Grass-cracks or something worse? Cracked hooves in horses explained
Cracks in horses’ hooves are always a bit of a worry. But while some are fairly benign, others can be serious. In this blog, one of our equine vet bloggers takes a deeper look at horse’s hooves and the reasons for those frustrating cracks and fissures.
Table of contents
Structure and function of the hoofTypes of crackIn general, grass cracks occur when the hoof wall is overgrown and begins to flare at the soleSand cracks are most commonly caused by poor foot balanceWhat to do when you notice a crackTreatmentIn the first instance, the hoof should be examined by your vet or farrier Severe sand cracks may need to be stabilised with materials such as fibreglass or acrylicPreventionRegular farriery will help to keep feet trimmed and balanced to reduce the risk of traumatic cracksTry to avoid excessive or fast work on hard ground Supplementation may help to improve horn quality in some horsesFurther links:
Structure and function of the hoof
The hoof wall or horn is made of keratin; a tough protein, with a low water content, that is incredibly strong and also insensitive, much like our nails. Its main function is to bear the weight of the horse while protecting the sensitive structures that lie beneath it. Such as the pedal bone as well as tendons and soft tissue.
The inside of the hoof wall is lined by sensitive laminae which act as a type of biological Velcro to attach the pedal bone to the hoof as well as acting as a pathway or conduit along which the new horn grows. The horn is produced by specialised cells called papillae at the top of the hoof wall, the coronary band. The hoof wall grows on average at a rate of 6-10mm a month. This means that it takes approximately 9-12 months for a hoof to grow from the coronary band to the sole.
Types of crack
The hoof wall is subject to huge forces when the horse is at rest and even more so at exercise or whilst jumping. Overgrown or weakened hooves, or those subjected to abnormal stresses, can be more prone to splitting or breaking.