How long can a horse wear hoof pads? 

Q: How long can hoof pads be left on a horse? My horse has sensitive feet and is much more comfortable with pads, but I worry about what’s going on underneath them unseen. Are horses with pads more likely to get thrush? Does he need to go without them for a certain amount of time each year to let his feet “air out”?

A: This question raises a couple of issues, and there is no one right answer. 

First, if the horse has healthy hooves, he is not likely to develop thrush under pads unless he is living in constantly wet, muddy conditions. On the other hand, if thrush is already present, improper packing underneath pads can make the condition worse. To treat thrush, I advise using a commercial thrush medication formulated to enable the active ingredient to penetrate the tissue.

A person picking out a horse's hoof
If a horse has healthy hooves, he is not likely to develop thrush under pads unless he is living in constantly wet, muddy conditions.

If a foot with thrush needs a pad, I usually apply a commercial medication, then sprinkle copper sulfate powder on the sole and frog before inserting the hoof packing. 

Also, unless there are existing problems, the foot does not need to “air out.” Synthetic hoof packings under the pads will stay in place better than natural hoof packings, which prevent mud from migrating in. The various brands of synthetic hoof packings are usually a two-part mixture of polyurethane. They come in different densities. These packings stick well to the hoof and the pad, keeping them very stable. Whereas, natural fibrous/oil-mix (pine tar and oakum) packings can move around and let debris in, especially in wet, muddy conditions.

All of this said, if the horse is not in work and has generally healthy feet, going shoeless is always good. Horses turned out barefoot, particularly in winter on a constant snowpack, do very well and most foot problems resolve on their own. 

So, the answer to your question depends on several variables: climate, time of year, work schedule and individual circumstances. Ultimately, the best advice to follow is that of a farrier or veterinarian who knows your horse and situation well. 

Steve Kraus, CJF
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 

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