Qtr. Crack

American Farrier's Journal | 2006

Q. Dear Bob, I had a horse in training for the past 4 mos. I picked him up over the weekend and to my surprise he had a pretty big quarter crack, and was pretty lame on that front foot. The vet told me that it looked as if someone had tried to dig it out. I was also told that it would take 6 weeks of stall rest for him to be put back into training. He will certainly not be going back to that trainer. Do you have any recommendations for treating a bad quarter crack? I haven't seen it yet or I would tell you a bit more about it and how large it is.

Thank you,
Kathy Gregorich

A. Hi Kathy, Hoof cracks have been a plague for horses (actually all hoofed animals) for as long as there have been hoofed animals. Nature has usually resolved the problem by providing a slow moving meal for a predator.

In the modern, domestic horse there are a lot of unnatural but highly effective methods for treating quarter cracks. Synthetic materials like polyurethane's and acrylics have been developed to help stabilize the hoof, relieve pain, get the horse back into training, and with proper shoeing prevent reoccurrence.

The horse's hoof is a dynamic structure. When the hoof is subjected to weight bearing the horn tubules will compress, the sole will drop and the heels expand. When the wall cracks the sensitive laminae become pinched between the two opposing sections of hoof during the expansion/contraction phase of weight bearing. This pinching causes pain.

The first thing you need to do is to determine what type of quarter crack is in your horse's foot. Did the crack originate from the ground surface? Did it originate from the coronary band down? Did it originate from a damaged coronary band.

Cracks that originate from the ground surface up are called sand cracks. Sand cracks are usually found on barefoot horses. If these cracks continue to grow they will eventually work their way to the coronary band. At this point lameness may occur.

A horse with a sand crack in his hoof should have shoes applied. The horseshoe will take the stress of the two opposing surfaces. The top of the crack may be "branded" with a small semi-circle iron used by your farrier. If desired by the owner the farrier should debride the crack of all loose and damaged hoof. The crack should be filled with either an acrylic or polyurethane product.

The hoof will grow approximately 1/4" to 3/8" per month. The crack will eventually grow out and be trimmed off by your farrier.

If the crack originates at the coronary band then you must determine if it is from a coronary band injury or from unequal weight bearing. If a coronary band is surgically severed and then surgically reunited there will still be scar tissue in the hoof. Sometimes this is nothing more than a permanent line from the coronary band to the ground surface. Other times it is a full-blown crack that is wide, separated and causing pain.

With injury to the coronary band the hoof wall has lost its integrity in that area and nothing can be done to make the hoof normal. As in a sand crack the horse needs to wear shoes. The crack can be stabilized with acrylic or polyurethane products. However, a crack that is formed by an injured coronary band will not grow out. The scar will remain and only good shoeing and maintenance will keep the crack from creating a lameness.

If the quarter crack originates from the coronary band down, without the damaged coronary band described in the previous paragraph, then there can be several causes.

The crack can be created by abnormal weight bearing due to a conformation defect. Bench knees, for instance, loads the inside of the hoof and can cause quarter cracks.

The crack can be created by extreme stress placed upon the foot because of the ridding discipline. Race horses get quarter cracks quite often. Reining horses can get quarter cracks.

The crack can be created by the type of shoeing required for the riding discipline. English Pleasure requires a 4 inch toe with pads and toe- weighted shoes. This type of shoeing places lots of stress on the foot.

Poor shoeing can create quarter cracks. Low heel/long toe and a variety of out of balance trims can put stress on the hoof.

These types of cracks can be stabilized with proper shoeing and the application of synthetic adhesive materials. The crack will be checked for signs of infection, which could delay the repair process. The crack will be cleaned and all damaged hoof removed. There are a variety of methods used to stabilize a quarter cracks so they can heal. Your farrier will have the one that works best for him.

A good farrier should be able to get you back in the saddle within a week or so after repairing the crack. Remember that the crack can reappear if the cause of the crack is not treated as well. Cracks caused by conformation defects may require a lifetime of therapeutic shoeing for your horse.