Sunday, October 20, 2013

Rats in the Stable? Check the Horses' Hooves and Your Grandfather's Stable Manual

This is the time of year when some nonpaying and unwanted boarders start moving into stables. The evidence isn't always as obvious as on this mule's foot. (Kurt Fisk photo)

There's a Spanish legend that tells us Noah had no intention of letting rats or mice onto the Ark. It was all a Devil's trick. He found a way to sneak them on board so they'd eat all the foodstores and gnaw the boat's frame so it would leak. The dogs and cats and owls soon caught on and, to this day, hunt rats and mice with a vengeance.

This is the time of year when you will start seeing rats and mice around manure piles. Mouse droppings start showing up on kitchen counters. They recommend fall cleaning for a reason, and it's to make the Ark--and our homes, barns, trucks and offices--as inhospitable as possible when mice and rats go looking for indoor winter homes.

But it is also yet another reason why horse owners and grooms need to pick up every foot of every horse on a regular basis and check it for damage. Yes, mouse and rat damage.

Nothing shows this better than this photo from New York farrier Kurt Fisk, taken at the home of one of his clients.

The area in the red circle shows fresh teeth marks on the edge of the hoof wall. 
"It is a old blind mule. She lives in a run-in shed," Kurt said. "The owner had never seen it before, and it was in both hind feet." Kurt is a farrier near Ithaca, New York.

"She does lay down a fair amount," he added. "I didn't notice any marks on the hoof wall."

If all the dogs on the farm will line up for hoof trimmings on farrier day, is it any wonder that the mice and rats and perhaps even bats would consider a hoof a tasty treat?

This article is from South Africa in 1900.
Reading old stable manuals tells us that this was a common problem. In fact, the hooves were often devoured until they bled, and some night-time visitors gnawed on the coronet, while others preferred the frog or hoof wall.

Some say that the horses who laid down at night suffered the worst. Others say that horses who cock a hoof to rest a leg are asking for trouble. Since the edges of the hoof no nerve endings, a rat can have a good gnaw and the horse would never know.

It's impossible to tell what happened to the mule in New York, but a quick check of web forums like and showed inquiries from horse owners about hoof damage suspected to be from rats.

Another legend is the one about elephants being afraid of mice. It sounds silly, doesn't it? But sources going all the way back to the Greeks believed that elephants feared mice and rats because they somehow knew that they ate away at their feet during the night and made them lame.

In the old stable manuals, the problem with rats in stalls at night was documented by the military in the desert and it was a common complaint in the big commercial stables in the city.

The danger of rats getting into barns is always made worse by floods or heavy rain. (Stuart Shone photo)

Historically speaking, shoes don't seem to have been any deterrent to hungry mice and rats. They must have gone from stall to stall in military and commercial barns until they found horses that slept lying down flat on their sides, or standing up with a cocked hoof. These are the horses whose frogs suffered.

Damage to the hoof or coronet from rodents seems to have fallen from the content of veterinary textbooks but it is something to keep in mind if strange marks start showing up. Look for tiny footprints, droppings, and tunnels and, if you think you have rats, declare war.

But first take some photos and send them to The Hoof Blog. Thanks.

To learn more:
Typical horseowner's inquiry about hoof damage from rats
Interesting thread on hoof-chewing mice and rats and vampire bats (
Are elephants really afraid of mice?
The Complete Herbal Handbook for Farm and Stable by Juliette de Baïracli Levy (1952 and newer editions) has an interesting chapter on rat damage to farm animals

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