The warmer weather is always welcomed and it's a great time because riders get to take part in shows and events that take place all over the country which makes life pretty exciting all round. However, the summer months and the warmer weather can be a stressful time on horses hooves. Whilst you may be forgiven for thinking the dry, hot weather is the reason why their feet suffer so much, you may be surprised to know this is not the case at all.
As long as horse's hooves are in excellent condition to begin with, they in fact, cope very well with hot and dry conditions. A horse's ancestry stands them in good stead by equipping their hooves to withstand some pretty extreme temperatures, after all being of Asiatic origin where the land was often hard baked by the roasting temperatures than anything else, horse's hooves had to evolve to come with this type of environment.
However, what horses find much harder to cope is constant changes in climate and temperatures - that's to say from one weather extreme to the other where conditions are terribly wet and then incredibly dry only to have to deal with wet conditions once again. Therefore, long hot summers are far less challenging when it comes to hoof health. The problem is that a typical UK summer usually consists of damp, warm spells paired to intermittent downpours.
Horses hooves are good at regulating their own humidity and their hoofs tend to protect themselves. Horses that live in hot, dry environments boast an extremely good horn, it is typically hard and shiny very similar to that of cattle. Hooves are able to adapt well to dry conditions as long as the weather is consistent. Where conditions are more variable and where the humidity and temperature constantly changes, they cope far less well.
When the weather is constantly dry and then wet, hoof walls tend to expand and then shrink again which is paired to dramatic fluctuations in moisture levels within the hoof. As such a much softer horn develops which is therefore unstable and far less capable of carrying any weight. Problems continue to develop as superficial cracks open up and this causes clenches to rise. If a hoof is in good condition it will remain healthy but if the condition of the hoof should be poor, then inevitably problems are bound to develop.
Just as some people boast better quality hair than others, the quality of a horse's hooves is connected to genetics as well. Should a horse have hooves that can only be described as "shelly", the horn is typically thin and weak, therefore far less capable of standing up to changes in temperature. As such any fissures present in the hoof wall will just get wider. When the weather is very dry, the dryness only tends to only go a few millimetres up the hoof wall but this can have a dramatic effect on the foot because it's where shoe nails penetrate and sit. There is a little good news however, which is that when the ground in hard, horses tend to suffer less from abscesses and/or puncture wounds.
Although it can be a vicious cycle to have to cope with, you need to ensure your mount's feet are in good condition in the first place. You have to bear in mind that when the weather is changeable and if you've upped your workload, then you might have to be prepared for split horns as well as few lost shoes if hooves are not in tip top condition.
One key point to bear in mind is that many hoof varnishes do affect the foot's natural ability of regulating humidity whereas a hoof hardener may well help protect the weaker hoof against changes in the weather. The best products to use contain naturally produced substances with lanolin being the ideal choice.
Lanolin acts as a much needed barrier whilst at the same time enhancing moisture levels in the hoof, but to be really effective it should be applied straight after a horse has been shod. The reason being that any and all varnish would have been rubbed off which enables the product to penetrate well into the hoof wall.
Another routine that could prove beneficial is to hose your horse's feet but this has to be part of a daily routine to be really effective. It's important to hose off any mud that may be present on legs and hooves because mud will automatically draw moisture out of hooves. If your horse stands on paper bedding, this is not such a good idea as the paper would stick to their feet and therefore draw more moisture out of their hooves which ultimately defeats the object of hosing their feet in the first place,
Wood shavings tend to be the ideal bedding for horses with problem feet. The reason being that straw beds tend to allow air to circulate around their hooves which dries them out whilst shavings keep moisture at an optimum level.
Hooves love sandy soil because water drains away and as such hooves stay that much drier, The downside being there would not be as much grass on the paddock. The most damage done to hooves is when horses have to stand up to their coronet bands on clay soil for any length of time.
Regular trimming and shoeing during the spring and summer months is crucial to maintaining a nice healthy hoof and obviously this is the time of the year when hoof growth increases considerably. You have to avoid situations where shoes become loose and hooves break which makes it that much harder for a new shoe to remain in place. Farriers will never place a nail in a crack – it's one of their most important rules. If nails are placed higher or above a damaged horn, the vicious cycle can effectively be broken which results in a much stronger horn being produced.
There are many hoof repair kits and materials around but these should only be used as a temporary solution to a hoof problem. When glues are put on hoof walls, they will automatically draw moisture which is a negative thing. The only real answer is to make sure your horse is well shod by an expert farrier who understands the shape of your horses foot and their conformation and to have their feet regularly trimmed and shod so they remain in tip top condition throughout the summer months.