What You Need To Know To Prevent and Heal Horse Hoof Cracks.
are a common problem with horses hooves. The cause is usually neglect, meaning that the horse has been allowed to go too long between trimmings, or has been improperly trimmed. Once the hoof wall grows beyond the sole it becomes more susceptible to cracking. As the hoof wall grows further and further away from it's attachment to the rest of the hoof it becomes weak and is easily cracked when your horse's weight is placed on it. If the crack is caught early (before the crack grows up the hoof past the sole) it is easily remedied by trimming the hoof wall back to the sole and removing the crack entirely. (Follow to the 6 steps of the
bare foot trim
.) If the crack is above the sole of the foot it will have to be grown out before it can be fully trimmed away.
The best treatment is prevention and cracked hooves are easily avoided with proper hoof care.
Hoof cracks start at the bottom of the hoof wall (where the hoof wall meets the ground) and run (grow) toward the hair line (see
for hoof structure detail) if allowed to go untreated. Once a crack starts, it continues to grow or get worse if the hoof is not properly trimmed. As mentioned above any hoof wall that extends past the sole of the hoof is especially susceptible to cracking because it is not attached to the rest of the hoof structure. As the hoof wall grows further from the sole it begins to support more and more of your horse's weight, which it is not designed to do. Your horse's weight should be shared with other hoof structures including the sole, frog and hoof wall. Once the hoof wall begins to bare all the weight of your horse many hoof problems begin, including hoof cracking. Toe cracks, heel cracks and quarter cracks are usually caused by hooves that have been allowed to grow too long.
Flaring of the hoof wall is the term used to describe the hoof wall pulling away from its attachment to the coffin bone. Flaring occurs when the hoof wall grows past the bottom of the sole which weakens the wall and allows the hoof wall to be pulled away from the coffin bone.
This drawing shows how a healthy balanced hoof looks when properly trimmed. Notice the rolled toe (Mustang Roll) and straight hoof wall. Now compare this to the drawing below which illustrates the typical flared hoof wall which leads to hoof cracking and other hoof problems. In drawing above the yellow indicates the coffin bone and the thatched area is the laminae or White Line. The laminae attach the hoof wall to the coffin bone. As the hoof wall grows longer it gets further away from its attachment to the coffin bone which weakens the hoof wall, making it prone to flaring and cracking.
This drawing illustrates the typical flared hoof wall which leads to hoof cracking and other serious hoof problems. Notice how the hoof wall is no longer a straight angle and now "flares" out half way down the hoof wall. Inside the hoof the laminae are being pulled away from the coffin bone and no longer provide a strong attachment to the coffin bone. When the hoof wall is allowed to grow too long, every step your horse takes is pulling the hoof wall away from the coffin bone which leads to hoof cracking and other serious hoof problems.
This drawing shows how to trim away the flare and provide a Mustang roll which will help to keep your horse's weight off the hoof wall so that the laminae will have a chance to grow, repair and once again provide the strong hoof wall to coffin bone attachment that is needed to stabilize the hoof so that the crack can grow out. In this drawing everything on the left side of the red line needs to be trimmed away.
The best way to ensure a crack (that extends above the sole) grows out rather than gets worse (moves toward hairline) is to keep the hoof trimmed to the level of the sole. When trying to rehabilitate a cracked hoof do not allow the hoof to grow longer than the sole and be sure to always keep the hoof wall rolled on the edges.
(See the 6 steps of the bare foot trim especially page 6 the mustang roll).
This will likely mean that you or your trimmer will have to trim your horse's foot every week or two to help ensure the crack grows out without getting worse. Until the crack can be completely trimmed away it will be a weak spot in the hoof that needs to be watched and treated with care. Remember you are trying to keep most of your horse's weight off the hoof wall and on the sole and frog, so that the pressure of the horse's weight is not applied to the hoof wall and crack, which is what will “push” the crack further up the hoof if allowed to continue.
If the hoof crack is already at or near the hairline or if it is impractical to trim your horse every week or two, then I recommend using epoxy to help hold the hoof crack and keep it from getting worse until the hoof is able to grow out and the crack is completely trimmed away. I have had good luck using epoxy for this purpose. Any brand name fast setting two part epoxy seems to work.
If you decide to use epoxy, clean the crack well using any tools necessary before applying the epoxy. If you do not clean the crack well the epoxy will not hold. A tooth brush, alcohol and a small file is usually all the tools needed to clean the crack. Also, be sure the crack is completely dry before applying the epoxy or again it will not hold. One word of caution here. If you live in a wet climate where hoof bacteria is common do not epoxy the hoof crack, leave it open to the air and use the bare foot trim methods to treat the crack combined with a thrush medication. Hoof bacteria thrive in anaerobic or airless environments and epoxy will only make matters worse by sealing off air to the crack. I live in a dry climate where these horse hoof bacteria are not a problem and the epoxy works well.
Use duct tape as a barrier on the outside of the hoof to hold the epoxy in the crack while it dries and keep it from running out of the crack. Once the epoxy has dried you can rasp the duct tape and any extra epoxy off the outside of the hoof wall to help dress the hoof up.
Even with the epoxy in place the best way to ensure the hoof has a chance to grow the crack out of the hoof is to keep the hoof wall trimmed close to level with the sole. Follow the 6 steps of the bare foot trim with the only exception being frequency. Do not wait 4 weeks between trims instead trim every week or two to help keep pressure off the hoof wall. If the crack is at the hairline it may take up to a year to grow the crack completely out of the hoof. Remember all new hoof is grown from the hairline down.
Once your horse starts to receive proper horse hoof care as described in this web site hoof cracks should no longer be a problem. In the unlikely event that cracks continue to be a problem it is very likely due to poor nutrition. As described in the horse
hoof care pages
most horses are over fed and under worked. Most horses are allowed too much of the wrong kind of feed meaning, too much sugar (carbohydrates) as in green grass and grain. Also, some horses are missing nutrients needed to grow strong hooves. The only way to tell for sure if your feed is a problem, is to have it analyzed. See horse nutrition for more information.
If your horse is fed the same feed as other horses in your herd and is the only horse with hoof crack problems, feed is likely not the problem. Keep in mind, the vast majority of hoof cracks are due to allowing the hoof wall to grow too long and can be repaired just as described above.
This drawing shows a healthy hoof shape and the correct proportions of the hoof wall to the other hoof structures. Keeping a hoof balanced as this drawing illustrates will help heal and prevent hoof cracks.
Severely cracked hooves can be very painful for your horse and cause severe lameness. It is a shame that severe cracks are so common and so avoidable with proper horse hoof care. Keep your horses bare foot trimmed on schedule and follow the horse hoof care outlined
to repair or better yet avoid hoof cracks altogether.
Find out how to prevent and rehabilitate other common
hoof problems here.
Want to learn more about hoof anatomy? If so,
Learn all the best practices to strengthen and build healthy horse hooves
Go back to