"I am the proud owner of a blond sorrel
mule named Dixie that I bought about four months ago," writes John
R. Rumsey of Morehead City, North Carolina. "I don't think Dixie
had been cared for very well. The first thing I noticed was that she had
cracks on the bottom front of all four hooves. The cracks on the front hooves
were much worse than on the back hooves.
"I immediately started
cleaning and conditioning her hooves, and have continued to do that for
the past four months. I have been using Vita Hoof conditioner and am on
my second gallon.
"Her back hooves have cleared up nicely and
don't have any more cracks. Her front hooves continue to have problems.
I had the front hoof cracks down to about 1/4" at one time, but her
right front hoof has now developed a new crack that I measured at 1".
"I measured the length of her hoof wall, as you demonstrate in
your video, and it is 3". Using a hoof gauge as you recommend in your
video, I found that the angle of her front hooves isn't anywhere the
near 60 degrees. The front feet are 51 degrees and the back feet are 53
"The new conditional hoof looks like it has grown down
about 1.5" to 2" and this new 1" crack is below that. This
crack is approaching the new conditioned hoof and seems to be turning to
the side. I hope that this is a sign that, as her properly cared for hoof
grows closer to the ground, the cracks will begin to get smaller.
"I have had a hard time getting a farrier to come and see Dixie.
I haven't bought a pair of nippers because I wanted to make sure I was
trained to use them before attempting to cut off any hoof wall. All I have
done is trim the sole with a hoof knife, and rasp the bottom of the hoof
wall a little bit. Since watching your video three times I think I might
be ready to proceed with trimming.
"One more question about
Dixie's hooves. When I watched your video and you were trimming the
mule's sole, I noticed that the sole cut easily and was a nice ivory
color. The bottom of Dixie's sole is white (ivory) near the hoof wall
and in toward the frog for, say, 1/2" or so. But the sole on the bottom
of her foot surrounding the frog and outward is a gray material. The gray
sole is as hard as cement and doesn't trim easily with the hoof knife,
like the surrounding outer white-colored sole. I am afraid to trim in this
area until I understand why it is a different color and why it is so much
"Oh, one more thing. I was reading that biotin as a
food supplement aids in eliminating hoof cracks, so I have ordered a 10
week supply from the vet supply company. Is this an effective treatment,
together with what I am already doing? Would putting shoes on Dixie's
front feet help?"
I would like to have known Dixie's height
and weight, what type of work she does, and the conditions under which she
is kept (stalled, bedded, turned out on grass, rocks, mud, soft or hard
dirt), her diet, and her age. This information would help me determine appropriate
care for her feet.
The cracks are called "sand cracks"
(I don't know why) and are maybe caused by any, all, or some of the
following: poor nutrition, poor hoof care, poor working conditions, feet
too dry, feet too moist, founder, laminitis, fever, stomping flies, heredity,
and injury to the coronary band at the top of the hoof. Each has a story
of its own.
The best I can tell from the photos (which were not clear
enough to reproduce here), Dixie has a (horizontal) fever ring about 1"
up from the ground surface of the right hoof. Above this ring the hoof wall
is in good shape. Below this ring the hoof cracks. In this case I think
the cracks will grow out in time, with your help, John.
turned when it reached the ring because that part of the hoof wall is the
weakest. To help stop a crack from going up the hoof wall, make a perpendicular
notch about 1/8" deep at the top of the crack with the edge of your
Also notch out and clean the bottom of the hoof on both sides
of the crack to take weight off the hoof in this area and help keep the
bottom of the crack clean. When you trim the hoof, round off the edge of
the hoof wall all the way around the outside edge about one-third the thickness
of the wall.
The hoof and the pastern angle looks okay to me at 51
degrees front and 53 degrees rear. Check the front of the hoof and pastern
angle by holding your rasp against the front to see if the leg is parallel
to your rasp. If it looks good, check the angle with your hoof gauge and
write it down for your records. Then measure toe length, from the hard hoof
wall on top to the bottom of the hoof wall at the center of the toe. (The
hoof wall at the hair line is soft; that's okay. This area is called
the "coronary band.")
The color change on Dixie's sole
is due to pigment change and should be of no problem. Or it could be just
old dirty sole that will shed off. Be careful when trimming off any sole—if
it doesn't flake off, leave it there.
When cleaning and conditioning,
be sure to coat the sole, frog, and bulbs of the hoof, as well as the hoof
wall. For best results, wet the feet with water before you put on the conditioner.
Maybe in time, water a couple times a week is all you'll need to fend
Biotin is a good food supplement, but it will be about
a year before its full benefits appear, since the hoof regenerates from
the top down as it grows out. A well-rounded diet is best. Check with your
veterinarian for Dixie's diet needs.
As you can see, treating
something even as common as hoof cracks can, and does, take a lot of knowledge
on the part of the farrier. Dozens of hoof problems exist, and they have
hundreds of treatments. It's no wonder the owner has trouble finding
all the answers. I've been a farrier for over 20 years and I still learn
something every day. Thank you for your interest in my work, and good luck.