Balanced Horse, Balanced Hoof

Lateral or medial imbalances are fairly common and a symptom of uneven hoof loading. The load is dependent on a horse's conformation and muscle influence and results tend to be rather predictable. Legs that toe in tend to flare more to the medial sides, while toeing out creates hooves that flare more to the lateral sides. Exceptions to the common trends are usually horses that experienced some trauma in the past that affected conformation and/or muscle health and thereby hoof load. Although flaring is often identified from the front or back of the hooves with the horse standing on level ground, it can also be seen in the angles of the collateral grooves. One collateral groove usually has a steeper angle than the other and the one with the shallower angle is the side that normally flares.

Caudal view of the left front before the trim shows a medial-lateral imbalance.

Hoof form responds primarily to load from above and hooves are rarely (if ever) loaded evenly. Typically one side makes ground contact first before the other side "touches down" - the side that is loaded last is the side that tends to flare more. This is easily observed by walking a horse on a level surface. Closely watch how the hooves become loaded as the horse walks towards you. The more flared side is usually the side that needs additional trimming, while the first loaded side is often close to the right height. Frequent trimming is crucial to keeping these imbalances to a minimum - balanced hooves are beneficial to the horse and allow for proper hoof boot fit. It's even more critical with hooves that naturally flare more or unhealthy hooves that have disconnected wall growth, which leads to excessive flaring. Hoof shapes/flares can vary widely depending on individual hoof load tendencies. Unhealthy hooves, with disconnected wall growth, will also have generally more wall/white line separation on the primary loaded side.

White line separation on the lateral, more loaded side of the left front.

Equine side dominance with conformational traits like chest or pelvis width and leg length influence hoof load too. The non-dominant leg tends to get pulled in more toward the midline, thanks to stronger adductor (chest) muscles and weaker abductor (lateral shoulder/upper arm) muscles. This is very common in horses, especially in undeveloped horses. The wider the chest and shorter the leg, the more the lateral edge of the hoof becomes loaded. In extreme cases, this can cause rolling under (collapsing) of the primary loaded hoof side. It can also be seen in horses whose hind legs are wide in the hocks and narrow at the hooves (base narrow). I see this particular issue more frequently in minis and halter type Quarter Horses due to their conformational tendencies. Proper muscle development that results in even strength on both sides of the body is the only way to effectively address this issue as it encourages more even hoof load. Most horses seem to be right sided, some are left sided and some are more ambidextrous, just like humans are. The ambidextrous horses tend to naturally have more evenly sized front hooves and a dressage rider once confirmed this connection - as her horse moved up the levels in dressage his hooves became more even in size and shape. Fortunately EasyCare offers several hoof boot options in several sizes to ensure a custom fit even if hooves vary in size and shape.

Before the trim.

An equine's stance can make the hooves look more uneven than they actually are. I have frequently taken legs that are base narrow on horses with wide chests and set them so the horse is standing more squarely. It will make the hooves look comparatively normal and shows what even load looks like. If such a horse would consistently travel correctly, the hoof form would also be more balanced side to side with less flaring tendencies. In general, small hoof imbalances should not be cause for great concern if they are managed in a timely and consistent manner.

After the trim and with legs placed in an aligned position in relation to the body.

Submitted by Ute Philippi, Balanced Step

Balancing Booted and Bare

It's that time of year where spring seems to have sprung, at least in our neck of the woods. I am sure as I am writing this there is a wicked snowstorm or impressive hail clouds developing, but for now, I'll happily take the shift where there seems to be more good days than bad. With the swing in weather, the longer days and the overall feeling of spring comes more riding! We've been lucky to have kept riding most of the winter, short little hacks and trail rides, mostly at a walk with a little trot thrown in and an occasional gallop. These rides have all been done barefoot. My main trail horse this winter has been the adorable little mare, Belesema Dazling Lady. Dazl wasn't shod when I got her, but I still believe going from unshod and pasture pet to barefoot/booted riding horse is similar, if not the same, as transitioning a shod horse. 

Dazl came to me with pretty overgrown hind feet and a pretty normal "pasture trim" on her fronts. I've learned the hard way in the past, that sometimes less *is* actually more and I have stopped being so over-zealous in the trim department during the first few months. I want to ride my horses and want them to be comfortable. Because our horses are on such large acreage, they tend to need a little more foot at the beginning of the transition to stay completely comfortable. I have been able to ride Dazl barefoot on all of our rides since she came to me last fall with a less aggressive trim than maybe my hot little hands wanted to do. This worked out well as she was starting with no condition and could only handle short rides. Then the Deep Freeze of Hell (my version of hell is cold) came and I was even happier I had left her with some foot, as the poor horses stood on rock-hard frozen ground for two months. During this time, there was almost zero hoof growth on both of my ponies. Our rides were short on good footing but were no doubt very good for her transitioning hooves. Her condition in body, mind and hooves has improved immensely. 


6 Months After.

At this time, our rides have increased in both length and frequency. The footing is beautiful and it is very tempting to keep riding barefoot but we've reached the point where wear is exceeding growth, and the balancing act between booted and bare begins. How do you balance the need for hoof protection with the benefits of riding barefoot? Do you wing it? Stay on a schedule? Adjust your riding? Having the choice is one of my absolute favorite things about having barefoot horses. Ride on! 

Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Hoofjack

Many years ago, I ordered my first Hoofjack from a local farrier supply store. The one man show was run by an old time farrier. With obvious contempt he said:

"What do you need that for? It's a fad. I always place the horses hooves on my leg. Works just fine."

Living about 120 miles from the store, it took me a while to visit the store again to pick up my hoofjack.

When asking about my hoofjack, the old man answered:

"Ahhh, I tried it out after it came in, hmm, works actually pretty well. It is used now and I want to keep it for myself. I'll order you another one".

An obvious convert now. The hoofjack sold itself to a farrier, set in his ways, who previously considered it beneath himself to use one. I, on the other side, do not have to prove anything; in fact, I believe in making it as easy as possible on my body when working on the horses hooves.

The Hoofjack has been around for a while now. How can we utilize it to the fullest?

Pull a shoe, trim, rasp, and put on a hoof boot without putting the hoof between your knees or supporting the horse with your body. Take your mind off your back and knees and put it back into your work. It supports the hoof for daily care, treatment, bandaging, and more.

Standard Hoofjack® will accommodate a pony up to a small draft or draft cross (hooves up to a size 6). The Standard Hoofjack® consists of one standard base with two magnets, one standard cradle, and one straight post with standard rubber cap. The standard base is made of linear polyethylene and is 12″ in height and with a base diameter of 18″. Overall height adjustment is 14″ – 22″. The base material comes with a three year warranty against horse breakage.

1. The Hoofjack allows you to keep all your necessary tools for hoof trimming on the two attached magnets. Ready for usage without fumbling and twisting around to gather what you need.

2. Most horses willingly place their hoof onto the cradle, they balance themselves and don't lean against you. So you do not have to hold up the horse and waste energy.

3. It is easy to stand up and relax your back without having to place the hoof on the ground. Horses like it, because they can rest the leg without any torque on their joints.

4. It makes it easy to bevel the hoof walls, top dress the outside and remove flares.

5. Placing both of your feet onto the base, you can easily stabilize the Hoofjack. It allows you to work freely without running the risk of tipping over the stand.

Notice on that photo, that I actually use two hoofjacks at the same time. One with a cradle, the other one with a post. That way I can quickly and easily switch from one task to the other, without having to exchange cradle and posts.

You too can make your life easier by acquiring a hoofjack. You can get it from EasyCare or from Global Endurance Training Center.

Your Bootmeister

Christoph Schork

Cracking the Code on Hoof Cracks

What causes hoof cracks? There are many factors that contribute to the development of hoof cracks and understanding the cause is the key to developing a solution.

  1. Infrequent Trim Schedule
    The first factor and the one that is easiest to remedy is an infrequent trim schedule. As the hoof wall grows, leverage increases and if this leverage is not relieved by a trim, the hoof will crack. Although it has been common to trim horses on a 6 to 8 week schedule, many people are now opting for shorter intervals and 4 week schedules are gaining in popularity.
  2. Imbalance
    A lack of balance is yet another contributing factor. If a hoof is not balanced front to back (anterior/posterior) and side to side (medial/lateral) the weight being placed on the hoof wall will be concentrated in a smaller area. Eventually a crack will result due to the uneven distribution of weight. Although imbalances can be due to a poor trim, it can also be a result of a horse's conformation, or related to compensation as the result of an injury. If you identify an imbalance in your horse's hooves it is critical that you also determine the source of that imbalance.
  3. Abscess/Injury
    The third factor that can contribute to a crack is an abscess which has blown out the hoof wall. Abscesses compromise the integrity of the hoof wall and allow an entry point for dirt and bacteria. Scar damage from a prior injury or abscess can disrupt the growth of the hoof wall and result in a crack when this damaged area grows out to ground level.
  4. Metabolic Syndrome/Diet
    Cracks can also start from the inside. Horses that suffer from metabolic syndrome are at risk of developing hoof cracks from white line separation. Hoof walls that are thin or shelly are also at risk of splitting. For horses with these issues it may be necessary to switch to feed that is low in starch and high in fiber. Evaluation of the forage may reveal deficiencies in Copper and Zinc, supplementing these minerals can result in improved hoof wall integrity.

Relieving leverage at the toe.

Relieving leverage at the toe.

Opening the area.

Opening the area.

Although cracks are unsightly, they are generally superficial and can be easily resolved with a balanced diet and trim. For cracks that linger, it may be necessary to have your hoof care practitioner open the area with a hoof knife or dremel. This will expose the area to air and make it easier to apply medications that . EasyCare offers a selection of hoof boots that can be applied to protect the compromised hoof wall as it heals. The Easyboot Epic, Old Mac's G2, and Easyboot Trail are all options for horses that need to wear a boot in turn out.

Fully grown out crack.

Fully grown out crack.

Submitted by Sossity Gargiulo, Wild Hearts Hoof Care

For The Love of the Small (Often Foundered) Pony

I am often asked to trim a small pony or mini and many times the expectation is that the fee should be less for them than a normal sized horse. Whether that's because the feet are smaller, or the owners just don't want to spend the money on these companion animals, it is in no way easier to work on them! If you've ever seen the range of awkward positions the farrier has to get in to work on their feet, you'll know what I mean.

Combine that with how many of these small ponies and minis are foundered, the farrier definitely doesn't have an easy time of it.

In previous blogs I have written about two sets of guidelines I use to help me rehabilitate foundered horses.  It is no different with ponies:

1. Trim guidelines based on correcting phalangeal and capsular rotation, in other words realigning the hoof capsule with the bones:

  • Trimming for a 3-8 degree palmar P3 angle.
  • Creating a 50/50 base of support from toe to heel around the center of articulation, approx. Duckett's Bridge.
  • Minimizing flare and distortion.

2. From Dr Eleanor Kellon:  DDT & E:

  • Diet: providing an appropriate amount of forage and from safe sources.  Ponies can have ideal body condition too!
  • Diagnosis: working closely with the veterinarian to accurately diagnose the problem and create a management program as a team.
  • Trim: following the above guidelines.
  • Exercise: when appropriate, these ponies need exercise to stay healthy.

I've also found that having the right tools will greatly help you work on small ponies successfully! Smaller and specialized tools can often help. Also, as the foundered pony is often footsore, we rarely have as much time to work on them as we would like. I've found certain tools help make the work go much faster.  

Below is a 13 year old pony gelding I worked on recently who was getting a good trim from a good farrier, but they were just having trouble getting ahead of this pony's foot issues.

Following our formula:

  • Diet: This pony's diet was well controlled, note his excellend body condition and lack of fat pads
  • Diagnosis: Because this pony was still footsore, the veterinarian conducted a thorough exam and re-checked bloodwork for insulin resistance and cushings disease.  As bloodwork was normal, and body condition good, the recommendation was to be more aggressive in the hoof realignment process.
  • Trim: The internal and external hoof alignment was not within our parameters.
  • Exercise: Only exercise that was appropriate for this pony was moving around a small paddock under his own steam.  

Here are his feet when we started:

One of the most critical steps I've found in being successful with realigning the hoof capsule and the internal structures is to clip the hair away from the coronary band and pastern. Typically there is a lot of foot hiding up under their long leg hair! Look at how the appearance of the foot changes when the hair is clipped away:

To remove the hair you can use clippers or scissors.

Be careful not to put your head or hands anywhere they can accidentally kick or step on you. Especially watch the front knees - if they pick their leg up quickly they can easily knock you in the head. I highly recommend you stay to one side of their body when clipping at all times and place your hand or even your head directly on their knee.

In working to achieve my trim goals, I believe it is critical to realign the hoof capsule around the internal structures and establish alignment of the hoof pastern axis as quickly as possible. I am often able to achieve those goals in one trim.  Here are this pony's before and after radiographs on his front feet to give you an idea of the change of alignment possible in one trim:

Right Front Before and After Trim:

Right Front parameters Before and After Trimming:

Palmar P3 Angle: 11.30 degrees to 3.27 degrees (goal 3-8 degrees)
Toe Support %:  74.85% to 59.37% (goal 50%)
Minimize flare and distortion: Hoof/P3 Angle Difference:  14.27 degrees to -0.76 degrees (goal 0 degrees)
Hoof capsule is centered around P3 again, and Hoof/Pastern alignment is straighter.  

Here is the Left Front Before and After Trimming:

Left Front parameters Before and After Trimming:


Palmar P3 Angle:  11.05 degrees to 3.30 degrees (goal 3-8 degrees)

Toe Support %:   65.01% to 55.35% (goal 50%)

Minimize flare and distortion:  Hoof/P3 Angle Difference:  11.05 degrees to 0.66 degrees (goal 0 degrees)

Hoof capsule is centered around P3 again, and Hoof/Pastern alignment is straighter.


This realignment process is best accomplished with digital radiographs for accuracy.  


Removing the laminar wedge (dish in the wall at the toe), and lowering the heels in the realignment process can be very hard work!   Here are a few tools that can make the process faster and ease the pony's discomfort:


12" Half Round Nippers can be very helpful when lowering the heel and frog height in the back of the foot to lower the palmar P3 angle. It can be quite difficult to get into this area with straight nippers, and exhausting with a rasp. Especially when the pony is foundered, their feet often become referred to as "foot bound" or "blocks of wood" for a good reason! They are very tightly packed together and difficult to get into with our farrier tools. Half round nippers give a tremendous mechanical advantage.  



Using Half Round Nippers at the back of the foot to reduce the heel height, and also on the laminar wedge to create better capsular alignment.


12" Half Round Nippers are made by a number of tool manufacturers. Mine are made by MFC Tool, although GE also makes a nice pair.  

The other tool that I find extremely helpful is a Makita 1 1/8 x21"" hand held belt sander. This tool is fantastic for reducing the laminar wedge without having to pick the pony's foot up off the ground.



I like this tool better than an angle grinder or other similar powertools because it is similar in use to my rasp. I can feel the plane of the foot with the belt sander the same way I would use my rasp on a flare or other wall distortion. I also like that I can leave the pony's foot on the ground which is easier for them when footsore. As a side note, I also like to use this tool on draft horses with flare or bigger horses when addressing the laminar wedge. Saves me a lot of work, and the animal a lot of discomfort!


Fixing foundered ponies can be a frustrating process, full of hard work.  While these trimming tips and tricks alone won't fix the pony, they sure do make the job a lot easier on everyone involved. This pony documented here is just at the beginning of his rehabilitation here at Daisy Haven Farm, Inc., however in my experience trimming him to these parameters will help him become much more comfortable very quickly assuming the rest of our protocol: DDT & E is in line as well. Over the next few months his laminar wedge will continue to diminish until he regains a tight white line, and he will also regain concavity in his soles. He will be one very happy, sound pony!




March 2013: Asa Stephens - Bright Lights, Big City

Our March dealer of the month is hoof care professional, Asa Stephens who calls the city that never sleeps home. Not far from the hustle and bustle of the strip Asa makes her way across the desert helping horses excel with a barefoot lifestyle.

Asa started her career in hoof care first as a farrier, graduating from Western's School of Horseshoeing, shoeing horses for three years in the Las Vegas area. A client's request for a barefoot trim started it all and nudged her into looking at natural hoof care. Asa says, "It just made so much sense. I was quickly sold on the philosophy." She enrolled in AANHCP (Association for the Advancement of Natural Horse Care Practices) program where she not only graduated but was also a field instructor. While going through the program she was fortunate to have be able to spend three days with Pete Ramey. At that time students were able to mentor with Pete and she considers that opportunity a highlight in her career.

In 2005 she became a part of the EasyCare dealer network and remembers when the Boa Horse Boot was all the rage. These days the Easyboot Glove is her go-to boot for the healthiest of hooves and the toughest of riders. She chooses the Easyboot Glove Back Country for the horse that may be a bit harder to fit and yet is still able to meet the demands of a challenging trail. When it comes to rehab the Easyboot Trail is her favorite because the boot accommodates many padding scenarios and works well for light turnout and light riding. She also notes the Easyboot Trail is perfect for those clients who struggle with boot application due to physical limitations such as arthritic hands or bad backs.

What is her recipe for success? Two key elements, show up on time and be fully prepared for ANYTHING. Her approach is proactive rather than reactive. Asa is diligent in keeping up with the latest research and methodologies in hoof care which results in her services being in constant demand. She recalls when she first started natural hoof care it was easy to focus solely on the trim. Asa quickly realized much like layers of an onion, there is usually so much more to the picture - nutrition, the horse’s living conditions, and saddle fit also play a role. Asa stocks a range of EasyCare hoof boots, pads, accessories, thrush remedies and hay nets. "For me it's about doing a job well. Telling a customer, "I'm sorry, I'm not prepared and I don' have the right  tools" (i.e. hoof boots) is just not an option. Worse yet is to send them to figure it out on their own. What kind of service is that? Ultimately not being prepared costs you. It will cost you in time, money and customer satisfaction. It’s something I do my best to avoid. If I don't take my business seriously who will?"

Asa hits the Nevada trails every chance she gets on her horse Sirocco booted up in Gloves. She is a founding member of the Pacific Hoof Care Practitioners and a member of the American Hoof Association. She conducts booting clinics through PHCP helping to educate other hoof care professionals and the public. She is considered one the best in the business and readily sought after for mentorships.


Asa enjoys all aspects of her job but really enjoys transitioning horses out of horseshoes. "Every horse I take out of shoes show so much improvement, how can I not get excited?"

Debate? What Debate?

Rumor has it that there is still a debate going on about what’s best for horses: steel shoes or barefoot?

Years ago I came across the writings of Dr. Tomas Teskey, D.V.M.. The unfettered foot: a paradigm change for equine podiatry is an excellent essay written by the good doctor, go ahead and go there first, read it attentively, let it sink in, digest it, reflect upon it, then come back here. There are many excellent websites and videos that discuss natural hoof care. Some research, self-education and due diligence is all one has to do. If a horse transitioning from steel shoes needs protection, EasyCare has several hoof boot options for you. There are some farriers who believe they will lose revenue when switching to natural hoof care. The truth is, you can do more volume trimming barefoot horses than nailing steel shoes. You can do more, physically as well, since a barefoot trim is much less taxing on the body, for human and equine both. If you are in it solely for the money then you need to revise your priorities and occupation. Let’s face it: we don’t this for our health or to get rich, we do this because we genuinely care about horses.

Before first barefoot trim.

So how does a hoof care practitioner go about switching horses under his/her care to a barefoot trim? First they need to become intimately familiar with some of the tenets of natural hoof care. I recommend you study the work of Jaime Jackson and Pete Ramey, kudos to both gentlemen for enlightening and teaching all of us. You should carry copies of the above essay by Dr. Tomas Teskey, D.V.M. to hand out to both new and existing clients, it’s all about education and awareness. A camera is an excellent tool - before and after pictures, that can be studied after the day’s work is done, go a long way towards “getting it right”. Pictures are a priceless testament to the progress the horse is making, warming the hearts of owners and practitioners.

Eight weeks after first trim.

It is important to understand that the following never fails: the horse’s feet will adapt to the terrain it lives and works on, as well as the workload they’re being subjected to. From pasture pets to working ranch horses, barrel racing/roping/reining/rodeo horses, endurance/trail/dressage/show jumping horses: no two sets of feet will look alike but one will see those bare hooves adapt and transform into optimal tools conditioned for the work at hand. Nature provides: all we really need to do is help out every so often. We know so much can be done and remedied through natural hoof care. As for me, there simply is no debate. Be diligent, be caring and you will end each day with a sense of satisfaction.

Submitted by Kris Goris, Kris Natural Trim

Hoof Boots and Blue Jeans

I went shopping a few weeks ago for some new jeans, since all of mine from last year apparently shrunk hanging in the hot closet over the summer. While I was walking through the store, I could not believe the range of selection available now - you have the Curve ID, the 535, the 505, the 525, the 515 and on and on and that is just one brand. Whew! It is hard to know which style is right for you. Should you try on the boyfried cut, the skinny jean, the relaxed fit, the midrise, the low rise? The list is endless. I remember when I was a teenager and they had just invented blue jeans (just kidding), there were only a few styles to choose from.

So Many Choices

There are a lot of options when you are jean shopping, but lets face it, you have to look at certain facts to narrow down your decision. For example, I really love the way those skinny low rise jeans look on those 20 something, stick thin model type figures, but I know there is not a chance in heck that I am going to squeeze my 50 something booty into them and make them work! The same logic applies when looking for a hoof boot. For example, the Glove boot is designed for a barefoot, well maintained hoof with no hoof issues. This means if you just pulled the shoes for winter, your horse is on an 8 week trim cycle and your horse is ouchy and needs 12mm comfort pads, the Glove is not the best boot for your horse even if you do love the way it looks and everyone else is using them.

I thought it might be helpful to list some of our boot styles below to help make your choice easier.


Easyboot Glove 

As stated above the Easyboot Glove is designed for a barefoot trimmed, well maintained hoof that has no issues. The Glove boot is measured in millimeters and comes in half sizes. Because this boot has no hardware it has to be a good, snug fit on the hoof. This boot is great for all types of riding from trails to endurance and is the lightest and sleekest boot that we offer. This boot style does not work with hooves that have high heels or flare. A Fit Kit is definitely recommended to fit this boot. This boot comes in both regular and wide sizing. You can ride unlimited miles in the boot. It is sold individually.


Easyboot Glove Back Country

The Easyboot Glove Back Country is a combination of two of our best selling boots, the Easyboot Trail and the Easyboot Glove.  The Back Country is sized the same as the Easyboot Glove but because this boot has an upper for added stability, some horses whose hooves will not work with the Glove boot because of conformation issues can successfully use the Back Country. You can go up a 1/2 size and this boot will still work and will allow six weeks for growth. This boot comes in both regular and wide sizing. A Fit Kit is definitely recommended for sizing this boot. This is a medium milage boot good for 25-50 miles per ride. This boot is sold individually.


Easyboot Epic

The Easyboot Epic is a good all around boot for any type of riding or turn out. The Epic is the ideal boot for the barefoot horse, aggressive conditions or for the horse that is difficult to keep booted. This is one of our boot styles that can be worn over shoes although it will void the warranty. The Epic has been updated with new tread (same tread as the Easyboot Glove) and a new improved cable/buckle system. This is a good, go to boot for horse's whose hoof confirmation does not work with the Glove or the Back Country boot styles. You can ride unlimited miles in the boot. This boot is sold individually.


Easyboot Trail 

The Easyboot Trail was designed for the casual rider, less than 25 miles per week. It is our easiest boot to put on a take off and is great for first time booters. It has an aggressive traction and is very lightweight. It works well with a variety of hoof shapes and sizes. This boot is great for casual trails and can also be used as a temporary therapy boot. This boot is sold individually.


Other Options

We do have some other booting options available here at EasyCare, so feel free to call our Customer Service Department with any questions you may have about your booting needs.


Shari Murray

Customer Service

If you call the customer service help desk, you’ll probably get me on the phone! I process repairs, returns, credits and exchanges that come into EasyCare.


Spring Cleaning, Amateur Trimmer Style.

It's that time! The temperature is starting to warm up, the birds are chirping and the horses are beginning to shed. We are fortunate to have had a brief reprieve from the mud, which is sure to come back with the storm system in the forecast for the next week. For now, I'll take it! 

The New Year is always a time for me to reflect and redirect, and I am now caught up on all my trimming and all of the other things I wanted to catch up on. Now that we've crossed that bridge, it's time for a new one! Spring cleaning, but not the typical, scrub the house from top to bottom with the windows open, no, this is spring cleaning for the barefoot horse owner! 

First order of business is quite possibly one of the most important ones. A new rasp! Be sure to invest in a high-quality rasp, such as the Save Edge Hoof Rasp. I think people tend to forget how old their rasp is and exert a lot of unnecessary energy using a dull one. At only $22, this is something that should be replaced often. You won't regret it! 

While you're buying your new rasp, don't forget the handle. It always surprises me watching people trim without a handle on their rasp. Not only does this look uncomfortable, it seems somewhat dangerous and I frequently have visions of the pointy rasp-end plunging into my body should my horse spooks or jump or fall or something. Yes, I go there. Buy a handle, save yourself from uncertain death. 

When is the last time you've had your hoof knife sharpened? Now is a good time to have it done. A sharp knife requires less force and is much less likely to skip across the hoof and scalp the inside of your wrist. Again, save yourselves, people! 

Take stock of your boots. I haven't done this yet, but I think it would be a good idea to gather up all your boots, make a pile for repairs and a pile for good-to-gos. Organize accordingly. This would also be a good time to make sure you have a full-set for each horse, and the appropriate spares. I like to retire well-used boots to spares, and start the season with a new set. I know boots are expensive up-front, but they are no more than two sets of shoes and last a whole lot longer. For some it's easier on the wallet to buy in pairs. You just don't want to get caught without boots when you need them. 

Prepare a "hoof first aid kit." Coming from an equine vet's wife, we see many clients who are unprepared to deal with a hoof emergency. Unfortunately spring time is prime time for abscesses, laminitis and hoof bruises. Abscesses are common in horses standing in mud, which is unavoidable for some. Laminitis cases spike due to the lush, rich spring grass and hooves are more susceptible to hoof bruises going from soft pastures and pens to harder or rocky trails. Your hoof first aid kit can be stored in a bucket that may double for soaking. Add a bottle of antibacterial dish soap, a long-handled stiff scrub brush, an Easysoaker for more intense soaking, a couple diapers and some duct tape to handle abscesses, an iodine scrub and ichthamol if you're so inclined. If your horse is prone to laminitis, you may seriously consider keeping a pair of Easyboot RX boots in the mix, as they are great for a very sore-footed horse. I could probably go on for a while longer, so I'll stop now. 

Lastly, clipping the long hair at the back of the pasterns prevents the nasty mudballs from forming and has been the only way to keep scratches at bay for my thin-skinned, red-headed, princess mare. I realize this is probably as controversial as me previously saying I clean up the ragged edges of the frogs, but my horses are all live and well despite my propensity for cleaning things up. If it's the worst thing that ever happens to them, well they're doing OK. 

How do you clean-up for spring? 

Got Iron?

Submitted by Natalie Herman

A good example of a horse that should be black, but has the typical 'bleached' look to the coat and mane. The coat is very rough looking and shedding in patches instead of smoothly. This to me would be a fairly extreme bleaching, indicating the horse is really deficient (as an auction horse, not surprising). Many well cared for horses have much subtler signs of bleaching or coat issues, or no coat issues at all and the hooves show issues instead.

While milk may or may not do your horse's body good, iron for sure does it no good. At least in excessive amounts. The problem is, that many horses are getting excess iron, and the side effects are numerous (most easily seen in barefoot horses, as the hooves are one of the first things to suffer under excessive iron and the resultant imbalance in other minerals). From bad hair coats and hooves, to insulin resistance and immune/allergy issues, iron overload is a major problem, that I think is being majorly overlooked. Iron is being added to almost all processed feeds and vitamin/mineral supplements, when our horses get too much naturally already. The following is a kind of cliff notes version about the importance of mineral balancing. There are many articles out there if you google "equine iron overload" and "equine mineral balancing".

A horse's daily need for iron is estimated to be around 40ppm of their entire ration (hay, grain, grass, water, whatever..and don't forget, many lick and eat dirt, or pick it up while grazing. This also adds some. Most horses get many more times that.

A great place to start, is to figure out your iron levels in your area. This link: lets you check up on most of the important minerals by each county in the US (likely if you are outside the US, there will be an equivalent to the USGS in your country, or even a county/state agricultural extension office, that might have this info for you). My county (Humboldt, on the far northern California coast) comes up fairly high, at 4.197. This then transfers into the grass, hay, and water your horse consumes (and even our import hay from Oregon and inland CA is fairly high).

In our coastal area, it is even worse. Iron uptake into plants is higher in a) water saturated soils (we can get 6-8 months where it rains, and fog the rest of the year) and b) soils with higher acidity (our soil is definitely acidic). Ok, double doom. If you want a truly accurate count of what your horse takes in, you would have to take samples of your pasture (if they have pasture), soil (remember, they often lick or even eat dirt, and at least pick it up while grazing or eating hay off the ground), water, and anything else you feed (like I feed beetpulp, which is supposedly very high in iron, as well as a hay-based pelleted feed, and rice bran). This is the only sure way of determining the iron and other mineral content your horse is getting. There are hair and blood tests you can do, but iron storage in the horse is fairly complex, and these tests are not always an accurate picture of what is going on in the horse. This of course could get expensive, particularly if you can not get large loads of hay that will last most the year, or change pastures a lot.

What is a horse owner to do? First off, do not add iron. As much as possible, do not feed extra iron. It is almost unavoidable if you are feeding a bagged feed of any kind, but stay away from mineral/vitamin supplements that have added iron. Read the ingredients lists: both the nutritional breakdown and the ingredient list, and never feed high iron supplements like Red Cell unless your horse suffered a lot of blood loss or otherwise had a vet prescribe it for a good reason. Severe iron overload will actually mimic anemia, and thus make it look like a horse needs more iron. Feeding more iron will thus just worsen the issue. Also, get rid of all salt/mineral blocks that are not pure salt. All those red streaked/colored rocks and blocks? Guess what color iron turns when it oxidizes? The same goes for selenium, sulphr, and other mineral blocks. Horses can not get enough salt out of a lick that was designed for a cow tongue anyway. Best to top-dress their feed (or even hay) with salt, then feed a mineral mix.

If you must put a lick in their pen/stall to play with, just toss in a white block please.  What else? Again, read labels. If you are buying bagged feed, many of the brands now all make mixes that are fairly similar to one another: senior mixes, performance, low sugar, or whatever it is you want. Compare labels and see what has a lower iron level for what you need to feed. Call the companies! Maybe if more of us ask why they all are adding iron when it is not needed, they will stop doing so. We now have low sugar/starch feeds, because owners demanded it. We can also demand low iron and higher copper/zinc contents. And when that fails, find a good mineral supplement that adds a lot of extra zinc and copper. Living in California, I use California Trace, which also has added selenium that is lacking in the West, as well as other good things like Vitamin E. There are some other good, regional products like AZ Copper Complete. If you can not find one in your area, both these have done fairly well in many other areas of the country as well, though you should talk to an equine nutritionist to make sure it is appropriate for yours. CA trace may contain too much selenium for high selenium areas for example.

This horse shows bleaching in the face hair, as well as the forelock, and the 'hooked/split end' look to the forelock hair. Often, even if you don't see bleaching, like in a chestnut or lighter colored horse, you will see this fraying to a horse's hair. If you look really closely at the coat hairs, you can see them 'hook' up and not be smooth. This is often what gives a horse that dull coated or rougher coated look.

A sun bleached tail on a dark horse, hair also looks rough.

Hoof wall cracks are not in the white line itself usually, alhough they can transfer into it. You can see the white (yellow) line on the inside of the cracks, and from the outside, the walls on these horses will look relatively normal, with no external cracks. Most times the problem is not this severe, but many horses have some cracks like this, that just will not go away with trimming.

Now, why is all this important do you ask? "My horse seems healthy and happy" you say. Here are some questions then:                      

  • Does you horse have thrush and/or white line issues that will go away, even with great hoof care and topical thrush treatments?
  • Does your horse suffer from sensitive hooves, even though they look great from the outside and have good trims on them?
  • Does your horse have issues tolerating sugars (but does not test for insulin resistance) or is even insulin resistant?
  • Does your horse have scruffing/flakey skin and is itchy all the time, even when not sweating and with feeding flax and good grooming?
  • Does your horse eat a lot of dirt, eat tree bark, branches, bushes, other 'odd' plants, even though it has tons of food and isn't bored?
  • Does your dark colored horse bleach out every summer, does your horse have a 'dull' colored coat, have frizzy ended hair, etc?
  • Does your horse suffer from allergies or other immune issues?
  • Does it suffer from unexplained laminitis (or has sugar sensitivity related laminitis), blow abscesses for no reason, has thin soles, etc?
  • Does your horse have cracks in the outer hoof wall, cracks in the inner wall between the white line and sole, bad hoof quality in general?

All these things can be, and often are, related to a mineral imbalance. Most often this is from excess iron, as it causes a copper deficiency and other issues in the mineral balance. Balance the minerals back out, add extra copper (needed for good hoof an coat development for one) and extra zinc. They sell zinc lozenges in the drug store for a reason: they are a great immune booster and you and your horse need zinc for good health. Iron overload has been directly linked to insulin resistance in some studies. It is also a known cause of inflammatory  and immune issues. Sure, you won't magically make a serious condition in your horse go away by balancing minerals. But it often clears up all those small, nagging things that drive horse owners nuts. That dull and itchy coat, the thrushy hooves, the sensitive feet. if sugar levels are watched of course, minerals will not miraculously let your horse pig out on pasture or grain.

Natalie Herman