Friday, 9 March 2012

How to maintain a healthy hoof

A few of you have asked previously for more info about the tracks at Rockley, how they work and why they are important.
I've posted before about the actual layout...

...why they are important for rehab horses...

and how the tracks can help horses to self-trim...

but of course that's not the whole story.
 Fundamentally, the tracks are here for 3 reasons, and 3 reasons only.

1 (The most important reason) The tracks provide a supportive but stimulating surface for horses with long term lameness and therefore enable them to be comfortable enough to start moving correctly.
2  The tracks ensure that I can always turn horses out on good surfaces, even when our fields are wet or when grazing is too risky.
3  The tracks encourage free movement and allow horses access to ad lib forage and companions.
They are a lovely resource to have, but what the tracks don't do is create healthy feet all by themselves.  Owners often assume that these surfaces are important for barefoot horses - in fact, they are important only for lame horses with weak feet.

Once horses are sound and back in full work, the tracks are not only unnecessary, but they are no substitute for correct work and miles and miles of exercise

And you don't need tracks for that - in fact one of the most important factors in helping a sound horse to grow a fabulous, tough, healthy foot is good, old-fashioned roadwork.  
Its something I always make owners promise to do LOTS of when they get home.  Kate and Storm have been a great advert for how essential continuous work is in restoring and maintaining soundness :-)  As with most things in life, you have to put in the effort to get the benefits!
Of course, there are times when its impossible to do enough mileage - the weather can be icy, roads too dangerous, and sometimes horses or their owners have unplanned time off work.  If that happens, then accept that your horse's hooves will have lost some "fitness" - even if you have the luxury of a track system - and bear that in mind as you start work again, building up steadily and gradually until you are back at the same level as before the break. 

I'll come back to this in future posts, as feet change very quickly when work patterns alter, and both improvements and deteriorations can happen extremely fast. 


Val said...

I suspect that roadwork is not at common in the US, as least not in New Jersey. I do not feel safe riding on our roads, but I wish that I could given the benefits mentioned here.

Do you think trail-riding can provide similar benefits?

Nic Barker said...

I know there are lots of places where roadwork is tricky and yes, trail-riding is beneficial too. When we are hunting we spend lots of time on tracks, which can also be great surfaces.

Hooves are adaptable and will develop in response to the surfaces they live on so if you want hooves tough enough for trails (or roads!) then that's where you need to do at least part of your work :-)

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

In our rehab, my gelding is boarding at 24/7 on 6 acres of dirt/grass. I do have miles of dirt roads (very little gravel, more compacted dirt/sand). Do u think walking and as he is comfortably able, trotting on that would help stimulate and keep a healthy hoof? Is it ever TOO early to do so? ie; if there is still bruising on hoof's sole.

Nic Barker said...

Let your horse be your guide, Kristen. If he's comfortable, start by doing a short distance - no more than a mile. If he is happy the next day, then give him that day off and the day after, do a little more.

He needs to be landing correctly and to not be sensitive on that surface.

cptrayes said...

Jazz has much narrower frogs now that he is not hacking on roads any more :-(


Andrea said...

I used to do 2 hour conditioning hacks up our roads to the Dunkin Donuts every week, in addition to 5 other days of hard work on varying surfaces... my mare self-maintained and her feet were absolutely gorgeous!