May 24, 2019

Hoof Care Support for Performance Horses

If you are an athlete that competes every week over the course of an entire season – your body and feet would be sore due to excessive training and competing. The same can be said for horses.

Horses that compete in performance competitions are also athletes, and just like a human after racing or physical activity, a horse’s feet become sore. Horses’ feet require the right amount of support and protection to compete and remain healthy at these levels of repeated activity.

Horses spend many hours on the road, and in changing conditions, which require dynamic hoof care methods to keep the animals sound and comfortable. However, proper hoof care regimens for performance horses start well before they step foot in an arena or a track.

Changing Conditions Impact Hoof Health

Often, horses travel long distances to compete. Where horses normally reside may have a completely different climate than where they compete. The amount of moisture in a horse’s hoof capsule can greatly impact the size and balance of their feet. A balanced foot in a dry climate can become an unbalanced foot in a wet climate and vice versa.

A hoof capsule is like a sponge. When dry, it’s contracted and hard. And similar to adding water to a sponge, a hoof capsule also changes its shape and size as it absorbs water. For example, if a horse lives in a wet climate and travels to a dry climate, its hoof capsule will contract. Whereas, if a horse lives in a dry climate and travels to a wet climate, its hoof capsule will expand. Thus, it’s important to be aware of the changing climate conditions in order to properly protect horse hooves.

Historically, it was thought that anything could be put underneath a pad to help protect and cushion the sole of the horse. This is not always the case. For instance traditional silicone from the hardware store has been used under a pad, despite some of its challenges. Some drawbacks of traditional silicone include:

  • a long set time of 24 hours
  • messy application
  • the acid-base can leave a smelly residue
  • the material does not absorb concussions, sending the pressure up the horse’s leg

An alternative to traditional pads and silicone filling is a liquid pour-in pad made of urethane adhesive. Products like these offer versatile solutions that are easy to apply, set quickly and produce soft, resilient supportive pad materials. Advantages of pour-in pad materials include:

  • an immediate bond to the sole, sealing out moisture and debris
  • the pour-in pad material can be filled to ground level for maximum support and effectively absorbs concussion, instead of sending it up the leg like silicone products
  • support to the boney column by loading the entire solar surface with a pour-in pad, but also positions the weight-bearing load over the entire ground surface and not just the wall. This reduces the “pull” on the lamina between the hoof wall and internal structures.

Soft pour-in pad materials can be used during travel periods to support the hoof capsule and keep horses comfortable while standing in trailers for hours on-end.

Hoof Care Regimens Differ by Discipline

There’s no denying that performance horses over-use their feet. Depending on the type of performance discipline that a horse competes in, it’s likely that their hoof care regimens will differ.

  • Race Horses: Beyond shoes, race horses don’t usually utilize anything in their hoof capsule for support during races. Their hoof capsules are thin; thus extra support like a pour-in pad are not used as frequently. Though if the horse becomes sore, a thin layer of protection will help alleviate any discomfort. These pads are generally removed before racing.
  • Jumping Competitions: Depending on how long horses are competing, different pour-in pad materials can be used to help provide the support they need throughout their competitions. Imagine a human running races with versus without running shoes. This is a similar concept. Without sole support or protection, the horses are essentially exposed and can become lame without any support for the impact and forces of landing and break over. Pour-in pad materials help provide that “tennis shoe” effect for the athletes during competition.
  • Endurance Races: When racking up miles on difficult terrain, horses endure challenging conditions. If a horse’s feet are not properly protected and they step on a sharp rock along the course, the horse can become immediately lame, or the lameness can show up a few miles down the trail. With shoes, pads, pour-in urethane pads or boots for protection, a horse will be better prepared to face the difficult conditions of an endurance or trail riding competition.

Regular Maintanence and Trimming Are Critical Components Hoof Health

Horse hooves, similar to human fingernails, need to be trimmed regularly as excessive growth weakens durability and causes them to split, crack, chip or break off. Plus, excessive trimming can be painful and lead to significant complications in everyday activities. To maintain optimal hoof health for performance horses, it is important for horse owners to continue regular trimming cycles, and provide proper care to hooves, especially when they’re sore or on the road.

In addtion to utilizing tools like pour-in pads, keeping up with regular trimming cycles allows farriers to monitor hoof health regularly. It is vital that hoof care professionals become familiar with the growth rate of their horses’ feet to provide a proper trim. A normal trimming cycle is typically every five to six weeks depending on how fast the feet are growing due to the time of year. 

Hooves Are the Foundation of Performance

In correlation with a horse’s well-being during any type of competition, the feet are the foundation it all rests upon. If a horse’s feet are not properly protected or treated during all stages of their performance season, they risk unbalanced feet and potentially, lameness or injury. With pour-in pads for protection, a horse will be better prepared to face the demanding conditions of a competition.

When a horse is training, travelling and participating in competitions, it’s important to have a hoof care plan and regimen in place that is supportive for the repetitive, impactful movements involved in these events. Whether a horse is doing a one-day or three-day event, pour-in pad materials can provide the support and durable protection needed for these kinds of events.

More than ever, veterinarians and farriers have the ability to use materials that will help maintain hoof function. Talk to your hoof care professional about the importance of keeping a horse comfortable and competing at its full potential.

About Tab Pigg

Tab Pigg is the Central Regional Sales Manager and in-house Certified Journeyman Farrier for Vettec, Inc. He oversees states ranging from Canada to Mexico, between the Rockies and the Mississippi River. He travels frequently educating dealers and farriers at hands-on workshops and represents Vettec at tradeshow events. Tab assisted Vettec for three years leading clinics and helping with regional work before joining the company fulltime in 2003.

Originally posted in Equine Wellness