Subtitle: You CAN have high perfomance bare hooves with just a field and stable!
There seems to be a rather pervasive urban myth about at the moment, an assumption that in order to have really high performance hooves you need to have a track system/paddock paradise and loads of pea gravel
I've heard it on the UKNHCP forum, and its also a common belief among owners who send their horses here for rehab - they seem to think that unless they have tracks laid out their horses' feet will fall apart once they go home...!
I thought it was worthwhile setting out the reality
You need pea gravel
Nope. Its a comfortable (because conformable!) surface, particularly for horses with very compromised feet, which is why I have some at Rockley.
I have it for the rehab horses, because they have to be able to move happily and most have long term lameness when they arrive.
Pea gravel also helps stimulate the whole hoof, and if horses are here for rehab we need them to improve and grow better feet as fast as possible because we normally only have 8-12 weeks to turn them around.
If you have a lame horse with weak frogs, contracted heels or a thin sole then pea gravel is a big help, but horses with healthy feet don't need it.
You need a track system
Nope. Hooves are healthiest when they do lots of work, so a track is a good way of getting more movement, but if you ride your horse regularly on different surfaces, that will do the job for you.
If you have an insulin resistant horse or really lethally rich grass, then a grass-free track can be a big help in spring and summer, but its not a necessity for most horses.
For most horses, you can get very healthy hooves if you limit grass intake in spring and summer by keeping them in during the day with hay or haylage and give them enough exercise by regular ridden work.
Most of my owners don't have tracks or pea gravel. Generally, they keep their horses in during the day and out at night in spring and summer to limit grass intake or they may make an electric tape track round their field .
My own horses here have rock-crunching hooves but they don't need the track to keep them that way - good job really, as the rehab horses get first choice of the pea gravel and tracks!
The most important things for my own horses are:
- being off the grass during the day (in a box, field shelter or barn, they don't mind);
- having a mineral rich, low sugar diet; and
- doing miles of work.
None of this is particularly expensive, and its certainly not rocket science, but its not always the easiest option, I agree :-)