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Hoof Cracks

poor diet, excess moisture and neglect causing massive cracksHoof cracks can be very frustrating to deal with. They are ugly and  not only are aesthetically dis-pleasing, but are usually symptoms of deeper-rooted problems. Hoof cracks can be mild and nothing more than unsightly but can also run deep, causing pain and structural weakness. How do you know what kind your horse has and how many kinds of cracks are there?

Fungal infection and excess moisture cracks:

  Hoof cracks often start in a weakened periople. Excess moisture or frequent changing from wet to dry can cause little fissures in the periople, which is the super thin, clear coat of natural "hoof polish" that helps control moisture levels in the hoof. Think of it as a sort of natural varnish. Probably you are most familiar with it as the dry, crusty looking band toward the hairline.  People have the periople, as well. It's a micro thin layer that gives your nails the shine.

So, the periople gets weakened from moisture fluctuations and fungi can get trapped within and start eating their way deeper. This fungi is everywhere, all the time, but it is opportunistic. The same family of organisms cause thrush, white line disease, HOOF CRACKS, and in people cause athlete's foot, yeast infections, etc.  Just like for the human infections, keeping the area clean and dry helps a lot, but won't cure an infection already rooted. In horses, topical applications like dressings don't do much good, either. But, some soaking, vapor treatments and regular trims by your hoof care pro can go a long way to treat erradicate this kind of cracking. Most often it just looks like "dry" hooves that have tiny surface cracks (though it may not be just a fungal issue, or moisture issue, more on that later).Putting gravel in the areas that tend to be muddy, picking manure, all the things that prevent thrush can help avoid some cracks, as well. Avoid hoof dressings with petroleum (vaseline) that promote this type of infection!

Hoof cracks from mold poisoning

Poor Nutrition Cracks

  Then there are the cracks from dietary imbalance or lack of certain nutrients. Biotin is not the only thing they need to grow good hooves. Often, if you see little micro-fissures that won't go away despite a clean environment and regular hoof care and there isn't a wet/dry issue, you can bet there is probably a nutrient lacking. (especially if it's the only horse in the herd, or it's an older horse that has weight problems). Excess worm load not only causes poor hair coat, but hoof quality suffers as the worms leach out nutrients from the horse.  (hoof , hair and skin is all keratin).

   However, biotin my not be what you need. Often, copper, manganese, methionine, zinc and some other key nutrients are lacking, or imbalanced. Excess iron can cancel out all the good supplements by creating an imbalance as it's absorbed. (horses do NOT need supplemental iron and it's often in excess in our own pastures and hay supply). If your horse has micro cracks that won't go away, have your forage tested and supplement according to that. If you want to just supplement blindly, I find excellent results from Grand Hoof pellets +MSM and Horseshoer's Secret. They balance well with the forages in my area. Keep in mind, these cracks have to grow down, and supplements won't cancel out fungal infections or lack of frequent trims

Structural Stress Cracks

  Stress cracks are often a bit deeper than moisture related or nutrient imbalanced cracks. These are often indicating excess force on one part of the hoof. They show up mostly in quarters (quarter crack) or toe cracks. They can be shallow  or all the way through the white line, to the coronet and bleed and spread with each step, or painless and seemingly stable. These can become infected wit stubborn fungi and become self-perpetuating. However, prevention is quite easy. Frequent, balanced trimming will prevent this type of crack, even in thin-walled horses. Horse shoe nails can be weak spots that crack up, and are entry points for the afore mentioned fungal infections in and of themselves. So, if your horse has a stubborn toe crack or quarter crack, look for flaring around the crack. Notching the hoof at the top of the crack does nothing but weaken the wall further and create a new hiding spot for fungi. The only time that works, is with a curved shape rod, and it has to be hot enough to sear as it notches the wall.

abscess crack with fungal infection belowWounds, Scars, Genetics

   Wounds that damage the hoof and open it for infection can create cracks.  I had a horse that cut it's foot through the coronary band and a crack grew down FROM the coronary band, but closed up as it healed and grew out. Drained abscesses can cause horizontal cracks, or even horizontal cracks that develop a vertical crack directly below, but it will all grow out if the hoof is kept trimmed and fungi kept out of the nooks and crannies as needed.

   Scars (like rope burns, wire cuts, etc) can permanently alter the hoof wall. Some never re-grow hard horn material again in the scarred area. Some have a tiny vertical ripple that looks like a crack but is just a tiny seam, while others seem to miss an entire half of a hoof and get along fine. The trouble with scars is that they can be breeding ground for fungi that eat into healthy areas. Depending on the situation, some horses will need regular anti-fungal treatment for life to prevent the crack from spreading.

  Genetics do play a role. Thinner walled, more sensitive type horses often suffer more hoof pathology in general and prevention goes  a LONG way to preserving their soundness.