Introduction to the Hoof

Hoof Care

Matison takes a hoofpick from the hook on the wall where it always hangs in convenient reach, holding it up so that all can see.

This," he tells the students, "is one of the most important tools used in the care of a runner." The metal implement is shaped like a large hook, with a blunt tapered end for dislodging dirt and stones from the crevices of a hoof. "As the old saying goes, 'no hoof, no runner'."

Taking a halter from the hook outside of Snowflake's stall, Matison opens the door and deftly catches the mare, leading her out into the aisle and fastening the cross-ties to hold her. "Since Master Aeia skipped this part earlier, we'll just make sure that Snowflake here hasn't got anything stuck in her feet. As Aeia told you," he continues, "the hooves should be checked at least once every day."

Matison strokes the neatly groomed coat, talking softly to the mare. "Always," he turns to the apprentices, "talk to the animal — let her know what you're going to do, so that she doesn't feel threatened. If, for instance, I were to just tie her up and grab her foot, she wouldn't know what was going on and would probably react poorly. So, I run my hand down her body and onto her leg, thereby telling her what I'm after." He starts on the left side, as convention has it, and runs a hand down Snowflake's shoulder and leg, stopping just above the hoof at the fetlock. "Now," he instructs, "I lean against her shoulder, asking her to take the weight off of the foot I'm about to pick up. I also pull gently back and up with my hand, asking her to let me have the hoof."

Snowflake turns her head slightly to look at the journeyman as he leans against her shoulder, but obediently shifts her weight and offers up her hoof for inspection. "Good girl," Matison praises her. Then, taking the hoofpick in his right hand, he brings it down toward the heel of the hoof. "This soft, v-shaped part of the hoof is called the frog. It's more sensitive than the sole and walls of the hoof, and this is the most common place to look for infection in a dirty hoof." He draws the pick down toward the toe of the hoof, through the groove that marks the boundary between frog and sole. The groove appears to deepen as dirt, shavings and manure fall to the ground. "if all that dirt, and especially the manure, had been left in there, the frog gets too moist — promoting infection. Also, the dirt will have stones in it, sometimes sharp. If these stones become packed in, there's a chance of cuts and bruises. A bad stone bruise can lame a runner for months at a time."

So," he continues, cleaning the hoof thoroughly, "we need to clean out the bars and frog, picking any packed dirt out of the crevices and off of the sole. On an unshod runner, the sold tends to stay pretty clean. When she's got shoes, though, it'll pack in pretty thickly. Clean it all out, and pay attention to any odors that come from the frog or any tender spots on the sole or wall. If you find anything unusual, make sure to inform Aeia or myself."

Matison quickly finishes the first hoof, moving on the the hind hoof to repeat the procedure. Always with his left shoulder next to the runner's left flank, he warns the assembled group, "Sometimes runners are a little picky about their hind feet. Just remain calm and hold on to the foot." Snowflake gives no trouble, though, and soon all four feet are pristine.

Matison stands up straight finally, giving the mare a pat. "If all else fails, though, watch your own feet that they don't get a hoof put down on top of them." He smiles, handing the hoofpick to an apprentice. "Always put the hoofpick back where it belongs when you're done with it," he says, pointing to the hook on the wall. He unsnaps the ties and leads Snowflake back into the stall, thanking her with a pat and a quiet word for her patience.

"That's it," he proclaims as he shuts and bolts the stall door, hanging the halter back on its hook. "Class dismissed."

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