Making sure your horse is sound and healthy keeps you both enjoying time together in the ring or on the trail. When you’re shopping for a horse, choose one with the conformation and breed characteristics suited to the discipline you wish to ride in.
Competition horses must have strong, sturdy legs and feet as well as overall good health to remain sound. Call your veterinarian or farrier promptly at the first sign of infection, deep cracks or other problems.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure when it comes to a horse’s hoof care. New shoes are needed every six to eight weeks on average if you keep your horse shod.
Even those who prefer to keep a horse barefoot should schedule professional trims to ensure the proper hoof angle. An incorrect hoof angle can cause excessive strain on the horse’s muscles, tendons and ligaments.
Check stall floors: Horses should not be stabled on concrete or other unyielding surfaces. A good, deep bed of straw or wood shavings on top of hard-packed dirt is one of the best floors for preventing lameness in horses.
The important thing to keep in mind is that the footing should be even and have some “give” in it to offer your horse some cushioning. Never ride a horse over concrete for long periods of time, as the excessive pounding can cause lameness.
Improperly fitted saddles can cause pressure sores and back strain, which can make a horse lame. The warm-up helps the horse’s blood start flowing to his muscles and eases him into work.
Only after warming up your horse properly should you commence with a lesson or training exercises. Just like a proper warm-up, cooling down transitions a horse from a workout to stall rest or turnout.
Safe turnout: Watch out for wet, muddy days, which make the ground slippery. Horses can slip just like people can, and when they do, they can become lame from pulling muscles or ligaments.
A mistimed kick at a fly can end up injuring an otherwise sound horse standing too close. If you’re a serious competitor, consider turning your horse out individually to avoid turnout injuries.
Even if you’ve done everything you can to keep your horse sound, one day you may head out on the trail or start your warm-up and feel that telltale hitch in his gait. You may need a helper to hold your horse and jog him out for you to assess the source of lameness.
Note if she’s holding one hip higher than the other or keeping weight off of a leg. Feel each hoof and leg up to the elbow for heat, blemishes, cuts or swelling.
There are several serious causes of lameness or unsoundness that require an emergency call to your horse’s veterinarian. A fracture or break is one such case, as is a deep puncture wound to the hoof.
Deep cuts or gashes on the leg need emergency treatment and examination by your horse’s veterinarian. Tying up, or Austria, is a serious disease caused by the buildup of lactic acid in a horse’s muscles.
Cover your horse with a cooler, lightweight stable sheet or blanket and call the veterinarian immediately. If left untreated or improperly treated, your horse can be permanently lame after foundering.
If your horse frequently goes lame, talk to her farrier about supplements, shoes or pads that may help. Your farrier may suggest special shoes to protect the sole, bars and frog.
If your horse loses shoes easily or tends to have cracked hooves, adding a supplement as well as applying hoof dressing and conditioner may help. Kauffman’s® equine supplements have helped to keep horses sound and healthy for over 35 years.
Biotin, for strong hooves Brewer’s Yeast, for a healthy coat Integri-Hoof, which features a complete and balanced supplement mix for strong, healthy hooves Flex Steps containing Chondroitin, for joint issues And much more Our quality supplements are manufactured in our American facility, and have been trusted by horse owners for more than three decades.
Doing your daily once-over as you check for lumps, bumps, swellings or hot spots, especially around the backs of pasterns, lower legs, and tendon areas will help you catch any sign of lameness before it has a chance to progress. Your farrier will also note any signs of developing problems with the feet and lower limbs of the horse and make suggestions for correcting or treating such conditions.
Remember that the best job of trimming a hoof preserves the angle that is normal for the horse, not one that corresponds to a picture-perfect ideal in a magazine or other source. Most orthopedic diseases of horses such as laminates, sand cracks, flat feet, sole bruises, tendonitis, side bones and other diseases and conditions are best treated by the services of a veterinarian who can diagnose the extent of the problem and prescribe medications or other therapies, plus the services of a farrier to make sure the feet of the horse are kept in the best possible condition.
High protein, heavily concentrated diets that increase the horse's weight without appropriate amounts of exercise should be avoided. Mineral imbalances from over supplementation also create bone problems and can lead to damage and disease in the Musculoskeletal system.
Protect your horse from gaining access to stored grains and feeds that could lead to acute laminates/founder if over ingested. If you know or suspect that your horse has consumed an unknown quantity of grain, consult your veterinarian immediately since once signs occur, it can be difficult or impossible to prevent foot damage.
Barefoot or shod, your horse will suffer fewer lameness es if provided access to clean and dry areas in their living environment. Do not let your horse stand in muck, dirty and/or wet bedding, stagnant water, mud, or other elements that are destructive to hoof, limb and general health.
Change bedding frequently, muck out stalls on a daily basis and provide good drainage in pastures and paddocks and other places where water and mud contribute to unhealthy conditions not only for a horse's hooves, but also provide a breeding place for insects such as mosquitoes. Avoid wet-to-dry-to wet episodes and keep trails and arenas as dry and free from obstacles such as large tree branches, rocks and other debris.
Use secure latches on all stable and barn doors, as well as gates and other outlets that might allow a horse to escape and endanger itself by getting onto a road or into other unsafe places. A key part of good horsemanship is making sure that your horse has a certain level of physical comfort at all times.
Groom your horse on a regular basis to make sure that no burrs or foreign objects create sores or painful conditions. Proper, timely shoeing is perhaps the most important thing you can do to safeguard the health of your horse's feet and legs.
(Two sources of footing advice: Robert Halogen's Equine Arena Handbook, from Alpine Publications and available on Amazon.com ; and Underfoot, from the US Dressage Federation). It's not there just to soak up urine; it needs to be deep enough to encourage your horse to get off his feet and rest.
Also watch your horse trot briefly on a short long line once a week. Riding at least every other day avoids “weekend warrior” syndrome, but don't overdo it.
I prefer polo wraps; they provide good support and protection when applied properly. She or he can also advise you on measures such as icing, poulticing and applying stable bandages after stressful workouts.
Formulated for a variety of purposes, some supplements have research that supports their use, but they're expensive to use on a sound horse. I've especially seen good results with chiropractic and acupuncture, and I use regular massage therapy on my own horses.
Barb Crabbe, DVD, is an equine practitioner and dressage competitor based in Portland, Oregon. Excerpted from “Sound(less) Advice” in the December 2000 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.