Hoof Ailments

There's an old saying, “No hoof, no horse,” which is all too true. The horse is a one-ton animal that stands on its feet most of the day and night. If something is wrong with one or more of the feet, the horse is truly miserable and unhappy. Just imagine yourself standing on a sore foot all day. While injury or abscesses account for most lameness, there are some specific ailments that afflict the feet.


Like colic, laminitis is one of the things horse owners hear about and dread a lot. By definition, laminitis is an inflammation of the laminae in the foot. Although typically used interchangeably with the term founder, founder is actually a result of laminitis that has progressed enough for the coffin bone to rotate, resulting in a chronic condition caused by permanent structural damage inside the hoof.

Many horses that have foundered can be kept fairly comfortable through drugs and corrective shoeing, but they will only be able to withstand extremely light riding, if any at all. Some cases are so severe that the horse must be put down. The great racehorse Secretariat was put down due to laminitis.

Common causes of laminitis are overeating grain or lush pasture (especially in early spring) and postpartum infection of the mare, both of which cause enterotoxemia (also called overeating disease, characterized by excessive bacterial growth in the digestive tract that reaches toxic levels). The following are the signs of laminitis:

  • Hot feet caused by increased circulation

  • Rapid pulse in foot area

  • Preference for lying down to take weight off feet — when all four feet are involved

  • Leaning back on its hind end to relieve the front feet or holding her front legs out in an odd stretched position — if just the two front feet are involved

  • Laminitis and founder are conditions that will require your farrier and veterinarian to work together to treat the horse. As with colic, prevention includes good horse management and careful attention to feeding practices.

    What is thrush?

    Thrush is a foul-smelling infection of the frog of the foot, evident by a blackish discharge. It is most common in horses that stand in damp, dirty conditions. It is easily treated with over-the-counter products available at tack and feed stores. If neglected, however, the condition can lead to lameness.


    This condition, also called greasy heel, is characterized by granular scabs and inflammation on the back of the pasterns, which can make the horse quite sore. It occurs most commonly when horses stand in mud, manure, tall grass dampened with dew, or other conditions of prolonged moisture. Interestingly, legs with white markings seem to be afflicted most often. Treatment involves removal of the scabs and daily applications of an equine skin medication containing antifungal and antibacterial properties until the area heals completely.

    White Line Disease

    White line disease is a deterioration of the inner wall of the hoof, specifically along the nonpigmented layer, referred to as the white line, where the hoof wall joins the sole. The first sign of the disease is a flaky, powdery white substance along this line when you view the sole of the upturned hoof. As the disease progresses, it causes separation of the hoof wall from the sole, allowing bacteria and other pathogens to enter the foot. If the separation occurs in the white line at the toe, the condition is called seedy toe.

    Excessive moisture, recurring hoof cracks, improper shoeing, improper hoof angle, and chronic abscesses are all thought to contribute to white line disease. In its early stages, the disease can be managed with proper trimming and shoeing and treatment for any infection. You will need to work closely with your farrier and veterinarian to control the condition.

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