Friday, 26 June 2015

The shoeing irony

Its the time of year when, all over social media, you hear a familiar refrain:

"My horse needs shoes, he can't cope barefoot."

"I'm shoeing him - he's footy because of the hard ground - he needs extra protection."
There are lots of reasons why horses can become footy but there is really only one reason why, at this time of year, a horse which has been "coping" out of shoes suddenly "needs" shoes. That reason is plain, simple and all around us - yep, its grass.
We in the UK grow grass amazingly well - lots of sunshine (I'm generalising...), lots of rain and nice mild temperatures - perfect! Not only is grass at its richest in summer - with high levels of sugar and starch - but many horses are turned out for much longer than at other times of the year. 

This combination of factors puts a huge number of horses at risk and a horse becoming footy should act as an early warning system.

In a barefoot horse you have a huge advantage - a horse who is footy out of shoes is letting you know that the grass is too sugary and starchy for his system to cope with - and you can do something about it while its still a minor, reversible problem.
You don't normally need to take a horse off grass completely (provided you haven't let it get to the stage of full blown laminitis!). 
Steps for getting the horse back to soundness can be as simple as bringing a horse off grass during the day (while the flies are worst and when he may be very happy to be inside with a haynet) or using a grazing muzzle for part of the time. 

Adding additional magnesium (which is often in short supply in sweet grass) can also be a very effective remedy as low magnesium levels contribute to sole sensitivity. 

Or, if thats too difficult or doesn't fit with how you want to keep your horse you can of course stick a set  of shoes on him. 
The problem is that the grass is still sweet, still starchy and still too much for your horse's system. Its just that the effects aren't so obvious. When your horse loses a shoe he will still be footy, and as his foot gets used to being in shoes his feet are likely to become weaker - particularly the palmar foot - the frog, heels and digital cushion - which work hard barefoot but have a lot less to do in a shoe.

But that's ok, isn't it? Well, maybe. The real issue is that now you have a foot which is unhealthy because the horse is getting too much sugar and starch and weak because its in a shoe...So now you really have a horse which "needs" a shoe because his feet are so compromised he is crippled out of them.
If we are logical we can see that horses cope well with hard surfaces out of shoes - they don't "need" shoes - its the opposite - in fact their feet need, and thrive on, work on tough surfaces; that is what makes the healthiest feet. Its a nonsense to say that horses "can't cope" with tough surfaces barefoot. The truth is that they can't cope with tough surfaces when their feet are weak and unhealthy.

A good diet is the essential foundation for healthy hooves, as you've heard me say many times before, and the horse has evolved to eat much less rich grass, on the whole, than the stuff we grow in our fields today. So we are back to the grass again. 

To me its a basic truth - feed a horse an appropriate diet and work his feet correctly out of shoes and he will have healthy feet. Feed him a high sugar, high starch diet and watch his soundness reduce. At that stage you can shoe him but you will be on a downward spiral and the longer you shoe the longer you will "need" them- and that's the shoeing irony. 


ellerkincato said...

Interestingly, as I posted on phoenix this morning, the feet of my three have gone very concave and rock crunchy over the past few days, noticeably so, and all I can put this down to is the extended period of (relatively)warm and dry weather we've had here in north yorkshire. I assume as well as hardening the feet a bit, it has also reduced sugar levels in the grass as little rain to swell growth ...

Of course they are on limited grass and hardcore anyway, and they get balanced minerals and magox each day - but I must say I was impressed with the twelve feet when I checked them last night!

BruceA said...

I'm sure most folk would be appalled if they saw where I am keeping my big lads - they are in a small 2/3 acre field that has been trashed and there is little if any grass - and they have a bale of hay. But they are doing just fine. The two little guys are actually in a shed with a cattle run attached - they get scythed nettles, cow parsley and other greens twice a day. This approach works - when you don't have a nice track system you develop other approaches.

Jane said...

My lot are also always better at this time of year - more movement, more variety of grazing and dry ground = stocking feet. Mine visibly deteriorate into soggy sponges in the winter and pick up again each spring. But then we are lucky to have the equivalent of wet clay wasteland grazing plus woodland, so not 'processed' Haribo-for-horses grass. Since we moved here even the 'early warning system' TB can stomp across the hardcore yard. Not so at the old place, even though it was old pasture - it was still far too rich for them.

I think it's also hard for people to see horses as individuals - a set up that might look 'uncaring' to one human may suit one horse perfectly, but it may cause another stress or too much sugar! Horses for courses is very true. Although horses for environment is truer.... Doesn't have the same ring though...

Blacklocust said...

Hello! Barb Lee in a part of the US with similar growing conditions to yours. We've been involved in soil remineralization for years in our hayfield, but sadly have come to the end of our farming days. The grass was left standing too long once again (contract harvesting) and turned into trash. We are faced with buying our first hay in years. Though it is low in carbs, it has other dangers, notably the high potassium. Although the calcium and magnesium generally meet minimum daily requirements, the potassium will create a deficiency of both within the horse and cause all sorts of problems. According to the "grass tetany ratio" (Ca & Mg balanced against K) the hay is barely within safe parameters. We will, however be bringing up Ca, Mg and P a bit to offset the deleterious effects of 2.09% potassium. Thank you for your lovely post. Happy barefooting!

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