People tend to get pretty alarmed when they see a crack or a chunk of hoof wall missing in their horse's hooves so let’s talk about cracks, some of the more common kinds and causes.
Vertical cracks can happen at any point around the hoof and are usually a sign of excess pressure and stress on the area. They are often found in the front center of the hoof wall at the toe, which can sometimes come from favoring the back of the hoof, placing too much pressure and force on the toe. When you watch your horse in motion note if he is landing relatively flat on the ground or are his toes hitting the ground first. On level ground, horses should land with their hooves flat on the ground at the walk for the most part and flat or slightly heel first at the trot.
Another but less common cause can be a Crena which is actually a little notch out of the front of the coffin bone; your horse's sole growth will mirror the notch in the coffin bone and make the corresponding wall in front of it be weaker and more prone to cracks and bacteria entering.
These are most often from an injury to the coronary band or an abscess blowout at the coronet. In the back of the hoof it can also occur from an over reach or interference from a hind hoof on the heel bulb area of a front hoof. The crack will migrate down the wall to finally grow itself out over time, and often goes unnoticed until it has started growing down the wall.
These are usually more superficial and can look like small lines at the base of the hoof wall or can look like the wall is fraying around them. These are often fixed with trimming, dietary, and environmental changes. To prevent these, be sure to have your farrier out regularly, try not to wait wait until the hooves look overgrown, consider adding a hoof supplement to the diet and work to either provide a dry area if the hooves are overly moist or, if you are in an area that is dry, try letting the water trough overflow or wetting an area in the shade that the horses can stand in to get a little moisture. We also love Pure Sole Hoof Oil for these and have seen great improvements with it on these types of surface cracks.
These are very similar to grass cracks except these grow from the top of the hoof wall downwards.
Quarter cracks are, as the name implies, vertical cracks in the quarters of the hoof. They can be trickier to treat, especially ones that start at the coronary band and travel down toward the ground. They can be caused by trauma, conformational issues, a flaw in the coffin bone, overgrown hooves, wall flares, chronic hoof imbalance, even an injury higher up the leg that puts undue pressure on the affected area.
Heel cracks can be caused by an abscess blow out as it grows down or by too much pressure on one side due to imbalance. It can also commonly occur from “short shoeing,” meaning the heel of the shoe does not cover the heel of the horse’s foot.
Chipping is very often nothing more than the horse's effort to self trim areas that are longer than they need to be and are a signal that the horse is ready for a fresh trim or pair of shoes. It can also happen when the hoof is dry and brittle or from too much pressure in that area from hoof imbalance.
White Line Disease
Although White Line Disease is not a crack it can look like cracking or chipping on the surface. It is often a mix of bacteria and fungus that enter through vulnerable areas in the hoof. It can sometimes occur in laminitic horses as the impaired lamina can be an easy target for it to take hold in. It can start with a hoof trauma or just from hoof overgrowth or really anything that leaves an opportunity for the organism to work its way into the hoof and eat away at the inner hoof wall. White Line disease, like thrush is anaerobic so have your vet or farrier trim back the diseased material to expose the area to air, and follow their treatment instructions. For mild to moderate cases we like to apply Pure Sole Hoof Mud or Pure Sole Hoof Wax and have seen some great results. For more severe cases your vet may prescribe other treatments. Diet and lifestyle changes are also key in treating WLD.
Assess--Ask your farrier or vet to evaluate the cause of the crack, make adjustments to balance the hoof and try to get the leverage off of the area. In more severe cases they may trim out and open up the tract deep inside the hoof wall to be sure it’s free of bacteria that may be perpetuating it, and to open it to air and make clear access for treatment.
Diet--Mineral imbalance can play a big role in overall hoof quality resulting in cracks, white line separation, thrush etc. Testing your hay and balancing minerals accordingly is ideal but may not be possible for many horse owners, in which case a good quality hoof supplement plus an Omega 3 supplement such as Flax or Chia are important players for hoof health.
Treat--Anytime you have a crack, no matter how it originated, there is most likely bacteria that has worked itself deep inside the affected area.
We use Pure Sole Hoof Mud and/or Wax to pack in and treat. After your farrier or vet has trimmed out any areas of bacteria you can pack it with either Pure Sole Hoof Wax or Pure Sole Hoof Mud. You can also do a very thin layer of Hoof Mud and then press and smear some Hoof Wax on top to help the mud last longer and be a double punch of treatment.
Time--Cracks take time, effort and patience to grow out. A good rule of thumb is that if a horse takes roughly 1 year, or more like 9 months for fast growers, to grow out a complete new hoof wall then with best case scenario and proper care you can hope to see a crack that is about a 1/3 of the way up the hoof wall grow out in about 3 or 4 months and so on.
This horse is chipping from lack of hoof care but he also has a Crena which made that center toe crack more severe and harder to clear up.
This horse has an old injury at the coronet that you can see in this photo. Harder to see but there is also a divot all the way down the hoof wall right below the injury. Note the persistent crack at the base of the wall due to the weakened wall integrity from the injury above.
Surface Grass Cracks. Diet, dryness and wall flare are contributing factors in this horses case.
Abscess blow out at the heel that is growing down.
Applying Pure Sole Hoof Wax in a center toe crack
Miranda started trimming in 2002 to help her own laminitic mare, and has been trimming professionally since 2004. She is a founding member of the PHCP (Progressive Hoof Care Practitioners) and has a special interest in laminitis/founder rehabilitation, and equine nutrition.