I think everyone can agree that certain ailments that we have can produce plenty of unpleasant symptoms. Ulcers can cause stomach pain, blood sugar issues can cause dizziness, food allergies can cause hives, gall bladder issues can cause back pain… the list seems endless.

What is difficult is when these symptoms can seem like ailments in themselves. Back pain can simply be back pain for example, how do we know when to search for another cause of the back pain? It can be frustrating as a patient trying to find out what’s wrong when you have something “off” with your health. Finding the root cause of the symptoms can seem like an impossible task at times.

In terms of horses, we are their only real advocates, and their feet can be a window into their health. What kind of “symptoms” can these feet show us?

  • Stress rings/”event lines”/growth patterns
  • Shelly walls, cracks
  • Concavity or lack thereof/”flat soles”, sole health
  • White line health – separation, stretching
  • Flaring, bruising
  • Thrushy frogs, elongated or skinny frogs
  • Uneven wear patterns in between hoofcare, steep and flared side of feet
  • Underrun or crushed heels
  • Footsore on various surfaces
  • And more!

Each of these hoof “symptoms” listed above shows insight into the health of your horse’s feet, for sure. They can also be signs pointing to a bigger problem.

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Growing out cracks and shelly walls

One of my least favorite comments is when I hear “my horse just has bad feet.” Why? Why does your horse have bad feet? Are you helping your horse to grow as good of a foot as he can? Or are you unknowingly contributing to the less-than-ideal hoof health?

We know that horses don’t “just have underrun heels,” and they don’t “just have thrushy frogs,” there is a reason for this. While we can say that some part of hoof appearance or conformation and health comes from genetics, much of hoof health can largely be affected by how we approach the horse and their feet. This includes a holistic approach – diet, environment, movement, and even hoofcare.

When I see feet with symptoms such as flaring, bruising, lack of concavity, stress rings, stretched white line, etc., my automatic question is “has the horse been tested for metabolic issues? What is this horse’s diet and nutrition like?” Many “symptoms” can be resolved simply by addressing metabolic issues and diet and mineral balancing. 

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New, tighter hoof growth about one month after a diet change

And sometimes, we are doing the best we can and still, the feet seem to be suffering. Sometimes, the horse has had enough systemic trauma, whether through medical issues or hoof trauma that their feet can’t seem to get better. While this may be the case for some, I have also seen horses that just need a little bit more “digging”… it can be a matter of putting together the pieces of the puzzle and finding out your horse’s individual sensitivities. We do the best we can to help our horse become more comfortable, and I always admire owners that search for the root cause of their horse’s health issues.

Next time you see some hooves, take note of what “symptoms” you recognize.

Do you see some of these signs on your own horse’s feet? Read about feeding the hoof, and even considering joining the ECIR forum online if you suspect metabolic issues. 

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