By Dr. Eleanor Kellon

Being alert for and addressing early minor hoof issues can prevent them from advancing to painful problems that require stronger or more invasive treatments.

The most important factors of hoof health and quality are:

  • Genetics. You can’t change this, but genetically weaker hooves are far less tolerant of neglect.
  • Diet. Protein and sulfur, amino acids, fats, minerals, vitamins.
  • Exercise. Promotes good growth and thick walls.
  • Trim. Maintain balance and alignment with internal structures to prevent abnormal forces on the hoof wall.
  • Environment. A healthy hoof tolerates both dryness and water quite well, but not prolonged exposure to manure.

If any of those factors are less than optimal, it won’t make any difference what you put on the outside of the hoof. There are times, however, when a topical treatment is indicated.

If you are using a hoof dressing only for shine, avoid those containing acetone or alcohol, which will damage the protective fats and dry out the hoof. Glycerin, lanolin and polyethylene glycol are OK in small amounts, but high levels will over-soften the wall and sole.

It’s especially important to watch the ingredients if you are using a dressing for problems with an overly dry hoof wall. Maximizing nutrition and trim is the only fix, but this takes time. A good dressing can help by functioning like a healthy hoof’s moisture barrier, which traps internal moisture while keeping environmental moisture out. It can also help protect cracks and chips from invasion by harmful organisms. Moisture barrier ingredients to look for include plant based oils and beeswax.

The moisture barrier can use some additional help when attempting to help the hoof tissues maintain defense against microbial invasion as well as soothing temporary tenderness and irritation. Helpful ingredients include:

  • Microbial balance. Iodine, essential oils of rosemary, camphor, eucalyptus, tea tree, oregano, wintergreen.
  • Mild astringent. White willow, goldenseal, tea tree
  • Cellular proliferation and moisture balance for coronary band and heel conditioning. Aloe vera, calendula, yucca, comfrey, goldenseal, Oregon grape.
  • Support local circulation. Iodine, lavender, eucalyptus, wintergreen.
  • Sensitive soles. Turpentine, iodine, aloe, calendula.

When hooves do not have healthy natural defenses, avoid both extremely wet and dry conditions. Keep the environment free of urine or manure build up. Trim frequently to avoid mechanical issues causing further damage. Pick out and brush the feet daily. Provide exercise as tolerated on surfaces the horse finds comfortable.  Apply topical support once daily or as instructed.