Tips for healthy hooves! The three “T’s”
Patricia Morgan Wagner, Rainier Washington
1. Trims! Frequent correct trimming will help your horse develop performance hooves. Be sure your horse’s hooves are trimmed in the range of every 4 to 6 weeks. Going past 6 weeks can lead to hoof problems like whiteline abscesses caused by flared walls and bars. After 8 weeks we are trimming only for damage control which will not develop healthy, roadworthy bare hooves.
Consider learning to maintain your horse’s hooves yourself so you can at least use a rasp to touch up your horse’s hooves between your hoofcare professional’s appointments. This can alleviate many problems while keeping your horse in riding form; and save money!
2. Travel! If your horse is stalled or standing around for more hours than he’s moving, his hooves will not be as strong or well formed as those belonging to horses that are constantly moving. Plenty of space, along with herd movement causes horses to develop healthy hooves. Herd behavior (movement) requires at least 3 or 4 horses. More is better!
Put some gravel in your horse’s travel. Cushy bedding is nice for naps and horses should have napping places, but abrasive material should be included in their habitat because it helps horses self trim and toughens soles. Hooves adapt to their environment. A horse’s hooves need to adapt (live on) similar terrain as they will be negotiating on a ride – or should be booted, or both!
3. Time! When you’re taking a horse from: shoes, neglect, or poorly skilled trimming - to natural, healthy bare hooves, most horses need time to redevelop the hooves they were born with. Some horses require more time than others to recuperate, depending on the extent of damage they’ve incurred. For some horses rehabilitation may take week or months, for others it can take years. Although, some horses may not be rehab-able, the ones who can be saved deserve the time it takes.
The million dollar question: How have horses survived all these years, shod?
Going back a little ways, in the days when horses were our main transportation, they wore through their shoes (movement) and were re-shod often (frequent trims). Horses were turned out seasonally, after pulling the shoes (time to recuperate from shoes). Horses were fed simple diets (correct nutrition). Many horses were never shod, especially drafts because horse shoes often were not affordable and/or owners lacked shoeing skills.
All of which is in sharp contrast to traditional horse keeping today and admittedly, horses have always been fairly disposable and still are today. Wreck one, put it down, go get another.
With improved circulation, unshod horses can feel their feet. This means they don’t have to think as much about hoof placement, balance, or injury due to a misstep. When a horse is working, it’s much less stressful on him if he can focus on the job at hand. A shod horse is asked to comply with his rider’s requests while also thinking about his feet as he compensates for the loss of sensory preceptors that have been removed by shoes. That can cause some horses (especially young ones new to shoes) to become anxious and stressed, then respond with unwanted conduct; which can lead to harsh discipline, which perpetuates unsafe behavior and ultimately causes a horse to be sent away to places “dangerous horses” end up. A sad, but common scenario that is so preventable.
Being able to feel his feet also has its drawbacks. For some horses whose hooves are not strong, tough and healthy, he can feel every pebble he walks over even pain especially while trotting and loping. Often horses need at least some time off during the rehab process and for some that discomfort never goes away. Introducing hoof boots into his life will usually resolve those issues. With boots, the horse can maintain his sense of feel without the pain, usually.
Peer pressure is often the most difficult aspect of rehabbing a horse’s hooves.
During this phase:
a.) stay focused on the outcome of healthier hooves for your horse;
b.) don't listen to negative comments made by people who haven't educated themselves the way you have, and;
c.) remember that what you’re doing is good for your horse’s mind, body and soles!