Good Magic's victory in the Blue Grass Stakes was his first since the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in November

All Good With the Champ After Blue Grass Stakes Win

Champion Good Magic and his caretakers were in good order April 8, one day after his vindicating, 1 1/2-length victory in the $1 million Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2) at Keeneland.

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The Trouble With Mud

When the going gets muddy, the muddy get hoof problems. Here’s what to watch for in your horses.



When the going gets muddy, the muddy get hoof problems; here’s what to look out for.

Horses’ hooves are finicky when it comes to moisture. In arid environments they tend to dry out, and in wet conditions they become too soft. If you had to choose between the two, however, dry would probably be the winner.

Continuous exposure to moisture can cause a long list of hoof problems, ranging from difficult-to-manage soft, sensitive feet that won’t hold their shape or nails, to various types of damage and infections in the capsule and its structures. Then there are the injuries due to slipping and scrambling in deep mud or bad footing, lost bell boots, and pulled-off shoes. In short, keeping horses’ feet sound and healthy can be a difficult challenge when weather is wet and footing precarious.

Moisture’s Effect on Hoof Structure

Simply put, “feet tend to lose their shape when they are constantly wet,” says Paul Goodness, senior member of a group farriery practice based in Round Hill, Virginia. “They become flatter and wider, which may be nature’s way of giving them more surface to not sink so deeply in the mud.”

Survival tactics aside, the hoof’s horny tissues—frog, sole, bars, and walls—do this because the moisture makes them more deformable under normal weight-bearing pressures. And when the outer structures start to fail, the inner structures become overloaded and vulnerable to pressure as well, says Steve Norman, a Midway, Kentucky, farrier who shoes many of America’s top Thoroughbred racehorses.

Norman started out shoeing horses in the arid American West. “When I came to Kentucky, the horses’ feet were so soft and waterlogged I could practically push the hoof wall around with my thumb,” he explains. “Horn tubules can become so saturated that the foot starts to collapse,” the sole starts to drop, and then the characteristic foot flare and flattening occurs.

When trimming and shoeing horses in these conditions, Goodness says he prefers to apply shoes to protect the foot so the animal is comfortable on all types of terrain and doesn’t become sore, as well as to help minimize this distortion, flaring, and spreading. “Some farriers may even add a heart bar or some other type of support to help hold the foot together, but you have to be careful when it’s muddy; you don’t want the shoe to be sucked off because there is too much added to it,” he adds.  

Mud-Related Issues

Horses evolved on prairies; their feet are healthiest when kept away from wet conditions. “Nature designed them for a dry climate, just like she designed them to be moving and grazing all day,” says Julie Bullock, DVM, an equine practitioner and farrier based in Mt. Sidney, Virginia.

Continually wet feet are more vulnerable to issues such as thrush, canker, abscesses, and white line disease. “In our area, frogs tend to recede and almost become atrophied,” says Goodness. “You’d think the constant contact with and support from the ground in soft conditions would aid the frog, but the opposite seems to happen. I think the constantly wet frog becomes more susceptible to pathogens.”

Our sources list some of the conditions and issues commonly seen in mud- and moisture-laden hooves:

Sole bruising Persistent water and mud exposure can make hooves more susceptible to sole bruising—even from small stones—and Goodness says barefoot horses in particular might become tenderfooted.

Thrush This anaerobic (able to survive with little to no oxygen) bacterial disease affects the frog and surrounding sensitive tissues, can be painful for horses, and difficult to clear up if feet are constantly wet, Goodness says.

White line disease The anaerobic bacteria or fungi that cause this condition can creep into and infect the inner nonpigmented space within the hoof wall, particularly with constant mud exposure, notes Goodness. “Someone mapped out the incidence of white line disease and it was clearly more prevalent in humid regions,” he says.  

Abscesses These localized accumulations of pus within the horse’s hoof are common in soft, permeable feet; sand or small bits of gravel and debris can penetrate the sole or the white line. “Flares create separation; foreign material gets pressed up in there and may create an abscess,” Goodness explains. “This past year we’ve treated more abscesses than ever because the first half of the year was wetter than we’ve seen for a long time.”

Scratches This lower limb issue, also known as pastern dermatitis, dew poisoning, or greasy heel, involves painful inflammation and lesions around pasterns that are exposed to moisture and mud. “There are several dermatological conditions that may appear (scratches could be caused by a number of pathogens),” says Bullock. “For those you should call a veterinarian because the horse may need antibiotics, and in some instances might need systemic antibiotics versus something topical. The hair may need to be clipped away and the lower limbs scrubbed and then kept clean and dry.”  

Lost shoes Shoes can slip off if hoof walls are too soft to hold nails effectively. Says Mike Pownall, DVM, an equine veterinarian and farrier at McKee-Pownall Equine Services, in Campbellville, Ontario, Canada, mud is the bane of a farrier’s life. “It means shoes that suck off easier, especially if they have pads,” he says. “There is nothing more frustrating after you’ve done a beautiful shoeing job or patched a foot or made a special shoe for a certain condition, and then the horse is turned out in the mud and loses it.”  

If the shoe can’t be found, you then have the risk of that horse or another stepping or rolling on the mud-buried, nail-riddled piece of metal, potentially creating a puncture wound.  

“To help keep shoes on, I use clipped shoes,” says Bullock, which are those made with thin metal pieces that hug the hoof wall and help stabilize the nailed-on shoe. “I ride endurance horses and fox-hunting horses and always shoe them with clips.”

Injury Risk

Along with fostering an environment amenable to hoof-harming pathogens, muddy terrain can also cause horses to slip, slide, and injure themselves. Horses in slick footing might scramble to keep their balance, making them more apt to hit themselves or step on one shoe with another foot and jerk it off.

“If footing is slippery horses take shorter strides and tense up and try not to fall down,” Goodness says. “In the mud we fit shoes a little shorter and tighter (with less sticking out at the heel and quarters) to keep them on. This works great in the mud, but it may not be so good when you take the horses out on the trail or work in dry conditions with the shoes a little too small and too tight.”  

Herein lies one of a farrier’s challenges when trying to shoe horses in muddy conditions: Keeping heels healthy with shoe support and striking a balance between concussion and hoof expansion. “A farrier tries to do something in the middle—to keep shoes on in the mud and still reduce concussion problems,” Goodness says.

The muddy season introduces yet another factor: Goodness sees more coffin bone fractures during this time. “I think the feet sink deeper into the mud, and if they hit a rock down there they may be at risk for fracture,” he explains.

Preventing Problems

Suppose your horse’s paddock is a perpetual boggy mess and you’ve grown accustomed (albeit begrudgingly) to sacrificing Wellies to it daily. All is not lost: If your horse’s paddock is completely mud-filled, you can create a mound using rocks, gravel, or solid footing where he can get out of the muck, Pownall suggests.

“You just have to be careful if you have a lot of rocks (for footing) to make sure they don’t get caught in a shoe,” he says, and remember there’s always the risk of bruising on sharp rocks.

Some people scatter shavings in muddy paddocks to help create dry areas. “This can be counterproductive if you use pine shavings and they get tromped into the mud and manure,” Bullock warns. “Pine is acidic, and along with manure and urine this makes a very acidic environment for the feet, which is hard on the hoof horn.”

For a more permanent solution to your mud problems, consider installing high-traffic area pads (typically made of geotextile fabric, crushed stone, and a dense grade aggregate) around gates or watering areas. These smooth, dry surfaces require some initial cost, but can provide years of mud relief in high-traffic areas (see for more info).

You can also prevent muddy-paddock casualties simply by monitoring your horse’s feet regularly. If you are checking feet you’ll know if they need attention and can address small problems before they become larger ones.

“Sometimes there is nothing you can do about the mud, and it may help to use a hoof dressing to seal out moisture,” says Pownall. “Moderate use of hoof dressings may be beneficial, such as once or twice a week. If you overdo it, however, the hoof starts to rely on the artificial protection and this may be counterproductive.”  

Also be wary of bringing your horse in and out of muddy environments frequently. “When the horse comes out of the mud—into a barn or pasture that’s not muddy—then the mud dries on the hoof,” says Pownall. “If it’s a clay-type mud, it draws moisture from the hoof wall and starts to dry out the foot. It’s better for horses to either stay in the mud or out of it, because when they go back and forth, back and forth it’s hard on feet.”  

That goes for wetness in general, as well. Think of what happens when you wash a bunch of horses in one afternoon and your hands are wet and dry repeatedly; the skin tends to chap and crack. Pownall believes this back-and-forth between wet and dry is the horse’s biggest challenge because it can create cracks in the hoof wall.

Take-Home Message

Keep a close watch on your horse’s feet this soggy, slick season as spring and summer rains shower. Employ regular farrier care and call your veterinarian at the first sign of a moisture-related problem brewing. A hoof-tissue-eating pathogen or strained ligament can quickly put a damper on your horse’s comfort and yo

About The Author


Heather Smith Thomas ranches with her husband near Salmon, Idaho, raising cattle and a few horses. She has a B.A. in English and history from University of Puget Sound (1966). She has raised and trained horses for 50 years, and has been writing freelance articles and books nearly that long, publishing 20 books and more than 9,000 articles for horse and livestock publications. Some of her books include Understanding Equine Hoof Care, The Horse Conformation Handbook, Care and Management of Horses, Storey’s Guide to Raising Horses and Storey’s Guide to Training Horses. Besides having her own blog,, she writes a biweekly blog at that comes out on Tuesdays.

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Justify, Bolt d’Oro and Midnight Bisou, arguably the leading three-year-olds in the land, will move their captivating acts to Kentucky next month where they will take center stage in the Kentucky Derby and the Kentucky Oaks.

“He looks good,” Bob Baffert said of Justify early Sunday morning, less than 24 hours after the chestnut son of Scat Daddy repulsed Bolt d’Oro in the Santa Anita Derby, winning by three lengths to remain unbeaten and stamp himself as the clear-cut favorite for the Kentucky Derby on May 5.

“The track was really deep and loose yesterday and I was worried about that because he could have gotten really tired, but he acted like he wasn’t, and he handled it well.

“He’s still learning how to run, still a little green. He was out there (on the lead) by himself, looking at everything, taking it all in, but I like the way he responded when Bolt made that run at him (in mid-stretch).

“Those two beat the rest of that field by a wide margin (9 ½ lengths back to Core Beliefs in third), so they’re serious horses. You just need racing luck (to win like that). You’ve got to have the racing luck.

“Justify and Bolt are the two best horses, and you have to give credit to Bolt. He doesn’t quit. He’s right there every time.”

Baffert, too savvy to contemplate notions this early of a Triple Crown sweep for Justify, even though it has already struck the mindset of some race trackers, pooh-poohed the thought.

“Oh, no,” he said. “That’s a long way off.”

Bolt d’Oro also came out of the race well, save for a minor cut, and will head to Churchill Downs for a rematch with Justify in the Run for the Roses.

“After the race there was a little blood by his front quarter on the right side,” owner/trainer Mick Ruis said. “We washed it off and checked it out. It was like getting a splinter. No flesh came off, nothing like that. It just opened up a bit and in three days you won’t even know it’s there.”

As for Midnight Bisou, the filly who made a Zenyatta-type move to win the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks by 3 ½ lengths, trainer Bill Spawr has her bound for the Blue Grass State and the Kentucky Oaks on May 4.

Midnight Bisou was eighth and next-to-last, more than 10 lengths behind at the half-mile mark in the mile and a sixteenth race before unleashing her overpowering run.

“She’s bright-eyed, cheery, happy and ate up all her food, so we’re happy,” said former jockey Jeff Bloom, part owner of the daughter of Midnight Lute. “It’s on to Kentucky. The flight is booked. Actually, the flight’s been booked, but now it’s really booked.

“She’s just such a wonderful filly to be around, but the way she won yesterday just gives you goose bumps. I’ve talked to so many horsemen who have been in this game a long time, and they said the same thing.

“They’re fans who saw what she did. It’s remarkable.” 


Jockey Jose Ferrer, a mainstay on the eastern seaboard dating back to 1982, will be at Santa Anita next Sunday, April 15, to receive the 2018 George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award in a Winner’s Circle ceremony between races.

Ferrer, 54, outpolled fellow riders Alex Birzer, Javier Castellano, Rodney Prescott and Joe Talamo in winning the 69th Woolf Award, which was instituted by Santa Anita in 1950 to honor riders whose careers and personal character bring credit not only to themselves, but to the sport of Thoroughbred racing.

Born March 31, 1964, Ferrer is a proponent of the power of positive thinking and views each day as a God-given opportunity to contribute to a sport that has provided him a magnificent career.

With more than 4,200 wins to his credit, Ferrer is currently based at Tampa Bay Downs. Second in the rider standings this past summer at Monmouth Park, Ferrer has rebounded from serious injuries sustained in a spill at Delaware Park last September.

The 2018 Woolf Award Trophy is a replica of the life-sized statue that adorns Santa Anita’s Paddock Gardens area. The Woolf Award memorializes one of the greatest “big money” riders of all time, George Woolf, who died the morning after a spill on Santa Anita’s Club House turn on Jan. 3, 1946. 


Move over Zenyatta, you have company!

On a day of tremendous winners, including Heck Yeah, Midnight Bisou and especially this year’s Kentucky Derby favorite, Justify, Millie Ball made history of her own, beating the boys in the Santa Anita Derby Day 5K yesterday.

The weather was perfect, the course was clear and Filly Millie was cruising, in a time of 23:06!  Maybe not exactly like Zenyatta in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic, but close, marking the first time a woman won the employees’ division in the 24 years of the race’s existence.

Millie was just as surprised as the rest of us, including her husband, Tim Yakteen, who trains his charges to run fast. Tim told me this morning she had nothing to do with it. Millie’s story was that she had to race right home to get ready to be on air on for what was a very busy rest of the day Derby Day.

As to the fittest department of all? Go with the Corp Yard employees, who know a thing or two about getting around the track.

Congratulations to all who participated; I will get medals to the top three male and female finishers.

Oh, and yeah, in case you were wondering, Rey Solis DID finish the race–Pete Siberell, Director of Community Services & Special Projects.


ARCADIA, Calif. (April 8, 2018)–An unsung hero in the Bob Baffert stable over six racing seasons, 7-year-old Hoppertunity made his 30th career start a virtual walk in Santa Anita Park as he took Sunday’s Grade III, $100,000 Tokyo City Cup by 6 ½ lengths.  Ridden by Flavien Prat, “Hop” negotiated a marathon mile and one half in 2:32.63.

With longshot Beaumarchais setting quick fractions for the distance, Hoppertunity pulled Prat into second position, three quarters of a length off the lead at the half mile pole and set sail for home heading into the far turn in a virtual cakewalk.

“I knew they were going pretty quick, but I just rode my race,” said Prat, who was aboard the full horse by Any Given Saturday for a fourth place finish going 1 1/16 miles in the Grade II San Antonio Stakes on Dec. 26.  “When we turned down the backside, he grabbed the bit and he wanted to go.  He’s a cool horse.  He can run any distance, he’s just a pro.”

Off at 1-5 in a field of six older horses, Hoppertunity, who is owned by Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, paid $2.40, $2.20 and $2.10.  In his first ever start at a mile and one half,  improved his overall mark to 30-8-7-5 and with the winner’s share of $60,000, increased his bankroll to $4,407,025.

“This horse really needed a win badly, he’s been going against all of these really tough horses the last couple of years,” said Baffert, in reference to the fact Hoppertunity had been winless in four starts since taking the Grade II San Antonio on Feb. 4, 2017.  “Sometimes, you do this, show them a win, and you can see a change.  I could see he was really enjoying himself…

“I’m not sure where we’ll go with him.  There’s the Gold Cup (Grade I, $500,000, mile and a quarter on May 26) and there’s a race on Belmont Day…so we’ll spot him and just have fun with him.  He is a barn favorite, everyone loves Hopper.  You can tell the crowd was getting into it.”

Last early, Twentytwentyvision checked in second, 5 ¼ lengths clear of Moonman.  Ridden by Tyler Baze, Twentytwentyvision was off at 7-1 and paid $3.80 and $2.60.

The longest shot in the field at 38-1 with Drayden Van Dyke, Moonman paid $5.40 to show.

Fractions on the race were 24.64, 48.77, 1:14.42, 1:40.77 and 2:06.78.

Racing resumes with a three-day week on Friday, with first post time at 12 noon.  For additional information, please visit