One of the leading causes of lameness in horses is foot problems – and it's likely if your horse has a problem on one foot, he has a problem on one of his others as well. Luckily, many foot problems are preventable and can be avoided by inspecting your horse's feet regularly.
If you familiarize yourself with the most common foot problems, you can catch and treat problems early before any permanent damage is caused.
If your horse has any of the following foot disorders, visit your veterinarian to discuss treatment options:
Thrush is one of the most commonly diagnosed ailments in horses today. Thrush occurs when the horse's frog becomes infected and starts to degenerate. The frog is visible on the underside of the hoof and commonly has a rubbery consistency. It's useful in preventing the horse from slipping and acts as a spring as the foot hits the ground.
The first sign of thrush is a black, thick discharge from the frog and a very foul odor, usually in the hind feet. Thrush is caused by leaving your horse to stand in dirty, ill-drained conditions and not cleaning his hooves properly. This can be easily prevented by keeping your horse stalls clean and hygienic, and making sure you inspect and clean your horse's feet regularly.
Laminitis is an inflammation of the sensitive laminae of the hoof. The laminae is a network of interlocking leaves of bone and hoof, separated only by a thin network of blood vessels and nerves. If the laminae becomes inflamed, the hooves feel warm to the touch and the horse will attempt to take weight off its toes, sinking back on its heels.
The main causes of laminitis are grain overload, grazing of lush pasture, excessive exercise of an unfit horse, and toxic processes within the body. Ponies are especially at risk for developing this condition. If you suspect that your horse has laminitis, call your veterinarian immediately and give your horse complete rest until the condition is resolved.
Keeping your horse stall clean is important to avoid many of these problems.
Another common ailment of the foot is a bruised sole. Stepping on hard objects or repeated pounding on hard ground can cause the horse to be sensitive to pressure over the sole of the foot. Although the bruising may or may not cause lameness, the horse is sure to feel discomfort on stony ground.
The treatment for a bruised sole is to rest the horse until the inflammation has subsided. You may also want to fit a protective pad that covers the sole.
Keeping your stall floor clean and well-cushioned is beneficial for horses with this condition.
Navicular disease is a condition involving the navicular bone, the deep flexor tendon and the area surrounding the heel. This condition usually occurs in both front feet and is characterized by intermittent lameness in the early stages.
The cause of this disease is thought to be wear and tear on the structures round the navicular bone, which is usually caused by poor shoeing and circulation.
Navicular disease is usually diagnosed through an x-ray, and surgery may be necessary to correct a severe case. Remedial shoeing is very important in correcting this condition.
The way a horse's body is designed puts a tremendous amount of weight and strain on the legs and feet. Keeping your horse's feet in top condition is essential to his overall health and performance.
In addition to regular physical examination and veterinary care, remember to stable your horse in the proper manner. Your stalls should be mucked out and cleaned daily, and any moisture should be properly drained.