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May 2008 Tip: Grass / Sand cracks

Grass Cracks in a Hoof

     With all the rain we've had this winter and spring, you may notice small surface cracks forming in your horses' hooves that aren't usually there. These are called "grass cracks" and are only surface deep. They form when the hoof goes from soggy to dry over and over. It's the same effect as dishwater on your hands. it causes dry, cracked skin and nails. Not all horses develop them, but horses kept in low lying pastures that have a lot of mud and puddles to wade through are most prone, or if they go in and out of stalls with shavings to moist pasture, as opposed to completely stalled horses or on higher ground. They are called grass cracks, by the way, because horses out on dewey pastures that dry out in the day time (out on grass) get them most commonly. Incidentally, it metal shoes won't prevent grass cracks, and the nail holes may actually promote the cracks.

     Grass cracks are superficial and fairly harmless for the most part.They usually just make the hoof appear really dry. However, if you see deep cracks that split through to the white line or spread apart when the horse puts weight on the hoof, its time to call your trimmer to check things out, as those are not grass cracks, and could damage the hoof more severly if left unchecked.

    Many people see grass cracks and assume the hoof is too dry and apply dressings. This is NOT the time to add moisture! Those little surface cracks, while harmless, can trap fungus and bacteria, which are not normally a threat as long as the hoof can breathe. But an oily hoof dressing will trap the nasties inside and seal off the air and actually create a good environment for germs to thrive and take advantage of the hoof. In short, hoof dressings can actually make the hoof cracks worse!  So until this wet spell is over, your best treatment for grass cracks is to avoid excess moisture-if you can, provide a dry spot for your horse to stand (gravel/ concrete pad/ shavings in the shelter) . Do NOT apply oily hoof moisturizers and keep an eye on them to make sure they stay superficial. 

    There are hoof sealants available, that will help block excess moisture, and they can be helpful, if applied properly. Do NOT apply them over the frog or within an inch of the hairline . The hoof still needs to breathe. Before you apply, spray with Apple Cider Vinegar, OR peroxide (just once on the walls, peroxide should not be used on the frog), or other anti-fungal treatment that isn't oily, then make sure the hoof is thoroughly dry, otherwise you will trap unwanted moisture in. Apply sealant and let dry for a few minutes before you walk your horse through grass (everything sticks to the wet sealant!) . Apply every couple of weeks, or as often as twice weekly, depending on the weather. Once it starts to dry out again, stop the application of sealants and let the hoof go natural again. If you don't prepare the hoof beforehand, the sealant could do more harm than good. 

    Even in dry weather, most horses do NOT need hoof dressings. When the ground is dry and hard, the hoof is too, and stands up to the wear that comes with hard ground. When the ground is a little softer, so is the hoof and wears at a more appropriate rate. Excess moisture (standing in puddles) is much harder on the hooves than being really dry. In nature, they may go weeks without rain, and will seek higher, drier ground when it's wet. Only domestic horses get trapped in puddles for weeks at a time.

Just remember, when there's mud, no oily moisturizers, please! Petroleum jelly/petrolatum (Vaseline) is the worst for trapping in fungus and is not absorbed by hoof tissues, so avoid using any hoof dressings with this in it. Sparing use of sealants can help, but best of all is having a dry spot to hang out.