Hooves can become dry in winter, more brittle similar to our hands and nails. It is important that hooves get sufficient exposure to moisture to retain natural water content, elasticity and function. Excessive dryness can lead to hoof splits or cracks, cast shoes or lameness issues. Being turned out regularly can provide the moisture required but sometimes human help may be necessary. Possible ideas might be: a “spa” area where they can wet their hooves on occasion, a change in your nutrition plan with the addition of vitamins or even one of many moisturizing products for hooves available on the market.
It is important to limit these uses because prolonged exposure to too much moisture can lead to other hoof problems. When the ground is soft and wet, not only can the hoof not land heel first, but the actual mechanics of the hoof can change. Some horses will almost tip toe through the mud. Horn (keratin) production can decrease and circulation is not stimulated as much. Softer conditions may also lead to the potential for thrush.
What is thrush you ask? It is a foul odor that emanates from the hooves, especially around the frog area. It is typically caused by bacteria or fungus and is caused by dirty, damp bedding or extended periods standing in wet muddy pastures. Consult your farrier or veterinarian for recommendations for topical astringents, should they be required. Your farrier can also help you by trimming the frog area to remove any necrotic tissue that could develop.
Inspecting and picking out feet is important because finding and treating thrush early can limit damage. For horses that are regular barn residents, you must provide clean dry bedding to ensure they are not standing in dirty, damp shavings for an extended period. A low-lying area in your paddock or pasture can be filled with pea gravel, which is smooth, small, and allows drainage but the horse needs to be able to move off of the pea gravel if he chooses. A little extra care over the winter will ensure our horses are healthy and ready for a new season of riding next spring and summer.
Brenda Jackson, Murray County Extension Coordinator