Modern Hoof Conditioners and Total Hoof Care
New Hoof Conditioners provide Total Hoof Care that even Grandpa would approve!
by Dr. M. J. Pautienis, Dr. Richard Shakalis, and Ray Tricca for SBS Equine
How the horse hoof structure works.
For hundreds of years people have been coating horses’ hooves with various substances for their
protection and to maintain flexibility. Pine tar, paraffin, oils and salves have been passed down from one
generation to the next with varying degrees of success. The basic scientific principles they were trying to
achieve, maintaining the internal moisture of the hoof wall while repelling harmful substances are as valid
today as they were then. To understand why the modern hoof conditioners work so well, let’s review some basic biology and function of the hoof.
The importance of essential moisture in the hoof.
The hoof wall is the weight bearing structure of the hoof and it is composed of thousands of tiny hollow
fibers called tubules. These tubules run vertically from the coronary band and are cemented together with
a protein substance called keratin (see figure one). Layer upon layer of these tubules act effectively as
springs to absorb tremendous amounts of concussive force while retaining the necessary tensile strength.
The elasticity of these tubules and the hoof wall in general is dependent on its internal moisture content.
This moisture is not simply water, but a mix of salts and electrolytes much like that found in an I.V.
solution. Without this essential moisture, the hoof wall would dry up, crack, become brittle and generally
fail at its job of a leaf spring/shock absorber. Too much moisture, on the other hand, can make a hoof
too soft, mushy and fail to absorb its concussive load. We now understand that the ideal hoof conditioner maintains the natural moisture balance found within the hoof wall.
Where does this important moisture come from? The hoof is designed to receive at least 90 percent of its
moisture from within, from the blood and lymph vessels, and a small percentage from the sole. Hoof
conditioners are effective because they stop the evaporation of this essential moisture from escaping the hoof wall.
Why don’t wild horses have hoof problems?
You may ask, “Why don’t wild horses have all of these hoof problems? Why do I need hoof protection
if I don’t have any hoof problems now?” Good questions whose answers lie in domestication of the
horse. The periople is the protective covering that evolved to contain natural body fluids within the hoof
wall while repelling harmful contaminants. Thus the hoof actually has its own natural, delicate hoof sealant
. This natural sealant serves wild horses well, but it is usually lost in a domestic environment. It is
inadvertently removed during the shoeing process when the hoof is trimmed, balanced, leveled and shod.
To compound the problem further, the domestic horse can no longer roam free over miles of open space
but is confined to smaller pastures, paddocks, and stalls. Now, with little or no natural sealant left and
with the horn tubules opened from nail holes and rasping, hooves are exposed to higher concentrations of
destructive uric acid and other contaminants. With the protective outer covering removed, the
introduction of these agents into the hoof wall can lead to breakdown of its protein, keratin. It is
important to remember that because the hoof is protein, it is potentially biodegradable. Domesticated horses need a hoof conditioner that effectively replaces the periople.
The evolution of hoof conditioners !
Your grandfather and his grandfather before him intuitively used a type of hoof conditioner called pine tar.
This product acted as a precursor to modern hoof conditioners as it helped to retain moisture in the hoof
wall. Pine tar, unfortunately, had its drawbacks, but Grandpa was on the right track. Later came various
products that contained vegetable oil, animal fat, and petroleum-based ingredients that were used with
limited success to coat the hoof and fill in the nail holes. These dressings are usually sticky, and as such,
attract contaminants instead of repelling them. They tend to breakdown quickly when exposed to the environment.
Hoof researchers classify these older hoof conditioners as Class 1 Hoof Conditioners in that they need to
be applied daily to be effective. They are either thin sealants or hoof oils (vegestable or animal fats) that
remain fluid and wear away quickly. Some of these fats have fancy names. Animal fats are lanolin, emu
oil, fish oil, neat foot oil, beeswax. Fats from plants (vegetable oil) include tea tree oil, aloe vera, pine tar,
caster oil, linseed oil, cottonseed oil, wheat germ oil, peppermint oil, jojoba oil, etc. Their applications
actually may be counter-productive because they can serve as a bacterial and/or fungal growth medium
when they fester in a small crack or nail hole. These organisms produce enzymes and exotoxins that can
break down collagen and protein in the hoof wall. If you do not get hoof wall disease, the least that can
happen is that the hoof can get soft and punky at the nail holes. If this happens, your horse will throw more than his fair share of shoes.
New generation of hoof conditioners!
Modern “dual-action” hoof conditioners provide a finish that hardens (cures) for longer protection, and
ingredients that form an antiseptic barrier against infection. Many of these products are called Class 2
Hoof Conditioners. They are longer lasting than Class 1 Hoof Conditioners and only need to be applied twice weekly for normal hoof maintenance.
Most Class 2 Hoof Conditioners such as Sav-A-Hoof PROTECTANT and TOPCOAT Hoof Conditioner are made from natural organic compounds, as are Class 1 Hoof Conditioners. The biggest
differences between the two is that the finish of Class 2 Hoof Conditioners dry hard (cure) and build up
layers of protection that last longer, and have powerful anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. The
combination provides a healthy moisture balance in the hoof as well as a mechanism for fighting hoof disease in the wall, sole and frog.
Class 3 Hoof Conditioners such as Farrier’s Hoof Sealant are made from inorganic synthetic compounds
containing millions of tiny micro-fibers. The web-seal coating that is applied over cracks and nail holes is
impervious to moisture and uric acid. The coating also reinforces nail clinches to prevent thrown shoes.
Sealant is recommended after the hoof is shod and once a week for maintenance. Less expensive Class
1 & 2 Hoof Conditioners or polish can be applied over Sealant for routine maintenance or shows.
Horse Hoof Care Summary!
It is important to remember that all products that moisturize the hoof, hair, and skin work by sealing in the
internal moisture, not by adding moisture from the outside or from the product itself. Tiny openings on the
hoof wall, from cracks and nail holes, are the main pathways for infection from bacteria, fungus, or other
contaminants. Modern technology has given us great new products that are now available. With products like these available for the horse today, even grandpa would approve!
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