Caring For Your Horse’s Feet: Essential Hoof Care

By Wendy Talbot on 03 April 2017

Your horse’s feet have a very tough job. Not only do they have to bear the weight of the horse over a relatively small surface area over varying terrain but they also have to be strong enough to withstand huge additional forces. The force of a horse’s foot on landing from a 2ft jump is around 1430kg. That’s equivalent to the weight of a small car! Strong, healthy hooves are essential for your horse’s well-being and to ensure he can be the performance athlete you want him to be.

What’s on the outside?

The wall of the hoof is made of keratin, the same protein as human hair and fingernails, which is insensitive. It’s exceptionally strong and has a thin protective covering, which regulates moisture content in the hoof. The wall of the hoof grows from the coronary band (the softer area at the junction of the skin and hoof wall) at a rate of 6-9mm per month. Damage to the coronary band can lead to permanent defects in the hoof wall. To grow a healthy foot the horse needs a healthy, balanced diet.

Under the foot the sole protects the sensitive inner structures. It should be firm and slightly concave. Central to the sole is the triangular-shaped frog, which is a rubbery, flexible pad designed to bear weight and absorb shock. It also helps circulate blood around the foot. Extensions of the hoof wall run alongside the frog to help bear weight.

What’s on the inside?

There are two bones completely within the foot – the pedal bone and the navicular bone.  Lateral cartilages are attached to the pedal bone to protect the bone joints and help absorb concussion. Sensitive laminae cover the pedal bone and interlock with the insensitive laminae attached to the hoof wall to support the pedal bone. Extending underneath and behind the pedal bone sits the digital cushion, which is seen externally as the bulbs of the heels. Its role is to reduce concussion and help circulate blood back up the horse’s leg.

Routine care of your horse’s feet

  • Pick out your horse’s feet every day, to remove stones and dirt
  • Apply a moisturising hoof oil several times a week especially during summer to help prevent cracks
  • Examine your horse’s feet every day to check for injuries, cracks, heat and infections such as thrush
  • Shod horses should have their shoes checked daily for signs of wear and tear, loose clenches and overgrowth of the foot beyond the shoe
  • Your farrier should visit every 4-6 weeks for a shod horse and every 6-10 weeks for an unshod horse

Choosing your farrier

It’s important to use a good farrier who will trim and shoe your horse correctly with patience and precision. Poor farriery can lead to foot imbalances, which can in turn cause lameness. If you are concerned about your horse’s feet it’s best to ask your vet for recommendations to make sure you find the right farrier. They should have one of the following qualifications:

  • DipWCF or WCF Diploma in Farriery (QCF)
  • AWCF or the Associateship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers
  • FWCF or Fellowship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers



        Wendy graduated from Bristol University in 1999. She then went on to complete a residency at Liverpool University and holds a European Diploma in Equine Internal Medicine. After working in practice for 13 years, she joined Zoetis in 2012 as the National Equine Veterinary Manager.

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