Do I need to worry about vertical hoof cracks that show up on my horse?
Of course you do. Any type of vertical crack on your horse can stem from a variety of reasons, and then it’s up to you, the Vet, and the Farrier to make a game plan. For complicated cracks, which incidentally don’t always look complicated, your Veterinarian may need to resect the hoof or surgically suture it together. Vets can diagnose, treat, and prescribe, Farriers support the hoof and work their magic on carrying out the treatment plan. That’s why it’s always best to get the gang together to work on this as a group.
This crack has been stopped from moving north, and has a bit of thrush medication to prevent "seedy toe". You can also see that the bottom has been widened to allow air and medication in.
Getting back to cracks - there are many types of vertical cracks, and depending on who you ask, the names may overlap or you may use one name to cover a few different cracks. The horse below has a small crack in the front of his hoof, and the Vet called it a grass crack, the Farrier called it a sand crack, the boarder next to me called it seedy toe. I just call it a crack.
For the sake of keeping things simple, a crack can develop due to a variety of reasons, such as:
- Conformation, such as length of toe.
- Injury to the hoof.
- Laminitis - for more on laminitis, read this article about what to look for.
- Moisture changes in the environment
- Infection, such as an abcsess
- Footing and surfaces that your horse lives on
I’m sure there are more…
The severity of the crack also varies. A quarter crack that extends from the coronary band to the bottom of the hoof will move a lot, often times tearing the inside structures and causing pain, bleeding, and lameness. Quarter cracks are on the side of the hoof and generally start at the coronary band. Daily inspection for sores and bleeding along the coronary band can alert you to a quarter crack in the making.
This is an old quarter crack that has grown out a bit from the coronary band.
Some cracks, called sand cracks or grass cracks, occur around the toe and can be very small, but allow a bit of anaerobic bacteria to get in between the hoof wall and the internal structures. Anaerobic bacteria love places without oxygen, so this infection can travel all the way up the hoof wall. It’s best to catch these cracks early, so that the crack can be stopped from traveling up the hoof, and the bacterial infection inside can be treated. This seedy toe condition can cause such damage that your horse’s hoof wall must be resected (essentially removed) to clear the infection. Let’s hope it never gets that far.
Vertical cracks need time and support to grow out. Large cracks are often glued or sutured or stapled together. Often, your Farrier will support your horse’s hoof with bar shoes, acrylic patches, or a change in angles (done with radiographs from the Veterinarian). Smaller cracks are often opened at the bottom to allow air to kill the bacteria if necessary, and sometimes a hole or notch stops the upward movement of a crack.
This hole is handy to use as an opening for medication to prevent bacterial infection.
It’s important to remember that any crack - large or small - is not often what it seems. Small cracks can be deep, large cracks can be superficial. Any crack is going to be stressed under the forces of your horse moving around, possibly enlarging the crack or creating the perfect place for an infection, lameness, or soft tissue damage to set in.
The key to dealing successfully with hoof cracks is early intervention! Call the Vet and the Farrier and make sure you can nip it in the bud. If the subject of hoof cracks is totally fascinating to you and you want to learn about horizontal hoof cracks, this article is for you.
Has your horse ever had a hoof crack?