Your horse’s feet sometimes seem a bit sore after a workout. He’s trimmed and shod regularly. Could hoof pads or packing help?

Ontario Farrier Association president Paul Miller said he wouldn’t jump to that conclusion as a primary solution. “Using pads as therapy on a horse’s foot should be secondary to identifying the cause of the unsoundness or lameness,” he advised. This might require a veterinarian’s examination or an assessment of the horse’s conformation.

Miller would also consider whether making a change in shoeing might solve the problem. “If the horse is appropriately shod, has good conformation, and has shown lameness after increasing workouts on hard ground that doesn’t have other causes, then a pad may be applied to take the sting out of the knees and feet,” he said. Pads and packing can also be helpful if the foot or hoof wall has been injured to help absorb and redistribute the load on the affected foot while it heals.

Miller, who shoes the gamut from pleasure mounts and sport horses to harness racers, finds that in his experience fewer than five percent of them end up needing pads, and in most cases, the pads are applied only for a short period of time – often less than three months. In some situations, however, usually when the horse’s conformation is the source of the soreness, he might employ pads for years. In those cases the pad can allow the horse to do more advanced work and extend his athletic life.

Newer Options

There is now a wide variety of pad types and packing materials from which to choose, depending on the needs of each particular horse.

Pads: Traditional hoof pads are made of leather, plastic, or rubber, and are intended primarily to reduce bruising of the sole of the hoof when being ridden over stony or uneven ground. These materials become compressed fairly quickly and therefore only provide a minimal level of protection. In cases of acute laminitis where the patient is on stall rest, Styrofoam pads are often applied to allow relief.

Other newer pads are made with high-tech materials and designs and can be useful in a wider variety of situations. Some are soft gels that can absorb shock, some are a honeycomb design that will “bounce back” after being compressed, and some can be trimmed and fitted to help correct foot deformities.

Miller stressed that when pads are used, some kind of packing is also a good idea. “I always recommend some type of hoof packing under the pad. With a leather or rubber-type pad it is important to keep material from getting underneath that you don’t want – such as stones or sand. You need to remember that when that foot lands, anything inside the pads will have an effect on the distribution of weight across the foot.” Packing can help balance that out.

Pour-in pads: Also called instant pads, pour-in pads are another innovation that can solve the problem of small stones or other material getting between the pad and the sole of the horse’s foot. These are products that start out as a thick liquid and can be poured or spread on the sole of the hoof. They quickly solidify once in place, after which the material can be trimmed as necessary.

Packing: Packing materials are generally thick quick-drying pastes made of liquid urethane or silicone applied to the bottom of the hoof. While these mixtures are valuable to use in conjunction with pads, some are also designed to be used alone or with a simple wrap to help keep the packing in place. Some packing materials contain medications that can treat thrush, promote healing, or relieve pain.

Addressing a Need

One company established more than 20 years ago to address some of the hoof problems veterinarians and farriers were finding challenging is at the forefront of innovative hoof care solutions. Vettec products, used to prevent contracted heels, encourage faster, thicker hoof wall and sole growth, take the pressure off wall cracks, seal out moisture and debris, and provide relief for laminitic horses, have shown another interesting benefit. Kris Kibbey, northeast regional sales manager, said that used in conjunction with shoeing, the products tend to stabilize the shoes, minimizing enlargement of nail holes and reducing wear, which allows for multiple resets.

While most Vettec products are used on equine athletes, Kibbey recalled a recent situation that involved a late-term broodmare that had a specialized pad applied to her feet to help prevent stone bruising and for extra support. Pregnant mares, he pointed out, are almost always left unshod because they are not as active during pregnancy, but some can benefit from pads to help them be more comfortable.

Kibbey added that typically, owners buy pads and packing materials on the advice of their farrier or vet. “Depending on the product, most are best applied at the time of shoeing. They are recommended to solve a specific problem with the foot, or simply provide comfort for the horse.” Online tutorials help owners or farriers learn how to apply the materials properly.

Research and testing is a priority for the company. “An example of this is our latest product, a battery-powered dispensing gun which simplifies the process of getting the pad material into the hoof. We spent several years developing and testing the battery gun internally. To validate its quality and effectiveness, we had a group of farriers that have been using our products for years test it. After about two years, we finally released it to market.”

Miller added that pads and packing materials can have a downside and need to be carefully monitored in consultation with a veterinarian or farrier. “Almost all of the problems that I’ve had with pads or packing were due to them being left on too long, or weight-bearing distribution problems. When stuff gets stuck under a pad it can be bad news. When the pad is left on too long and the foot can’t breathe or is growing excessively out of balance, that’s also bad news. With horses with a damaged foot you may need to tighten the shoeing schedule, maybe checking the hoof every three or four weeks to keep the hoof balanced.”

Pads and packing materials need to be carefully monitored: “When stuff gets stuck under a pad it can be bad news.”