Hooves, despite how they look, aren’t a rigid structure – they’re designed to flex, expanding and contracting to absorb impact as your pony moves. The outside of the hoof is made up of three parts…
- the wall. This is a bit like your fingernails, and surrounds the foot, growing down from the coronet band.
- the frog. This acts like a cushion, working as a shock-absorber and helping to stop your pony slipping. It’s much more sensitive than the rest of the outside of the hoof.
- the sole. This is the bottom part of the hoof that protects the inside of the foot from stones and damage from the ground.
It’s important to keep all these parts of the hoof healthy so your pony stays sound and comfortable.
Did you know? The hoof wall grows roughly 2.5cm every two to three months.
To shoe or not to shoe?
Shoes protect ponies’ hooves. By riding on roads and stoney bridleways, a pony’s hoof wall can wear down more quickly than it grows, so shoeing is a simple solution. Shoes are also useful for competition ponies, as studs can be screwed in to provide plenty of grip on slippy ground.
Some ponies, depending on their conformation and workload, cope well with just their front hooves shod or being completely barefoot. If you think your pony could go without shoes, speak to your farrier for advice.
Hooves constantly grow, so it’s necessary for a farrier to visit your pony to trim his hooves and reshoe him every 6–8 weeks. If his hooves grow too long, it’ll affect his balance and can cause lameness.
Did you know? Rings running around the hoof wall show differences in the growth rate of the hoof, which can be affected by grass and feed quality.
Check it out
It’s important to check your pony’s hooves every day so you notice any problems or changes quickly.
Use a hoofpick to remove any mud and stones from his hoof, being careful to avoid his sensitive frog. If stones stay lodged, they can bruise the sole and make your pony sore. Once you’ve picked out his hooves, check it to look for any of the following…
- cracks – if these continue to grow, they can cause pain and lameness. They may need special treatment from your farrier.
- peeling or a smelly frog – this could be a sign of thrush, a bacterial and fungal infection in the frog. This will need careful treatment, so ask your vet for advice.
- heat – hot hooves suggest there could be swelling or inflammation in his foot, which often leads to lameness. Call your vet immediately for advice.
As well as regular checks and farrier visits, there are other steps you can take to make sure your pony’s hooves stay healthy and strong.
High and dry
Moisture is essential to keep your pony’s hooves healthy and prevent cracks, especially in dry weather. If your pony suffers from cracked hooves, he could benefit from a hoof moisturiser or a change to his diet. Ask your farrier for advice.
Consider the ground
Think about the ground you’re riding on – is it particularly hard or frozen? Stick to gentle work on harder ground, otherwise the impact can damage your pony’s hooves and legs.
Keep him moving
As the hoof flexes when your pony moves, it encourages blood flow and provides nutrients – this helps keep his hooves healthy. Therefore, it’s best not to keep him stabled for long periods of time – but if you need to, regular exercise will help keep him happy and his hooves healthy.
Feed him well
The better a pony feels inside, the better he’ll look on the outside, including his feet! Making sure he’s getting enough essential vitamins and minerals will help keep his hooves healthy. A balancer or lick can help with this, too. Alternatively, you can feed him a supplement specifically for hoof health, which often contain biotin. If you’re unsure whether your pony would benefit from a supplement, ask your vet for advice.
Top tip Keep your pony’s bedding clean and dry, as standing in damp bedding can encourage thrush to develop.