If cracks and chips are constantly showing up on your horse’s hooves, ask your vet about this as it may be a sign of a nutritional deficiency or an underlying health condition. Aside from serious health problems, here are the eight most common causes of hoof cracks.
Using the hoof too hard for too long can cause cracking. Any horse, from the equine athlete with high physical demands, to the pasture ornament who constantly stomps during fly season, can acquire hoof cracks from overuse.
Hard Footing + High Impact Movements
When you do high impact movements on hard surfaces, cracks, bruises and injuries are likely to happen. When you’re riding on a rocky trail or paved road, keep things at a walk unless your horse has some type of hoof protection such as shoes or rubber boots. Even with hoof protection, be mindful that high-impact movements on hard ground also affect the joints.
Wet to Dry Conditions
Soaking in wet conditions causes the hoof to expand. When it dries out later, it contracts. Constantly moving the hoof between extreme wet and dry conditions can cause cracks to form because the hoof wall is never given the chance to adapt to a consistent level of moisture.
Nutritional deficiencies such as in the amino acid Lysine can cause the horse’s body to produce less keratin, a key part of the hoof structure. Zinc deficiencies may also be a reason for frequent cracking or weak hooves.
Talk with your vet about your horse’s diet to see if he has a deficiency that may be causing slow or low quality hoof growth.
Genetics and Conformation
Horses with poor conformation often suffer from hoof cracks. Club feet, sheared heels and other deformities that place unbalanced loads on the hoof can lead to cracking.
If your horse’s hooves crack frequently, talk with your farrier and vet to discover any underlying conformation problems so that they can be corrected or managed through good trimming and/ or shoeing practices.
The Slow Season
Hooves tend to grow more slowly in the winter and crack more often. This is because blood circulation seems to have a direct impact on hoof growth. The horse’s hoof contains a blood-pumping mechanism that pumps blood back up the leg to the heart with each step.
Most horses are ridden less during the winter. When these horses sit in a stall or pen for long periods of time with minimal movement, blood flow decreases and so does hoof growth. Cracks in this situation will take longer to grow out.
Poor Trimming or Shoeing jobs
If your horse is wearing an ill-fitting shoe, it will change the hoof’s shape and balance. Short shoes that don’t support the heel make the horse shift more of his weight onto the toe.
Poor trimming jobs can also make the horse shift too much weight forward. If your horse is placing an unnatural amount of weight on any one part of the hoof, it’s only a matter of time before that part cracks.
Hiring an experienced farrier who knows how to correctly balance your horse’s hoof is one of the most important things you can do to avoid problems and cracks that stem from weight imbalances.
Hoof cracks can stem from a combination of overlooked, everyday things. Once you’ve pinpointed the cause(s) of your horse’s hoof cracks, here are some ways you can treat and prevent cracks from happening in the future.