It’s easy for farriers to think of a hoof as a sponge that easily soaks up water from the environment. But scientific studies find no difference in relative hydration between hooves from wet or dry environments. What’s actually going on in hoof hydration is far more complicated than this photo-illustration suggests.

The Mystery of Moisture and the Equine Foot

Science doesn’t provide instant support to the commonly held beliefs of many farriers, but that may not mean those observations are wrong

There are a few things farriers are pretty sure about regarding moisture in the foot. They come down to:

  • Too much is bad.
  • Too little is bad.
  • Feet that are too dry shrink, get harder and are prone to chip and crack.
  • Feet that are too wet are soft, have trouble holding shoes and are mushy.

Farriers in show barns rail against horses that are bathed too often, while shoers in dry, arid areas sometimes ask owners to let water troughs overflow a bit so horses will have to stand in water or mud while drinking, giving their feet a chance to get some moisture. Some hoof coatings are touted for holding in moisture, while others keep it out.

But when scientific tests are used, the results aren’t clear-cut — and they don’t seem to support these commonly held beliefs. Two presenters at the 2013 International Hoof-Care Summit (IHCS) separately noted that the amount of moisture in a hoof doesn’t seem to vary much — no matter what environment the horse lives in.

Brumby Research

Australian hoof researcher Brian Hampson told the Summit audience in Cincinnati, Ohio, that tests on the hooves of brumbies — the feral horses of Australia and New Zealand — found that samples taken from horses from very different environments had virtually the same moisture content: about 30%. Here's a preview of his lecture.


Australian researcher Brian Hampson found no difference in the moisture content of samples taken from the hooves of feral horses, even though…

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Pat tearney

Pat Tearney

Pat Tearney is a long-term newspaper and magazine veteran writer and editor. Before retiring, he served for a number of years on the American Farriers Journal staff and continues to share his writing talents with our readers.

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