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Martha Josey

Strong, Healthy Feet Will Keep Your Horse Running




Imagine for just a minute that you are preparing to go to the Olympics as a sprinter in the 100 yard dash. You have worked and trained hard to prepare and you are ready to give it your best, but something is hurting in one of your feet. You are devastated. You can barely walk, let alone run. You know that if you go ahead and compete no matter how hard you try, the result is going to be less than desirable. To an athlete, his or her feet can be the most important parts of their body, and often taken for granted until an injury.

Your barrel horse is an athlete, but unlike football, basketball, track, and other human athletes, your horse has not two, but four feet to use as transportation. Plus, consider that he is not only supporting himself with his four feet, but also carrying you. The slightest problem on even one foot can be the difference in ending up in the 1D or not placing at all in your barrel race.


If your horse has ever had a foot injury, you learned quickly….NO FOOT, NO HORSE! Barrel racers must be even more watchful and careful with their horses, because the starts, stops, and turns of the barrel pattern puts a lot of stress on a horse’s legs. A good barrel horse must do everything at top speed, and give his all in every run. That’s why it is important to start with a horse with good legs and feet. Look carefully at these features when prospecting your next barrel horse.

Good, well-shaped feet are essential for a barrel horse. Large, strong hooves are preferable, not only for stability, but because they can get more traction. These features will also help him be sound and have legs that can hold up well during use and hauling.

Another thing to keep in mind is that often horses with feet that are too small for their frame are more apt to develop hoof problems as they grow and run.


Once you find a horse with good strong feet it is important to take care of those feet. An ounce of prevention is worth what could be days or weeks of sitting out while your horse’s feet are healing. Clean and check your horses feet EVERY DAY. Always be on the lookout for THRUSH, which can be recognized by not only swelling, but also the smell caused by infection. Thrush is caused by bad hygiene: not keeping the horse’s feet clean, or by not cleaning the stall itself. If thrush is detected, it can be treated with a medication made specifically for the infection. Run cold water over the legs and feet to keep the fever down.

As you inspect and clean the feet daily, also check for signs of Laminitis, most commonly referred to as “FOUNDER”.  The symptoms of laminitis may appear quickly and can include intense lameness. Founder can be caused by overeating, spoiled feed, molded hay, medications, exhaustion, overexertion, long, continued work on hard surfaces or drinking cold water while hot and sweating, and in some cases, change of weather. Usually, only the forefeet are affected. The feet may feel very hot. Pulse, respiration and temperature usually increase, also. If signs of Founder are present, run cold water over your horse’s feet and legs. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important to prevent permanent damage to the coffin bone in the hoof. Notify your vet immediately, and he can administer the necessary medication.

Another cause of lameness could be that the sole or the shoe was not leveled or shaped correctly. An area of the sole may have been left bearing against the shoe, thus creating painful pressure. Remember, the sole is never a weight-bearing structure. It should be slightly cupped out.  Also, it should not be excessively thin, and always should be cleaned and trimmed away so there is no sole pressure on the shoe itself. If you find tenderness in the sole or “Frog” area, away from the rim of the shoe, the problem could be just a stone bruise or hoof abscess, not related to the shoeing.  Stone bruise will typically clear up after a couple of days of rest away from rocks and hard ground.  A good practice for your horse is to use a good hoof dressing to stimulate growth and promote healthy feet. The best way to deal with dry, brittle hooves is to prevent the problem before it happens.  Regular treatment can keep them soft and pliable.  If there is a sign of a problem, also check if your horse is quick-hoofed. If a foot should ever come up quick-hoofed, take a piece of cotton saturated with water or alcohol and dot each clinched nail.  The one with fever will dry the quickest. Have your farrier pull only the suspected nail, being careful to first straighten the clinched part. Soak the foot in Epsom Salts and secure the entire foot in an elastic wrap to keep out infection.


Very important – keep your farrier on a regular schedule. Have your farrier shoe your horse as naturally as possible and on a regular schedule. I personally like my horses to be shod no later than every six weeks. On some horses, I will go five weeks depending on the horse and his feet. Know your farrier and keep in close contact with him about your horse’s hoof care and shoeing needs. He will also keep the feet trimmed well. If you let your horse’s feet grow out long, you are taking a chance on him pulling a tendon or overreaching.

A watchful eye and good care of your horse’s feet will keep both running. Don’t neglect them!

Remember: no foot, no horse. Take care of your barrel racing partner!

This article was printed in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 8, Issue 9-10

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