I'm sure you are all familiar with the old saying, "No hoof, no horse". Well, in my mind, never a truer word was spoken. Often in the summer my horse, Annapolis, languishes shoe-less in his pasture. He falls victim to what I term "summer hoof fall-out" which is basically where the incessant rains of Houston's monsoon-like early summer turn his feet to mush and render them unable to hold a shoe. Being a tender-footed Thoroughbred, he lets me know what he thinks of the situation by mincing along the barn aisle, "ouching" at each step till he gets out to the grass where he puts his head down and rips up grass as if his life depends on it.
Knowing a little about how the hoof is constructed will give an understanding of some of the problems that can occur and will also underline the need for frequent attention.
The Exterior of the Equine Hoof
The Coronet - the band around the top of the hoof where the hair stops. Point of growth for the hoof - if damaged, growth of hoof wall will be interrupted at that point - damage will be evident as hoof grows out
The Hoof Wall - the horny exterior of the hoof - grows downwards from the coronet - similar in c
onstruction to the human finger nail - insensitive - subject to disintegration at the lower edge from excessive wetness or dryness.
The Frog - the triangular, spongy portion in the center of the underside of the hoof- absorbs shock - aids in pumping of blood to interior structures of hoof.
The Sole - the concave, insensitive underside of the hoof - protects the sensitive sole inside - may be bruised or punctured by treading on stones or nails.
The white line (not indicated on illustration) - the narrow strip where the bottom edge of the hoof wall meets the sole. May be affected by White Line Disease.
Inside the Equine Hoof
The lower part of the short pastern
The Coffin bone - shaped like a hoof - held in place by the sensitive laminae and the insensitive laminae which form a bond - separation of these can cause rotation of the coffin bone as is found in Laminitis.
The Navicular bone - a small bone which fits in the space between the short pastern and the coffin bone. The surface at the back of the navicular bone is covered with smooth cartilage which aids in the movement of the flexor tendon which passes over it - degeneration of the navicular bone and the protecting cartilage results in Navicular Disease
The Lateral Cartilage - wings of cartilage on either side of the coffin bone - contributes to the elasticity of the hoof - absorbs shock by spreading on impact - calcification of the cartilage (thought to be caused by excessive concussion) results in Sidebone- shock absorbing qualities compromised - lameness may result.
Horse's hooves should be cared for on a regular basis. As the hoof wall is constantly growing, it should be trimmed approximately every six weeks. The need for shoeing is dependent on the type of feet the horse has (for example, Annapolis has tender feet and really needs to have shoes on, whereas many Arabians have very hard, insensitive feet and can cover all but the rockiest ground barefoot with very little discomfort), and the type of work being done - shoes can provide traction and also protect the feet from excessive wear and tear.
On a daily basis, the hooves should be picked out and any manure, dirt and stones removed. The shoes should be checked for wear and the nails checked for tightness, Care should be taken in the application of hoof dressings. Using a moisturizing hoof dressing too regularly will cause the hoof wall will be softened to the point it will no longer hold together and hold a shoe. Monitor your horse's feet carefully and tailor your hoof care routine accordingly. Factors such as the weather, whether your horse is kept stabled, whether your pasture is sandy and well-drained, or clay and water-retaining will all have an effect on your horse's feet.
Discuss your horse's feet with your farrier, he is the expert and his advice will be invaluable to you. Most farriers prefer the owners of the horses they work on to be knowledgable--it makes their job easier in the long run--so ask questions. If your farrier seems reluctant to answer you, find one who will. The relationship between horse owner and the professionals who look after his horse is very important and should not be overlooked.