Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Sole Paints & Hardeners

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The equine sole is intended to be somewhat flexible but very hard, thick and tough. Soles that are too thin, moist, soft and/or flexible can allow pressure on the sensitive sole, causing lameness and allowing recurrent sole bruising.

Genetics, nutrition and environment all play important roles in determining the ability of an individual horse’s sole to protect the deeper parts of the hoof. Individuals from some breeds are more likely to have thin soles that easily bruise.

I sometimes suggest the use of hoof hardeners when a horse that has lived in a moist environment is relocated to drier, harder or rockier footing. The transition from shoes to barefoot may be helped in some cases using short term application of hoof hardeners. Keep in mind that simply allowing the hoof to dry out naturally will eventually have the same effect.

YOUR VET’S ROLE

Your vet helps ensure that there are no other underlying problems that may require further treatment. They may have suggestions for hoof paints as part of the management of soft hooves.

Sole paints and hardeners may be helpful to dry out and toughen a soft, over-flexible sole. There are a number of commercial products on the market. Most of them contain acetone, alcohol, phenol or other drying agents as active ingredients. Some make claims to make structural change within the hoof molecular structure. This is akin to hair conditioners that make claims to change the structure of hair. These claims are usually exaggerated and have no proven scientific basis.

As with many equine treatments, there are many approaches used and many home remedies. DMSO hardens feet, as does strong 7% iodine. I have used strong iodine, phenol and mixtures of alcohol or acetone and iodine. All seem to work pretty well to harden feet. A combination of sugar and povidone iodine or strong iodine (sugardine) causes hardening of the feet.

Consider Potential Side Effects & Complications

Some of the drying agents may be toxic to tissues, especially if they contact the delicate skin of the coronet band. Keep these agents off the skin.

These chemicals tend to penetrate cracked, damaged hoof wall horn better than healthy horn. This can cause cracking and over-drying of the deeper layers in these areas, allowing worsening of cracking and potentially encouraging bacterial infection.

The agents can be irritating to human skin and eyes. Care and gloves should be used when handling these products.

Consider Reasons Not To Use This Treatment

Hoof hardeners should not be used in place of a diagnosis. If a horse is chronically lame, it is unlikely that hoof hardeners alone are the long-term answer.

Hoof hardeners do not work when the horse's hooves are perpetually wet in mud or muck.

Is It working? Timeframe for effect

Most hoof hardeners make a noticeable difference in hoof flexibility within 12 hours of first application. Hoof hardness is tested by pressing the sole with the thumbs or a hoof tester, and should show decreased flexibility. Horses should be less lame or less resistant to move on a hard surface.

Questions To Ask My Vet

  • What management changes do I need to make in addition to using a hoof hardener?
  • How frequently should I pick my horse's hooves?
Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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