In our column, Ask Us, we’re tracking down expert insights to your toughest horse-related questions. In today’s edition, we talk to one of the U.S. Olympic Team Show Jumping Veterinarians, Dr. Richard Markell, about feet management at a time of year when many show horse owners around the country are dealing with chips and excessive wear and tear in their horses’ hooves.

A: Dr. Richard Markell:
“The problem we have so often with hoof care in our show horses, and during the summer months especially, depending on where you live, is usually the result of three factors.
The first is diet. A horse’s hooves are no different than your own hair, and like your hair, hooves are a great indicator of dietary management. If you’re on a good, well-balanced diet, you’re going to have healthy hair, and if your horse is on a balanced diet, he’s going to have healthy hooves. If you have a horse with ongoing hoof problems, taking a closer look at what he’s eating with your veterinarian is a good place to start.
This second factor, which is more prevalent in the summer months for many parts of the country, is bathing. In general, I think we bathe our horses way too much, and when it comes to the feet, water is not a friend of the hoof capsule. Moisture content can be very damaging, and there’s a reason why many of the Irish horses you see have big, fat, platypus feet— they’re constantly in water and mud, and they’ve adapted to that.
Our show horses that are getting baths all the time, in particular, need to be protected. You do that, one, by decreasing the number of baths that you’re giving, which is something you should be doing anyway to protect your horse’s haircoat quality. I’d also recommend drying the horse’s feet after you bathe them. Finally, I always suggest putting on a hoof dressing or conditioning product before you bathe your horse, which might seem counterproductive. The idea is that oil-based or even water-based products like Effol will repel water. So while hoof products may not significantly change the health of the hoof wall, itself, they are beneficial in that they do create a mechanical barrier to water, and that’s a good thing. I recommend applying it to both the tops and bottoms of the horse’s feet before bathing.
The third part of this is something that might surprise you. I hate to say this, but with sport horses, your horseshoer is more important than your veterinarian, and having a good working relationship with him or her is critical. In fact, it’s very important to have a good relationship with three people: the owner of the horse, your farrier, and your veterinarian.
For example, if you see a hoof capsule that’s really distorted, that’s usually because there’s some veterinary pathology going on. Something is happening so that the horse isn’t loading that hoof correctly, and it’s distorting the capsule. Your farrier might be the first indicator that something like this is going on. He or she might pick up the foot and say, ‘Your horse is really wearing the lateral toe of his left front,’ and that’s something you would then bring to your vet, who could help to diagnose what the issue is with the loading and wear of that hoof.
Keeping a horse’s feet healthy means noticing any little changes like that and bringing those changes into a wider conversation with the owner and veterinarian of the horse. Your horseshoer is going to be the first line of defense in cases like these, so having a good working relationship is really important to preserving not just your horse’s feet, but his overall health as well.”

-As told to Nina Fedrizzi. Photo by Tori Repole.

Dr. Richard Markell, DVM, MRCVS has been an official veterinarian for the United States Olympic Show Jumping Team as well as the official treating veterinarian for five World Cup Show Jumping Finals, three Olympic Show Jumping Selection Finals, World Cup Dressage Finals Team Vet, World Championships, and many international competitions. He is also the veterinarian for the SHEA Center, one of the largest Therapeutic Riding Centers in the US. To learn more, visit his practice page, Ranch + Coast Equine Practice.

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