What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Hoof Wall Seems Dry & Brittle, Cracks Easily


The quality of any horse's hoof tissue depends on a variety of factors including genetics, nutrition, general health, hoof health and environmental factors. For a horse with seemingly dry, brittle hooves that crack off, these factors all play a role. Diseases that affect the hoof like laminitis reduce the quality of the hoof tissues too.

When you notice a change in the appearance of your horse's hooves, it usually reflects the history of the hoof and the horse. It is similar to the way a tree's growth rings reflect the tree's history.

The hoof wall grows out at about 1 cm (or about 3/8") per month so if the top 3cm looks different than the lower part, that is an indication that something changed 3 months ago - a change in health, nutrition, management, etc. took place then or since then.

In most cases, small cracks are caused by brittle hooves and are not associated with lameness. In contrast, large deep cracks are caused by mechanical forces, not just dryness and brittleness.

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your role


What To Do

Consider your horse's general health and body condition, because it could be related to the condition of the hooves. Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to body weight, coat, mane and tail quality and the hoof appearance.

Try to determine whether there is accompanying lameness or apparent stiffness or reluctance to walk on hard surfaces. Look for digital pulse and heat in all the feet.

Also notice whether the whole hoof is affected or is only part of the hoof? Are all the hooves affected or only one? Take photos of the hooves and send them to your vet for discussion.

What Not To Do

Do not simply apply topical ointments or feed hoof supplements without seeking a diagnosis from a vet. There may be an underlying problem that needs to be treated too.

your vet's role

Your vet considers all of the above factors and tries to determine the cause of the lameness, if the horse is lame.

At that point they may recommend changes in management, or treatment of underlying conditions that may be affecting the horse's general health and hoof quality. Once underlying factors are addressed, they may recommend additional treatments or supplements.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Is one foot or multiple feet affected?
  • Has anything changed in the horse's hoof management?
  • How is the appearance of the horse's coat?
  • What is the horse's Body Condition Score (BCS)?
  • Can you change management to improve the situation?
  • What, specifically, are you feeding?
  • When did you begin feeding the horse this new feed?
  • Do you notice a hoof wall crack associated with this?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP