Lainey Ashker’s Winning Recipe for Hoof Health

The eventer shares her secrets for healthy, happy feet to keep her horses performing at the top of their game.

Five-star eventer and dressage pro Lainey Ashker whole heartedly believes in the “no-hoof, no-horse” philosophy. The horsewoman, who trains out of her Keystone Acres farm in Chesterfield, Virginia, says keeping her equine athletes’ hooves in peak condition is paramount to their health, longevity and success in the sport of eventing.

Here, she discusses her daily hoof-care routine and the importance of regular farrier attention and proper nutrition for healthy hooves. Ashker also shares how she utilizes hoof packing to provide her horses’ feet with extra support during times of stress as well as a few savvy hoof-care tips she’s picked up over the course of her extensive career.

When it comes to hoof health, the old adage, “no hoof, no horse” rings true for five-star eventer Lainey Ashker. The veteran horsewoman shares her secrets for keeping her horses’ feet in peak condition. ©Adobe iStock/WH_Pics

Hoof Health: The Daily Drill

As simple is it sounds, the first key to caring for my horses’ feet is to pick them every day whether I ride or not. For horses on turnout, you never know what they might get caught in their feet. I’ve found that bar shoes, especially those with wide bars, tend to collect rocks, dirt and other debris that isn’t always obvious at first glance but could lead to potential bruising or chafing. Cleaning out their feet every day also gives me an opportunity to check for loose shoes, thrush, cracks or any other health issues that might be going on with their hooves.

In addition to daily care, my horses always receive routine farrier care. This includes regular trimming about every four to eight weeks, depending on the individual horse’s needs. Trimming is crucial for removing excess growth, correcting uneven wear and tear and preventing cracking and chipping.

Healthy, strong hooves are imperative for high-impact sports like eventing. To keep her horses’ feet happy, Ashker maintains a diligent daily hoof-care routine. © Amy K. Dragoo

I also ensure my horses are on a quality, complete diet with balanced proportions of protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. If they’re lacking in any key vitamins or minerals crucial to hoof health, their feet will likely be compromised in some way. Biotin, amino acids, copper and zinc, for example, are all key nutrients for hoof health and growth.

If I suspect any of my horses aren’t getting adequate nutrients for hoof health from their grain alone, I might provide them with a supplement containing those specific ingredients. But there is no one-size-fits-all supplement plan for horses. So, it’s always a good idea to consult with your veterinarian or an equine nutritionist.

Climate Control

Smart management is also crucial to hoof health, and unfortunately, can largely depend on the climate in your area. A healthy hoof is dry and hard without being brittle. It should be pliable enough to expand and contract. This provides the more sensitive hoof tissues with protection from the environment.

While hoof conditioners can be extremely beneficial for dried-out hooves that are cracked and brittle, overuse of conditioner can result in a hoof that’s too soft and moist. And the wetter the hoof, the more susceptible it is to a host of issues. One of the worst things for hoof health is constantly changing from wet, muddy conditions to hot and dry conditions.

The Power of Packing

Similar to the strain my horses’ tendons, ligaments and joints undergo during high-impact sports like cross country and show jumping, their hooves also experience stress. After a strenuous jumping or cross-country workout, I always ice my horses’ legs. This helps their joints, tendons and ligaments recover. But, over the years, I’ve also added hoof packing to their daily care routine.

There are different types of hoof packing containing a variety of ingredients, depending on my horses’ specific needs. Some packing can help harden soft hooves; others work to ward off bacteria. I personally love Magic Cushion’s packing formula. It provides an analgesic effect to ease soreness in the frogs and soles. Plus, it can help balance moisture in the hooves.

I find it especially helpful as a precaution when the footing is a little firm or dry. Packing has also proven helpful for maintaining long-term soundness for many of my performance horses.

Hoof Packing 101

Here are Absorbine’s directions for the most effective way to pack your horse’s feet with Magic Cushion, whether they’re shod or unshod:

Packing a Hoof:

  • Ensure your horse’s feet are clean and dry; packing products will not be fully effective on wet or damp hooves.
  • Magic Cushion has thick, sticky viscosity, so wear rubber gloves to apply it to avoid making a mess.
  • Depending on the size of your horse’s hoof, soften a small amount of the product (about the size of a golf ball) with your hands and roll it over the bottom of your horse’s hoof.
  • Pack and spread the product over both the frog and sole, so it’s about a ½-inch thick.

Light Effect, Shod:

  • If your horse is shod, allow him to put his foot down directly on shavings or dirt to coat and secure the packing material.
  • The product will be effective for 12 hours and will generally wear off from 12 to 48 hours.

Strong Effect Shod or Unshod:

  • Cut piece an impermeable plastic layer, such as a feed bag or plastic wrap, to match the approximate size of your horse’s hoof.
  • Pack the hoof as directed above.
  • Place the impermeable plastic layer over the packing material.
  • Wrap with layers of gauze if your horse’s feet are very sore.
  • Wrap with vet wrap or duct tape for additional durability.
  • The product will be effective for up to 24 hours.
  • Clean out and repeat with fresh packing as needed.
After a strenuous jumping session or competition, Ashker packs her horses’ hooves to alleviate frog and sole soreness and to maintain long-term soundness. Courtesy, Absorbine

Hoof packing material’s thick viscosity is key to its effectiveness. But it can also result in the product seeping onto the heel bulb and hair near the fetlock. That can be both annoying and time-consuming to clean off—and to be honest, just isn’t fun for anyone. To combat this, I simply coat my horses’ heel bulbs with Vaseline. It acts as a protective barrier and prevents the packing material from sticking to the heel and fetlock areas.

Hoof Health: Final Word

While these tips have worked well for me over the years, they might not be right for every horse in every situation. So, it’s always wise to consult with your veterinarian to determine the right course of action for your horse’s specific needs.

Hoof packing, especially, can be beneficial for most horses. Eventers, show jumpers, endurance and extreme trail riders, reiners, and equestrians in other high-impact disciplines often pack their horses’ hooves to relieve soreness and improve performance over hard ground, rough terrain or any less-than-ideal arena footing. It can even benefit horses who don’t participate in demanding sports.

If, however, your horse shows signs of lameness or chronic soreness—or his feet seem tender after every ride—it could be a potential warning sign that something else is going on. In this case, I always recommend consulting your veterinarian, farrier, and if necessary, a lameness expert to rule out any underlying conditions. This has always proven to keep my horses healthy, happy and able to perform at the top of their game.

Learn More About Hoof Health & Packing

  • For additional tips on hoof packing, click here.
  • Learn more about how moisture can affect your horses’ hooves here.
  • For more advice on keeping your horse’s feet healthy and strong, click here.
Lainey Ashker’s Top Tips for a Shiny, Healthy Coat
White horse eye
3 EIA Cases Confirmed in Texas
Horse on meadow
Quebec Horse Tests Positive for WNV
Brown horse head of bay mare with water dripping from face, anim
Michigan Mare Tests Positive for Strangles