Correcting Hoof Cracks

courtesy of Farnam’s Stable Talk

You’re determined to give your horse the best care, so you’re concerned when you notice small cracks in his hooves during your latest grooming session. Should you be worried? Here’s what you need to know about equine hoof repair.

One of the most common causes of cracked hooves is letting too much time pass between shoeings, so hooves get too long, making them vulnerable to cracking. This can be remedied by shortening the time between farrier visits. Cracks can also be caused by excessively wet or dry environments, hard ground, incorrect nail placement, inadequate nutrition and poor overall hoof quality. Using specific topical products and hoof supplements can help, and in some cases, you may need to change your management practices as well.

For expert input, we turned to certified journeyman farrier Jason Maki of the College of Veterinary Medicine Teaching Hospital at Texas A&M University. He discusses common causes of cracks and how to fix a crack in a horse’s hoof.

Hoof Care Schedule

“One of the things that causes hoof cracks is excessive growth,” says Maki, who has been a farrier since 1997. “It will minimize cracks if you maintain a nice ‘tight’ foot and not let it grow and flare out. A hoof wall that maintains a short distance from its origin won’t have excessive length. A good rule of thumb is that your trimming/shoeing schedule should be short enough that the hoof hasn’t started to distort by flaring, chipping or cracking.

Maki also notes that your horse’s feet should be taken care of before you see issues, which is why you want to maintain a regular trimming/shoeing schedule. However, the length of time between visits may vary depending on the time of year. Hooves tend to grow faster during the summer months, so your farrier visits may be more frequent during the summer and less so during the winter.

Weather and Environment

Cracks in your horse’s hooves may be related to the season and weather, as both influence the environment where your horse lives.

“Environments vary greatly and play a huge role; horses’ feet tend to match their environments,” explains Maki. “If it’s damp, feet tend to be wet. When it’s dry and horses are on ground that’s harder than their feet, this can lead to cracks because the hoof becomes brittle and hard, and there’s not enough environmental moisture to maintain flexibility of the hoof.”

Topical hoof care products can go a long way in helping support cracks caused by too dry or too wet conditions.

“Topicals can help to harden or soften the foot if you need to do this,” says Maki. What’s needed can vary according to the season and the horse’s particular environment, so ask your farrier for advice.

For example, a horse that is bathed often and/or turned out in damp conditions may need a topical product to help his feet get harder and repel excess moisture. On the other hand, a horse in a hot, arid climate with sandy footing may benefit from a topical that adds moisture and flexibility.

Genetics

Genetics definitely play a role in hoof health as some horses simply have poor quality hooves. But even a horse with good quality hooves can develop cracks without the right nutrition and care, so you can’t count on good genes to avoid cracks. But while you can’t change genetics, you can maintain some of the causes of hoof cracks because you control your horse’s nutrition, care and management.

For horses with poor hoof quality or feet that grow slowly, your farrier may recommend adding a hoof supplement to your feeding routine. Choose a supplement with ingredients that support normal hoof health, such as biotin, methionine and lysine. Be aware that it can take months of consistent use before its benefits are apparent.

“Hoof supplements are designed to produce hoof growth and in my experience they do exactly that,” says Maki. But age and use can also have an impact. Maki finds that younger horses tend to grow more hoof than older animals, while active horses in work will grow more foot than an idle/retired horse.

Barefoot or Shod

It’s not unusual for a barefoot horse to have some small chips or cracks around the bottom edges of the hoof at the end of the trim cycle, as these are signs of growth. Such cracks will generally trim away and your farrier may need to round the edges a bit more.

Maki has seen barefoot horses develop cracks in the middle of the toe at the front of the hoof where there’s a slight notch, and this may allow opportunistic fungi to invade. Your farrier may need to specifically trim this area and may recommend use of a topical hoof care product to kill bacteria.

A shod horse may develop cracks around the nails if the nails aren’t placed deep or high enough on the hoof.

Cracks With Cause For Concern

Not all cracks can be eliminated by a good trim or the use of topical products and supplements. The following symptoms are cause for concern and should be addressed promptly by your hoof care professional. (Some situations may also require veterinary attention.)
• Movement/separation in the hoof on either or both sides of a crack
• Separation at the hairline or back of the hoof
• A horizontal crack
• Any bleeding from a crack
• Any significant change in the hoof
• Signs of lameness in the horse

“A crack can let the hoof wall get undermined, and once this happens, it can lead to more cracking,” says Maki. “In extreme situations, micro-cracks in the hoof capsule may allow foreign bodies in, which can lead to an abscess. If you think this is a possibility, you need to get your veterinarian involved.

“A horizontal crack in the hoof that runs parallel to the hairline is either an injury and/or abscess within the foot and needs investigation,” he notes. “If you see this kind of crack erupt, even if the horse is not lame, you need to have your vet look at it.”

Quarter Cracks

A vertical crack in the rear part of the hoof that originates at the coronary band and extends downward is referred to as a “quarter crack.” This is a serious type of crack that reduces the bearing surface of the hoof and cannot be ignored.

“A quarter crack will allow the hoof to open and often causes bleeding because a portion of the hoof is displaced and is moving independently of the rest of the hoof,” explains Maki. “It needs to be addressed quickly and you must find the root cause. This is a sign of overload and you need to take away the cause because it will overload other areas of the hoof wall. Generally speaking, a quarter crack is a hoof balance issue and the hoof is reacting to the pressure put on it.”

Maki says that quarter cracks may require wire lacing and/or a patch or glue to help stabilize the crack. To alleviate the distortion that caused the crack in the first place, the farrier may use a specially shaped shoe, such as a bar shoe or heart shoe, to change the load of the hoof and take pressure off the area below the crack.

Don’t Cut Corners On Professional Care 

“Maintaining the horse’s feet is always worth the investment, whether he is shod or barefoot,” notes Maki, adding that the importance of routine farrier care can’t be overstated.

There’s never a reason to take a break from regular hoof care. Even older, retired barefoot horses or horses who have their shoes pulled for a period of time need regular trims to keep their feet in good shape.

Maki, points out that the protocol for avoiding cracks and supporting healthy feet is the same as maintaining overall horse health:
• Proper nutrition
• Regular exercise
• Routine care/maintenance of horses and their premises to encourage healthy conditions
• An environment that isn’t excessively wet or dry
• Professional hoof care on a regular schedule

“This should resolve cracks or keep them from becoming an issue.” says Maki. “If you do have a concern, address it quickly so it doesn’t develop into something more.”

Hoof Cracks Tip #1: Regular Hoof Care Helps Avoid Cracking

Cracks may be a sign that you’re letting too much time pass between trimming/shoeing appointments. Your trimming/shoeing schedule should be frequent enough that your horse’s hooves haven’t started to distort in shape by flaring, chipping or cracking before the next farrier visit. In other words, you shouldn’t be able to look at your horse’s feet and say, “Wow, he really needs a trim!”

Hoof Cracks Tip #2: Growing Healthy Hooves

The protocol for avoiding cracks and having healthy hooves is the same as maintaining overall horse health:
• Proper nutrition
• Regular exercise
• Diligent husbandry practices
• An environment that isn’t excessively wet or dry
• Professional hoof care on a regular schedule