Hoof care is one of the most important aspects of horse care. Especially during the wet and cold season additional attention should be paid to the hooves. The hooves should be checked and trimmed regularly every six to eight weeks in order to identify cracks or breaks as quickly as possible. Make sure that the hooves are not trimmed too much in order to avoid injuries on frozen ground. Too much moisture leads to softer hooves, higher horn abrasion and, as a result, to a higher risk of injury and greater susceptibility to disease.
But why can too much moisture damage the horse's hoof?
Basically, the horse's hoof needs a certain level of moisture to remain healthy and strong to support the horse's weight. The tubular horn in the hoof is very similar to a sponge and contains moisture. However, in a wet surrounding this "sponge" swells and the hoof becomes softer and more flexible which reduces its natural strength. This scenario can be compared to your own fingernails softening after a long bath.
However, it differs from horse to horse how little or how strongly the hooves react to moisture. Thoroughbred horses might be more susceptible.
It is often difficult to tell whether the hoof has been exposed to water or not, for moisture may close up the cracks and the hoof will appear healthy to look at - but appearances can be deceiving. Consequently, shod horses can lose their shoes because the horn is weak and cannot hold the nails. Horse hoof boots might be a solution in such case.
In addition to the moisture that occurs in the hoof, other problems can arise as a result of increased moisture. Since the horse's hoof is relatively porous by nature, the susceptibility to diseases (e.g. thrush) increases when it is wet. The horn, especially the sole, becomes more permeable to microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, etc.). Pathogens can penetrate through hoof cracks or through holes from broken hoof nails.
Is there a solution to the problem?
If the horse often walks on wet floors and has overly moist feet a bedding with shavings or sawdust can be a good way to dry the hooves. Don’t overdo with care products, pay attention to a hygienic environment in the paddock as well as in the box and last but not least regular checks by a specialist can help keeping the hooves healthy.