Is Your Horse "Footy"?

Well, you have a horse who's been barefoot for ages. All's fine until the air gets damp and the ground gets wet. Then your horse is pulling you over off the side of the tar to the grass and is 'footy' on rocky ground. OR, you don't have the opportunity to ride all that often and your horse is 'footy' when you travel out on trails. 

What does 'footy' mean?  Simply, it means footsore. 

So why would a horse with apparently healthy, strong hooves come up 'footy'? 

Well, several reasons ... 

One could be that yes, the hooves are not getting a chance to dry out because of the environment, weather, ground .. whatever.  Think of soaking your feet in a tub of water. Doesn't matter how much callus you have on the bottoms of your feet, if you were to head right out with your feet still damp and try to walk on gravel?  You're gonna be 'footy' for sure!  The same simply applies to horses and their hooves. If horses live on damp ground their hooves don't get a chance to dry out and they are simply going to be tender when moving over gravel. 

Another reason could be that the horse is kept 90% of his time on soft pasture and doesn't get an opportunity to build up callus. The form of the hooves can be superb however, the callus on the soles will not be able to form a nice protective surface against stones and pebbles and gravel or rocks. 

A very common reason for the weekend warriors is that the horse is not moving enough to strengthen the digital cushion (DC) in the foot and, therefore, the DC has developed more fatty tissue than that nice, fibro-cartilaginous tissue that is strong and resilient. Think of (I know, this is gross) ... chicken fat. When you're preparing chicken for dinner and, perhaps, are pounding it out for stuffing - what happens when you pound on the fat?  Yep .. it goes S.P.L.A.T. ... well, that's what fat does. It 'splats' and the DC that is mostly fatty tissue will do the same thing. The hoof lands on the ground and the DC goes SPLAT!  There is little cushioning for shock absorption or energy dissipation. A horse that gets ample movement and conditioning will form nice, supportive and resilient fibro-cartilaginous tissue in the DC that is very strong and ... coupled with the DC are the lateral cartilages. The lateral cartilages (LC) of a weak foot are not thick and strong as those in a hoof that is well conditioned and is moving ... alot! Robert Bowker found that in well conditioned and strong hooves the LCs will actually form a 'bridge' under the hoof for additional support and strength.  Remember, a feral horse moves upwards of 20 - 30 miles a DAY !!  It is unusual to find a domestic horse with the same mileage on a daily basis. So that leaves many domestic horses with comparatively weak hooves. 

This short video shows exactly what I'm saying ... 

So, what can the weekend warriors do about conditioning the hooves? 

Well, hand walking on a smooth tarred surface for a minimum of 10 mins a day will help condition the barefooted hooves. Especially if the weather is constantly damp and the ground is constantly wet. 

Putting in a track system ( will increase the horse's daily movement. I realize that in boarding situations this is not always possible but even on one acre of land, those who keep their horses at home will find immeasurable improvement in the hooves if a track system is put into use. 

The diet the horse is fed makes a huge difference ... the more simple carbs and sugars in the diet, the more likely the horse will become footy even with the best of hooves.  A diet of a variety of seasonal raw, organic forages (fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds) will help to strengthen the foot in just a matter of a few months. 

And most simply, if your horse is footy, use boots when riding and hit the trails!  Get some miles on those hooves. That is the best thing you can do. 

Of course, being sure that your horse is getting the individualized hoofcare that he needs also helps with the overall health of the hooves.  The horse needs a solid base on which to move -- heels, bars, thick sole and walls on balanced hooves can make all the difference in the world as it affects the way the hooves function. So ... form to function. Make sure that each hoof is individually assessed and trimmed to its peculiar needs. 

Movement, diet, environment -- all can be tweaked to help your horse to become rock-crunching sound. 

If you would like to learn more or would like individual consults I do provide those world-wide. Simply email to me.  

I hope this is helpful to you as a brief intro to the "footy" horse. 


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe 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 SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:



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