On Hoof Dressings

Well, we've all heard or read about this or that hoof dressing and all the claims that are made of how this dressing or that will repair cracks in the hooves or improve the moisture content in the wall or even help cure infections and such at the coronary band and down the walls. 

There are myriads of brands of hoof dressings on the market and a varied supply can easily be found at most tack and feed stores. 

You may not like this but -- 

I'm here to tell you that most of it is really nothing more than advertising fluff. 

In fact, many hoof dressings cause MORE issues than what they are being used for in the first place! 

Susan Kempson, BSc, PhD, senior lecturer in Preclinical Veterinary Sciences in the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies at the University of Edinburgh has studied the efficacy of hoof dressings. So has Robert Sigafoos, Certified Journeyman Farrier, chief of farrier services and director of the Applied Polymer Research Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine over the last 28 years. 

Both agree on the limitations, and even harmful effects, of commercial hoof dressings. 

Let's take a look at the hoof wall, itself ... 

Horses have a permeability barrier on the skin to regulate the passing of water and water- soluble materials into and out of the skin. 

They also have a permeability barrier covering their hooves.

Susan Kempson, BSc, PhD, senior lecturer in Preclinical Veterinary Sciences in the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies also at the University of Edinburgh has studied how materials are passing through the permeability barrier of the hooves starting in the 1990's and continuing studies today. 

Kempson used water-soluble tracers on hooves that are visible with both light microscopes and electron microscopes. "The tracers are small molecules that travel with the water into the horn," she explains. "If the water can get into the horn, then it could also get out! The water could either travel between the cells or through the horn cells, or a combination of both."

Comparing good quality hoof horn and poor quality hooves such as those with cracks and dry, she found the healthy hooves showed NO tracers got into the hoof through the outer pigmented layer of the dorsal wall while poor-quality horn was affected with water and tracers penetrating deep into both the pigmented layer AND the non-pigmented horn as well. 

Kempson also studied, at the same time, the affects of the environment on the viability of the horn. 

"The results were surprising," Kempson says.

"Heat, cold, and water had no effect on the permeability barrier. The sole and frog horn left in feces for two weeks disintegrated, and poor-quality wall horn was also badly affected. Good-quality wall horn was only marginally changed. Urine alone had little effect, but combining urine and feces had the same results as feces alone.

"My conclusion is that the horn has a built-in permeability barrier," she says. "As long as the horse has a well-balanced diet so that he can produce good-quality horn, leave the hoof horn to look after itself."

Simply put, while environment did little to affect HEALTHY hooves, DIET had much to do with how healthy the hooves are and how well they can stand up to environmental influences, including urine and manure! 

Now given this information, do some conclusive thinking - what good do hoof dressings do to increase or decrease moisture content and health of HEALTHY hooves -- pretty much nothing as the dressing will not permeate the outer wall of the hoof!  What can it do on un-healthy hooves?  Well, depending on the type of the hoof dressing and the ingredients in the dressing, harm can be done to the hooves as a whole. 

There are 3 types of hoof dressings: 

-- Petroleum based: these are the thick, gooey, tarry products that might include pine tar, petroleum compounds, turpentine, etc. 

-- Lanolin Based: more along the line of lotions that are applied and may include products such as lanolin, lactates, stearates, alcohols and glycerin.  

-- Drying Agents that contain acetone. 

What do YOU think would be beneficial to the horses' hooves?  Any of these? Now, knowing what you just learned? 

One of my very favorites quotes comes from Hippocrates -- "Let food be thy medicine and they medicine be thy food."  

Hoof experts agree -- FOOD, diet, is going to make the hooves ... inside to the outside. 

Salad fit for a *horse* !!  :)

Instead of throwing money down the toilet with hoof dressings that may actually do more harm than good for your horse's hooves, think about the diet -- what do natural horses eat? And then maybe think about changing up the diet of your horse so you're really feeding him like a horse!  Start treating the ROOT of the issue instead of just trying to cover up the situation. 

Let FOOD be your horse's medicine. 


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:  www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf



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