The hoof tester(s) is a very practical gadget that allows us to examine the hoof for sensitivity and pain. Every smart horseman should have one of these in the barn and not just because it is very practical, but mainly because it can help to diagnose various forms of lameness associated with the hoof. In addition it will help to make proper decisions in what to do for the horse or whether or not to call the veterinarian. In the latter case the hoof testers can save you a lot of money, usually paying for them selves in the first use.
The hoof testers can help us diagnose the following problems: bruised sole, sore heels, evaluate foundered hoof, locate hoof abscess (not always conclusive), identify hot nail and in the case of navicular lameness. In the case of navicular, the hoof testers are not conclusive but can be helpful in the diagnosis, which will be discussed separately. Similarly in the case of deep abscess the horse may not respond to the hoof testers.
I prefer to hold the leg my self when using the hoof testers, because I can feel better the response of the horse to the pressure. However, if you are not familiar with how to use the hoof testers or how to hold the leg properly, it is best to have someone else hold the leg for you. Please, exercise caution as in some cases of severe pain, like for example in case of hot nail, the horse can respond by kicking or in the case of front legs by striking. When testing the front leg, especially on a young colt (yearling or two-year old male horse), the person holding the horse should stand well to the side, as these young boys have greater tendency to strike.
In less severe cases of pain it is best to use the hoof testers on the healthy hoof first (leg that is not lame) in order to feel the horse’s responsiveness to the pressure. Some horses will respond as if in pain just to the unfamiliar feeling of the hoof testers’ pressure. Once when the horse gets familiar with what we are doing, then we test the foot in question (sore leg). This will give us better idea about the horse’s response to the hoof testers, lest we misdiagnose the lameness.