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Water water everywhere and the hoof began to… well, fall apart!


Author : geoff , Date : 15 September, 2012

The North Carolina State Climate Office website confirmed what I intuitively suspected.  Rainfall in the Tar, Neuse, and Cape Fear watersheds has been far in excess of annual averages.  In short, it has been wet as heck!  Great news for those of you managing pastures.  The grass has never been greener, and you have likely taken your supper on the seat of the tractor/mower more than once.    Regrettably, as with most any perceived blessing, there is a downside.  I won’t get into the suffering of shoeing horses in the oppressive heat and humidity.  That’s a jeremiad that no one cares to hear.  I did choose this line of work.

The subject of today’s thoughts is the implications of excessive moisture on the quality of the hoof wall of our horses.  I have never seen so many chipped, broken, and mashed out feet with nail clenches sticking 2-5mm above the hoof wall.  I am actually surprised that I haven’t had to replace more shoes, as these conditions don’t tend to hold the shoes on tightly.  What I have observed is the importance of the shortened shoeing interval.  Six weeks being the summer norm has proved to be the near maximum of time between shoeings.  In many cases, shortening the schedule to five weeks has meant the difference between retaining shoes and dealing with pulled/lost/thrown shoes.

“So,” you might ask,” what the devil is going on here?”  The hoof wall is keratinized epithelium, basically a specialized skin adaptation, very much like our human fingernail.  If you have ever spent hours at a time in the pool, lake, or ocean, or you simply like to indulge yourself in the hot tub when you go for your massage at the spa, then you know what that water does to your finger nails.  It makes them soft.  No problem for us, as they tend to lose that moisture within a few hours and they regain their firm consistency.  The hoof walls of our horses also absorb moisture from the environment.  Wet fields from dew or rain, mud , and excessive bathing can lead to a really wet and soft hoof.  With 1,000 plus pounds of force pushing down on that foot, the only direction that hoof wall can go is out, where the edges are exposed to wear and chipping and the nail clenches are left exposed.  Eventually the shoe tears free leaving a big mess where it once was firmly attached.

The answer to this conundrum is simple.  In as much as it is possible, try stalling the horse in dry shavings during the wettest parts of the day, early morning and during and immediately after storms.  Give them a chance to get out of that wet pasture.  Dry feet are solid feet, that resist chipping and breaking , and hold the clenched nails and therefore the shoes.  As it turns out rainfall, like everything is best in moderation.  Green tall fields carry a cost to our horses feet unless we are proactive in managing when and where they are turned out.

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