A healthy hoof wall, like a healthy fingernail, does not need anything put on it. However, also like a healthy fingernail, the hoof is subject to damage by both external factors (extremes of wetness or dryness, physical abrasion) and also by the application of substances that could either overdry or oversoften the hoof.
The character of the hoof is determined during the growth stage, and hoof dressings will not have any more effect on it than brush-on nail strengtheners have on fingernails. Therefore, if your horse has problems with hoof quality that are severe and/or disproportionate to those experienced by other horses in the same physical environment, look toward your nutrition before you go shopping for a hoof dressing (see hoof supplements July 1999).
Exceptions To The Rule
Although building the hoof from the inside is always the base of a hoof-care program, there are situations where extremes of environmental conditions (very wet and very dry conditions) can have effects that are too much for even a perfectly healthy hoof to handle.
When feet are exposed to too much moisture, the most obvious result is that they soften — just like fingernails do when they are soaked. Moisture/mud may also strip protective oils from the hoof, sole and frog and predispose them to infections like thrush, even white-line disease. Bruises are more likely because the excess moisture oversoftens the sole and the outer protective layers tend to slough off. Nails loosen and shoes become pulled more easily.
If feet become too dried out, they lose their natural resilience. We don’t tend to think of hooves as being resilient, but the fact is they do expand and contract with weightbearing, and this requires a minimal amount of moisture. Without it, chipping and cracking of the hoof wall may occur, heels crack and split, frogs may become overly dry and less elastic, excessive sole will build up (making proper trimming difficult) and hoof growth often slows.
There are also some horses that, despite your best efforts at maximizing nutrition and proper hoof care, just have poor quality feet that are thin-walled, chip easily, won’t hold shoes, don’t grow at a normal rate, or are prone to bruising and heel/sole soreness. Extra attention to regular visits from your farrier and use of the proper hoof care product may help horses.
When used as directed and not slathered on too heavily, the vast majority of hoof dressings should not cause problems on healthy hooves. Some farriers believe excessive hoof dressings can overly soften the hoof wall, leading to lost shoes and loose nails. However, only the sole, frog, heels and coronary band will benefit from the product.
Most people do paint the entire hoof wall — sometimes even as part of a daily grooming process — we believe it’s just a waste of product. We don’t recommend you go below the coronary band of a healthy hoof at any time, especially if the product is an oil. When you want a shine on your horse’s hoof wall for competition, use only what you need to get it shiny and then wipe off excess.
In the products we tried, we had 28 ingredients, falling into general categories.
Wax, beeswax, tallow, petrolatum: These are the heaviest ingredients. They will form a thick, waxy layer over the hoof that helps block moisture loss but also leads to buildup, traps dirt and may excessively soften if present in too great an amount.
Pine tar: Pine tar is an all-purpose ingredient. It has some antibacterial and fungicidal actions and is also anti-inflammatory (it’s an old remedy for many human skin problems). It is quite helpful in retaining or restoring hoof-moisture levels, making them more plastic and resilient without softening. Pine tar applied under pads keeps the frogs and soles healthy and flexible.
Vegetable and mineral oils: A wide variety of oils have been used in hoof dressings, from wheat germ oil to mineral oil to neatsfoot. The biggest difference between them, as far as we can see, is that some darken/stain more than others. However, too much oil can cause oversoftening.
Lanolin and other moisturizers/emollients: Lanolin is useful around the coronary band and heel bulbs but not too helpful anywhere else. We found that other moisturizers aren’t heavy-duty enough for hooves.
Aloe: Much as we like aloe and have found plenty of uses for it, hoof care is not one of them.
Turpentine: True turpentine (not the stuff you buy to clean paint brushes) is a natural resin obtained from pine trees by tapping into them with hollow tubes (same procedure as used to collect maple syrup). Turpentine consists of a mixture of the essential oil (oil of turpentine) and a type of resin called rosin. Either turpentine or rosin may appear in a hoof dressing.
Turpentine is believed to be responsible for pine’s above-average resistance to rotting and molds. These antifungal properties work on feet, too. Another advantage of turpentine is a mild anesthetic quality, which makes it useful on tender soles and painful cracks.
True turpentine (also called Venice turpentine) is not drying because it contains the natural essential oil. Three of our four top-rated products contained pine tar and two had Venice turpentine. In fact, we had more favorable comments across the board for products with these ingredients than those concentrating on moisturizers, heavy oils or waxes.
Picky, But Important Differences
Our testers’ primary concern was whether or not the products helped the hooves. However, we also received some pretty strong comments about preferences that had nothing to do with efficacy. Ease of application was the primary one. Every tester wanted a product that had a brush in the lid for easy application.
Consistency was close on the heels of the preference for a brush. The thick liquids that brushed on easily, being neither too thick/goopy nor so thin they tended to run, were preferred. Especially common were negative remarks about products that tended to just sit on the hoof without sinking in and would attract and hold dirt, dust and straw.
Our field testers also did not care for products that had a very strong odor but were usually able to get past this if the product was effective. They wanted products that didn’t require you wash the hoof first — again ease of application.
Although we didn’t find a really “bad” product, some hoof dressings had drawbacks or precautions, while others clearly stood out as superior.
As an all-around hoof dressing, for use on horses that didn’t have any severe problems, we looked for a product that would work equally well on the coronary band, heels, frogs and soles. We wanted correction of minor problems with dryness and cracking and help in sealing out excess moisture. Our top rated all-purpose products were thick liquids with good penetration.
It was an extremely close race between Equine Hoof Dressing from Animal Legends and Farnam’s Rain Maker. Both come in cans with the applicator brush in the lid.
Both penetrated the foot structures very well without being excessively oily or leaving a waxy build up. Neither product caused nail loosening or oversoftening of the test horses’ feet.
Animal Legends slightly edged out Rain Maker for the win because we felt it conditioned the hoof for a longer period between applications on the average than did the Rain Maker. It also seemed to be somewhat more resistant to being washed off by runoff if the horse was bathed.
For hoof problems ranging from excessive dryness to softening under high-moisture pasture conditions, poor growth rate and/or some chipping and cracking, we recommend Hawthorne’s Sole Pack Hoof Dressing. This product was also a solid choice among our testers for a general hoof dressing as well.
If you like a hoof dressing that also darkens and you are a pine-tar fan, Hawthor ne’s Sole Pack is the product for you. The product adheres well without being overly sticky, and it both moisturizes and protects against too much environmental moisture. We found Sole Pack terrific for problem frogs and heels, and it restores a nice consistency to the soles but does not over soften with correct use.
Also With This Article
Click here to view “Are You Sure You Really Need An Oil'”
Click here to view “Hoof-Dressing Products That Address Special Needs.”
Click here to view “Hoof Dressings Ingredients And Comments.”
Click here to view “Adding Shine For Shows.”