Hoof Corner: Our Recommendations for Hoof Dressings

by James & Yvonne Welz ©2008

You may be surprised to hear any mention of hoof dressings on this site. Many barefoot folks recommend avoiding all hoof dressings, period, no matter what. We live in a very harsh climate, and over the past decade, have experienced situations where drastic weather conditions and severe wet/dry cycles wrecked havoc with certain hooves. Thus, we have adopted a "use as needed" policy when it comes to hoof topicals, but we are very particular about what to use and how to use it, as we have tested everything at some point.

First comes the topic of using water as a hoof moisturizer. While water can be a very effective "hoof softener," as in soaking for a few hours before a monthly trim, using water as a hoof moisturizer can lead to disastrous results. First, everyone's water is different. Water in Germany is not the same as water in South Africa, Australia, New York, or Florida. Everyone has different mineral balances, additives (such as fluoride or chlorine), levels of contamination and levels of quality. While water soaking may work for one person in one area, it can lead to hoof deterioration for someone else in a different area. Add to this situation the factors of soil pH and humidity levels, and you have a very complicated scenario.

For example, we found consistent water soaking to be ineffective at best, and harmful at worst, in our own desert Arizona environment. Some owners had soil that literally sucked the moisture out of the hooves the second they touched the ground after soaking. Our typical low humidity levels further pulled out the water through the wall, thus soaking daily created dry, brittle hooves. Unfortunately, this climate is so dry, the hooves need all the moisture they can get, so what to do when the hooves are really dry, yet soaking in water is completely useless?

Through trial and error, we discovered a combo of 2 products that seemed to provide a solution:

1) We use the natural dressing called Hoof Alive (available in our store, or in many other locations) on the outer hoof wall ONLY. Hoof Alive provides a light water-repellent seal to the outer wall, yet is completely safe for the hard horn (we tested it over a period of many years). Hoof Alive is used only on a dry hoof.

2) We use Farnam Rainmaker on the sole, frog, and bulb ONLY. Rainmaker contains pine tar, which is a humectant and draws moisture. It is also slightly weakening to horn, which is why we do NOT use it on the hoof wall. However, the sole and frog horn are constantly being renewed; thus, there are only positive, moisturizing effects to using Rainmaker on the bottom of the hoof.

We use these products for specific reasons, only as needed. Here's how we use them:

For severely dry hooves (such as during a drought, or problem hooves): Apply Hoof Alive to the outer wall only on dry hooves, from 1 inch below the coronary band to the ground. Next, soak the hooves in plain water (can be done immediately after applying Hoof Alive). Soak 1/2 hour or longer, up to several hours. Remove the hooves from water, and immediately apply Rainmaker to the soles, frog and bulb. Repeat several times per week for a month, and you will see a drastic improvement in the moisture content of the hooves.

For mildly dry hooves (normal hooves during the dry season): For less severe problems, doing the above procedure just once or twice can perk up the hooves during a dry spell. Alternatively, you can also follow the above, but omit the water soaks: apply Hoof Alive to the wall anywhere from 1 to 3 times per week, and just apply Rainmaker to the sole as desired.

For hoof cracks: Make sure to address trimming issues - follow our guidelines for "really" rolling the hoof wall (differs from other methods). Apply Hoof Alive to the wall 3 times per week, and you can even pack the cracks with Hoof Alive.

For hooves affected by wet/dry cycles: These often show up as stress cracks - small shallow vertical cracks across the entire hoof wall. Apply Hoof Alive to the wall 3 times per week. You will have to wait for the hoof to grow out, but you will be able to see when the Hoof Alive was started. As a preventative, use Hoof Alive several times per week when a severe change of weather begins.

When hooves are really healthy, you will find that you very rarely even need to use these products - but they are very useful for problems and changing conditions, and indispensable when dealing with unhealthy hooves in an unforgiving climate.

(August 2008)

This area of The Horse's Hoof represents OUR own personal opinions and recommendations regarding hooves and hoof care. We are James & Yvonne Welz, owners of The Horse's Hoof Magazine and website. While the emphasis of The Horse's Hoof is to promote barefoot as a whole, and provide a place for practitioners of all methods to gather and interact, we do have our own personal way of doing things. Throughout this past decade, we have been quietly practicing barefoot horse care on hundreds of horses, ironing out what really works, and here we will share our knowledge with you.

©2008 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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