the main path and hit the grassed over areas. Any ideas why?

    • I haven’t heard of that before. As a starting point I’d look for central sulcus issues or thin soles (or both). Not liking deep dry sand could suggest a joint problem, but I’ve never seen a horse who doesn’t like wet sand. Let me know how it goes 🙂

  • I have tried to do the best for my horse but I am really struggling. I feed him kwikbeet and forageplus hoof and skin with extra salt and linseed. He is on a track system with a 95% soaked hay diet (some grass grows, I can’t stop it) but it is very wet in winter so they don’t move so much, mainly stay in the yard area. Whilst he has been reasonably sound all winter now the ground is hard this week he is lame. He has no signs of inflammation (eye sockets, sheath, neck etc.) but he has really crap flat tb feet and thrush that I have failed to keep on top of through the winter. I have nowhere to walk him. The tracks and fields are deeply rutted which has suddenly turned to concrete. There is no menage. The yard is on a very busy road. Do you have any reasonably priced suggestions for me to improve his feet?

    • It sounds like your environment is working against you. Will the track be rolled or is it going to stay rutted? Boots with pads are great for improving feet, but if you’re struggling for facilities to exercise that might not help. If the busy road is preventing you from doing things with your horse, and there’s no menage either it could be the best option is to find a yard that suits your needs a little better. If the road isn’t causing an issue – then boots, pads and in hand walking until you horse is more comfortable.

  • Will there be yet another article on trim? As we know, leaving excess flare or a wad of built up bar will create a pressure point, making a horse less likely to sink into that/weight the hoof properly…..and can make either riding on sand (lots of solar pressure) or on hard ground (lots of wall pressure) very difficult. I’m also a huge fan of balanced diet and exposing the hoof to “work” but if the trim is not balanced/areas not addressed in a timely manner, there is going to be issues (some small….like just being picky about stony surfaces cause the horse is mainly on turf not building any callous…..or large, like deep abcesses that continue to develop in the same area due to incorrect or untimely trims. Can’t wait to see a follow up 🙂 Conditioning is awesome, but the horse has to have a fair chance with the right trim.

    • I agree, a balanced hoof is important. It’s the very foundation of the horse and good foundations are essential. However, it’s not the whole building.

      It’s unlikely I’ll be writing any articles on trimming. No doubt I may touch on it here and there, but Hoof Geek isn’t a blog to teach trimming.

  • Hi Debbie really interesting article thank you. I was particularly interested in your comments about sand, as i have recently been reading some articles on how different surfaces affect the feet and gait. I know when I go on the beach my feet feel great – must be similar for horses! I tend to ride on grass more than in arenas – inyour expert opinion how does this compare for hoof health with other riding surfaces?

    • Grass surfaces can vary quite a bit depending on how hard the ground is, so results will vary. Generally you get a foot that’s suitable for the environment it’s in. So exercising on grass will get you a foot that’s great for exercising on grass – which sould suit you as that’s what you do 🙂

      I would expect a foot that works on grass to be fine on sand. It might not be up to some kinds of stony track, and might wear more quickly than you’d like on concrete or tarmac, but if your diet is right, the digestion and circulation is good, then you can usually do most things. I’ve seen quite a few retired horses who would be up to working on any surface, purely due to their diet, so there’s no fast rule.

      When I started out, we all thought that the exercise was the important thing. I’ve come to realise that it’s the diet. Exercise with the wrong diet gets you nowhere – very slowly. The diet without the exercise gets you there. Diet with the right exercise (which may be far less than what you think is needed) can feel like magic!

      If you think your soles aren’t as strong as you’d like. Putting some therapeutic pads in boots for some of the work you’re doing will make sure the soles are in tip top shape (as long as the diet is right… have I mentioned the diet?)

  • Hi Debbie, I thought when I trawled through your info last week I saw something on the correct way a horse should land his feet i.e. heels first, but try as I might I cannot find this now. Did I imagine it?? or if not perhaps you could let me know if this is on your site. We have slow motioned my horse in motion but I just want to have something to compare to.
    Many thanks, Ouida

    • Do you mean a video? There was a video on the facebook page, but I think it may have been the Just Horse Sense page not the Hoof Geek one. It’s disappeared and so has the conversation, and we can’t find the video on You Tube now, nor can the person who shared the video with me find it. We’re not sure whether we’ve gone mad or what!

      I didn’t have a video on here though. I did have a description of what a hoof landing, which I’m fairly sure describes your horses movement is in the article on cracks.

      You’ll find all sorts of videos on you tube for these things.

  • Really helpful articles Debbie, thank you 🙂 I’ve learnt a lot and they’ve also helped explain several things that I knew a bit about but didn’t understand the reason behind, as well as answering questions that I’d never thought of asking! (For example, why the hoof boot pads that you recommend are preferable to the ones that the boot manufacturers supply – I’d just thought the latter were too thin and a bit rubbish, oops!!)

    • well you weren’t wrong – they are too thin and a bit rubbish 🙂 I’ve seen a horse go clean through a set of those pads in 1 hack. Actually I’m fairly sure it was the horse who’s hoof is in the pic for this post. Put one of those pads against a strong hoof and they literally fall apart.

      I’m glad the article helped. I’d never thought about covering conditioning, which seems odd now I think about it, but the questions that rattle around my head are different from what you guys want to know.


  • Good work Debs! I think that answers my questions 🙂 So… Continue with the hoof boots and start taking trips to the beach! Nice! And make sure she walking freely and keep that physio up to date 😀

    • So basically what took me 4 articles you can put into 2 lines. Nice! Top of the class m’darlin’ 😀

      And yes to all of the above! You got pads in your boots? If not, I can’t send any right now, so give Justine a shout.

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