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How hoof cracks form, how to fix them
This is the time of year you and your farrier decide to leave Dobbin barefoot or let him wear a shoe. Regardless of the final decision we at least have the opportunity to look at the feet. A little observation in advance will detect problems that can be corrected before they cause lameness.
First we must understand how the foot grows. The wall grows from the top of the hoof down. The area around the top of the hoof at the hairline is called the coronet. The coronet contains the germinal cells from which hoof tissue is formed. The wall grows at the rate of 1/4 to ½ inch per month. So a gravel (the common name for an abscess or other drainage from the top of the hoof wall) that works it way out the top of the hoof today, will cause a horizontal hole in the wall 1/4 to ½ inch below the coronet next month. Three months from now the hole will be about an inch below the top of the hoof, and in another three months the hole will be far enough down the wall to be removed by trimming.
A vertical break in the wall is a different story. That defect starts at the bottom of the hoof and is usually due to the toe growing too long. T he toes may grow long because the shoe prevents the excess from breaking away. If the horse is barefoot, the rocks will break away the extra wall. Unfortunately, this is not always neatly done. If a large piece of hoof is torn away, it may weaken the wall. Once a vertical break occurs, the normal movement of the hoof keeps it open. With each step the wall expands, opening the crack enough to prevent it from healing at the top. Once the top of the crack is stabilized, the split will grow out at the rate of 1/4 to ½ inch per month.
To help hold the vertical split closed, a shoe with clips can be used. This limits expansion of the wall. Should this not be enough, routing out the crack and refilling with an epoxy will form an artificial wall until the new growth becomes solid.
Each time the horse’s body temperature rises a degree or more, a ring will grow out on the hoof. The same would be true on the hair shaft, but this is hard to see. Running a temperature today (due to a cold, an intestinal upset, a bruised foot, or any number of other conditions) will result in a ring around the hoof next month. The higher the body temperature, the deeper the ring. Three months from now it will be about an inch down the hoof. If the condition reoccurs, there will be numerous rings.
So, when you look at a horse to buy, look at the feet! If the hoof wall is smooth (and not freshly rasped to look that way), or if it only has one or two rings, that horse has been healthy the last six months. If there are numerous rings, with some deep, the horse has experienced repeated bouts of fever. If only one foot is involved, it will usually outgrow the others. A foot that experiences repeated bouts of fever will grow faster. Most of that growth is at the back of the foot because this is where the wall is the shortest and the soft tissue the greatest with the bulbs and frog. Untrimmed this will lead to the sled runner effect seen on chronically foundered ponies.
Changes in the hoof wall can reflect positive changes as well. If the top of the hoof has a slightly different color and is solid and smooth, that horse has moved into better living conditions. There may be faster hoof growth due to a positive ration change or the addition of a supplement that encourages more rapid hoof growth, such as the concentrated biotin and lysine feed additive we discussed earlier.
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