How to Toughen Your Horse’s Soft Soles

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Get Acquainted with the Benefits of Venetian Turpentine

by Eleanor Blazer


On the Adriatic Sea lies the city of Venice, Italy.  For centuries it has been a port through which exotic products such as silk, porcelain, spices, gems, wine and Venetian turpentine have been exported.  Yes, the honey colored, sticky substance that can be applied to horse’s hooves derives its name from Venice, Italy.

Venetian turpentine is made from the sap of the European larch tree (larix decidua), which is native to central Europe, the Alps, the Carpathians and Poland.  It has also been successfully cultivated in northern regions of North America. This turpentine is used on horses’ hooves to toughen the sole by creating a barrier to protect against moisture.

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Photo courtesy Eleanor Blazer

Soft soles are caused by too much moisture.  Horses standing in mud or wet stalls are prone to this condition.  Other causes are applying too much hoof conditioner, soaking hooves (to treat another condition, for example an abscess) and wearing pads.

In order to apply Venetian turpentine the sole must be clean. Start by using a hoof pick to remove the bulk of imbedded dirt.  Follow with a brush to remove the small particles left behind.  Spray a solution of 50% bleach and 50% water on the sole to kill bacteria. Without letting the hoof touch the ground, apply the turpentine to the sole with a hoof applicator brush or old toothbrush.  Many people will then apply a piece of heavy brown paper that is cut slightly bigger than the hoof directly to the sole.  This keeps dirt from sticking to the product, and will protect your mat or floor from getting too much of the sticky turpentine on it. The paper doesn’t stay on long, but will offer some protection. Continue to treat the soles daily until the horse is sound.  Each application will add to the previous layer until a substantial barrier is built up.

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Keep dirt from immediately sticking to the turpentine by covering the treated hoof with heavy paper. Photo courtesy Eleanor Blazer

Turpentine should not be applied to the frog, the bulbs of the hoof, to the coronet band or above it. The frog (the “v” shaped portion on the underside of a horse’s hoof) is designed to be dynamic.  It flexes as the hoof hits the ground, absorbing shock. The bulbs also are flexible and should not be hardened.

Venice turpentine is a counter-irritant.  Counter-irritants create inflammation on the skin surface in an effort to draw healing properties to underlying muscles or joints.  Avoid getting this product on and above the sensitive coronet band because this will cause discomfort and needless pain to the horse.

When shopping for pure Venice turpentine beware of imitation or artificial products.  Look for products that state they are 100% Venice turpentine. However, there are commercial products that may use a blend of Venice turpentine, iodine, acetone or other ingredients.  These products will also work toward hardening the sole.

While Venice turpentine will toughen your horse’s soles management is the key.  Mud and excessive moisture will lead to long-term problems that no exotic import from Italy will cure. The ground your horse is standing on all day long must be changed to create a healthier environment. Be sure to consult with your farrier and veterinarian for proper hoof care techniques.

For information about caring for and feeding horses take the online courses “Stable Management” and “Nutrition for Performance Horses” taught by Eleanor Blazer. Earn certification or work toward a Bachelor of Science degree in equine studies. Go to for more information.  Visit Eleanor’s web site at


Originally Published November 2014 Issue

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