Spongy hoof is just the opposite of brittle, dry hoof complications. Spongy hoof occurs when the hoof is too moist, and the soft wall or horn of the hoof is easily damaged by normal activity. This is just as problematic for the horse as dry hoof and the inside, sensitive area of the hoof is more likely to be injured as well as nicks and gouges in the hoof wall allow fungus and bacteria to penetrate the hoof wall.
Many horses that have been bred in very wet climates as may be seen in some parts of Great Britain and on the coastal areas of the United States are more prone to problems with spongy hoof. When these horses are kept in the wet, soft environment their large, flatter hooves are an asset, but once moved to dry, abrasive type ground conditions the trouble begins.
Often the problems with spongy hoof will be noticed at the first trimming or farrier visit. The hoof, even of the foal, will be very soft and easily trimmed with a knife, not even requiring nippers. The hoof appears porous rather than solid, and the horn or hoof wall lacks the rigidity and strength needed to provide protection to the sole and frog. Often the hoof almost looks greasy or abnormally shiny in appearance and, depending on the conditions, may have signs of thrush. This can include a discharge from the frog, foul odor and degeneration of the frog. If these horses are ridden on roads, hard ground, gravel or even dry sand or pastures the hoof will wear away in a very short period of time resulting in lameness and hot, tender feet.
Spongy hoof can also be caused by stabling a horse on dirty or soiled bedding that traps the moisture from manure and urine. This type of spongy hoof is more problematic than the inherited kind as there is a greater likelihood of bacterial and fungal infections in these horrible conditions. Dry bedding and regular picking of the hoofs will prevent spongy hoof from becoming a serious condition in susceptible stabled horses.
Treatment for spongy hoof includes adding hoof supplements to the feed, many which are available commercially in feed stores. Addition of sealants to the feet in the form of paints and creams are also helpful, although overuse of these produces can actually increase the problem. Follow all directions carefully and do not combine products unless you have investigated any possible complications.
Corrective shoeing may be possible if the farrier is able to use clips rather than nails to hold the shoes in place. Usually the soft hoofs will simply allow the shoes to fall off, but they may be useful once the hoof wall is moderately firmed up. In cases where the spongy hoof is known in the breed, riding only on soft pastures or surfaces as well as careful monitoring of the hoofs with supplementation may be all that is possible in the way of management.