Hoof Care Emergencies on the Road

Any problems you have with your horse while away from home are troublesome whether it be an attitude problem of your horse not wanting to load or a severe injury suffered during competition. This range of concerns also can be found in one small albeit important area of your horse--his foot. You can be faced with a shoe that unexpectedly is pulled off leaving exposed a bare hoof on a rocky trail or a horse which suddenly begins to founder far from home and familiar help.

As with most problems hoofcare crises are best handled by those who are prepared. If you are going to a show or competition find out ahead of time which veterinarian and farrier are available to take care of your horse. Ask your practitioner and shoer whom they would recommend at that location if there is more than one choice. If your horse has a particular or unusual shoeing need, talk to the farrier at the competition to make sure he is equipped to handle your needs. If not he probably can recommend a colleague who specializes in what your horse uses (i.e. glue-on shoes special pads or custom-built shoes).

You should be knowledgeable about your horse's feet. If you normally aren't around when your farrier trims and shoes your horse make it a point to be there the next time. Ask questions about your horse's feet and take notes. Do you know what size/type of shoe your horse normally wears? Are there special trimming applications your farrier uses based on your horse's conformation and way of going? (If your farrier has been working on your horse for a number of years he might be doing subtle things to help your horse that even he doesn't realize until asked such as extra-easy breakover for that right hind that was injured years ago.)

Your farrier should know ahead of time what you plan on doing with your horse. He might suggest different shoes/pads if you are going on a week-long campout in rocky terrain when you normally only ride around the farm.

Make sure you have your horse shod/re-shod enough ahead of an event so if there happens to be a problem associated with the new shoes it can be corrected before you are away from home.

Be Prepared

Before you go on any trip whether with a group of friends on a trail ride or to compete in a 100-mile endurance event there are a few things you need to pack. It is handy to have your "foot kit" separate from but along with a first aid kit for your horse. You don't want to be rummaging through a box of halters shanks and leg wraps to find the shoe pullers if your horse is standing with a shoe half-off! Conversely you probably don't need two bandage scissors or two sets of wraps. The ones in your horse first aid kit can double in your hoof first aid kit.

Your horse's foot travel kit should be customized to what you are doing. If your horse has a hard-to-fit/hard-to-find shoe or pad take an extra along. Have your farrier customize an extra shoe or bring you an extra pad to put in your kit. (He might have to use it himself if he is the farrier at a show at which you are competing!)

If you are riding in rough rocky terrain you might need to use the antibiotic ointments or powders from your first aid kit for coronet injuries. But remember these types of injuries can occur on the trail in the ring or even on the trailer ride to the event.

For any horse which travels a good deal it is useful for the owner to have a pair of shoe pullers (they look like nippers but aren't sharp).

As noted by William Moyer DVM who has specialized in equine foot care many years the shoe pullers once an owner learns how to use them "have an obvious function--to pull shoes. But they also are capable of cutting nails. The usual dilemma is a horse with one or more shoes partially pulled (about half off) and there he stands. If the shoe isn't pulled off it is really easy to re-direct the nails that are partially out and cause some serious damage to the horse's foot."

Moyer warns that the pullers are of no value unless the person using them knows what he or she is doing. "Watch and ask a farrier," he advised.

Moyer also cautioned that "People who don't use hoof knives for a living should never touch one!" He said much damage has been done to a horse's foot by a well-meaning rider cutting away at something on the hoof that was better left alone.

Some riders invest in a pair of Easyboots or other type of equine boot made for riding. These can be a foot-saver for a horse in case of shoe loss on the trail. Easyboots are made of polyurethane and provide protection and cushion for the foot while offering traction. Make sure you know how they should be fitted and check your horse's feet and heels at rest stops to make sure the boots are adjusted correctly. You don't want to save the hoof wall and sole while rubbing sores on the bulbs of his heels.

Another option for the horse which loses a shoe is Level-It's Tack-Trail Kit. The kit which comes in a canteen-shaped carrying and application case has enough material to construct two shock-absorbent rim pads that substitute as a shoe according to the company. The material becomes bonded to the horse's hoof and it can be shaped rasped and nailed to just like a hoof wall (see accompanying photos).

Foot bandaging material can be kept in the first aid kit. One of the easiest bandages to make for the foot when you are away from home according to Moyer is taking a normal cotton standing bandage and fold individual sheets the "long way" until it becomes four to six inches wide. One folded strip can be placed on the foot (front to back at the fetlock level) and a second folded trip placed 90 degrees to the first very adequately will cover the foot. You can secure this type of bandage with duct tape (or another similar elastic tape such as Elasticon). This type of bandage is protective and in some cases it provides some comfort to an injured foot noted Moyer.

Duct tape is another item you want in your hoof first aid kit. (Horse people can never have too much duct tape. I wonder if there is a book about the "thousand-and-one" uses of duct tape around horses?) If need be one of these elastic tapes can be put around the wall and sole of the hoof--the periphery of the weight-bearing surface of the foot--to prevent a barefoot horse from chipping or breaking the hoof wall.

If your horse winds up with a nail stuck in his foot it can be a very serious problem. According to Moyer, "If you feel the nail (or wire or whatever) has to come out please carefully mark the spot. Hoof material and the frog are elastic in nature so puncture holes close easily and are difficult to find later on. If the nail is positioned and the horse's behavior is such that you think the horse will drive the nail in farther then by all means take it out and mark the spot. If however the horse is protective of the injury and a veterinarian is available in a reasonable period of time sometimes it is best to leave it in place. (For additional information on puncture wounds see The Horse of September 1997 page 32.)

What if your horse begins to founder while at a show or on the trail? Again be prepared. You should have the address and phone number of a veterinarian in the area who is familiar with horses. You also need to be able to give directions on how to get to your horse if you don't have access to a trailer at that point.

Carrying a cellular phone on a trail ride has become routine for our group--even for casual afternoon outings in the countryside. Keep in mind however that if you are riding in the mountains your phone might not work. Also if you are out in the country you should know the way from your location back to the trailhead or the nearest help. If you are riding in a national forest is there a ranger station or manned lookout tower nearby? Are there camp sites used by non-horse people in the area where there might be communications available?

In summary your horse should be shod to match the terrain and events he will face and you should be prepared to deal with his health and well-being while away from home. That includes planning for your horse's feet before he ever puts the first hoof in the trailer.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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