Horse Disease Focus - Hoof Cracks
Just as we can break a finger nail, so horses can experience a broken or cracked hoof. This may or may not cause pain or lameness. Cracks from the bottom of the hoof are generally less serious and less painful than ones that start at the top.
Types of hoof crack
There are essentially two types of hoof crack. A grass crack starts at the bottom of the hoof and a sand crack starts at the top. Cracks may sometimes be further characterized by where on the hoof they occur.
Sand cracks are much more serious than grass cracks - in fact, many horses with grass cracks never show any sign of associated pain or lameness.
Causes of grass cracks
Grass cracks are much the same as us breaking a nail. Therefore, they are often associated with brittle hooves. Horses that get grass cracks a lot should be assumed to have brittle and dry hooves or low hoof quality.
Grass cracks are also very common in horses that are not trimmed frequently enough and end up with overgrown hooves. They often occur when an unshod horse is ridden on asphalt or rocky ground, although a horse with good hooves can handle this without developing cracks.
Causes of sand cracks
Sand cracks are caused by injury to the coronary band and are far rarer than grass cracks.
Some conformation defects increase the risk of sand cracks and they can also be caused by the use of weighted or excessively heavy shoes. Race horses are also known to get sand cracks due to stress placed on the hoof at speed and they are also sometimes seen in reiners.
Treatment and Prevention
Hoof cracks need to be treated by a good farrier. The farrier will thoroughly clean the crack and remove any horn that is too damaged. He will check for signs of infection and use synthetic adhesive materials to stabilize the crack. In some cases, resin hoof replacement material may be required.
Any horse that is prone to cracks should be shod. As good as it can be to keep a horse barefoot, cracks are generally a sign of poor hoof quality. (Many horses, however, do happily go barefoot their entire lives). Hoof quality can be improved by feeding a supplement containing biotin. In some cases, applying a moisturizing ointment directly to the hoof can help treat and prevent cracks, especially grass cracks.
Regular care by a good farrier or professional trimmer is also key to preventing hoof cracks. Those who choose to trim their own horses should make sure they know how to handle cracks and be aware of when it is best to call in a professional for extra assistance.