Farriers know too well how the effects of weather and where a horse is kept greatly affect the overall health of that horse’s hooves. Often, that familiarity comes because farriers must deal with the problems that result.
Educating clients on how climate and environment affects the hoof can help them adjust, rather than have you remedy the consequences.
The Effects Of Climate
Extreme wet or dry conditions obviously affect the equine foot. These conditions can take a toll on the health of the hoof.
“The complex design and function of the internal hoof address both moisture regulation and thermo-regulation amazingly well,” says farrier Danvers Child of Foxtail Forge and Farriery in Lafayette, Ind. “Nevertheless, the external capsule — what we see — is ‘dead’ tissue, and much of it has been this way for a long period of time. We talk about it taking up to a year for a horse to grow a new hoof, but we often fail to connect that to the age of the hoof we are seeing. The hoof we’re seeing, especially the hoof nearest the ground, hasn’t been nourished, ‘live’ tissue for that same time frame.”
Because of this, the older growth has had more time to break down, according to Child.
“It’s weaker and more likely to show evidence of exposure, and respond with less resilience to climate changes, especially to excessively wet or dry conditions, and especially in response to constant or dramatic shifts from wet to dry,” he says.
Child says it’s impossible to keep a hoof at a consistent level of hydration, but avoiding shifts from over hydration to under hydration is one of the most important things a horse owner can do to keep a hoof healthy.
“I often relate this to the idea of what happens to your hair when you go swimming regularly,” he says. “Rather than conditioning your hair, the moisture shifts result in split ends, dry scalp, etc.”
Explaining the consequences of keeping a horse in poor conditions may convince newer owners to change their practices.
Discussions of the effects of climate and environment serve as a good time to remind clients about a regular shoeing interval.
You are the best person to educate novice horse owners because of the regularity in which you see them.
Approximately 80% of hoof moisture originates internally, with the remaining 20% coming from external, environmental sources, according to Child.
“In excessively dry environments, the external sources are diminished, and people often try to increase hydration through artificial means, usually by overflowing water tanks or applying topicals,” he says. “In many cases, if not most, these practices tend to increase breakdown and diminish the integrity of the hoof, as they are attracting undesirable elements: mud, oil, fecal waste and general ‘ick’.”
At the other end of the spectrum, a very dry environment can cause the hoof wall to crack and chip.
“As far as climate goes, the drier seasons seem to cause edges to chip off much easier than normal,” says Justin High, a veterinarian with Reata Equine Hospital in Weatherford, Texas, who points out that an extended period of dry weather makes the consequences of wet weather even worse.
“Abscesses are the primary problems I see in these situations, as well as horses losing the sole callus and bruising easily,” he says.
Explain the consequences of extensive wet and dry conditions to your clients. Thrush is another consequence of a wet climate, according to vet Eric Witherspoon with Carlton Veterinary Hospital in Carlton, Ore. Educate the owners on how they can incorporate better practices for the horse’s care as preventative measures.
“Any changes in climate or exposure can possibly damage the hoof, sole, frog, etc., and in many cases, the problem manifests itself long after the problem has started and the owner or the farrier discovers it,” he says. “The bacterium responsible for thrush is ubiquitous in nature, and exposure to it may come from standing in muddy, wet areas or unclean stalls.”
Owners need to be educated that the best way to combat the effects of climate on the hoof is to use regular farrier care.
“Regular maintenance, performed by a farrier who understands the working mechanisms of the hoof, is vitally important to overall hoof health and moisture regulation,” he says.
Clients have to realize that the conditions of a poorly stabled horse also can cause serious consequences to hoof health — in many cases, more so than climate. Novice clients especially may fail to realize that environment can create a wet, unhygienic situation or a dry, dehydrating setting, each with its own problems.
“Help clients understand that hoof problems can basically be broken down into two categories: wet and stinky, or dry and cracked,” says Witherspoon. “Horses that are subjected to dry, sandy environments are more likely to suffer from problems and conditions in the latter category. Horses that live in wet environments will have conditions or problems associated with the wet and stinky category.”
Witherspoon adds that, regardless of the environment, confined or pastured horses that are overfed or stressed are more likely to have laminitis issues.
Child believes that farriers often fail to look at the big picture when talking about environment and the hoof.
“We tend to focus on the obvious issues of footings, but we fail to connect or associate other issues that are tied to the environment,” he says.
While Child thinks it’s important to pay attention to stall footing, and ensure owners are offering adequate clean and dry bedding, from a hoof-care perspective, it’s even more important to think about the behavioral issues that often result when horses are stalled.
“Although pawing, weaving and wall-kicking present primarily as behavioral issues, they often become hoof care issues, resulting in lost shoes, bruising, imbalances, and a myriad of other problems that affect the hoof and limb,” he says. “Additionally, and maybe more importantly, a horse in a stall is not moving naturally or normally, and when activity is diminished, circulation is diminished.”
Likewise, horses in dry lots — which often do double duty as mud lots — often suffer from similar behavioral issues, according to Child.
“They’re also usually dealing with additional environmental issues as well: stomping at flies, pacing fences, pawing, kneeling to graze under a fence, and so forth,” he says. “And, given that most dry lots are often sized as large stalls and, by their nature, offer no incentive for meandering and grazing, the issue of diminished activity again becomes a negative factor.”
It Takes A Team
According to Witherspoon, there are two people whom horse owners respect and listen to.
“For this reason, it’s so important for the veterinarian and farrier to work together and to listen to each other,” he says.
Witherspoon points out that the farrier is the first person who will notice a hoof problem and can possibly tie it to the environment. The farrier can then make positive suggestions to the owner about changing the environment. This might mean cleaner stalls or drained paddocks.
“The farrier can encourage the owner to change or eliminate situations involving exposure to either too wet or too dry conditions,” he says. “He or she can also recommend, if needed, high-quality hoof supplements, and of course, regular hoof care.”
High points out that dealing with environment issues should be a joint effort between the farrier and owner.
“Depending on the conditions, I think farriers can do a lot to combat the negative effects of the environment on a foot,” he says. “It may be going to a shorter trim schedule on a barefoot horse in the drier times of the year to prevent chips and wall cracks.
Wet and cold or hot weather care of a foot is just as much a responsibility of the horse owner as it is anyone. They must be vigilant daily to keep a foot healthy and stable so their farrier can maintain the balance and structure of the foot throughout the year, with the correct trimming and appropriate shoe being applied.”