Study: Horse Hoof Problem Prevalence High

Study: Horse Hoof Problem Prevalence High

Out of nearly 1,000 randomly chosen horses, 85% had at least one hoof disorder visible during a regular farrier visit.

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

If your horse suffers from a foot disorder, he’s far from being alone. A recent epidemiological study from the Netherlands has revealed an unexpectedly high rate of mild foot disorders in a representative average horse population.

Out of nearly 1,000 randomly chosen horses, 85% had at least one hoof disorder visible during a regular farrier visit, said Menno Holzhauer, PhD, of GD Animal Health in Deventer.

Farriers and researchers identified multiple hoof issues, including:

  • Thrush (45.0%);
  • Superficial hoof wall cracks (30.4%);
  • Growth rings (26.3%);
  • Sole bruises (24.7%);
  • White line disease (17.8%);
  • Perforating hoof wall cracks (16.4%)
  • White line widening (11.8%);
  • Horizontal hoof cracks (5.2%);
  • Chronic laminitis (3.6%);
  • Quarter cracks (2.7%);
  • Keratoma (1.8%); and
  • Frog canker (1.0%).

“This was really higher than expected, and it’s important to diagnose and treat these disorders at an early stage because they interfere with animal welfare and cause lost days of performance in these horses,” Holzhauer said. “Individual farms should compare the prevalence of hoof disorders in their farms with the general prevalence. And, they should learn about risk factors so as to reduce them, thereby striving for maximal soundness and comfort of these horses in relationship to the hoof disorders found.”

In their study, Holzhauer and his fellow researchers asked 21 farriers across the Netherlands to record their impressions of the feet of the horses they saw. The farriers randomly chose one horse from each farm to examine during their regularly scheduled visits. The horses they treated were riding and driving horses, representing a variety of disciplines and levels. They averaged 11 years old.

Although 85% of the horses had at least one foot disorder, most of the disorders were mild, Holzhauer said, and the horses appeared healthy with no obvious lameness. About a quarter of the horses had two disorders.

Most scientific studies on hoof disorders focus on a single horse or a single disorder, he added. So having a study that looks at multiple disorders from a global, population-wide perspective is helpful in understanding how challenging these conditions are, Holzhauer said.

Many hoof disease risk factors appeared to be related to different external farm conditions, he added. For example, horses that spent more time indoors were more likely to have thrush. Horses whose hooves were picked out only once a week had more hoof cracks. And the bedding material increased some risks and reduced others. Other factors include soil type, discipline, age, hoof color, and trimming intervals, but, overall, each condition seemed to have multiple factors, he said.

“Both farriers and veterinarians should advise owners based on the presence and their knowledge of proven risk factors on the farm and give a follow-up after adaptations made by the farmer/owner during the next farm visit,” Holzhauer said.

“Some problems can't be solved in one trim,” he added. “They can take a lot of time. But we noticed that some farriers don’t make a big issue of mild problems when they see the horses often, for example, with thrush. But reducing the risk through management changes could prevent these problems in a lot of cases.”

The study, “Cross-sectional study of the prevalence of and risk factors for hoof disorders in horses in The Netherlands,” was published in Preventive Veterinary Medicine

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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