Friday, 26 April 2013

The hoof, the whole hoof and nothing but the truth

This post has been prompted by something I have read online recently. Its confirmed what I already knew - that when it comes to hooves the only person who can be totally trusted to tell the truth is the horse. An owner can build their own version of the truth (via the internet or elsewhere) but the horse and the hooves will NEVER lie.
Healthy hooves are basically a product of only two things: appropriate nutrition and lots of miles when they are able to load and land in the most efficient way possible. If these are in place, then the world is your oyster and hooves will not only cope with but thrive on the toughest terrain and very high mileage.
This sounds very simple but in the domestic environment its not always easy. Horses can have metabolic problems or illnesses which make healthy hooves difficult. All of us as owners struggle to balance our management of horses because they can't roam for vast distances every day and because the grass we grow in the UK is very often more like junk food than the perfect nutrition for an equine athlete.
But its not impossible either - what I see time and time again in the owners who have horses here is incredible dedication to providing the best possible diet and environments for their horses and the best possible work-load - in order to keep their horses' feet in tip-top condition.  
They manage it at home, they manage it on livery yards, they manage it with limited turnout and they manage it with strict yard rules.  Its not an easy option but its certainly do-able, for more owners than you would think.
There are also 2 huge fallacies about hooves - first that you can somehow trim them to become healthier (nope - comes from the inside out) and secondly that you can ignore biomechanics and biology without compromising horse and hoof health (nope - shortcuts don't work here either).
What doesn't result in perfect hooves is ignoring the rules.

If you can't feed your horse properly (which always means you need to control starch and sugar, usually means you need to boost mineral levels and may mean you need to restrict spring grass), hooves will suffer.

If you can't exercise your horse, hooves will suffer.

If you try to trim a foot without first paying attention to how hooves load and land, hooves will suffer.
But here's the ray of light - its not the end of the world if you ignore the rules.

Many horses in the UK cope despite things being less then perfect (let's be honest, thats often the case in life!). They have less than perfect nutrition and their feet are weak and under-developed. This means their hooves aren't strong enough to walk, trot and canter over the toughest terrain, but either owners use boots or shoes or decide to exercise over easier surfaces, avoiding stony tracks or hard ground.
We live in the real world - things are less than perfect and horses and owners make compromises for reasons of practicality, economy and convenience. That's pays your money and takes your choice.
It's perfectly possible to have horses with fabulously healthy hooves in a domestic environment - but its not easy and the more issues you have with your horse's health the more difficult it will be.
Its perfectly possible to work a horse hard with unhealthy hooves - but you won't do it  barefoot - you'll need to boot or shoe it, and your horse's unhealthy hooves may well be the weak link which fails sooner rather than later.  
That's the other side of the coin, of course: the hoof will always tell the truth because you can't buck mother nature's rules!


cptrayes said...



Unknown said...

Yes the hoof wil tell us ... How many owners do we hear saying .. He's a bit sore .. Just had the farrier.