Published on
Last updated on
5 min read

Key takeaways

Hoof cracks are common in horses, and sand cracks (cracks involving the coronary band and extending downward) are the most common type, as well as one of the most severe.

  • Cracks in the hoof wall can be a simple aesthetic flaw or a serious condition that can even lead to permanent lameness
  • Sand cracks are associated with many factors including genetics, injury, repeated trauma, poor care, and inadequate shoeing
  • Clinical signs vary depending mostly on the depth of the crack Other than the crack itself, other symptoms might include lameness, pain, and exercise intolerance
  • Diagnostics involve a physical evaluation with an in-depth examination of the hoof crack, a lameness examination, and X-rays of the hoof
  • Treatment typically involves the removal of dead tissue, treatment for any possible infection, stabilization of the crack, and supportive therapy
Are you concerned?

Connect with a vet to get more information about your pet’s health.

Book an online vet

A closer look: Sand Cracks in Horses

Most hoof cracks are superficial and are not cause for serious concern.In some cases, cracks can penetrate to deeper structures and be more serious than they appear. In the worst cases, cracks can lead to lameness, infection, and long recovery time.

Cause for mild concern are cracks that start at the bottom of the hoof and extend to the sole, or long vertical cracks. Cracks that appear to get wider with each step are more worrisome and are cause for immediate specialist care.

Risk factors

The severity of the crack varies mostly according to its depth. It is not always easy to distinguish between a minor crack and something that can become more serious over time. It is suggested to monitor the crack and consult with a ferrier and/or a veterinarian prior to worsening of symptoms.

Cracks that appear to get wider with each step are the most worrisome and are cause for immediate specialist care.

Possible causes

Hoof cracks are most often related to poor hoof conformation or a thin hoof wall, in which genetics plays a role.

Common causes include:

  • Poor hoof conformation, leading to improper distribution of force on the hoof wall
  • External trauma
  • Repeated concussion (such as stomping or galloping on hard ground)

Various crack types can occur:

Grass cracks: Mostly superficial and thin. They start from the ground and move upward. These cracks can result from many factors such as poor ground conditions, improper nutrition, or lack of exercise.

Sand cracks: Similar to grass cracks but start from the coronary band and move downward.

Heel cracks: Develop on the heel and are usually very painful. They are mostly caused by short shoeing.

Bar cracks: Appear on the inward folds of the hoof wall and can also be very painful. They are usually due to trauma.

Toe cracks: Usually caused by an overload of pressure on the toe or repeated toe concussion. These can also occur secondary to heel pain (or heel and bar cracks) as horses redistribute their weight to the toe of the hoof.

Quarter cracks: Usually the most problematic. These are associated with genetic conformation defects, leading to uneven foot landing. They can also be a symptom of neglect, poor care, imbalance, or bone defects. This type of crack usually bleeds, can become infected, and causes extreme pain. Similar to sand cracks, they also appear near the coronary band and extend downward.

Main symptoms

The main symptom is a crack somewhere within the hoof wall.

Testing and diagnosis

Hoof cracks are self-evident, so diagnostics involve mainly a study of the injury to determine its severity and depth.

Other tests include a physical examination, a lameness examination, and potentially X-rays of the foot to determine the extent of the damage.

Steps to Recovery

Treatment depends on the severity and location of the crack and usually involves the removal of damaged tissue and treatment for any infection that might be present.

Stabilizing the crack can be done through:

  • Placing a nail
  • Patching the crack
  • Using wires
  • Clamping

Supportive therapy is often needed as well, and includes the use of special supportive shoes and stall rest or reduced work until the crack has stabilized, which can last up to months.

The prognosis varies according to the type of crack. When treated correctly the risk of long-term repercussions is minimal. Most horses are able to return to regular performance activities following treatment and healing.


The condition is not contagious.

Proper shoeing, trimming, and exercise regimen can help prevent some types of cracks from developing.

Are Sand Cracks in Horses common?

Hoof cracks are common in horses.

Typical Treatment

  • Treatment for any possible infection
  • Stabilizing the crack through wires, clamping, nails, or patching
  • Removal of dead tissue
  • Supportive therapy (supportive shoeing and rest)


Steve Sermersheim, CJF, AWCF, APF - Writing for The Horse
Stephanie Ruff, MS - Writing for The Horse
Les Sellnow - Writing for The Horse
No Author - Writing for VCA Animal Hospitals
Heather Smith Thomas - Writing for EQUUS Magazine
Christine Barakat with Melinda Freckleton, DVM - Writing for EQUUS Magazine
G. Kent Carter, DVM, MS; and Jason Maki, Dipl WCF, CJF - Writing for American Association of Equine Practitioners

Our editorial committee

Our medical review team is responsible for validating and maintaining the quality of our medical information.