The horse’s lower leg and hoof is quite an amazing structure. There are now muscles in the lower legs, and the hooves carry the weight of the horse. So how does the all important blood supply reach the hoof, and then get back to the heart?
It’s the frog! The frog is technically part of the horse’s circulatory system. And one of it’s jobs is to help the horse’s leg pump the blood from the hoof UP the leg. No muscles there to do that! The frog is sometimes called the second heart for this reason.
Inside the hoof, there is an extensive network of blood vessels. These provide blood to the laminae and keep the tissues alive and healthy. When your horse steps, the frog pushes upwards and this causes the veins to compress, which pushes the blood up the leg. The veins have one way valves, so that they won’t pool at the bottom of the leg. When the frog pressure is released, this allows the arteries to actively pump blood back into the hoof.
Of course your horse can’t possible walk 24/7, and that’s just fine. However, proper exercise and movement allow the hoof to have ample circulation to promote good hoof health. A horse that is on restricted movement often will have much poorer circulation in the hooves.
Regular farrier care is crucial, as is daily monitoring of your horse’s hoof health. Keeping the hooves picked from debris and stones, checking for snugly fitting shoes, and making sure the hoof is not hot can all keep your horse comfortable, and have all hearts beating well!
The digital pulse is one way to get an instant reading of your horse’s hoof health! This pulse is found at the fetlock, and often reflects pain and inflammation in the hoof. Generally speaking, you may not be able to feel the digital pulse if the hoof is healthy and uninjured. However, as inflammation sets in, the pulse begins to strengthen and can often be strong to the point of bounding. This could be a sign of an abscess, a bruise, or laminitis. Your Veterinarian should always be called for any signs of hoof distress to rule out laminitis and start treatments.
The hoof is subject to stones, uneven terrain, bruises, thrush, and more! These are all situations in which a little tea tree and jojoba come in handy.
Always loop your Veterinarian in when your horse develops a hoof issue, to rule out laminitis and other painful conditions.
There are many reasons you may need to pack a hoof. Your horse could have a missing shoe. Your horse could also have an abcess, stone bruise, or your horse worked quite hard on bad footing, or just has sore feet. Be sure that you involve your Veterinarian at the beginning of any hoof distress, as you want to rule out laminitis, which might look like something else.