Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

As every horse owner knows, the horse's foot is a very complicated structure. It may not look it from the outside, but within the hoof wall are many elements and sensitive structures that form the foot. Seedy toe is another condition of the foot that can cause long-term problems if not treated promptly.

What is seedy toe?

Seedy toe is separation of the dorsal hoof wall from the sole and sensitive laminae at the dorsal white line which results in a gap that becomes full of dirt, debris and bacteria which can cause infection.

What causes seedy toe?

There are a number of causes:

  • Laminitis: there is a tendency for the hoof wall to separate from the sole in severe, long-standing cases.
  • Nutritional deficiencies: methionine, biotin and essential oil deficiencies can lead to poor hoof quality.
  • Poor conformation: long toe/low heel conformation, a dorsopalmar (front to back) imbalance and 'club foot' all lead to excessive forces on the hoof wall.
  • Poor hoof care: fungal infections can lead to a weakened white line.
  • Poor environment: for example, drought or flood conditions, or wet-dry-wet-dry fluctuations.

All of these can lead to separation of the hoof wall which introduces bacteria and subsequent infection.

How will my vet diagnose seedy toe?

When your vet examines your horse's foot, they will find a cavity between the hoof wall and internal sensitive laminae; this is found along the white line and is usually seen at the toe. The cavity will be filled with dead tissue and other debris.

A horse suffering from seedy toe usually has poor hoof quality with crumbling horn.

Lameness is usually only seen if there is active infection within the foot or if the horse is suffering from laminitis.

In severe cases x-rays will be taken to determine the extent of the damage and to see if the pedal bone has rotated due to laminitis, or if there are any signs of inflammation of the pedal bone (pedal osteitis) due to infection.

Can seedy toe be treated?

Removal of all the infected and separated horn is essential to prevent further accumulation of dirt and debris within the cavity. This also prevents the growth of anaerobic bacteria (an organism that does not require oxygen to grow).

The area should then be treated with a hoof disinfectant, for example iodine, until the area is clean and dry.

If your horse isn't up to date with their tetanus vaccinations, your vet will administer a tetanus antitoxin injection which will provide your horse with immediate protection against tetanus. Tetanus, caused by Clostridium tetani, is an environmental bacteria and is commonly found in soil, therefore foot injuries are at particular risk from the disease.

Your horse should be kept stabled on clean, dry bedding until the defect has completely healed up. Once the defect has healed to a sufficient extent, your horse can be shod with a shoe adapted to support the foot until the hoof fully re-grows. In severe cases where extensive amounts of hoof wall have been removed, it may be necessary to use glue on shoes.

A nutritional feed supplement containing zinc, biotin and methionine may be required if this is the main cause of the seedy toe.

How can I prevent my horse from developing seedy toe?

Regular and appropriate hoof care by a registered farrier or trimmer is essential to avoid the development of long toe/low heel conformation which can cause laminitis and as a consequence, seedy toe.

Ensure you regularly check and clean your horse's feet and ensure they are kept in clean and dry stable conditions, and avoid wet-dry-wet-dry environment fluctuations.

Regular exercise in another component of good hoof health, as this encourages hoof growth.