Don’t Horse Around When it Comes to Hoof Care

Jason Maki, Farrier Shoeing a HorseProper hoof care is essential for a horse to be comfortable and active. Comprising a large part of horse veterinary care, the maintenance of horses’ feet is performed by a farrier, a skilled tradesman who specializes in equine shoeing and other hoof-related issues.

Jason Maki, the farrier at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, regularly trims and maintains horses’ hooves. He said that improper hoof care can have serious consequences, so it is important that horses see experienced farriers.

“The symbiotic relationship between horses and humans is thousands of years old,” Maki said. “Farriers have been trimming and shoeing horses the entire time.”

Farriers should be experienced at trimming hoof growth, as well as creating, modifying, and applying any braces or supports a horse may need. Some horses may only need simple horse shoes, while others require surgical shoes with removable plates or braces.

“What might be needed for the horse’s comfort, usefulness, or recovery varies from horse to horse and situation to situation,” Maki said. “The ability to ascertain these needs and meet them is the hallmark of a skilled farrier.”

How often a horse needs to see a farrier varies from animal to animal. He said that cold weather slows hoof growth rates, so horses may not need hoof care as often during the winter.

There are also normal variations between different horses. For example, athletic horses tend to grow their feet faster than sedentary horses.

“Some animals require an every-four-weeks schedule, while others may be well into the seventh or eighth week before attention is needed,” Maki said. “An important point to remember is that excessive growth will cause the hoof to deteriorate; therefore, more frequent work is better than allowing hooves to grow long.”

Hoof trimming also is necessary to prevent other foot distortion problems; poor hoof care can make horses more prone to injuries and can cause fungal infections, sole bruises, or abscesses of the hoof.

“Untrimmed or poorly trimmed feet are prone to flaring, chipping, and hoof defects,” Maki said. “These all reduce the effectiveness of the hoof in bearing the weight of the horse.”

Farriers also work to provide horses with shoes for protection, traction, comfort, or other special needs. Maki said that farriers must be able to select and fit the perfect shoe for each horse, as an improper shoe will be less effective and may even harm a horse’s overall health.

“The role of the farrier in the human-equine relationship is to provide the best hoof a horse can have and then provide that animal whatever is required to perform its job comfortably,” he said.

Although shoeing horses is a large part of a farrier’s job, Maki said shoes are not necessary for every horse and that he evaluates each individual horse’s need on a case-by-case basis.

“If an animal can work and live well without horse shoes, then he should be barefoot,” Maki said. “The horse should be provided with what is needed for his comfort and usefulness. That is our obligation to the animals we are partnered with.”

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Does your horse need extra care this winter?

two horses on the fieldTexas may have mild winters, but that doesn’t mean temperatures can’t drop below freezing. On these cold days, how can horses stay warm?

In general, horses’ coats are enough to keep them warm in the winter, even in snowy weather, said Leslie Easterwood, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. But for owners who clip their horse’s coat short during the winter, it is necessary to provide your horse with ways to stay warm.

One way to help your horse stay warm is by providing shelter. A closed-in barn is nice, but not required, Easterwood said. Generally, as long as the horse has some way of escaping the weather, their coats should be adequate in maintaining body heat.

“Horses generally grow enough hair to stay warm,” Easterwood said. “The worst weather for them is when conditions are wet and windy. If they have a shelter to avoid the wind and rain, then they will be more comfortable.”

Another way to keep your horse warm is to provide a horse blanket. Blanketing is not a necessity for most horses in Texas, but blanketing is essential for horses with clipped coats. However, as the temperatures warm up throughout the day, the blanket will need to be changed to prevent sweating. A horse that sweats under their blanket may fall ill.

If keeping warm requires more calories, should you feed your horse a more calorie-dense diet in the winter?

It depends on the horse’s activity, according to Easterwood. Most horses’ normal diets are sufficient through the winter, but if you are regularly exercising your horse or the horse is underweight, you may consider increasing their caloric intake.

“Usually owners ride less in the winter, which could allow for energy to be diverted to keeping warm,” Easterwood said. “But if owners continue to ride during the winter, it could be necessary to provide more roughage for the horses.”

The winter months in Texas may not be as cold as other places, but horses with clipped coats may still find the weather to be too cold to bear. If you’re going to clip your horse’s coat during the winter, be sure to provide them with ways to stay warm.

Pet Talk is a service of the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .