Common Hoof Issues
The hoof is the most obvious place to check for a problem if no heat or swelling is apparent in the horse’s leg. Thoroughbreds tend to have sensitive feet with thin walls and soles, making them more prone to hoof problems than some breeds. Problems are exacerbated by the way farriers at the track tend to take off too much sole and trim the heels too low, making horses more susceptible to stone bruises, heel bruises and hoof abscesses.
Hoof testers are a simple way to check for sensitivity in the foot. They are large calipers, used to grasp the outer wall and put pressure on the sole. If there is a bruise the horse will react to pressure on the affected area by flinching and pulling his hoof away. Check the entire hoof with the testers, including the heels. The can bruise his sole when he steps on a stone or other hard object, or a bruise can be the result of a badly fitting shoe. Toughening up the sole will help prevent bruises, and can be achieved by painting the bottom of the foot with Venice Turpentine, Iodine or an off-the-shelf “hoof freeze”. Do not soak a bruised sole as it will only soften and weaken the hoof.
Occasionally a foreign object will work its way into the white line that attaches the sole to the wall of the hoof, or the horse will step on an object and develop an abscess, or infection in the hoof. Soaking the hoof daily with warm water and Epsom salts will help the abscess work its way out. The farrier may also be able to dig out the infection with a hoof knife. Packing the hoof with Ichthammol ointment will also help draw out the infection. Sometimes an abscess will work its way up the hoof and erupt at the coronary band – this is commonly referred to as a “gravel”. Usually lameness resolves when the “gravel” bursts.
Quarter cracks are another common affliction of racehorses’ feet. Most cracks only penetrate the surface of the wall and do not cause lameness, but they can go deeper or travel all the way up the hoof and into the coronary band and then can cause major problems. Quarter cracks are located about a quarter of the way around the hoof from the heel, where a great deal of stress is placed on the hoof. (The same sort of crack, anywhere other than on the quarter, is a “sand crack” – this can also cause problems if deep.) With time, correct farrier care and a lighter workload the crack will eventually grow out and the new hoof wall will actually be thicker and stronger. The horse should not have long-term soundness issues from a quarter crack.