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5 Common Foot Problems in Horses: Symptoms and Treatments

Last updated: June 21, 2023

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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It can be scary when your horse is limping and showing signs of lameness. If the issue is in your horse’s foot, it’s important to understand the most common problems that horses experience. By knowing these foot problems, you can quickly identify and diagnose the issue, seek appropriate treatment, and prevent further complications.

The 5 most common foot problems in horses are thrush, white line disease, laminitis, navicular syndrome, and abscesses. Knowing the symptoms and treatments can help you quickly identify and address these issues, preventing further complications and ensuring your horse’s well-being.

In this blog post, I’ll take a closer look at these common foot problems in horses and provide you with valuable information on how to recognize, manage, and treat them, ensuring your horse’s optimal health and well-being.

The 5 Most Common Foot Problems in Horses

As a horse owner, it’s important to be aware of the most common foot problems that horses can experience. Foot problems can be painful and debilitating for horses and can impact their overall health and well-being. Here are five of the most common:

A. Thrush: This is a bacterial infection that affects the frog of the hoof. The frog is the soft, V-shaped structure on the underside of the hoof. Thrush can cause a foul odor and black, crumbly discharge. It’s caused by bacteria that thrive in moist, dirty environments. Regular cleaning and proper hoof care can help prevent thrush.

B. White Line Disease: This is a fungal infection that affects the white line of the hoof. The white line is the area where the hoof wall and sole meet. White line disease causes separation between the hoof wall and sole, creating a space for bacteria and debris to accumulate. This can cause lameness and other complications. Treatment may involve removing the affected tissue and applying antifungal medication.

C. Laminitis: This is a serious condition that affects the tissues that connect the hoof to the horse’s leg. Laminitis can cause severe pain and lameness and in severe cases, can be life-threatening. Causes of laminitis can include obesity, high-sugar diets, or certain medications. Treatment may include medication to reduce inflammation, changes in diet, and specialized shoeing.

D. Navicular Syndrome: This is a condition that affects the navicular bone, which is located in the horse’s foot. Navicular disease can cause chronic lameness and pain. It’s most commonly seen in horses that perform a lot of jumping or other high-impact activities. Treatment may include medication, specialized shoeing, and rest.

E. Abscesses: An abscess is a pocket of pus that forms in the hoof. This can be caused by a puncture wound or other injury. Abscesses can cause severe pain and lameness. Treatment may involve draining the abscess and administering antibiotics.

As a horse owner, it’s important to be aware of these common foot problems and take steps to prevent them. Regular hoof care, proper nutrition, and appropriate exercise can all help keep your horse’s feet healthy and prevent foot problems from occurring.

Causes of Foot Problems in Horses

Various factors can contribute to foot problems in horses, ranging from inadequate care to external influences. Identifying these causes can help prevent and address issues effectively. Here are some common causes of foot problems you’re likely to see:

Picture of a person cleaning a horses foot.
Cleaning a horses foot

Improper hoof care

Poor hoof care, such as irregular or improper trimming and shoeing, can result in imbalances, cracks, and uneven weight distribution, leaving your horse vulnerable to foot problems. Consistent maintenance by a skilled farrier is crucial for preserving your horse’s hoof health and preventing complications.

I’ve learned that it’s essential to be vigilant when farriers work on my horse’s hooves. Even well-intentioned professionals can sometimes clip too close to the quick, cut into the frog, or drive nails incorrectly, causing harm. To ensure my horse’s well-being, I closely monitor the farrier’s work and only entrust my equine companion’s feet to experienced and reputable horseshoers.

Injuries and trauma

Injuries from accidents, missteps, or overuse can result in foot problems such as bruises, fractures, or sprains. Early detection and appropriate wound care, including rest and veterinary intervention when needed, can help prevent long-term complications.


Bacterial or fungal infections can lead to foot issues such as thrush, white line disease, or abscesses. Prolonged exposure to wet environments can increase the risk of infection. Maintaining a clean and dry environment, along with promptly addressing any infections, can minimize their impact on hoof health.

Maintaining a clean stall and using appropriate bedding material is essential to preventing foot infections in horses. By providing a dry and hygienic environment, you can reduce the risk of bacterial or fungal infections that may compromise your horse’s hoof health.

Congenital or genetic factors

Some horses may be predisposed to foot problems due to inherited traits or congenital abnormalities. In domesticated horses, breeding for specific purposes, like Thoroughbreds for speed, might result in less emphasis on foot health during breeding. However, in the wild, natural selection favors horses with healthier feet, promoting better overall hoof health in those populations.

Nutritional imbalances

An unbalanced diet can negatively affect hoof growth and quality, potentially leading to foot problems. Providing a balanced, species-appropriate diet with essential nutrients promotes optimal hoof health.

In addition, incorporating specially-formulated supplements into your horse’s diet can further support healthy feet, enhancing overall hoof strength and resilience. Consult your veterinarian or equine nutritionist for specific recommendations tailored to your horse’s needs.

Environmental factors

Horses exposed to wet, muddy, or unhygienic conditions may be more prone to foot problems such as thrush, white line disease, and abscesses. Prolonged exposure to moisture can soften the hoof, making it more susceptible to infections and injuries. Additionally, excessive moisture can create a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi, increasing the risk of foot issues.

Maintaining clean, dry living quarters and ensuring proper footing during exercise can help prevent these issues. Regularly clean and replace bedding material in stalls to minimize moisture and bacterial growth. Provide appropriate drainage in outdoor areas where your horse spends time, and avoid turnout in muddy, waterlogged pastures.

Symptoms of Foot Problems in Horses

As a horse owner, you may be familiar with some of the common foot problems your horse can experience. If you notice any of the following symptoms, it’s important to take action and seek veterinary care as soon as possible.

Picture of a horse with cracked hooves. One of many foot problems in horses.
Cracked hoof wall

Lameness is a common symptom of foot problems in horses. This may manifest as a limp or an obvious difficulty in moving around. You may notice your horse favoring one foot over the other or showing signs of pain when walking or trotting. This can be caused by a range of issues,

Another symptom of foot problems in horses is swelling. This can occur in the foot or in the leg and is often accompanied by heat and pain. Swelling can be caused by a variety of factors, such as a traumatic injury or an infection in the hoof. If you notice any swelling, it’s important to seek veterinary care right away.

Discharge is another potential symptom of foot problems in horses. This can manifest as pus or blood coming from the hoof or foot. If you notice any discharge, it’s important to clean the affected area and contact your veterinarian for advice. Discharge can indicate an infection or other serious condition, so prompt treatment is essential.

Abnormal hoof growth can also be a sign of foot problems in horses. This may include uneven growth or misshapen hooves. If you notice any changes in your horse’s hoof growth, it’s important to have a farrier or veterinarian examine the horse to determine the cause and recommend the appropriate treatment.

In summary, if you notice any of these symptoms in your horse, it’s important to take action and seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent further damage and help your horse recover quickly.

Here is a YouTube video that addresses foot problems in horses.

Diagnosing Foot Problems in Horses

If you suspect that your horse is experiencing a foot problem, it’s important to seek veterinary care to determine the cause and develop an appropriate treatment plan. Here are some common methods used to diagnose foot problems in horses:

A. Physical Examination: A physical examination is often the first step in diagnosing foot problems in horses. Your veterinarian will examine the hoof and leg, looking for signs of swelling, heat, pain, and other symptoms. They may also watch your horse move to assess for lameness or other gait abnormalities.

B. Radiography: Radiography, or X-rays, can be a valuable tool in diagnosing foot problems in horses. X-rays can reveal bone fractures, arthritis, and other structural abnormalities that may be causing the horse’s symptoms.

C. Ultrasound: Ultrasound can be used to assess soft tissue structures in the foot, such as tendons and ligaments. It can also be used to identify fluid buildup or other abnormalities.

D. Blood Tests: Blood tests can be used to detect infections or other systemic conditions that may be contributing to the horse’s foot problem. Your veterinarian may also perform a lameness exam, which involves a series of tests to help identify the specific cause of the horse’s lameness.

In summary, diagnosing foot problems in horses may involve a combination of physical examination, radiography, ultrasound, and blood tests. With proper diagnosis, appropriate treatment can be developed to help your horse recover and maintain healthy feet.

Treating Foot Problems in Horses

Treating foot problems in horses will depend on the specific condition and severity of the problem. Here are some common treatments:

A. Farriery: Proper shoeing and trimming can help prevent and treat many foot problems in horses. A skilled farrier can help ensure proper hoof balance and support, which can promote healing and prevent further damage.

B. Medication: Depending on the specific foot problem, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help reduce inflammation, fight infection, or manage pain.

C. Surgery: In some cases, surgery may be necessary to treat a foot problem. This can include procedures such as removing damaged tissue or correcting a structural abnormality.

D. Nutritional Supplements: Proper nutrition can play a role in maintaining healthy feet in horses. Your veterinarian may recommend supplements such as biotin or omega-3 fatty acids to help support hoof health.

E. Rest and Rehabilitation: For many foot problems, rest and rehabilitation can be an important part of the treatment plan. This may involve limiting exercise or turnout or providing supportive padding or bandaging.

It’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions for treatment and to closely monitor your horse’s progress. With proper treatment, many foot problems in horses can be resolved or managed, allowing your horse to live a healthy and active life.

Preventing Foot Problems in Horses

Taking proactive steps to maintain healthy feet can help prevent many common foot problems in horses. Consider the following preventative measures to ensure your horse’s hoof health:

Regular hoof care and maintenance

Regular appointments with a qualified farrier for proper trimming and shoeing is essential for maintaining your horse’s hoof health. The frequency of these appointments will depend on your horse’s needs, but generally, every six to eight weeks is recommended. Regular hoof care ensures balanced hooves, preventing cracks, imbalances, and uneven weight distribution.

Proper trimming is crucial for maintaining the correct hoof angle and shape, promoting a balanced and comfortable gait. A skilled farrier will assess your horse’s feet and make necessary adjustments to accommodate for any irregularities, ensuring optimal weight distribution and support.

Shoeing is another vital aspect of hoof care, particularly for horses working on hard or uneven surfaces or those with specific hoof problems. The farrier will select the appropriate shoes to protect and support the horse’s feet, considering the horse’s workload, environment, and any pre-existing conditions.

Good hoof care involves daily cleaning and inspection of your horse’s hooves. Regularly pick out debris and check for signs of injury, infection, or abnormal growth. Early detection of potential issues allows for timely intervention, preventing further complications.

By prioritizing regular hoof care and maintenance, you can help ensure your horse’s feet remain healthy, strong, and functional throughout its life.

Proper nutrition

A balanced, species-appropriate diet with essential nutrients is crucial for promoting optimal hoof growth and quality. Good nutrition plays a significant role in maintaining strong, resilient hooves that are less prone to cracks, infections, and other foot problems.

A horse’s diet should consist of high-quality forage, such as hay or pasture, along with concentrates if necessary to meet their energy and nutrient requirements.

Key nutrients for hoof health include:

  1. Protein: Amino acids, particularly methionine, and lysine, are essential building blocks for keratin, the primary structural component of the hoof.
  2. Biotin: This B vitamin is crucial for healthy hoof growth and has been shown to improve hoof quality in horses with poor-quality hooves.
  3. Minerals: Zinc and copper are vital for maintaining hoof integrity, as they are involved in the formation of keratin and connective tissues.
  4. Fatty acids: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids help maintain the integrity of the hoof wall by supporting cell membrane function and providing natural moisture.
  5. Vitamins: Vitamins A, D, and E contribute to overall hoof health, supporting growth, immune function, and tissue repair.

Consult your veterinarian or equine nutritionist for specific recommendations tailored to your horse’s individual needs, workload, and life stage. They can help you formulate an appropriate diet plan and suggest suitable supplements if required.

Picture of a horse with cracked hooves.
Horse with cracked hooves

Adequate exercise and turnout

Regular exercise and turnout are essential for maintaining good circulation and overall hoof health in horses. Engaging in physical activity promotes blood flow throughout the body, including the hooves, delivering essential nutrients and oxygen to the tissues while removing waste products. This enhanced circulation supports healthy hoof growth, tissue repair, and general hoof integrity.

Ensure your horse has enough daily activity tailored to its individual needs and abilities. This can include riding, groundwork, or free movement in a safe, enclosed area. Be mindful of your horse’s fitness level and gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise as needed.

Turnout is equally important, allowing your horse to move freely, graze, and socialize with other horses. Turnout promotes natural movement patterns and helps prevent stiffness or discomfort associated with prolonged confinement. Aim to provide turnout in a suitable environment with good footing, shelter, and access to clean water.

Balancing both exercise and turnout helps maintain not only hoof health but also overall physical and mental well-being. By incorporating adequate daily activity and socialization, you can support your horse’s natural instincts and encourage a thriving, healthy life.

Appropriate footing and stable management

Maintaining clean, dry living quarters and ensuring proper footing during exercise is crucial for minimizing exposure to wet, muddy, or unsanitary conditions that may contribute to foot problems.

Good stable management practices and attention to the quality of the surfaces on which your horse moves can help prevent a variety of hoof issues.

  1. Clean, dry living quarters: Regularly clean stalls and replace soiled bedding material to minimize moisture and bacterial growth. Choose appropriate, absorbent bedding materials, such as wood shavings, straw, or pelleted bedding, to help maintain a dry environment. Provide adequate ventilation in the stable area to prevent the buildup of humidity and ammonia, which can be detrimental to hoof health.
  2. Proper turnout areas: Ensure that turnout areas have good drainage to prevent the formation of muddy, waterlogged pastures. Avoid turning out your horse in excessively wet or muddy conditions, as prolonged exposure to moisture can soften the hooves and increase the risk of infection or injury.
  3. Appropriate exercise surfaces: Choose suitable surfaces for riding, lunging, or groundwork to minimize the risk of slipping, tripping, or excessive wear on the hooves. Well-maintained arenas, trails, or grassy areas with good traction can provide a safe environment for exercise. Regularly inspect and maintain these surfaces to ensure their condition remains optimal.

Monitoring for early signs of foot problems

Vigilant monitoring of your horse’s hooves is essential for detecting early signs of injury, infection, or abnormal growth. Taking action at the first sign of a potential issue can prevent more severe problems from developing and help maintain your horse’s overall hoof health.

  1. Daily hoof inspections: Make it a routine to inspect your horse’s hooves daily, checking for cracks, bruises, swelling, heat, or any unusual odors. Carefully clean the hooves with a hoof pick, removing debris and checking for foreign objects that may cause injury or infection.
  2. Observing behavior: Pay attention to any changes in your horse’s behavior or movement, such as limping, uneven gait, resistance to weight-bearing, or reluctance to move. These signs may indicate discomfort or pain associated with a developing foot problem.
  3. Regular farrier visits: Schedule routine appointments with your farrier to monitor hoof health and address any concerns before they escalate. Your farrier can provide valuable insights into the condition of your horse’s hooves and suggest necessary interventions, such as corrective trimming or specialized shoeing.
  4. Veterinary consultations: If you notice any signs of infection, injury, or persistent hoof issues, consult your veterinarian for professional advice and appropriate treatment. Early intervention is crucial for resolving foot problems effectively and preventing long-term complications.

Using Hoof Boots

The use of horse boots can be a helpful preventative measure for maintaining healthy horse feet. Horse boots can provide additional support, protection, and cushioning to the hooves, which may be particularly beneficial in certain situations or for horses with specific needs. Some advantages of using horse boots include:

  1. Protection: Horse boots can protect the hooves from injury caused by rough or uneven terrain, sharp objects, or excessive wear. They can be especially useful for horses with thin soles or those prone to bruising.
  2. Support: For horses with hoof imbalances or conformational issues, specialized boots can provide extra support and help alleviate strain on the affected areas. This can prevent further damage and promote healing.
  3. Cushioning: Boots can offer shock absorption during high-impact activities, reducing the stress on the hoof and leg structures. This can be particularly beneficial for horses working on hard surfaces or those with hoof sensitivity.
  4. Therapeutic use: In some cases, horse boots may be recommended by a veterinarian or farrier to aid in the treatment or management of specific hoof issues, such as laminitis or abscesses. These boots can provide support, protection, and comfort during the healing process.
  5. Barefoot transition: For horses transitioning from shod to barefoot, horse boots can offer temporary protection and support during the adaptation period. This can help minimize discomfort and reduce the risk of injury as the hooves adjust to their new conditions.

It’s essential to choose the appropriate type of horse boots based on your horse’s specific needs and consult with your farrier or veterinarian for guidance. Proper fit and regular monitoring are crucial to ensure the boots are functioning effectively and not causing any discomfort or pressure points on the horse’s hooves.

Anatomy of the horse’s foot

Gaining a comprehensive understanding of a horse’s foot anatomy is essential for effectively identifying and addressing any foot problems that may arise. As we explore the hoof structure, internal structures, and biomechanics of a horse’s foot, we will be better equipped to manage and maintain the health of these magnificent animals.

Picture of the underside of a horses foot.
Filing the hoof wall

Hoof wall

The hoof wall is the rigid, keratinized outer structure of the horse’s foot that plays a vital role in supporting the horse’s weight, protecting the internal structures, and providing a durable barrier against environmental factors. The hoof wall consists of several layers, each contributing to its overall strength and function:

  1. Stratum externum: This is the outermost layer of the hoof wall, composed of a thin, waxy substance called the periople. The stratum externum helps protect the underlying layers from external moisture and damage and assists in maintaining optimal moisture balance within the hoof.
  2. Stratum medium: This is the thickest, densest layer of the hoof wall, composed primarily of keratin, a fibrous protein. The stratum medium provides structural integrity and support, bearing most of the horse’s weight when the foot is on the ground. The hardness and elasticity of the stratum medium allow the hoof to absorb shock effectively and resist wear.
  3. Stratum internum: This innermost layer of the hoof wall is composed of softer, more pliable keratin and includes the insensitive laminae. The stratum internum interlocks with the sensitive laminae, connecting the hoof wall to the internal structures of the hoof, such as the coffin bone.

The hoof wall grows continuously, with new cells being produced at the coronary band, which is the junction between the skin and the hoof wall at the top of the foot. Over time, the hoof wall wears down or is trimmed and reshod by a farrier to maintain proper shape, balance, and length.

Healthy hoof wall growth and maintenance are crucial for the horse’s overall foot health and performance. Issues such as cracks, splits, or imbalances in the hoof wall can compromise the foot’s ability to bear weight and protect the internal structures, leading to pain, lameness, and potential long-term damage. Regular hoof care, proper nutrition, and attention to the horse’s environment can all contribute to maintaining a strong, resilient hoof wall.


The laminae are a critical component of the horse’s hoof, serving as the connection between the hoof wall and the internal structures, such as the coffin bone (also known as the distal phalanx or third phalanx). The laminae consist of two types: the sensitive (vascular) laminae and the insensitive (non-vascular) laminae.

  1. Sensitive laminae: These are the vascular, living tissue layers originating from the underlying corium, which is the blood- and nerve-rich connective tissue layer. The sensitive laminae are responsible for producing the outer insensitive laminae and providing nutrients to the hoof wall.
  2. Insensitive laminae: These are the non-vascular, keratinized layers that interlock with the sensitive laminae. The insensitive laminae are an extension of the hoof wall and do not have blood or nerve supply.

The laminae’s unique interlocking design allows for both support and flexibility, enabling the hoof to effectively bear the horse’s weight and adapt to various types of terrain. This intricate connection helps distribute the force of impact during locomotion, preventing damage to the internal structures and providing stability to the coffin bone within the hoof capsule.

The laminae also play a crucial role in the horse’s circulatory system. As the horse’s foot makes contact with the ground, the hoof wall and laminae help pump blood back toward the heart, promoting overall circulation.


The sole is the slightly concave structure at the bottom of the hoof that protects the sensitive tissues beneath it, such as the corium and digital cushion. It plays a crucial role in distributing the horse’s weight evenly across the foot, helping to prevent excessive pressure or strain on any particular area.

The sole also contributes to the overall strength and support provided by the hoof, assisting in shock absorption and providing a barrier against foreign objects and environmental factors.

Internal foot structures

The internal structures of the horse’s foot include the coffin bone (distal phalanx), navicular bone, digital cushion, and various tendons, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels. The coffin bone, encased within the hoof, provides support and shape to the hoof capsule.

The navicular bone, located at the back of the foot, acts as a fulcrum for the deep digital flexor tendon, aiding in the horse’s movement. The digital cushion, a fatty, fibrous tissue beneath the navicular bone, helps absorb shock and provides protection to the underlying structures.

Additionally, the horse’s foot has a unique “hoof mechanism” that aids in pumping blood back toward the heart, contributing to the animal’s overall circulatory system and health.

Function and biomechanics

The horse’s foot serves several crucial functions, including supporting the animal’s weight, absorbing shock from impact, propelling the horse forward during movement, and facilitating blood circulation.

The hoof’s unique design and internal structures allow for optimal biomechanics, ensuring the horse’s foot can efficiently perform these essential functions. The foot’s ability to pump blood back towards the heart, often referred to as the “hoof mechanism,” is particularly vital for maintaining the horse’s overall health and well-being.

This intricate system of interconnected structures works harmoniously to support the horse’s daily activities and performance. Proper hoof care and maintenance are crucial to maintaining the balance, flexibility, and structural integrity of the horse’s foot, preventing foot problems, and promoting overall health and performance.


Maintaining your horse’s foot health is essential for its overall well-being and performance. By understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatments of common foot problems, you can effectively address issues and prevent complications.

Prioritize regular hoof care, proper nutrition, and monitoring for early signs of problems to keep your horse’s feet in optimal condition. Don’t hesitate to consult with professionals, such as veterinarians and farriers, for guidance and support in maintaining your horse’s hoof health.


What are the most common foot problems in horses?

Some common foot problems in horses include laminitis, abscesses, thrush, white line disease, navicular syndrome, and hoof cracks.

How often should my horse see a farrier for hoof care?

The frequency of farrier visits can vary depending on the horse’s needs and hoof growth rate, but generally, horses should see a farrier for trimming and/or shoeing every 4-8 weeks.

How can I tell if my horse has a foot problem?

Signs of foot problems in horses may include abnormal hoof growth, cracks, splits, bruises, swelling, heat, limping, uneven gait, resistance to weight-bearing, and reluctance to move.