As a hoof care practitioner, I sometimes assume that all is well with my personal horses’ hooves. Healthy hooves depend on several variables and a balanced diet is essential for optimum hoof health. My horses have access to low NSC grass hay at all times and I provide a custom mineral and vitamin supplement to balance any deficiencies in the hay. Our horses are on full time turn out and their hooves are trimmed on a regular cycle. We live in a very rocky part of Texas so we use EasyCare boots for protection as needed for riding. I thought I had all the bases covered. Lately, however, I have noticed my Tennessee Walking Horse, Gator, tripping a bit. His hooves are not perfect but he is very sound.

Poor Gator!  Gator had developed a deep crack in the central sulcus of his frog. When I put a hoof pick in the crack, it was sensitive and he flinched. He was tripping because he was avoiding landing on his infected frog. This condition can be so painful some horses are even misdiagnosed with navicular. My local vet explained, that gram-negative bacteria usually cause these types of infections and flourish in the crack which is devoid of fresh air. The bacteria causes frog tissue to die and often fungus and yeast also take up a secondary residence. I have found that when caught early, this type of infection can be easily managed by an “off label” use of commercial cattle mastitis treatment. It is an antibiotic that is sold in the cow section of your local farm store and comes in a box of a dozen syringes with a long thin, flexible tip. That tip is perfect for inserting the product in the bottom of the crack where the infection resides. I apply this product daily until the crack is gone and the frog is totally healthy again. After a week of treatment, the thrush was gone and Gator was comfortable again.

Recently, I was called to give a first “set up trim” to a young Quarter Horse who had not had regular hoof care. This horse was recently sent to her trainer for boarding she was concerned about the condition of the horse’s hooves. The trainer explained that the toes looked “fairly normal but chipped” and the heels looked long to her. The horse was tripping especially when asked to canter under saddle.

The mare had deep thrush in all four frogs. The trainer said that they were treating it with the “purple stuff” but it didn’t seem effective. The bars had grown around the frogs on all four hooves in an effort to protect the sore and infected frog from pressure. The heels got longer and became contracted. The frogs became atrophied and deeply infected. The mare no longer could land heel first, she walked on her toes to avoid the sore heels, keeping the toes worn down and heels high.

In a horse like this, I would not correct the heel height in one trim. Taking the heels down to a correct height, with a raging frog infection could result in increased sensitivity. The approach I prefer is to leave the heels and bars a bit longer than is desirable so the horse can land on the back of the hoof without pain while the thrush treatment is in process. I cleaned up the “migrating” bars all the way around the tip of the frog and cleaned up the major dead flaps on the frog. The horse’s caretakers will clean the frog by picking it out, scrubbing with liquid dish soap and applying the mastitis ointment. I have no doubt that this horse will greatly improve with treatment.

Lisa Morris, Lisa Morris Hoof Care