5 Summer Hoof Care Tips

Jul 19, 2022

Chips. Cracks. Lost shoes. Horse owners are likely familiar with these common complaints. Dry, summer conditions can bring with it many hoof care challenges. However, certain strategies can be used to help keep your horse’s hooves in tip-top shape all year round. Consider the five tips listed below for summer hoof care management.
  1. It All Starts With a Good Trim
Excessively long and/or imbalanced hooves stress both the hoof wall and the structures inside the hoof, including the horse’s skeleton. Whether the horse is barefoot or shod, the toe and heel of the hoof should be relatively short, and the angle of both should mirror the pastern angle. There shouldn’t be noticeable “flares”, or stretched-out areas along the hoof wall. When viewed from the sole, the hoof should be concave, with a tight white line, wide heels, and a well-developed frog. While hind hooves should be more shovel-shaped or elongated than front hooves, the widest part of both should be just behind the apex, or point, of the frog. The average horse requires a trim every 4-8 weeks; some horses require more frequent trimming in the spring and summer and less frequent trimming in the winter, while others grow their hooves at a consistent rate throughout the year. Trimming frequency is especially important with “problem” hooves – the goal is to trim the hoof often enough to keep its form as consistent and ideal as possible, rather than making big changes less frequently. Talk to your farrier about what kind of schedule is best for your horse, based on its conformation, hoof quality, and rate of growth.
  1. Hoof Supplements: More Than Just Biotin
Most horse owners are familiar with biotin and its importance to hoof health. Biotin is required for production of hoof keratin – a strong fibrous protein forming the structure of hooves. Supplements containing at least 25 mg biotin per day have been proven to improve hoof and hair quality in many horses. Did you know, though, that there are other nutrients that are equally important to hoof growth? The majority of adult horses get more than enough protein in their diet, but that protein is not always composed of an ideal amino acid balance; this is most likely to be a problem for “easy keepers” – horses who maintain their weight even when eating less than the recommended amount of a commercially balanced feed. Lysine and methionine are limiting amino acids needed in the formation of protein throughout the horse. Pinnacle Balancer (336PE) is designed to ensure that these easy-keeping horses will receive the amino acids, vitamins, and minerals they require while ingesting minimal excess calories. Mineral balances can also be an issue in equine diets. Soils (and forages) tend to be very high in iron, which means that many horses end up consuming more iron than they require. Even though a large portion of the iron is likely not useable by the horse, the dietary imbalance that results can lead to a copper and/or zinc deficiency. Copper and zinc in forage-based diets are usually already low. This kind of imbalance is often reflected in the horse’s hair coat – skin conditions such as rain rot and “scratches”, as well as dull, excessively sun-bleached coats, are commonly associated with copper deficiency. Pinnacle Horse Mineral (96633MA) has recently been re-formulated to reduce its iron content. This balanced mineral supplement can help improve the iron: copper: zinc ratio in your horse’s diet, especially for horses consuming little to no commercial feed. When adding a supplement, keep in mind that you will not see miraculous results overnight. It takes an average horse 6-12 months to grow a completely “new” hoof wall, so be patient!
  1. Fly Control
The concussion of kicking and stomping to dislodge flies can wreak havoc on hooves by increasing chipping and cracking in barefoot horses and loosening shoes on shod horses. Protective gear, including masks, boots, and sheets, offers horses physical protection from most of these pests. However, be sure that this gear fits the horse properly, and check regularly for any rubs or skin irritation that may develop over time. Fly gear is best used on horses turned out in relatively small, mostly cleared paddocks and pastures, as they may be rubbed or torn off in wooded areas. Fly sprays offer short-term relief to horses and are best applied just prior to riding or working your horse, or before turning them back out to the pasture. There are also commercially available collars and leg bands, which contain insect repellants, available for pastured horses. Although many of these products are “all natural”, localized skin irritation and allergic reactions are always possible; horses should be examined regularly, especially when the bands are first applied. Environmental management can also help control insect numbers. Reduce or eliminate potential breeding grounds for flies, including standing water and accumulated manure. While this is sometimes easier said than done, it does work quite well. Flying insects tend to avoid moving air; fans in stalls and shelters can help provide horses with comfortable locations to escape these pests. On some properties, fly predators – parasitic wasps that prey on fly larvae – can dramatically reduce on-farm fly populations. These tend to be most effective on relatively large farms or in locations without neighboring livestock, and insecticide use should be avoided on properties where fly predators are released.
  1. A Dry Hoof is a Healthy Hoof
A dry, hard hoof is a healthy hoof. Excessive moisture weakens the hoof wall structure, causing crumbling hooves. In our climate in Tennessee, repeated wet/dry cycles – from frequent bathing, overnight turnout, and summer thunderstorms – can be particularly problematic and lead to hoof wall cracks. Instead of bathing after every workout or on hot afternoons, sponge the horse off instead. Keep horses with hoof issues inside or on dry footing when pastures are damp, such as after a storm or during early morning dew hours. Hoof oil can be applied if your horse’s hooves become excessively dry.  
  1. Consider Possible Metabolic Disorders
Shelly, crumbling hooves and chronic abscesses are common in horses suffering from metabolic disorders, including Equine Metabolic Syndrome and Cushing’s Disease. If left untreated, these conditions can result in laminitis. Early detection and intervention are critical. We often associate high-sugar content with spring pastures, but summer pastures can be equally problematic, especially when the grass is stressed during summer drought conditions. If you suspect your horse might be suffering from a metabolic disorder, talk to your veterinarian about what type(s) of testing he or she recommends.
Finally, keep in mind that all horses have their own, individual needs. It may take trial and error to discover the best management routine for your specific horse. If you’re struggling with hoof quality, talk with your farrier, veterinarian, and/or equine nutritionist. In most cases, it takes a multi-pronged approach to improve poor hoof quality.
Be sure to visit your local Co-op location for all your hoof care product needs! For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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