Does Your Horse Suffer From Thin Soles?
Is your horse fine on soft ground but 'ouchie' on gravel or hard terrain?
Is your horse recently transitioned from horse shoes to barefoot?
Is your hoof care provider stumped by your horse's hoof tenderness?
If you answered yes to any, or maybe even all of the above, then read on...
Why do horses get thin soles and what happens when they do?
What can be done about thin soles?
How can we help the hoof to grow thicker and more callused, comfortable soles?
Let's look briefly into each of these questions.
Why do Horses get Thin Soles?
There are many reasons, all with various causes. Horses need nice, thick, callused soles to protect their inner hoof. Just as you, or I, would find it difficult to run over sharp stones in thin, rubber-soled socks or slippers. The horse is also uncomfortable without soles that are at least 5/8th - 3/4" (7mm - 1.9cm) thick and callused.
"Too-thin soles can’t support the structures above them, potentially leading to hoof wall flares, distortions, and imbalances. These horses are also more likely to have poor hoof conformation and are more susceptible to bruising, tenderness, and even navicular issues and arthritis. And if they do develop a hoof condition, particularly one as serious as laminitis, they’re usually more challenging to rehabilitate." --Heather Smith Thomas, thehorse.com
Let's take a quick look at the anatomy of the equine hoof...
Photo Chris Pollitt, researchgate.com
The corium is from where the sole originates. When the sole is too thin, this corium is bruised and damaged with disrupts to the normal growth of the sole.
Thin soles can be caused by a number of different factors, from diet to environment, to incorrect and damaging trimming of the horse's hooves. Many natural barefoot trimmers and farriers are taught to always trim the soles to 'clean them up'. Doing this on thin soles rapidly cause numerous adverse effects from 'ouchiness' to Laminitis, and can even cause complete perforation of the coffin bone right down through the sole.
Hooves with long toes and low heels tend to grow everything 'forward' and in doing so, the sole will start to thin as it migrates forward. This is a tough situation to remediate, but it can be done successfully with frequently careful backing up of the toes and leaving the heels to grow to where there's a good 2" (5cm) between the hairline in the back of the hoof to the ground. Careful balancing can either make, or break, the trim.
Genetics also play a factor in thin soles but with a good diet and movement, this can be altered for the better.
How can we Help the Hoof to Grow a Thicker Sole?
First, you need to be sure that the soles are not being trimmed too thinly. Just as you would not allow someone to come and shave off the thick callus of your bare feet, don't allow that to happen to your horse. The sole does not generally need to be shaved at all. The healthy hoof will exfoliate itself as needed.
Secondly, ensure the diet is equine appropriate. Horses are created to eat forages. A variety of forages available 24/7/365 is the best diet for a horse. Feed the horse like a horse.
Thirdly, make sure the trim is correct for the hoof-in-hand on the horse-in-hand. Toes that are left too long with heels that are trimmed too short are the perfect recipe for making of thin soles.
Also, ensure that the horse gets enough movement. Movement stimulates blood flow to the hooves which, in turn, feeds the hooves with oxygen and essential nutrients. But remember, what goes into the horse, grows out through their hooves. So, movement and diet go hand-in-hand, mouth-to-hoof.
What can be Done About Thin Soles?
While rehabbing thin soles, it is imperative to offer the hoof enough protection. This means hoof boots, such as Scoot Boots, when riding out on rough, hard or rocky terrain. In fact, even though sand is 'soft', it is very abrasive, so even riding in soft sand requires protection to the soles of the hoof.
Walking a horse barefoot on hard, smooth, clean tarred roads or driveways for 10-15 mins a day is the best conditioner there is for a horse's hooves. Walk the horse in hand, do not ride on the road with unprotected hooves and no hoof boots.
Ensure the 1/3:2/3rd ratio of the hoof (go here: http://www.barefoottrim.com/2012/EDUCATIONAL/Determining%20Placement%20of%20P3%20Within%20Capsule.pdf ) and learn how to assess the thickness of your horse's soles. The most simple way to do this is to see that there is at least 1" (2.5cm) of depth from the heel platform/buttress down to the deepest part of the collateral groove there.
Photo Pete Ramey, www.hoofrehab.com
If you are concerned about your horse's soles, then talk with your veterinarian and your barefoot hoofcare provider to see what you can do to help your horse.
Carrying around the weight of a horse on sore hooves can't be fun for the horse but, you can help your horse by making some simple changes.
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the world-renown author of "10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves" and "Natural Hoof Anthology" as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in NE Connecticut and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com
Gwenyth is available for freelance assignments, contract work and consulting.