Wednesday, 28 March 2012

One example of a healthy hoof

I grabbed some photos the other day of what I would describe as a truly healthy hoof.  This horse covers hundreds of miles over the toughest terrain and I honestly can't remember the last time he was trimmed, so I thought it might make for an interesting blog post.

For sure, the last time anyone took a rasp to this horse's hoof with the intention of doing more than rounding the edges was in 2004 - and that didn't last long as he was clearly even then more than capable of sorting out his own feet without human intervention!
His dorsal hoof wall has no deviations, ridges or angle changes but has not had a rasp anywhere near it for years.  Its not me that has rolled his toe - he does that himself.  I've never trimmed his heels, frog, sole or bars.  I actually don't touch his feet at all except to pick them out, and former students will vouch for the fact that all they've ever been allowed to do to his feet is the mildest possible mustang roll.  The last one of those was over 12 months ago :-)
More important than how his feet look is the fact that they perform incredibly well and have done for more than the last 8 years over steep, flinty, boggy, trappy, stony, harsh terrain.
He is obviously self-trimming, but are his feet self-trimming because he lives on the tracks here? No - even horses who live on tough surfaces don't (in my experience) do enough to self-trim and just mooching on our tracks, even though they have abrasive surfaces, isn't enough to generate a self-trimming foot.  Equally, this means that you don't need tracks to have a self-trimming horse yourself!

What makes the difference is mileage - and that includes roadwork. This horse does hundreds of miles in each 9 month season's hunting (he had done 50 fast and stony miles across Exmoor in the 4 days before these photos were taken) and generally is in lighter work - covering 15-20 miles of roads per week - during May, June and July as well.

Here is the most important shot of all, and a demonstration of why you can't simply trim a foot to become truly healthy - how would you "trim" frogs or heels to become as strong as that?!
The key to this horse's mileage, soundness and toughness is in the enormous strength of his frog and digital cushion which gives him great shock absorption, correct medio-lateral balance and stability for the whole limb above.  This is what allows him to go over surfaces like this at a canter, week after week. You just don't get a palmar hoof as good as this in shoes (or at least I've certainly never seen one), and you don't get it from trimming either.  
Its a nice irony that when this horse first came out of shoes I was told by one well-meaning but uninformed trimmer that I should stop working him because "his frog needed to be lower than his heels in order to be healthy".  I was also told time after time by other equally well-meaning people that I couldn't do roadwork, that his feet would wear away, etc etc(!). 

In those days his frog was nowhere near as robust as it is now, but fortunately I listened to the horse and ignored everyone else!

A hoof as healthy as this isn't genetic - it derives from work, stimulus and fitness and is achievable in many horses.  We are back to the holy grail of good nutrition, correct biomechanics and masses of movement!

Footnote: This horse has a fairly symmetrical foot without deviations because he has good, straight limb conformation and no injuries - if he were a horse recovering from long term lameness his foot might look (and need to look) different  - nothing wrong with that :-)

4 comments:

Indi said...

Thank you, as always, for giving me hope!

Val said...

Awesome. Thanks for the photos of a healthy foot as defined by the horse. I wish this, or something close to this, for all horses.

Nic Barker said...

Glad you found it interesting :-)

Funder said...

Great pics! Especially the heel shot - I spend a lot of time wondering what a good healthy DC looks like. that helps!