Horse Care Philosophy
The horses comfort, welfare and mental well being are my main concern. I do not agree with allowing a grace period of pain while transitioning from shoes and with current products available like hoof boots it is possible. Horses have evolved over thousands of years, adapting to almost every land surface without human aid.
Horses were used for work and pleasure by man for thousands of years prior to the invention of horse shoes. Some of the oldest writings about the care of hooves are found in the works of Xenophon, a fourth century BC Greek cavalry commander, who wrote “naturally sound hooves get spoiled by most stalls,” and included the instruction that their hooves should be toughened by putting a cobblestone area in their paddock, (a practice still in use today). The Ancient Greeks did not shoe their horses and Xenophon wrote of measures to strengthen horses’ feet in his classic work on horsemanship. Many vets like Dr Teskey, Dr. Rooney and Dr Strsser have done years of research into the advantages of keeping horses barefoot
How can we encourage healthy hooves?
- Pick out the hooves daily, get to know your horses hooves-take measurements and check the over all health. This is key to keeping out rocks, thrush and spotting any issues early.
- Cutting alone cannot create a healthy hoof, it must grow with constant movement on supportive varied footing. Hoof growth is measured in miles not days, so stall rest and small paddocks will only add time onto the healing process.
- Standing on soiled shavings for even a short time will have a rotting effect on hooves. 24/7 turn out with a shelter in a paddock paradise system is the most ideal but limiting your horses stall time where you can is always a good start. We often forget that a horse only sleeps 2-4 hours a day in short naps. The theory of sleeping inside seems normal to us when in truth, that nightly stabled horse will be bored, hungry and alone a majority of the time.
- Reducing the sugar and carbohydrates in a horses diet will improve the health of horses hooves greatly. Diet is just as important as a good trim if not more so.
- Movement and exercise are also key to healthy hooves. The old term “you will loose it, if you do not use it” applies to hooves as well. Hoof wear promotes growth and if the hooves are barefoot, the wear patter will tell a lot about how the horse is moving.
The greatest concept that horse owners need to believe with hoof care is that the hoof wall was never intended to bear the horses’ weight alone with a metal ring around it. The sole, frog and bars must work in unison with the entire hoof to support the impact force of the horse. Further, a horses’ lifestyle, feeding and movement will have a huge impact to the health of the horses hooves and should be assessed with every hoof trimming.
A horses’ hoof is supposed to flex with every step
The act of flexing is the most important thing a horse can do to promote strong, healthy hooves. The flexing provides shock absorption for the joints, tendons and ligaments in the leg and shoulder. The horses hoof acts as a circulatory pump for hundreds of blood vessels in the hoof mechanism and helps the heart get that blood flowing back up the leg.
- The hoof and legs will not have good circulation. The horses hooves will not be healthy and the heart will have to work harder to get the blood back up the legs.
- There will be no shock absorption with a metal shoe nailed to the hoof; no flexing can occur.
- Plastic shoes that flex still have the problem of nail holes and damage which can cause moisture problems and infections to the hoof.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, these two highspeed video recordings (troting shood horse hoof and troting barefoot horse) of hoofs on pavement should speak volumes about the impact shoes can have on horse the lower regions of a horses’ anatomy.
The pitfall of traditional shoeing
Horse shoe nails – no matter how fancy or well hammered in- are being driven into the intricate-microfibers of the hoof. They invite fungus, cold and disease into the hoof. They break and crack the hoof wall, so why do we still think shoes protect the hoof?
Form versus Function
Is it ‘prettier’ to trim the entire foot down to slick, shiny new material? Yes, until you watch the horse move! ouch ouch ouch. A horse requires a thick toe callus and sole under the coffin bone. Barefoot horses that move correctly tend to callus their own soles uniformly in a 1/2″ to 5/8″ thickness. This callus should never be molested with tools. Farriers often mimic or cut out the natural concave on flat, already too thin soles. If left alone, the horse will naturally grow the concave shape that is perfect for their own foot.
What is a healthy hoof stride?
Quite simply, it is a stride which allows the horse to move freely without pain while using all of his energy. The slightest pain in the hoof will cause pain from the hips through the spine and down the neck. A balanced stride could be broken-down as follows:
- The frog should start to impact the terrain first, absorbing some energy as it compresses.
- The heel buttresses and bars should start to hit the ground, transferring more of the impact energy directly into the flexible lateral cartilages.
- When the sole is starting to transfer impact energy into the coffin bone, most of the impact energy has already been absorbed. More energy is dissipated as the coffin bone loads and compresses the cushion of blood underneath. Less stress on the coffin bone can’t be bad in any case!
- By the time the toe walls are finally engaged, most of the impact energy has already been dissipated. Indeed when a healthy hoof hits the ground heel-first, there is comparably little energy or vibration left to be absorbed by the rest of the limb and body.
Horseshoes Impair Hoof Mechanism & the Circulatory Pump in the Foot
The feet of every equine are miniature blood pumps aiding the heart’s circulation through the establishment of Hoof Mechanism. Hoof Mechanism is the cyclical process of a weight bearing foot descending (on a hoof that is properly trimmed enough to leave concavity in the solar region of the foot), so that the sole flattens out as the hoof walls expand. This allows the coffin bone to descend and the solar corium to fill with blood. The blood is then expressed upwards when the foot is not weight bearing. Horseshoes inhibit–even prevent this process from occurring naturally in the foot. The result is poor hoof growth, no feeling and cold feet.
To me, the integrity of the white line is key to a healthy hoof. The white line is essentially the “glue” that holds the hoof wall to the coffin bone and it holds everything together inside a horses hoof. The white line is actually a transparent color not white as the name suggests. Changes in the diet, including a sugar over load will cause the white line to stretch and weaken, often showing up as ripples down the hoof wall. Deterioration of the white line or white line disease (Fungal Onchonmycosis) seems to be fairly common in some domestic horses. The white line was never meant to be nailed into or exposed to the elements and I believe nailing into the white line to be very damaging. As you can see in this picture the nail goes up through the white line, only millimeters away from live tissue and the coffin bone (P3). This nail is only about 3/4 of an inch up the hoof wall, I have seen higher nails than this and can only imagine the view from inside (Ouch!) I have owned a horse that would not touch water with his hooves if he had shoes on and yet was fine trotting along the beach and in puddles barefoot. I think the nails were so close to live tissue that is cause a sensitivity to the cold water with shoes on. Just imagine the freezing cold of standing in snow or ice with nails inside your horses hooves.