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Tuesday December 7, 2021

Hoof Repair Composites: A Primer

Written by Danvers Child
Category: Hoof Repair
Hits: 7170

As the major weight-bearing structure of the horse’s hoof, price the hoof wall is subjected to tremendous stress... stress which can be exaggerated by conformation, gait, exercise level, nutrition, weight, environment and any number of other concerns. Occasionally, all the stars align improperly and hoof wall stress results in a damaged or compromised hoof capsule.

When hoof wall integrity is compromised, as a result of injury or disease, lameness is either associated or potential. Quarter cracks and toe cracks rank high among the more common problems, but crushed heels, voids, and thin, brittle walls are all common problems as well. All of these conditions can be and often are complicated further by the fact that hoof wall does not mend; instead, we must wait for new growth, which can take as much as twelve months.

Patiently waiting for new growth (or anything else for that matter) is often a luxury we can ill afford, so we rely upon contemporary farriery and state-of-the-art hoof repair materials to facilitate and speed recovery.

Fifteen years ago, a farrier’s solutions were quite limited; we reached for borrowed technology: body shop bondo and carpenter’s wood putty, and--more often than not--we resorted to creative nailing, oddly shaped shoes, incantation, and prayer.

Ten or so years ago, we began to see patching materials marketed specifically for farrier application. For the most part, however, these were non-structural bonding materials, best suited for cosmetic replacement of missing hoof wall. They provided a better bond and generated less harmful heat than body shop materials, yet they lacked the flexibility and elasticity necessary to expand with the hoof capsule under load or during growth.

Over the past five years, technology has provided farriers with a truck full of options for hoof wall replacement and repair. Applied properly, these acrylics, urethanes, and resins have the texture, strength and flexibility of natural hoof wall, allowing the farrier to rasp and nail to and through the bonded material, and allowing the bonded material to “grow down” with the hoof.

Using available hoof repair composites, we can address capsular maladies such as hoof wall cracks, avulsions, low heels, and thin walls. In effect, rather than having simple cosmetic repair materials, we now have materials suited for structural bonding and repair. Applied properly, the composite material alone generally provides great structural support; when combined with a reinforcing cloth, such as a fiberglass or Spectra cloth, the overall strength of the material can be increased by as much as five-fold. Subsequently, horses with conditions that would have resulted in lay-up situations several years ago are actively racing and competing today.

Successful application of these composite materials depends on numerous things, but manufacturers and farriers agree that the most important concern is proper preparation. The farrier must thoroughly debride the hoof wall where the composite will be applied and follow this with a solvent rinse, ensuring that the hoof wall is clean, dry, and smooth. Any loose, flaky hoof wall, any moisture or oil weakens, and sometimes negates, the bond. Some manufacturers, such as Equilox, feel so strongly about proper application that they maintain a list of experienced farriers trained in the use of their products.

Indeed, improper application can result in greater disaster than a simple failed bond. Using these materials to seal moist, infected areas simply provides a breeding ground for anaerobic activity, allowing bacterial and fungal activity to actively proliferate under the patch, undermining the hoof and destroying more hoof wall.

Because of the problems associated with trapping microflora under patches, acrylics have generally been advised against when there is danger of infection or when sensitive tissue is exposed. Although some farriers, such as Robert Sigafoos at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, have successfully used shields and drains to effectively treat these serious conditions, the techniques and conditions prove difficult for field applications and have not seen widespread acceptance.

Recently, however, antibiotic-impregnated hoof acrylics have come on the market, and have proven effective not only in formal, clinical studies but in the field as well. Tracy Turner DVM, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota, has conducted studies using these materials, applying them directly to sensitive tissues without complication of thermal injury or infection.

Since hoof repair composites act as a glue as well as a filler, they’ve proven excellent for treatment of cracks. Again, however, removing all moisture is essential. Demonstrating hoof wall crack repair procedures at Equitana, Tom Curl of Global Lameness Consultants, stressed the importance of eliminating moisture problems, pointing out that, after debriding the affected area, he applied drying agents repeatedly before repairing the crack.

Although these materials are designed and marketed specifically for hoof repair, farriers have found other, creative, options for their use as well. Not only will you find farriers using these materials to patch their shoeing boxes and truck beds; more importantly, they have found ways of using these materials to “glue on” shoes and to remediate angular deformities in foals.

For quite some time, farriers have been using repair composites to anchor shoes where nailing was not an option. Recently, however, some farriers, most notably Wesley Champagne, have become “specialists” in using these repair materials to glue on shoes.

Likewise, farriers have found these materials hold up well when applied as hoof wall extensions used to shift the base of support on the bare hooves of foals with angular deformities. An added advantage to using the material for this purpose is that the acrylic can be left on the rapidly growing hoof longer than a glue-on shoe.

Undoubtedly, these materials have proven themselves as a highly effective tool in the hands of the skilled contemporary farrier. Never before have we been able to get horses back “on track” as effectively. Ultimately, however, It is important to recognize that there is no acrylic magic wand, no composite panacea. Even with the spectacular materials available to us, we are still replacing form more than function, especially in chronic conditions.

First published in Thoroughbred Times, vol. 14, #32, August 8, 1998.

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