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31 January 2018 17:42
We've only had little snippets of early morning winter wonderlands outside so far, but the sharp, crisper mornings are surely just around the corner. The winter season runs from the first of December to the 28th of February; the winter solstice on 21 December was the shortest day, when the sun rose latest, and set earliest. At least spring is now counting down!
Anyway, as our friends and customers know, I am very interested in barefoot hoofcare, and know that many readers will be managing their horses barefoot this winter! I’d therefore like to offer my top tips on helping your horse to stays sound and healthy, now we are firmly in winter-time:
By providing the correct levels of balanced nutrients, you can potentially prevent problems with sub-standard hooves. Common dietary ingredients to look out for are: Biotin - a water-soluble B-complex vitamin essential for hoof horn formation; heavy-grade Magnesium Oxide, a mineral ideal for promoting stronger hooves; Methionine - an amino-acid which contains sulphur, an essential element in the formation of the protein substance keratin, the cells of which make up the hoof wall; Calcium and Zinc, minerals which are essential for cell reproduction within the hoof; and MSM, or methylsulfonylmethane, an organic, bioavailable (absorbable) form of sulphur.
Cracks and splits can appear at any time of year, but are in my experience predominantly seen in shod horses - they tend to be a sign that the hoof does not have sufficient integrity, isn’t being stimulated enough, and that the diet is sub-standard. I find that a diet low in starch and sugar, with balanced minerals and vitamins, almost always eliminates such cosmetic problems.
Personally, I avoid using cosmetic, topical applications on the horse’s feet. I believe this prevents the hoof from maintaining a natural moisture balance, and can prevent the hoof from ‘breathing'.
Do not leave your horse standing in wet conditions – such as soiled bedding - for long periods, as this can weaken the horn. Choose an absorbent bedding and skip it out frequently.
Combat thrush. This bacterial condition involves bacterium destroying the frog and sometimes exposing the deeper, sensitive tissues. Try to maintain clean, dry stable conditions and ensure the horses' feet are regularly attended to by a hoof care professional. Regularly pick out and brush the underside of the horse’s feet.
Try Barrier Animal Health's Heel to Hoof Soothing Cream, which has been designed especially to protect horses and ponies against sore and scabby cracked heels. It loosens scabs, waterproofs and protects, and does NOT seal the skin.
Consider hoof boots for barefoot horses - they help boost the bare hoof’s shock absorption properties, and also protect the hoof on sharp, uneven or stony surfaces. Some horses may experience ‘footiness’ in winter due to the fact they are ridden less (e.g. exercise promotes stronger feet), combined with wetter, softer horn and more abrasive road work. Some barefoot horses will always need to wear hoof boots for concussive surfaces or longer rides, while others quickly transition from being shod and can happily negotiate all terrains. There are hoof boots on the market to fit very small ponies up to very large heavy horses.