How to Know if Your Horse Needs Shoes

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Understand what hoof wear refers to and how it relates to shoes.,
Understand that some wear is normal.,
Look for signs of excess wear.,
Take care of hairline splits caused by hoof wear.,
Look for disintegrating hooves.

The outer hoof is made from keratin, the equivalent of our finger nails. Just as a broken nail does not hurt, so cracked or flaking hooves are not painful. However, cracked hooves can be a potential problem if the crack travels up toward the coronary band (the area the hoof grows from, the equivalent of our nail bed). If the hoof splits then the sensitive nerves, blood vessels, and bone inside can be exposed and this is painful.

Shoes can protect the bottom edge of the hoof from cracks and chips, and even hold a split hoof together. Thus an unshod hoof needs regular inspection for the signs of wear that require the support of a shoe to stop a crack traveling upwards.

, Much like our fingernails, the hoof grows continually. The ideal situation is one where the rate of growth is exactly balanced by the rate of wear. However, this is unlikely to happen, and indeed nature takes account of this with the unshod foot by allowing small pieces of weight bearing hoof to chip away, as a means of “trimming” back excess growth.

, The owner of an unshod horse needs to be alert for signs of excess wear. These include excessive chips or cracks on hoof surface where it contacts the grounds.Signs of excessive wear include:

More than 50% of the circumference of the hoof being chipped.
If cracks extended up beyond the level of the sole.

, If a hairline split is spotted the length, depth, and width need to be monitored on a daily basis. If it widens to a crack, or extends up past the sole, then seek the advice of a reputable farrier who specialists in hoof care in case shoeing is advisable.

While waiting for the farrier to visit, do not work the horse and put him onto soft-going land.

, The keratin of some unshod hooves is not strong enough to take the wear and tear of being in direct contact with the ground. In this case the hoof starts to disintegrate and is a strong indication that shoes are required.

In the earlier stages the hoof wall peels and crumbles, and if ignored some hooves deteriorate to the point that they look like the end of an exploded cigar. This is a sure sign the hoof is not tough enough and needs the protection of shoes.

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