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Hoof Conditions: The Cause and Effect


One of the most important points that I try to get across to my friends who have a horse with a hoof problem is the root of the problem.  I’ve heard, so many times, “I just need to get that hoof wall grown down and he/she will be ok, right?” – no, not right!  The problem is not the hoof wall and it’s not the missing hoof wall, that I probably just cut away.  The problem comes from within the hoof capsule – what you see on the outside, be it an abscess or a crack or a separation is not (unless there was an injury to the hoof) the cause of the problem, it is the result of the problem.  Just to be clear, when I say that the hoof wall is not the problem, what I mean is that the hoof wall is not very often the cause of the problem -- the hoof wall is merely a protective layer that it surrounds and protects the hoof capsule.  It is the swelling or bleeding inside the hoof wall/joint capsule that results in a painful experience for your horse. 

A major cause of foot issues is inflammation that results from concussion.  The concussion occurs with every foot fall, varying in intensity by the speed the horse is going, the surface that they're going over and if they are or are not carrying additional weight (rider or otherwise).  So, ultimately, every horse is at risk for issues with their feet -- unless, of course, they're pasture ornaments and do nothing at all every day.

 One of the better explanations is that a hoof is something like a tooth – also an enclosed capsule – so when there is a problem caused by either a concussion injury, trauma to the hoof, an errant nail or any number of possible causes there is bleeding within the hoof capsule that causes pooled blood, swelling and sometimes infection.  The result of the bleeding and inflammation is swelling, bruises and/or abscesses -- which the hoof capsule has no room for --> the result is damage to the interior tissues and pain.  Mother Nature has designed the hoof so that the problem areas work their way to the easiest escape route, which is the coronary band, and that is where the vast majority of abscesses pop.

So, when I’m asked (and it is a regular occurrence) “what’s the fastest way to get this crack grown out?”, my response is: the problem is not the crack, what you need to figure out is what caused the problem in the first place, inside the hoof capsule and how to address and heal the damage.

The crack you see in the hoof wall is a result of the inflammation and/or infection.  It is where the hoof wall has weakened to the point where it can no longer do the job of protecting the delicate inner structures of the hoof and it cracks or abscesses.  There may be some relief when first the crack appears or the abscess pops; however, back to the tooth analogy, as the saying goes:  "they don't get better they get worse".  It is my opinion that you must get to what caused the crack in the first place to get the hoof going back in the right direction. 

So, focusing solely on growing the hoof wall/crack out is, in my opinion missing the opportunity to help your horse.   As I said earlier: don’t just address the crack itself; instead, find and address what caused the crack.

 This photo group is from a horse that I worked on not long ago - we'll call him DC.  The first photo is what his foot looked like the first day I went to look at him - a simple, straight-line crack in the quarter.

Photo of horse quarter crack

The second photo is what the foot looked like after I worked on it a bit.  Taking the hoof wall away began to show the extent of the damage and the crack actually opened up as I worked on it revealing a much more complex issue.

Photo of quarter crack being repaired

The third picture is from 3 days later -- I had the trainer ask the groom to use Blue Kote on the foot (that's the bluish/purple color you see), it's a great antiseptic -- it's mild but does a great job of healing the foot without irritating the sensitive tissue.  Give a little time and allowing air to get to the injury, Mother Nature has exposed the multiple layers of damage.

Photo of damaged horse hoof

The fourth picture is from the same day as the third - note how undermined the hoof was, I could actually lift up that piece of damaged tissue that had separated from the hoof.

Photo of damaged hoof