What’s going on with these feet?

Q Hi David. We are trying find a big, safe, suitable horse for my husband to learn to ride on – he is keen on taking up hunting. We have found a horse who seems great in all respects – except his feet! I have included a shot that we took when we tried him out – what on Earth is going on with that hole in the middle?

Apart from the fact I can’t believe someone presented a horse for sale with feet like this, I can’t swallow the owner’s insistence that the horse is sound. Do you think there is any chance these feet can be rehabbed by a decent farrier? Are they just a bit neglected or do you think we should steer well clear?

Name withheld, North Island


A: Thanks for your question. I agree, it’s disappointing that the horse has been presented for sale with a foot like this. I’m sure you would have preferred to have been shown a horse with this problem already addressed and the feet trimmed. If I were viewing this horse, my concern would be if the seller allowed the hooves to get in such an obvious state then what else had the horse been subject to or what other problems had been allowed to develop that were not as clearly visible as the feet?

The crack at the toe and the hole in the middle are quite probably infected with white line disease (commonly known in New Zealand as “seedy toe”). Seedy toe is a bacterial/fungal infection which initially affects the white line between the outer hoof wall and sole but can travel up if left untreated.

I note from the photo supplied that the hoof wall is flared – that is, has been allowed to deviate from the angle of the hoof wall further up. This is particularly noticeable on the right hand side of the photo. Allowing the hoof to flare will force the hoof wall to pull away and stretch underneath (at the white line area for example).

I suspect the stretching of the white line caused by the flare has allowed dirt and debris to penetrate the white line underneath and the seedy toe to get started.

To answer your questions, yes I think it is possible for a farrier to make improvements to these feet. Seedy toe and cracks of this size don’t always cause initial lameness so it’s not uncommon for a horse to be sound in the short term. But it’s quite possible that he’ll become lame if the problem is left to deteriorate further.

After your vet/farrier has confirmed the diagnosis, they might choose to address the flares to start with by carefully rasping the outer wall and re-aligning the angles. As this is a possible cause of the crack/seedy toe, it should be one of the first things to tackle before clearing up the other problems the hoof may have.

The treatment of seedy toe needs to be carefully planned as each case can require an individual approach. This may include removing the affected area with a knife or dremel tool, the application of an appropriate effective solution and corrective shoeing and trimming at the time of treatment and on an ongoing basis until the hoof has regrown to a healthy state. This should always be performed with veterinary advice and assistance and when removing larger areas of hoof, consideration should be given to providing the hoof capsule adequate support as there can be knock-on consequences from removal of hoof wall or other structures.

The prognosis should likely be positive if the removal of the suspected seedy toe, the management of the crack and realignment of the hoof wall angles is managed correctly.

David Hankin Dip.WCF

this question and answer first appeared in NZ Horse & Pony magazine, September 2010

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