Hoof Chipping Revisited

Last week was an interesting week in the “chips” department, beginning with the client, whose horse I’d trimmed only twice before, who called to cancel her appointment because her horse had chips in his hooves, and, therefore, needed to get him shod. “We tried,” she said, “but it’s just not working out.”

A day or so later, I was at a barn trimming a couple of horses while a young man intently scrutinized my work as the owners held their horses and commented on their happiness with the hoof care. “I don’t know,” he remarked. “It looks to me like that one hoof has a bit of a chip in it.”

Where does the notion that a chip in a hoof means anything more than excessive length come from? Is it because when a horse wears shoes, their hooves can’t chip because the bearing surface of the hoof wall is covered, so owners are used to seeing cosmetically “perfect” hooves (note that I’m blatantly ignoring the damage caused to the hoof by nails)? Or does it stem from an even deeper level still – some weird anthropomorphism where we equate a chipped fingernail with a chipped hoof? I honestly don’t know. I do know that people fuss about them – a lot. I even have new clients who want me to fill the chips caused by the nail damage (which I won’t do). What I DO know is the following –

  • I’ve never seen a hoof chip that involved live tissue – no bleeding, no fluid, no nothing
  • I’ve never seen a lameness, or even a mild sensitivity, caused by a hoof chip
  • I’ve never seen a hoof chip that was attributable to anything other than excessive length, with the exception of those that were the consequence of damage caused by nails

Until a horse receives proper hoof care – whether it’s an already-barefoot horse who up ’til now has only been getting the typical “pasture trim”, or a horse that’s wearing shoes, their hooves will nearly always be softer and less dense than those same hooves would be after a year of proper care (which includes correct nutrition and adequate exercise/turnout – trimming alone does not guarantee good hoof quality, just as merely being without shoes does not equate to proper hoof function). Once proper care has begun, there will still be a period during which their hooves will be more prone to chipping. After that time, most hooves hold up remarkably well; in fact, it’s pretty common for me to see a client horse with absolutely pristine-looking hooves, until you pick them up and see they need 3/8″ trimmed off!

Remember – with respect to his feet, a horse cares only about comfortable and efficient movement. That means the hoof needs to be as short as possible (without invading any live tissue, because that violates the “comfortable” part of the equation) with well-rounded edges. If there is any excessive length, which includes a sharp “edge” on the wall, the hoof will always attempt to self-trim, given sufficiently-abrasive terrain. So the only thing you should be thinking when you see chipped hooves is that it’s time for a trim!

There’s nothing wrong…really!