Caring for dry or cracked hooves

Flax seed contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support healthy hooves.

Dry hooves can lead to all kinds of complications, including cracks, splits and lameness. Genetics, environment, poor nutrition and a history of certain diseases can all increase a horse’s susceptibility, and it can take a while for your equine friend to recover from any resulting damage. Here is what to do to treat and prevent dry hooves:

Moisturize only if appropriate
Many people believe horse hooves are similar to human skin and applying external moisture like water, creams and lotions helps them stay hydrated. On the contrary, most of the hoof’s moisture comes from the blood flow to the area. In fact, as Equine Wellness Magazine mentions, attempting to moisturize the hoof can actually exacerbate the dryness and cracking in some cases. Instead, you should purchase a hoof conditioner or dressing that seals in moisture.

“A constant shift between wet and dry worses developing cracks.”

You should also keep your horse’s hooves either consistently dry or consistently damp and avoid switching back and forth between the two. This is harder during the spring and summer when horses spend their time between wet pastures and dry stables. The water causes the hooves to swell and soften, while a dry environment makes them suddenly contract. This constant shift worsens any developing cracks.

Treat dry hooves with feed supplements
Adding the right equine supplements to your horse’s diet promotes healthy hooves, making them less likely to crack. Supplements for hoof health should contain omega-3 fatty acids from a variety of sources such as flax seed and wheat germ oil. These fatty acids support proper hoof hydration and binding. In addition, amino acids like lysine and methionine link together to form the proteins that make up the hoof wall. Zinc, vitamin A and vitamin E also support strong, healthy hooves.

Clean and check the hooves regularly
Regular inspection of your horse’s hooves helps you identify any emerging or potential cracks. Pick the hooves before and after each ride to loosen debris, identify any foreign objects and notice any changes to the hoof’s texture or temperature. This will help you catch small, superficial cracks before they become worse.

If you do notice damage to the hoof, Practical Horseman advises giving your farrier a call. He or she can tell you whether or not to treat the hoof immediately or if you can wait until your next scheduled shoeing. In addition, regular farrier visits and trims help treat and prevent small cracks from forming at the bottom of the hoof.

“Proper exercise increases blood flow to a horse’s hooves, bringing with it essential nutrients for healthy growth.”

Give your horse adequate exercise
Proper exercise increases blood flow to a horse’s hooves, bringing with it essential nutrients for healthy growth. In a conversation with The Horse, Jason Wilson-Maki of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine detailed how exercise helps promote healthy hooves.

“A fit horse who is worked daily will have a greater growth rate,” Wilson-Maki told the publication. “This is most likely due to an increased metabolic rate.”

With proper exercise, new growth with eventually replace any damaged areas. Keep in mind, however, that too much work puts excess stress on the hoof and makes the problem worse.

Dry hooves are not uncommon, but improper management can lead to issues like cracks and splitting. To treat this condition, keep your horse in a consistent environment, supplement his or her feed with vitamins and minerals, keep his or her hooves trimmed and shod and make sure he or she gets exercise.