The hoof may very well be one of the most neglected and misunderstood parts of the domesticated horse, second perhaps only to teeth. The hoof is a vital part of the horse and a healthy hoof is essential to the well-being and usefulness of the horse. Common conditions such as founder and navicular syndrome prove only too well that regarding hoof care, there is much to be learned and improved upon. In comparison to wild horses who live their lives without such problems, our domesticated horses are plagued with problems.
Regarding hoof care, there is much to be learned and improved upon.
Many things contribute to hoof problems, including the following:
No access to fresh water in the form of dew or a clean creek, nutritional imbalances, confinement in stalls,
Standing in urine-soaked bedding and manure
Continual shoeing without a barefoot break
Improper shoeing that prevents proper hoof expansion and function
Exaggerated gaits in training
Man's selective breeding which often ignores hoof soundness
Reprinted with permission from HoofTalk, Inc.
When dealing with hoof problems, it is helpful to understand the make-up of the hoof. The hoof, with its bones, cartilage, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, and subcutaneous tissues is a complex, efficient structure that performs supporting, anti-concussion, circulatory regulating and traction functions. It is self-maintaining only in horses in the wild or in horses that live under the same conditions as horses in the wild. The unshod hoof is constantly worn down and replaced with new growth. Every step the horse takes encourages this new growth as the force of his weight and the action of the parts of the hoof pumps blood throughout the foot.
Each part of the hoof has a function:
- The wall, or hoof capsule, is a tough outer layer designed to bear weight as well as protect the underlying hoof structures. It is somewhat elastic and continually grows downward from the coronet band, or hairline. Its makeup is similar to our fingernail and likewise contains no nerves or blood vessels.
- The bars are inward extensions of the wall that form ridges on the sole on both sides of the frog. The bars serve to control expansion and contraction of the hoof.
- The sole is the tough ground surface of the hoof that covers the softer inner tissues. It is slightly concave to provide traction and allow for expansion of the hoof.
- The frog is a V-shaped, cushiony structure on the sole. The point, or apex, of the frog points toward the front of the hoof. The frog helps to absorb concussion, promote circulation, regulate moisture, and allow for expansion in the hoof.
- The white line is a visible boundary (may actually appear gray or cream) that provides a junction between the wall and the sole.
- The corium, the growth complex of the hoof, is a sensitive layer of tissue of substantial width just inside the hairline, or coronet band. It provides the necessary circulation and sensitivity to maintain hoof health. The corium's massive supply of blood vessels provides nutritional support for the hoof tissues. These blood vessels are combined with nerves and form a sensitive layer attaching the inside of the hoof wall to the bones.
- The corneum consists of the layers of cells containing keratin (fibrous proteins forming the horny epidermal tissues) that are devoid of nerve endings and located next to the sensitive tissues.
- Tendons and ligaments give action to the hoof as well as support.
- Bones such as the coffin or pedal bone and the navicular bone interact with each other and the surrounding hoof structures to absorb shock and concussion, allow flexibility, and provide support.
- The digital (plantar) cushion is a wedge-shaped structure located within the back part of the hoof and is composed of some cartilage and elastic fibers. It helps to absorb concussion in the foot.
The hooves as the base of support affect the entire horse. Proper trimming can prevent sand cracks and breaking off of the hoof wall while allowing a horse to move consistently and at its best. A horse with well-trimmed feet is less apt to stumble or go lame. A natural foot, close to the ground and expanding normally at the ground, allows maximum blood supply and the most natural function possible.
Domesticated horses require routine hoof care at intervals of 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the health of the hooves. Whether the horse is being shod or trimmed, the feet should be trimmed as nature intended - balanced and with equal weight distribution as evidenced by a straight hairline (see NHM Volume 1, Issue 6, Natural Trimming and Shoeing - The Hairline Tells It All). The hairline reveals where there is overloading and uneven distribution of load as groups of tubules within the hoof wall push upward creating an uneven hairline.
Once the hoof is provided with the proper mechanical function through proper trimming, there is little chance for disease in the hoof, providing the horse is receiving adequate nutrition. However, when problems do happen, homeopathy can be of great value.
Homeopathy and hooves
The complex make-up of the hoof coupled with the complex nature of the horse creates the opportunity for various hoof problems. Serious conditions such as founder (see NHM Volume 2, Issue 2, Herbal Support for Founder) can wreak havoc inside the hoof, often leaving euthanasia as a humane option; even less serious conditions such as cracking can be very painful for the horse. Many conditions, however, can be addressed with homeopathy.
The word homoeopathy (now commonly spelled homeopathy) was coined by Samuel Hahnemann, the father of homeopathy, from two Greek words, homoios, meaning similar or like, and pathos, meaning suffering or disease. The basic homeopathic principle is treating like with like. A substance that produces disease symptoms in a healthy individual can be used to cure an individual with similar disease symptoms. For example, the onion causes burning, watery eyes. The specially prepared, diluted and succussed homeopathic remedy called Allium cepa, made from the onion, is used to treat colds in which burning, watering eyes are a symptom.
Hahnemann believed that through this principle, nature provides us with the medicine we need to heal ourselves of nearly every illness if we maintain a balanced lifestyle, including proper nutrition and a clean environment.
Homeopathic remedies, unlike drugs and some herbs, do not manipulate the body. A correctly chosen remedy gives a signal, triggering a response, and the body does the healing. While drugs force a response, often affecting the entire body indiscriminately and thwarting its attempts to heal itself, properly chosen homeopathic remedies work with the body and not against it. With its inner intelligence, the body knows what to do and where to do it.
The following are some remedies that are helpful in various hoof conditions. This list of remedies presents some basic characteristics and symptom pictures of each. More detailed information can be found in a Materia Medica, which will provide a more complete picture of each remedy. Observe your horse closely to determine the remedy that best matches his overall symptoms.
Arnica montana - Leopard's Bane. Arnica is the first remedy to think of in any injury situation especially where bruising occurs. It is known as the 'fall herb' (not the season!) and is useful for trauma and bruising. Its remedy picture also includes muscle damage, strained joints and acute injuries to bone, post surgery and post-parturition bruising. Note: In the tincture or herbal form, it is NOT to be applied to broken skin.
Symptoms are made worse from the least touch, motion, and damp cold.
Symptoms are made better by lying down or keeping head low.
Bellis perennis - Daisy. Bellis is another remedy useful for bruising; it acts upon the muscular fibers of the blood vessels. Its remedy picture includes venous congestion, bruised tissues, especially deep bruising, bruises of the hoof, sprains and strains.
Symptoms are made worse by moving, hot bathing, cold bathing, cold wind, and before storms. The left side is usually worse.
Bryonia alba - White bryony, wild hops. Useful when symptoms are painful and the horse does not want to move. The mucous membranes are usually dry and the animal is thirsty for large amounts of water. Bryonia is useful for bruising of the sole and frog with these symptoms.
Symptoms are made worse from warmth, movement and touch, yet firm pressure relieves.
Symptoms are made better by cold, rest, and from lying on the affected side (applying firm pressure).
Calcarea fluorica - calcium fluoride, fluoride of lime. Indicated for disorders in hooves and connective tissue and for problems such as a lack of elasticity of the tissues and blood vessels resulting in brittle bone, bone bruises, dental problems, and circulation disorders. Its remedy picture includes bony formations and exostoses, bone and connective tissue lesions, splints, ringbone, sesamoiditis, sandcrack, founder, coffin bone problems, relaxation of connective tissue, brittle bones, enlarged and painful joints, and much more. It is a constitutional remedy.
Symptoms are made worse by rest, dampness, and humid weather.
Symptoms are made better by heat and warm applications, rubbing, and continuation of movement.
Definition: exostosis - a bony tumor, node, or growth on the surface of bone. It is often the result of the body's inability to evenly distribute the minerals, primarily calcium and phosphorus, which build bone. Bone substance may be deficient in one area of the body while excessive in another. Defective bone formation, slow development of bone tissue, and softening of the bone occur as well.
Calcarea phosphorica - calcium phosphate, phosphate of lime. Though not necessarily indicated for specific problems in the hoof, this remedy includes in its picture a general deficiency of assimilation, delayed development, poor bone and teeth development, imbalance of the calcium/phosphorus ratio, and conditions of the young, growing animal such as rickets. It also includes slow healing fractures, brittleness of bones, swollen and painful joints with stiffness of muscles, back stiffness, and more.
Symptoms are made worse by cold drafts, dampness, and melting snow.
Symptoms are made better by warmth and dry weather.
Crotalus horridus - Rattlesnake. Crotalus has a marked action on the circulatory system; its picture includes septic states and capillary bleeding. It can be useful in cases of acute founder by acting on the vasoconstricted areas. [Note: Belladonna and Aconitum are two other remedies that can be helpful for many cases of acute founder at its onset.]
Symptoms are worse on the right side, in open air, in evening and morning, in spring, at the coming on of warm weather, upon awakening, in dampness and wet conditions, and from a jolt or jar.
Hepar sulphuris - Calcium sulphide. Its remedy picture includes hypersensitivity to pain, abscesses (Hepar sulph can dissolve a small abscess that is still firm or open an abscess that is ready to drain), sandcrack, gravel, infected lymph glands, infected wounds, discharge of pus which often smells like old cheese, fistulous withers, some forms of bursitis, and conditions that are extremely sensitive to touch.
Note: Lower potencies (1x to 3x) of this remedy promote pus formation to hasten the healing process but the high potencies (200c to 1M) will stop the formation of pus.
Symptoms are made worse by cold drinks, cold air, drafts, moving about, and touch.
Symptoms are made better by heat, warmth, eating, and damp wet weather.
Hypericum perforatum - St. John's Wort. This is the prime homeopathic remedy for injury to nerves. It is an excellent first-aid remedy. Hypericum relieves the pain of such injuries in humans as crushed fingers, stepped-on toes, hammered thumbs, and even spinal injuries. For the horse it is helpful for nerve damage, especially in the hoof, such as puncture wounds and some cases of founder. It is used in alternation with Ledum in the case of puncture wounds to prevent tetanus, to help prevent the spread of the toxin along the nerve sheath.
Symptoms are made worse by cold, dampness, fog, touch.
Symptoms are made better by bending the head backward.
Kreosotum - Beechwood Kreosote. Its picture includes burning, corrosive, putrid discharges such as with thrush, and threats of gangrene.
Symptoms are worse in open air, from cold and rest.
Symptoms are made better by warmth, motion, and warm food.
Ledum palustre - Marsh Tea. Ledum is useful for all puncture wounds, especially when the surrounding parts are blue and cold. Ledum helps relieve pain and prevent further problems; it is indicated for tetanus-like symptoms with twitching of muscles and spasmodic respiration with double-inspiration, like sobbing. Its remedy picture also includes swollen extremities and the feet feel hot. Given in alternation with Hypericum, Ledum can help to prevent tetanus.
Symptoms are worse at night and from warmth.
Symptoms are made better from cold and putting feet in cold water.
Ruta graveolens - rue, bitterwort. Particularly indicated for ligament damage and strains, especially of the back and flexor tendons; also acts upon cartilage, periosteum (the outer layer of bone), the eyes, and the uterus.
Symptoms are made worse by lying down and from cold, wet weather.
Secale cornutum - Ergot. Ergot is a fungus that produces marked contraction of smooth muscle fibers causing decreased blood supply to various areas and anemic conditions. In homeopathic form it helps restore normal circulation; in cases of founder or entrapment in wire or a snare, Secale can aid circulation to the hooves. The remedy picture of Secale also includes cold extremities, debility, anxiety and emaciation though appetite and thirst may be excessive.
Symptoms are made worse by heat and warm coverings.
Symptoms are better from cold, uncovering, rubbing, and stretching out limbs.
Silicea - Silica, silicon dioxide; found naturally as flint, sand, and quartz. It is found abundantly in plants and is excellent for the hooves. Its remedy picture includes chronic or recurring hoof abscesses, conditions with pus that have passed the acute stage and are in the chronic stage, founder, thrush, weak or brittle hooves, sandcrack, bone decay, tendonitis, fibrous thickening of ligaments and tendons, bowed tendons, scar tissue, exaggerated reflexes, tendency to get cold easily, lack of body heat, wounds which tend to form pus and are slow to heal, weakness, defective nutrition, chronic inflammatory conditions, some forms of tumor, ill effects of vaccinations, sensitivity to noise, nervous exhaustion, anxiety, dislike of drafts, and more. It is a constitutional remedy and promotes strong restructuring of tissue while reducing scar tissue. Homeopathic Silicea is a cleanser and eliminator that helps break down scar tissue and encourages the body to eject foreign bodies via pus formation and expulsion. Though not a common problem in horses, it is worthy of note that Silicea is not recommended for use if the patient has false body parts - eg. a pin in a bone or joint, hip replacement, synthetic knee cap, lens implant, or other false parts on the chance that the body may try to push out the foreign material.
Symptoms are made worse by cold, dampness, and getting baths.
Symptoms are made better by heat and dry weather.
Thuja occidentalis - Arbor vitae, 'tree of life'. Fungal infections and growths, warts, spongy tumors that bleed easily, greasy heel and mud fever are included in the remedy picture of Thuja. Thuja acts mainly on the skin and uro-genital system, and is also useful for herpetic eruptions, rain-rot, ill effects of vaccinations, and more.
Symptoms are worse at night, at 3am and 3pm, from cold damp air and from vaccination.
Symptoms are better on the left side and are made better by drawing up a limb.
Conditions such as fungal problems can be helped with gentle but effective homeopathy.
Sound feet promote health, comfort, and longevity for your horse while providing satisfaction, pleasure, and lower maintenance costs for you. Common sense maintenance practices, awareness, effective communication with one's farrier, who should be selected on his merits and reliability, and the involvement of your holistic veterinarian are important for complete hoof care and maintenance.
Homeopathy can play an important role in the overall health of your horse and rather than using harsh chemical treatments and drugs, explore the advantages of homeopathic care. Homeopathic remedies are generally best used alone and not in combination with other homeopathic remedies, so consult your homeopathic veterinarian for the proper way to utilize a remedy or if you think there is a need to combine them, such as with Ledum and Hypericum.
Each horse is an individual and homeopathy recognizes the uniqueness of each patient. The emphasis of homeopathy is on treating the whole individual rather than the disease. Therefore, homeopathic remedies are most effective when used according to this principle. A horse may tend to exhibit certain symptoms that will point one to the correct remedy for that horse and while many homeopathic remedies can be selected merely to treat the current problem, it is more effective to look at a remedy as being useful for a horse who tends to get thrush rather than viewing it as a remedy that is useful for thrush. When the simillimum is used, the patient can be cured rather than just relieved, and the individual becomes healthier overall. Homeopathy is individualized and choosing the remedy to fit the patient is the key to its success.
This is an informational article only; it is not intended to replace professional farriery or veterinary care. The remedies mentioned are suggestions only and the reader is advised to seek the expertise of a veterinarian trained in homeopathy or discuss the use of homeopathic remedies with his holistic veterinarian. Chronic problems are best treated by a professional homeopath.
Homeopathic first-aid kits, which contain a good variety of commonly used remedies, are available. All homeopathic remedies are for human use as well as for animal use. To administer homeopathic remedies, stir two pellets of the remedy in 1/2 cup of water and give the horse 6 to 12 cc of this mixture orally via clean syringe. The solution does not need to be swallowed; contacting the mucous membranes is how the remedy works. The exact amount of water used in the dilution process and the actual amount of the diluted remedy that you give at each dose is not critical. The remedy selection, its repetition, and the assessment of remedy action are generally more important than the potency of the remedy used.
For information on natural, balanced hoof trimming and shoeing:
HoofTalk, Inc., books and videos by Lyle Bergeleen:
HoofTalk: The Hairline Tells It All
The Natural Trim
Equine HoofTalk Equilibrium: A Horseman's Revolution (video)
How To Trim The Equine Hoof Naturally (video)
For additional information, to find a homeopathic veterinarian, for remedy kits, books, and more contact:
The Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy (AVH)
751 N.E. 168th Street
North Miami Beach, FL 33162-2427
American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA)
2214 Old Emmorton Road
Bel Air, MD 21015
4914 Del Ray Ave.
Bethesda MD 20814
Natural Health Supply
6410 Avenida Christina
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Natural Living Products
PO Box 607
Island Heights, N.J. 08732
Advanced Biological Concepts
301 Main St. - P.O. Box 27
Osco, Illinois 61274-0027
The Botanical Animal
20 Prospect Avenue
Ardsley, NY 10502