Cracks in horses's hooves can occur due to many different reasons.
Today I want to address TOE CRACKS, specifically. But first, let's go through some of the general reasons hooves crack so you'll have a better understanding on hoof cracks in general.
Hoof cracks usually mean there’s some abnormal stress occurring, and ignoring little cracks can lead to bigger, more-worrisome cracks to even total lameness of the horse.
Some causes of hoof cracks include:
-- Poor foot conformation (club foot, a long toe and low heel, sheared heels and thin hoof walls). As the hoof lands the leg is abnormally weighted causing inordinate pressure on various places on the hoof depending on the individual condition. The repeated concussion will eventually cause the wall to crack.
-- Trauma to the coronary band. Injuries to the coronary band will cause scarring down the hoof wall which can then become weaker than the rest of the wall. This will cause the weak hooves to crack from pressure.
-- Ill-fitting shoes. Short shod. A shoe will have a direct impact on how your horse moves and stands and also affects the way the hoof grows. An ill-fitting shoe will deform the hoof and can cause cracks in weakened walls. Recommendation to pull the shoes and get a good, solid, balanced trim to allow the new hoof growth to develop properly.
-- Imbalanced trimming of the hooves. Imbalances will cause the landing of the hoof to place unequal weight bearing on specific area of the hooves. This will eventually cause the hoof wall to crack.
-- Excessive pawing
-- Heavy workloads. Too much heavy workload on hard surfaces can cause less-than-healthy hooves to crack.
-- Extremes in environmental conditions- Wet to dry. Frozen to Mud. When a hoof is jeopardized then it can easily succumb to outside influences such as extreme terrain changes. When wet it will get soft and crumbly. When dry it can become brittle and then easy to crack.
-- Diet, diet, diet -What goes in grows out through the hooves. Improper balance of vitamins, lack of appropriate minerals, too much sugar, yeast ... all these will disturb the growth of new horn. It becomes vulnerable to imperfections and weakens.
-- Lack of exercise. Simply put, a horse is designed to move ... many miles. This stimulates the entire body and all its systems, including the hooves. Horses that stand in a stall for hours and hours a day or even in a small area with lack of room to move will eventually have weakened hooves that will be prone to crack.
NOW ... specifially --
- Toe cracks – When a horse overloads or puts excessive weight on the toe (puts too much weight on it when he walks), cracks in the toe can form. Many horses with heel pain with land toe-first which cause inordinate amount of toe concussion. The result will be cracks in the toe. It's also been studied by David Hood, PhD, DVM head of the Hoof Project Foundation to show that horses with "crenas" are more apt to develop toe cracks than those without
Your horse can overload the toe when he moves, causing these cracks. Also, many horses with heel pain land toe first, causing extreme toe concussion--and, hence, cracking. Hoof Project Foundation head David Hood, PhD, DVM, is studying horses with a prominent crena, or notch, at the distal dorsal aspect the of the distal phalanx (the lowest point on the top of the coffin bone), to determine whether a weak or absent laminar attachment from the wall to the coffin bone in this area causes toe cracks. Full determination to support this theory has yet to be established.
Chronic toe cracks can also be caused by a condition known as pedal osteitis. This is a deterioration of the coffin bone that causes notches to form on its margin.
Once a crack begins to develop its allowing outside bacteria and fungus to get into the wall which compounds the issue of a simple crack needing simple trim correction. Now we get into having to use antibacterial and antifungal medications or soaks and further treatments.
The best way to treat the crack in a hoof is, first, get a correct, balanced trim and treat for any bacteria or fungus that might be present. Maintain this trim on a frequent basis; don't allow the walls to get over grown. Personally, I will bevel the area of the toe crack so there is no ground bearing leverage on the toe (also known as 'floating' the toe), I may knife out any bacterial blackening that I see and have the owner use essential oil blend to spray the area or flush the area thoroughly 2 - 3 times a day. Others may wish to use a chlorine dioxide soak or other treatment. I would go in to trim no later than every 4 weeks. Depending on the severity of the crack, the simple beveling and treatment will have the hoof grown in solid at the end of 4 weeks. With larger, more severe cracks, it may take several trim sessions to get it cleared up.
I would also change the diet as needed and suggest a different exercise program for the horse during its rehabilitation time. As always - It all depends on the individual.
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