The most important determinants of hoof health/quality are:
- Genetics. You can’t change this but realize that genetically weaker hooves are far less tolerant of neglect.
- Diet. Protein and sulfur amino acids, fats, minerals, vitamins.
- Exercise. Promotes good growth and thick walls.
- Trim. Maintain balance and alignment with internal structures to prevent abnormal forces on the hoof wall.
- Environment. A healthy hoof tolerates both dryness and water quite well but not prolonged exposure to manure.
A healthy hoof wall is smooth, slick feeling and free of cracks or chips
If any of those factors are less than optimal it won’t make any difference what you put on the outside of the hoof. That said, there are times when a topical treatment is indicated.
If using a hoof dressing only for shine, avoid those containing acetone or alcohol which will damage the protective fats and dry out the hoof. Glycerin, lanolin and polyethylene glycol are OK in small amounts but high levels will oversoften the wall and sole.
It’s especially important to watch the ingredients if you are using a dressing because of problems with an overly dry hoof wall. Maximizing nutrition and trim is the only fix but this takes time. A good dressing can function like a healthy hoof’s moisture barrier which traps internal moisture while keeping environmental moisture out. It can also help protect cracks and chips from invasion by harmful organisms. Moisture barrier ingredients to look for include plant based oils and beeswax.
The moisture barrier can use some additional help when attempting to assist the hoof tissues in maintaining defenses against microbial invasion and soothing temporary tenderness and irritation. Helpful ingredients include:
- Microbial balance: Iodine, essential oils of Rosemary, Camphor, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree, Oregano, Wintergreen
- Mild astringent: White Willow, Goldenseal, Tea Tree
- Cellular proliferation and moisture balance. Coronary band and heel conditioning: Aloe vera, Calendula, Yucca, Comfrey, Goldenseal, Oregon Grape
- Support local circulation: Iodine, Lavender, Eucalyptus, Wintergreen
- Sensitive soles: Turpentine, Iodine, Aloe, Calendula
Avoid both extremely wet and dry conditions when hooves do not have healthy natural defenses. Keep the environment free of urine or manure build up. Trim frequently to avoid mechanical issues causing further damage. Pick out and brush the feet daily. Provide exercise as tolerated on surfaces the horse finds comfortable. Apply topical support once daily or as instructed.
Being alert for and addressing early minor issues can prevent them from advancing to causing pain and problems that require stronger or more invasive treatments.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD