Have you noticed the change in your horse’s hooves over the past couple of months?

While we have a range of climatic extremes at present, from the flooded Queensland areas to the drought stricken lower states, geography seems to have very little or no determining influence in what is happening in the bottom of the horse’s hoof right now; the four or six weekly trim is revealing an enormous amount of sole and frog build up, which is not exfoliating naturally.

So in the dry states of Australia the hoof just gets taller and taller depriving the frog of ground pressure all of which results in a proppy action in those horses. (Pic 1) During the summer months the sole and the frog have built up a thick hard crust to protect the sensitive hoof from bruising, so the hoof wall has also maintained a higher profile in relationship with the sole and the frog.

I interpret this retention of the sole and frog to be natures way of protecting the hoof in a dry year like this, but the confusing thing is that nature seems to be working at cross purposes with what we and our domesticated horses require, because when the sole eventually drops out it leaves a very tall hoof wall which is unstable and unprotected. Then if we don’t get to trim it very quickly, it breaks away in all directions causing more problems.

One issue is the great difficulty in removing very hard sole – home made water boots used overnight (Pic 2) will help greatly though even using for a couple of hours will make it easier. A sole chisel (Pic 3) is essential for removing rock hard sole at this time of the year.

The danger in not correctly removing the excess sole is that we can then easily miscalculate the correct level when balancing the bottom of the hoof. Then when the sole is removed, the unlevel hoof becomes apparent (Pic 4)

In the wet areas of Australia this same retention of the sole and frog is also happening but with very different results; the hoof is still growing at an enormous rate but because of all the wetness it is spreading out in all directions, giving the appearance of a convex sole with the hoof flaring out risking wall separation and cracking. (Pic 5)

The farriers’ dilemma right now is how best to solve this nature-generated hoof change; it possibly wont happen again next year so be aware that this is something quite out of the ordinary.

Judging by the number of emails I have received on this subject, the horse owner feels that the farrier probably didn’t do a good enough trim on the bottom of the hoof last time, while the farrier knows he did and in some cases only four weeks back.

So hopefully if both owner and farrier read this article you can now relax and just go with nature’s request. Its just that nature didn’t expect us to put a fence around the darned paddock so now we need to do to the bottom of the hoof that maintenance which we have stopped nature from providing.

1. Trim out all the excess sole and unstable bars

2. Trim the height of the hoof wall to suit either a shod or an unshod level

3. Dress (ie get rid of) the outer hoof wall flares.

Now that you have cleaned it all out, if you look at the shape of the white line/laminae (this should be your road map) in the bottom of the hoof, you will see that the real shape is still there. (Pic 6)

A couple of helpful ideas for the future could be for the horse owner to notice these changes early and call for help, disregarding the regular six week date. In the dry areas allow the horses more regular access to ground moisture to keep those hooves from totally drying out, and in the excessively wet areas try sealing the hoof with stock tar etc or hot shoeing to seal the bottom of the hoof wall which will help keep most of the moisture out.