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Foot Sore?

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Inflammation which leads to low-grade or sub-clinical laminitis is a common cause of foot soreness.

Inflammation equals loss of circulation. Keep reading and we will pick this apart a little bit.

Preserving circulation and obsessing about how tight the laminae is, should be a priority in hoof care and holistic horse management. This is so often ignored, unnoticed or misdiagnosed.

Things that prohibit blood circulation in the hoof

1. Diet

The most common cause of inflammation is a diet too rich in sugars. I don’t know of a single horse who can eat actively growing green grass and doesn’t show ANY signs of inflammation as a result.

Feeds with grains or grain by-products are rife on the market and often marketed with words that try to convince us that those feeds are good for our horses, but you can NOT simply believe what the bag says! You must read the ingredients, and you will find that about 1 out of 50 bagged feeds is ACTUALLY suitable as horse food and that’s not an exaggeration. Feed manufacturers are not bound by requirements, nor do they have the willingness, to print the truth on the front of the bag.

2. Lack of movement

Accompanying that, is lack of movement. If there is no physical movement, there is also no circulation. The hoof draws in and pushes out blood with every physical step the horse takes. The hooves are pumps for blood.

Small, private paddocks are excellent at reducing movement. Track systems conversely are great at causing the horses (note plural – horses should not be alone!) to move more, when set up correctly and the hay is spread around the track. Horses will only go where the food is, so if the food is in one pile, that’s where they will hang out.

3. Peripheral loading

Another culprit is peripheral loading (such as wearing a shoe, or having long hoof walls) – it messes with circulation.

How grass makes a horse foot sore

Back to the grass - ALL grass is high in sugars in spring time, even our Australian native grass. It makes lovely hay a bit later on and is much safer in other parts of the year, but spring is not safe!

Letting the horse eat grass sets up a cycle of the laminae becoming weaker, causing a flare in the hoof wall, which then in turn tears the laminae even more with any amount of overgrowth of the wall acting like a lever against the laminae. The soles become flat and thin and voilá, we have a foot sore horse.

Most of these horses aren’t lame in their paddocks or pastures, and we might think everything is fine. Most of these horses have been going through the below cycle for YEARS without anyone picking up on it.

They will not appreciate going over anything other than soft ground, they may have a shortened, slightly choppy stride and the body doesn’t look elastic in movement. Some will protest louder and be labelled as “difficult” or “naughty”. Again, they may not necessarily “look lame” to an uneducated eye. In my opinion, I see a lot of barefoot horses who aren’t as comfortable as they should be under saddle. They are not “spooky”, they are in pain.

So what are the signs we can look out for to know if this is happening to our horse?

1. Inflammation of the coronet band

If the coronet band is raised in a bump, and it often takes a slightly shiny or rubbery appearance and texture – we have active inflammation in the hoof. If this continues unattended, it will appear as a “ring” on the hoof wall as it grows down. Sometimes if you lift the hairline up you can see a pinkish/whitish raised narrow line – a sign of very angry inflammation! This can be seen on black and white hooves equally. Along with this, check the digital pulse, it will be faster and/or stronger if there’s inflammation present.

Rubbery-looking coronet band is a sign of mild inflammation.
Pink or red line at the coronet band is a sign of significant inflammation.
If the inflammation on coronet band is left untreated, it will appear as a “ring” on the hoof wall.

2. Rings on the walls

Rings on the walls is evidence that point number one - inflammation in the coronet band - has been happening for some time. The wall should be smooth. The hoof wall will tell you what has been happening in the horse’s system for almost the past year (because it takes that long for the hoof to grow from the top to the ground level). Very valuable information can be “read” from the hoof wall of every single horse. Measure how many centimetres from the coronet band down the ring or bump is, and deduct that the hoof wall grows on average, 1 centimetre per month. You can time the events quite accurately this way. Ring after ring after ring means constant laminitis.

Every ring on the hoof is an episode of inflammation.

3. Flare

If you lay something straight, like a rasp, along the hoof wall at the front and at the sides, there should be no air gap between the straight item and the wall. An air gap means you have flare. Sometimes flare can be hard to spot when looking at the hoof from above, and it can start sneakily in a mild fashion right under the coronet band. Taking photos from the ground level is a great help as it shows all the distortions. You want the camera some distance away from the hoof, so the lens isn’t distorting the image further.

4. Flat soles and thin soles

As the above points happen for some time, the pedal bone will sit lower in the hoof capsule. It's called sinking, even though it’s actually the hoof capsule that gets pushed up the bony column. As a result of sinking, the corium (the life-giving blood supply to the hoof just beneath the wall and the sole, which hugs the bone and soft tissues) between the bottom of the bone and the sole gets squished. Any flare will apply further pressure to the laminae and so also the blood supply - which feeds the periphery of the bone. This causes loss in the mass of the pedal bone.

5. Bone loss

After all of the above has been going on, we have a pedal bone which has a damaged periphery/has lost mass. This can be seen from the bottom of the hoof. The edge of the sole follows the shape of P3 ( the pedal bone). If the edge of the sole has a raggedy outline, divots and an irregular shape, you know that the bone looks like that too.

There is also often a taller ridge of sole around the toe, and the sole drops away just behind the ridge.

If the horse suddenly goes sore after a normal trim at the normal schedule, suspect the onset of low-grade laminitis. It is very common!

Then what?

Then we are left with a horse with a permanently thin sole, and an x-ray might show that the “founder distance”= amount of sinking that has happened is permanent, even AFTER we fix the hoof, grow good laminae and try our best restore the bone position inside the hoof capsule. Somethings cannot be completely un-broken afterwards.

These horses cannot be “conditioned” to run over rocks. They have a permanently reduced capacity to grow good sole and we have to look after them in the correct way to stop the damage getting worse, and reverse as much as is possible.

~ We need stop the cycle of inflammation and tighten the laminae. ~

Sometimes the bone damage is so extensive that the hoof wall has trouble connecting well at the ground level. Remember: if the blood supply is damaged, the laminae is damaged. Since it’s the laminae that glues the hoof wall to the bone, you may have a hoof where the wall just always wants to flare a little bit near ground surface. Once at this stage, the hoof will flare very easily if they eat 3 blades of nice grass or have a long trim cycle (and by long we mean anything over two weeks!). Any small source of inflammation sends these feet backwards, and fast. Often these horses struggle to get beyond one week trim wise until the feet fall apart again, unless life and diet is absolutely perfect.

So what do we do?

1. Obsess!

Be obsessive about circulation like this: make sure the horse is moving as much as possible. Keep sugar out of the diet. Balance the minerals. Feed salt! Trim the feet - ideally weekly - to keep the walls from becoming a mechanical source of laminitis. Since these horses love to go sore after a trim, the trim has to be just right, and very frequent.

~ It is a fallacy to trim less frequently in the attempt to stop post trim soreness. ~

The opposite is required: very little and very often, with the right kind of trim. My book is full of horses who loved going sore after trims before they came to me, and that no longer happens even on their four-week cycle. The trim is imperative! The heels should be comfortable to land on, the bars should NOT be left high or above the sole to push up into the sensitive structures inside the hoof. The toes should be in the right place for an easy break-over and cause no leverage. If the horse is going toe first, objectively look at the trim and other body issues to see where the problem comes from.

2. Protect!

ALWAYS protect the feet for riding. Sand is not a comfortable surface. Or if the ground in the living environment becomes inhospitable to walk on (rocks, very hard baked dirt, hard packed stone surfaces, concrete, etc.), use boots and pads.

We know that a hoof landing on a yielding soft surface draws more blood to it as the ground surface fills the solar concavity. It also cushions the thin soles. Therefore, it makes sense that a hoof in a boot which can flex and absorb shock, and be padded if necessary, is a better option that a boot with a hard sole.

The Flex Boot is great for this! I would go as far to say that if a horse in a Flex Boot and a pad is still footsore, there is something serious going on that needs professional investigation.

Padding can also be customized for serious problems such as founder rehabilitation.

Part of what we do, is give advice on hooves and Flex Boots via and we’re super happy to help! Just send us some good hoof photos like the photo below, and we go from there. A lot of people have found this really useful, and we have been able to get horses into Flex Boots who didn’t suit them before, as they may have been experiencing some of the above (or other) problems. The best and most important thing is we’ve been able to help the horse be more comfortable by working together as a team with the owner and hoof care provider.

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