Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Livery Yard Dilemma

At the conference, Matthew Jackson did a presentation on some research carried out by him and others in Northumberland, which reminded everyone that horses' feet face serious challenges from grass in our climate.

He had been trying to find a way to make life easier for horse owners on livery yards who are unable to regulate their horse's management and are forced to turn horses out at unsuitable times (eg during the day onto Spring grass) with all the hoof problems that result from that.

Its a really common complaint both from owners and on the online forums, and its one that I think we can all sympathise with.

Do you stay on a yard where most aspects are great, but grass management is not? If you stay, chances are you will need to keep your horse shod or use hoof boots for part of the year - not a disaster, but frustrating if you want your horse to have the healthiest possible feet.

Often, people look for a magic bullet - something that they can feed, perhaps, which will miraculously allow them to turn their horses out 24/7. After all, its easier for owners to do that, and unless the weather is very warm, most horses enjoy being able to stuff their faces with green grass all day - much like most people don't object to sitting on a sofa and eating biscuits ;-)

The problem is that the magic bullet doesn't exist - one of the tough things about barefoot is that you are forced to recognise that unlimited UK grass is a huge health challenge for most horses' hooves.

Rather than trying to address the symptoms - the ripples on hooves and the evidence of footy horses - shouldn't we be trying to solve the underlying cause? Of course there are many livery yards which will dig their heels in and refuse to recognise what is happening, but many yard owners simply have no idea what they are seeing in hooves and may not realise how much healthier they can be when grass is managed more effectively.

From a grassland management point of view, fields are much more productive and in better heart, too, when horses are kept on tracks for at least part of the time.

Who knows? in 10 years time it may be common place for the best livery yards to have track systems, but it will only happen if horse-owning customers start asking for it and explaining the benefits.


Bex said...

Hi Nic,

This is a really interesting post.
I am one of the people who's horses feet are suffering due to lack of grass management. The livery yard that I am on is great -it has all of the facilities that I like. However, I have to either turn out onto grass or keep him inside the stable. At the moment (the grass is very rich!) I am being forced to only put him out for around 4 hours!
I left him out for 4.5 hours earlier this week as I couldnt get down in time to bring him in any earlier and he came in with quite bad red bruising on his feet.
I dont like leaving him inside all day and it is becoming more and more of an issue for me.
Everyones dilemma is the same as you said - do you move and give up the yard you like? or do you stay and put boots on the horse or even have him shod? Now we know what the easiest option is but I definitely do not want to shoe my horse ...!
So where do you go from here?
I just dont think there is an answer - my horse (like many others) has everything else that he needs in his diet and every other aspect is great - its just the grass.
This means that he cannot be ridden on any stony tracks and is very footy on anything except for soft surfaces and flat tarmac road.
We all know that fields and horses are better managed on a track system - but trying to tell other people that is difficult. They all think that we're crazy enough in what we do already without daring to suggest that a horse live without grass!!
I couldnt make it to the conference but I really wish I could've come along now to hear what Matthew Jackson had to say about these issues as they may have helped me a lot.

x Becki x

p.s. keep up all of your good work with this blog, it makes great reading!

Nic Barker said...

Hi Becki,

THanks for your comments and the kind words about the blog - I find it very therapeutic so its good to hear you enjoy it :-)

I am sure you would have enjoyed the conference, but sadly there were no miracle revelations which would turn our grassy fields into safe havens for horses ;-0

The best answer, in my opinion, is to keep on educating yard owners and horse owners - we all have the best interests of our horses at heart, and yards DO listen to owners - but it won't happen overnight, thats for sure! On the other hand, 5 or 6 years ago hardly anyone realised that grass was a problem, so we are making progress :-)