Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hooves...Know the Enemy!

What are the most vulnerable parts of a horse?

stomach (metabolic function)
muscles depending on breed
and the list goes on...

However, today I'm sharing information about horses hooves, and as the saying goes..."no hooves, no horse".

I've seen many horses with severe hoof problems, just as everyone else through pictures and such, and it angers me deeply to see a horse inflicted with such a horrible fate.  I've also experienced the work involved in convalescing horses with this disease.  However, the horses I managed were to far along the laminitis/founder path to convalesce, so I made them as comfortable as possible. The people that had owned these horses previously either didn't know or didn't care what happened to them.  When I went to take one of the horses home with me the lady handed me a grain bucket that had corn in it.  Yes corn, and to see the hooves on this horse you would know instantly that corn should not be on the horses diet.  She had no clue what pain she was inflicting on this horse she just wanted the horse to be happy and have good weight on her. Ignorance is not an excuse!

The reason for the horses vulnerability to there hooves is because of their domestication in relation to their design.  Horses were meant to travel long distances through out the day, and to graze all day and into the night.  I woke this morning at 3:00 am and took a peak at my horses in there paddock and I could see them grazing, and at 7:00 am I always go out and give them some soaked beet pulp, some grain, and a little bit of hay (depending on the available grass in their paddock).  When I get to the barn in the morning all too often they are there resting from their early morning grazing session.  So if you think your horse is asleep when you are tucked inside your bed they are not sleeping.  The only time they do sleep is generally during the day (for a healthy horse) and its for about 20 minutes and yes its laying down, and its called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep.  There was one day where I caught one of my mares in her REM sleep and she was twitching.  I thought she was convulsing, so I ran to her, but half way there I thought wait no she is dreaming.  She was laid out like a drunken lizard and her back feet were moving as if she were running and I could imagine in my mind that she was dreaming about her and I running through green fields.  The other time I caught her in her REM sleep she had her chin propped up in the dirt and she was talking this time, and each time she let out a soft whinny the dust flew up around her muzzle.  It was hilarious to see and I was amazed to know that she dreams too.  So, when you see them standing there in one place they are merely resting.

Today we have them standing in tiny stalls for hours on end (thats if you have no land for them to roam on) and then we take them out, warm them up for a few minutes and then ask them to perform.  During this standing around time the horse looses it's condition in it's muscles and hooves, especially if he isn't worked regularly.  The action of the hoof hitting the ground causes the circulation to pump blood into the hoof and out of the hoof just as the heart pumps the blood in and out.  Without this action the hoof looses its conditioning and so when a veterinarian prescribes walking (in addition to the other things the vet will administer and ask you to do) for a horse with laminitis it helps increase the circulation for a better outcome for recovery.  If you don't have rubber boots you can take a flat piece of rubber and cut it to the size of the horses hoof and attach it with electrical tape.  This will protect the hoof.

I've recently taken on an exercise program for myself and as I run on the treadmill I think about how long and how much hard work I put forth to get where I am today, and then I think about my horses condition and ask the questions, "Are they "thrifty" or they conditioned enough where I can pull them out of the stall, field, or paddock and toss a saddle on them and take off in the wind and not expect any ill effects?  Maybe, maybe not.

Either way,  I focus on their condition.  Are they getting the right amount of exercise? Are they getting the right amounts of food and nutrients.  Are they drinking enough water?  There are so many things to focus on depending on what you plan on using your horse for even if they are going to be a back yard pet and a member of your family.

All in all, the first step is to know the enemy...

Laminitis (founder)

What is Laminitis?  This is when the sensitive laminae of the foot become inflamed, which could experience permanent damage.


  • Excessive amounts of grain
  • lush pasture
  • excessive amounts of cold water
  • proteins in highly concentrated feeds
  • retained placenta at giving birth
  • overuse on hard surfaces
  • standing for long periods of time during transportation or in a stall
  • obesity
  • Cushing's disease  - laminitis/founder is common in horses with Cushing's disease


  • "founder stance" all four feet are forward of the normal position, the head is low and back is arched
  • difficulty getting up from laying down
  • heat and pain at the coronary band
  • increased digital pulse
  • muscle tremors
  • sweating
  • increase heart rate
  • rapid, shallow respiration
  • expression of anxiety

Treatment...(treatments vary based on the type of  laminitis.  If you suspect laminitis/founder contact your veterinarian immediately and work with them on deciding what is the best treatment for your horse)

  • For grain over load have the vet come immediately, which they will most likely administer mineral oil to help remove the toxins
  • remove shoes
  • soak feet in ice water periodically or for grain founder alternate with hot water soaking and cold water soaking to help increase circulation 
  • have your horse stand in mud to give some relief 
  • standing in sand lowering the heels
  • phenylbutazone can help to reduce inflammation
  • Grain founder call a vet immediately
  • Grass founder call a vet immediately
  • Water founder call a vet immediately
  • Road founder call a vet immediately
  • Horses have been known to have chronic laminitis/founder

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