The Importance of Picking Hooves
You’ve heard it time and again. “Don’t forget to pick out your horse’s feet.” But why is this so terribly important?
It is easy to assume that if you picked your horse’s feet out before you rode that they would be fine when you are done. Or to feel that since you horse has been inside all night that there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with his feet that needs cleaning. Unfortunately, neglect of hoof cleaning can lead to many problems in the long run.
The obvious reason for cleaning feet is to remove dirt. But many people don’t understand why it is so important to remove that dirt in the first place. After all, wild horses don’t get their feet picked out.
A barefoot horse tends to loose the dirt from its feet fairly easily. While it may pack in there, it will fall out over time from the impact of the feet on hard surfaces. Often a barefoot horse will have clean feet when you go to pick them out, which is what you prefer to find in a healthy horse.
With shoes, the dirt is packed into the foot and held in place by the unnatural confines of the shoe itself. Often the dirt remains packed in the foot for days at a time, not allowing the hoof to breathe properly. The dirt can also harbor dangerous foreign bodies such as sharp rocks.
Whether your horse is shod or barefoot, it is essential to pick out the feet and remove any rocks or other potentially harmful foreign bodies. Horses’ feet can bruise easily, particularly around the frog. Bruises often lead to abscesses, which can cause a horse to be seriously lame for weeks at a time.
Another risk that many have heard of, but few fully understand is thrush. Thrush is an infection of the hoof caused by a fungus that grows in the dark, damp confines of the hoof. Horses with deep grooves beside the frog and a groove in the heel are more prone to thrush than the average animal. Some horses seem to have a particularly weak immunology against thrush and will get it no matter how regularly you clean their feet.
To prevent thrush it is essential that the hooves get cleaned one a regular basis. Horses who stand in stalls much of the day have a higher risk of thrush due to the moist bedding that gets lodged in their hooves.
Thrush has a distinct smell that clings to the fingers and hoofpick after cleaning the feet. If you notice any strong odor from your horse’s feet, it would be smart to treat for thrush as a preventative. There are many products available to treat thrush. Ask your vet or farrier for the product(s) with which they have had the most success.
If you take good care of your horse’s feet, you will ensure that he will remain sound and healthy for your riding enjoyment.