Hoof Packing: Get More Familiar with a Helpful Product
In many barns, hoof packing is a routine part of equine care. If you've never had occasion to use this helpful product, read on to find out when and if it might be applicable in your horse's care.
When and Why to Use
While it is quite common for a farrier to apply hoof packing to the sole under a pad when shoeing a horse, our focus in this article is on the temporary use of hoof packing by the horse owner. There are several common reasons for a horse owner to use hoof packing. These include:
- To help toughen the sole when a horse transitions from being shod to going barefoot.
- To help reduce hoof soreness after hard work or riding on hard/rocky ground, or if hoof is bruised.
- To help draw moisture out of the feet when hooves are too wet.
- To help make excessively dry hooves pliable and healthy.
Trainers of hunters, jumpers, and three day eventers, commonly use hoof packing after their horses have had consecutive days of jumping. It can also benefit performance horses that compete on hard ground and less-than-ideal surfaces. (Even if you don't show your horse, hoof packing may be beneficial for any of the scenarios mentioned.)
To find out more about the use of hoof packing, we visited with Travis Burns, a Certified Journeyman Farrier, who is a Lecturer and Chief of Farrier Services at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine located on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
Burns emphasizes that while hoof packing is beneficial, if your horse's hooves continually show signs of soreness, this is probably a red flag. "If your horse is sore-footed after every trail ride, something needs to change to make this horse more comfortable," he says.
In such situations, your horse likely needs more than just hoof packing, so seek the advice of your veterinarian and hoof care professional.
Hoof packing can help address a variety of concerns when it comes to hoof condition, but it is never a replacement for routine care.
Consider Hoof Condition
Horses living in a hot, dry climate or desert region may be especially good candidates for periodic hoof packing, even if they don't have a heavy work or competition schedule. That's because an excessively dry hoof can crack and chip, so the use of hoof packing can help keep hooves pliable and healthy.
How often hoof packing is needed really depends on the individual horse and the condition of his hooves. Don't hesitate to ask your hoof care professional for expert advice and follow his/her recommendations as it applies in your horse's situation.
Burns points out that, ideally, the hoof should be hard and dry, not as in brittle dry, but dry and pliable. A healthy hoof is pliable enough to expand and contract, while providing protection from the environment.
"One of the biggest myths is thinking hooves need to be moist. Horse owners often want to moisturize hooves like they would their own skin, but if a hoof is too soft and moist, it can't do its job," he adds.
The wetter a hoof is the more it's open and exposed to invasion by opportunistic microorganisms that may cause problems.
Burns explains that one of the worst things for horses' hooves is to constantly go from wet to dry. For example, being turned out in wet grass overnight and in the morning and then standing in hot, dry sand or dirt later in the day. "This kind of change is brutal on feet," he notes.
Applying the Product
Ingredients will vary depending on the type of hoof packing you use. Your veterinarian or hoof care professional can recommend the best type for your horse's specific needs.
- Some ingredients can help harden the hoof.
- Others can help ward off microorganisms.
- Certain ingredients are good for relieving soreness when the sole is bruised or tender from hard work.
When a farrier uses hoof packing under a pad, often to provide extra support, it obviously remains in place until the next visit. When a horse owner applies hoof packing, it's typically only for a short period of time, such as overnight or for a day or so. Read the label for recommendations for the specific product you are using and follow instructions carefully.
Hoof packing must be pliable in order to properly apply it to the foot. This means keeping it at room temperature. (If using during cold weather, bring it to room temperature before trying to work with it.) You may want to wear disposable latex gloves or wet your hands to make hoof packing easier to apply, since these products tend to be sticky.
- Always start with clean, dry hooves.
- Stand the horse on an even surface free of any dirt and debris.
- Soften a small amount of packing in your hands.
- Pack it around the frog and over the sole at a depth of about one-half-inch.
- To help hold the packing in place, it may be necessary to cut out a piece of cardboard or brown paper bag to cover the bottom of the hoof and then wrap with a stick-to-itself type of bandage, or use a hoof boot.
For best results, Burns always suggests asking your hoof care professional to show you the proper way to apply the product you're using.
Except in cases where hoof packing is applied underneath a pad and shoe, you wouldn't typically ride your horse with his hooves packed. Simply remove it with a hoof pick before riding.
Any time you have a question about your horse's feet, don't hesitate to ask your hoof care professional and your veterinarian. Without four sound feet, your horse is in trouble. Close observation and regular maintenance are essential in order to address any small issues before they can become big.
Hoof Packing Tip #1: Don't Neglect Regular Care
Hoof packing can help address a variety of concerns when it comes to hoof condition, but it is never a replacement for routine care. Every horse should be seen by a competent hoof care professional for regular trimming every 4 to 8 weeks, depending on that horse's individual needs. This is vital to remove excess growth, correct uneven wear, restore balance, prevent cracking and chipping, and correct distortion that would open the hoof to potential damage by microorganisms.
Hoof Packing Tip #2: Easy on the WaterTake a closer look at your stall, turnout and any area where your horse spends most of his time. What is the footing like? Wet and muddy conditions wreak havoc with hoof health because they can damage the hoof wall, opening it up for invasion by potentially harmful organisms. A healthy hoof is pliable, but dry, not moist. At his/her next visit, ask your hoof care professional to critically assess the condition of your horse's hooves and recommend any changes you should make to keep them as healthy as possible.
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Grooming Lesson: Handling Your Horse's Feet
Just because your horse is good when you pick out his feet, this doesn't mean he will stand quietly when the farrier show up. For practical advice, we turned to performance trainer Richard Winters, longtime clinician and 2009 champion of the popular colt-starting competition, Road to the Horse. A certified farrier, Winters once made his living shoeing horses, and still does all his own horses. He says a good farrier will often help you work with your horse's feet. “When I was shoeing, I used to charge an hourly fee on top of the shoeing fee if an owner wanted me to work on the horse to help with handling,” he notes.