Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Up and down, round and round

One of the features that consistently crops up with taking horses out of shoes, especially rehab horses who have suffered long term lameness, is that they often just don't seem to know where their feet are.

Hooves have an amazing ability to transmit information to the horse about his environment IF they are healthy hooves, but this ability is one of the many things that suffers when horses' feet aren't functioning correctly. I've posted about this before, but very little research has been done.

I am sometimes asked why an owner would send a horse here rather than simply taking its shoes off and turning it out into a field. One of my responses is that we can often improve a horse much faster here than an owner can at home, or on a livery yard, and I am convinced that the tracks and surfaces we use are a big factor which drives that improvement.

The tracks don't just go on the level but send horses up and down, into the wood and over streams, along slopes and round corners. They have to negotiate constant changes in ground and gradient and different depths of surface. There are trees, branches hedges and banks to be dealt with, as well (of course) as other horses.

In this week's Horse and Hound, Lucinda Green wrote about the need for eventers to develop cleverness and dexterity, and how restrictive modern training can prevent this:

"He needs to practise stumbling over rough ground and treeroots in walk, learn to splash through puddles, mess about in roadside ditches and up and down banks and develop his trust in himself and his rider"

She goes on to say later in the article that young horses, instead of being drilled in classes for 4 yr olds, should be "roughing it across the likes of Exmoor"! :-)

We aren't training eventers here, but the point is the same - horses need to learn through trial and error how best to manage their feet and work in a way which is biomechanically correct. Rehab horses need also to develop their sense of proprioception, which is inevitably stunted in shoes and when they have been lame for prolonged periods.

Roughing it over Exmoor is a great way to learn, but the tracks and yards allow them scope to practise on the "nursery slopes", and in a controlled environment.

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