The Big Picture!
While many lesser factors will influence hoof status, the following four areas have a large impact on hoof health and are generally areas were owners can be proactive and implement positive changes
Keeping the entire lifestyle as close to nature as possible can be of great benefit to the domestic equine.
Making changes where you can, will not only improve hoof quality but will also bring the human owned horse, donkey or pony the potential for greater health, athletic performance and longevity. Given the right opportunity, the internal structures of the equine foot continue to develop until around 7 years old. During this time if the growing horse is fortunate enough to have plenty of room to run and play in it will to develop thick, fibrocartilage in the digital cushion-an important structure in healthy hooves.
Horses deprived of sufficient moment from birth have thin, fatty connective tissue in their digital cushions – this is the classic flat footed thoroughbred!
The suggestions below can help to naturalize the life of domestic horses and donkeys
Most NZ horses are adversely affected by carbohydrates in the diet. Laminitis is the extreme end of the scale, but sole sensitivity (tenderness on hard surfaces) is the early warning of carbohydrate (sugar) overload.
Feed a low carbohydrate/high fibre diet – more hay, less grass. Hay nets with small holes will slow eating to a more natural rate, encouraging correct digestion.
Vitamin/Mineral balance often needs attention – if the soil is not balanced, food grown in it will not be balanced.
Reduce or eliminate dietary sugars in carbohydrate sensitive equines - grains, certain high sugar grasses, molasses etc.
Elimination of artificial additives and animal derived feed products – horses are vegetarians!
Restricting movement has an adverse effect on hoof quality and development.
Reduce or eliminate stall, yard, or stabling time.
Encouraging movement during non-riding hours through the use of track grazing systems, drive/race ways etc.
Evolution created an animal designed for constant movement. This feature supports several systems – digestive, lymphatic, circulatory, hoof function.
Exposure to dry, firm ground
►Hard surfaces are vital for good structural hoof development in young equines and will also speed the rehabilitation of unsound, previously shod horses.
Hard top feed pads and/or dry, firm areas of travel during grazing or at feed times will stimulate natural hoof wear, horn hardening and conditioning in unshod equines.
Regular and balanced hoof care
Trim BEFORE the hoof gets overgrown.
Ensure a constant short toe/short heel hoof balance to minimize hoof and body stress. Using hoof boots during the rehabilitation of hoof damage reduces concussion when ridden and encourages correct hoof loading.
Regularly check each horse is comfortably landing heel first at the walk.
Landing flat footed is an early warning sign of hoof damage/pain.
A toe first landing is a RED flag! Your horse has a serious problem that needs addressing immediately!!
Tension in the tongue and jaw caused by sharp or overgrown teeth can tighten the chest and front legs causing uneven load bearing in the hoof capsules resulting in uneven hoof wear.
Dental pain not only causes problems during riding and driving but will also interfere with correct digestion.
Pain or restriction of natural movement caused by ill-fitting saddle, girth, bit, bridle, draw-reins, martingale etc can impact negatively on bio-mechanics creating uneven hoof loading and wear.
Help develop natural self carriage under saddle or in harness with non-restrictive tack. Tight saddle gullets can cause the horse to change the scapula angles which restricts the range of motion in the front limbs and causes uneven hoof wear and may even cause toe first landing in the front feet. Uncomfortable bits can alter head carriage and induce bracing patterns that will cause strain in the body that then results in poor hoof loading and distortion.
Rider imbalance will cause uneven limb loading that often results in at least one hoof capsule (usually more than one!) wearing unevenly.
Common rider faults - loading one seat bone more than the other - collapsing through one hip - twisting through the torso - stronger in one arm/hand/shoulder – tipping the pelvis too far back or too far forward - restricting the horses’ natural flow of movement by sitting stiffly or with forced ‘stillness’.
Learn about Connected Riding if you think you have a balance issue when riding
Complementary health care intervention
If pain or tension is present in the body, balanced hoof loading is compromised.
The horse wasn’t actually designed by nature to carry weight on top of its spine!
By making use of the abundant variety of equine therapies and therapists that are now available, we can help alleviate the bio-mechanical stress the horse endures each time we ride. Also rather than the old ‘ride the horse straight’ theory, by ‘releasing the horse to straightness’ through non-invasive equine therapy and then he/she can more easily be ridden straight!
Horses and donkeys are herd animals.
Social interaction with compatible, same species herd mates is very important.
A lone horse will be a stressed horse. The stress may not show on the outside but it will manifest itself in some form, probably G.I tract ulcers.
Natural rearing in a mixed age herd with gradual, sympathetic weaning at an appropriate age (between 12 – 18 months) creates a safer, more emotionally balanced animal. Natural rearing gives each individual greater opportunity for brain development, learning dietary and potential hazards in the grazing area and important social behaviour.
Good information to get you started
Natural Hoof & Horse Care for the Kiwi Horse and Rider
A book I wrote to help horses in NZ
Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You
Pete Ramey’s very excellent trimming book
For owners wanting to learn how to trim their own horses email me to find out when the next Natural Hoof Care Clinic will be firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are interested in becoming a professional trimmer go to www.hoofnz.org.nz and check out the Natural Hoof Practitioner Training Certificate
If the very thought of picking up a rasp fills you with horror, rest assured there are many other things you can do to help improve hoof quality.
It comes as a surprise to most people to learn that trimming is responsible for only a very small portion of equine hoof health.
The main thing to remember is that even the best trimming cannot improve hoof quality if the diet or the environment is constantly undermining health so get proactive and make some changes so that your horse, donkey or mini can be the best they can be!
Tips for Hoof Health