Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Hooves

(But Were Afraid to Ask)

Written by Herder Shala
in partial fulfillment of
the Herdercraft Journeyman Project

The first thing to remember about a runner's hooves is that about a thousand pounds rest on them, yet we don't pay much attention to them until something goes wrong.

Anatomy of the Hoof
To take care of your runner's hooves properly you'll need to know the basic anatomy of the hoof. The hoof wall grows downward from the coronary band which lies between the hoof wall and the skin. The hoof wall takes most of the weight and is made of dead tissue. Parts of the hoof include the toe, the quarters and the heels. The quarters are the thinest part of the hoof. If you pick up your runner's hoof and look at the sole or bottom of the foot, you'll see that in the center of the sole is the frog, and underneath the frog is a spongy layer called the digtal cushion. The white line can be seen at the junction of the sole and wall. Within the hoof is the coffin bone. The coffin bone is suspended with in the hoof by strong tissues called laminae.

Examining the Hoof
Examine your runner's hooves to learn their normal size and shape. The angle of the hoof wall at the toe should be equal to that at the heel. It should also be equal to that of the pastern. A normal hoof wall is smooth and even and the length of the hoof wall should be equal on both sides of the hoof. A runner's left and right hooves should be the same size and shape, with the hind hooves narrower and steeper then the front.

A Few Ailments of the Hoof
Minor hoof problems include dry flaky or soft hooves, flat soles and small hoof cracks. These can become major problems if not attended to properly. Dry, flaky hooves are a common problem. Runners that live in dry climates tend to have this problem. Constant mud or sandy soil will also dry out a runner's hooves. To solve it allow your water trough to overflow a little; this will force the runner to stand in the wet area for part of the day, keeping his hooves moist but not soaked.

Another way to help with dry hooves is hoof dressings. Hoof dressings act by sealing in the moisture that is already present in the hoof wall. The main ingredient in any hoof dressing is a nondrying agent. Fish oils, vegtables oils, and pine tar are commonly used. Hoof wall injuries range from small cracks to cuts and abrasions of the coronary band. You can prevent a small hoof crack from becoming a problem by having a farrier tend to it at once. A different shoeing may help remove stress from the area so new hoof can grow out without perpetuating the crack. Deep cracks will bleed or make the runner lame. Your farrier and beasthealer will work together to repair deep cracks. The crack can be sewn together, the edges held in place with a patch.

Thrush and canker are infections of the hoof. Mild thrush is a common problem among many runners. It manifests as a foul-smelling black material in the grooves of the frog. Thrush occurs in runners whose hooves are constantly wet. Runners left in muddy paddocks or infrequently cleaned stalls are susceptible. Medication is used to kill the thrush and to dry the sole and frog. You must pick up your runner's hooves and apply the medication daily or the problem will recur. Canker is another infection of the sole and frog, but it is much more serious then thrush. Canker results in lameness because it infects the deep tissues. It manifests as a warty, whitish growth on the sole and frog. Treatment should be left to the beasthealer since improper removal of the material could make the infection much worse.

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