Research Ramblings: Hoof Care — Keeping a Watchful Eye for Healthy Feet

My current work in progress involves chariot racing, and given its substantial equine components, I’ve recruited the aid of horse owners Julie and The Boyz’ Mom to keep it real. (For more about them, read this post.) They love sharing about their horses, and I love learning from them, and hopefully you’ll get some entertainment out of our exchanges.

When I write a stable scene, I automatically send it to my equine ladies for review. After all, I don’t want to have the animals doing anything they wouldn’t or couldn’t. But a couple weeks ago, they called my attention to an inaccuracy  that wasn’t so much about the horses as it was about the humans.

The line in question was my main character telling her grooms, “…clean out [the horses’] hooves and make sure to check for damage.” I wrote this dialogue thinking it would reflect her conscientiousness as an owner, to show how particular she was about their care.

As it turned out, I wasn’t particular enough. Julie responded:

I would change your one line to “check for cracks or bruises/sores.”   Damage is too broad to me, and my group of horsey friends wouldn’t use it in this case.  We would probably say bruising and for sure would say cracks – depending on how bad the crack is, the horse might not be able to perform.

The Boyz’ Mom seconded the comment:

Yes, definitely… bruising, cracks…I’d also be looking for small stones to pick out…maybe an abscess…or signs of a chip that needs filing.

Was I in for an eye-opener! I knew horses could have hoof problems and get stones in their feet (I did read Black Beauty), but in the exchange that followed, I learned how ignorant I was to the array of foot maladies that can strike a horse. To the untrained eye (like mine!), a hoof might look like a big chunk at the end of a horse’s leg, but it’s made up of a lot of complicated subparts. And if those subparts aren’t working together just right, then, as the Boyz’ Mom says, “It is like dominoes. Everything would fall down.”

As a result, horse people do a lot to maintain hooves. A LOT. The Boyz’ Mom, who keeps her Boyz shoeless, files their hooves on a weekly basis. She also regularly applies a combination of olive oil and tea tree oil on their coronary bands and heel bulbs (areas right around the hoof) to moisturize and act as an antifungal. And in the winter, if they get ice balls and icicles in their feathers (the long hair around their ankles), she soaks their feet in a warm Epsom salt and tea tree oil bucket.

As much work as that sounds, it doesn’t compare to getting one of the aforementioned nasties. For example, thrush is a yeast infection that can strike the sole of a horse’s foot. Generally, it smells awful and can possibly lead to lameness. There are various cures available, but it takes effort to get the remedy into all the infected little crevices. When Kerrick had a bout of thrush, the Boyz’ Mom had to pack his infected hoof every day with a commercial medicated poultice until the infection went away (which fortunately only took a week).

By and large, hoof problems means an unhappy horse and an unhappy owner dealing with an unhappy problem. And things get compounded further if you have huge stakes riding on the horse’s performance (think the movie Secretariat when the big racehorse had his abscess). Little wonder equestrians are so particular when it comes to horse feet. Suffice to say, I came away with a better understanding of how my MC should think about her horses and actually reshaped that scene using the information I gained.

After all, little detail, spot on, goes a long way in making a narrative authentic.

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