Is Your Horse Foot-Sore?

If you answered YES, then read on to find out why…

You may be using an experienced farrier who is trimming your horse regularly every 5 or 6 weeks yet your horse has sore feet a lot of the time. Even when ridden over rough surfaces regularly, why is it that sometimes your horse can trot easily over firm ground and other times they are struggling to walk on anything firmer than sand or soft grass?

Each time the farrier comes, you hope they don’t go lame after a trim or you end up putting shoes on because you can’t seem to toughen your horse’s feet enough to go barefoot.

And just when you think you are getting somewhere only to find they become sore again for no apparent reason.

To help understand why this is happening, we need to look at how the domestic horse’s lifestyle differs from that of the wild horse, as this has a significant impact on the strength of the internal structures of their hooves.

Horses originated from cold, dry environments and lived on low nutrient, high fibre forage. Wild horses move almost continuously travelling an average of 40kms daily. Their hooves are naturally worn down from the constant movement over abrasive terrain.

A horse with healthy hooves will walk primarily on the outer, tough hoof wall, the sole is concave in shape allowing most of the contact when walking to be on the hoof wall and frog which provides extra traction and shock absorption.

Horses with ‘flat feet’ have a sole that is more flat than concave, so a larger area of the sole comes in contact with the ground and therefore they are much more likely to be foot-sore because they have little protection against rocks or stones.

There is no evidence to suggest that horses are born with ‘flat feet’, this is something that occurs throughout their life and is more common in horses that suffer from flaring, underrun heels and laminitis which may cause flattening of the foot’s internal arch.

Many horses with ‘foot problems’ may actually be suffering from Low-Grade Laminitis (LGL) which may never develop into full blown laminitis but they are just ‘not right’ a lot of the time.

If your horse suffers from any of the following, it may be a sign of LGL –

Footsore over firm, hard surfaces (unless they have been shod and you are transitioning to barefoot, in which case they will need some time to adjust)

Flaring that does not improve, even with correct barefoot trimming

Under-run heels

Flat footed soles

Wall separation

Seedy toe

Your horse becomes sore after correct trimming

Horses that don’t do well without shoes may actually be suffering from LGL. These horses often improve with dietary and supplementary changes enough that their feet improve significantly.

LGL is more common during Spring and Autumn due to fluctuations in the grass growth.

Horses with LGL tend to put feet down with slightly more heel first than normal to reduce pressure on toes. They may have a shortened stride length, difficultly with canter transitions and show a reluctance to move forward with impulsion.

Other hoof problems such as abscesses, sole bruises and thrush may cause your horse to become foot-sore or lame.

However, it’s no surprise that so many horses living in paddocks with lush green grass in coastal, subtropical or tropical climates with high rainfall have tender feet or other hoof issues.

The best way to help prevent and correct hoof problems for your horse is to:

Ensure you have a dry area for your horse to go when weather is constantly wet for extended periods.

Try to restrict grass consumption if pasture is green and lush (long, older dry grass is preferable to short green grass) and Spring and Autumn are often high risk times.

Follow the Calm Healthy horse Plan for feeding guidelines and supplementation.

Trim hooves regularly and keep hooves short rather than allowing them to grow long before each trimming.

Avoid grazing on fertilized pastures (horses do best on low-nutrient pasture, not cattle grazing for fast growth and fattening).

Try to ensure pasture contains good safe horse pasture.

Using padded boots may help if your horse has sore feet, but it is important to look at removing the cause if you suspect your horse may have LGL to prevent this developing further.