Have you ever heard the saying “The horse has five hearts” ? Well, this is very true. Healthy hooves are auxiliary heart pumps assisting in moving blood, oxygen and lymph throughout the horse’s body. With every step they expand and flex to meet the earth: absorbing shock and providing traction. They even sweat and respond to changes in the environment. The functional healthy hoof is self cleaning and will expel snowballs and dirt naturally.
All horses have the ability to grow and maintain healthy hooves with help from the owner. Three keys to successfully developing healthy functional hooves are:
- Correct, regular trimming
- Maintaining a Natural Environment/ lifestyle
- Maintaining the Natural Diet
The secret to building healthy, functional hooves requires a commitment from the horse owner. But don’t worry, it’s actually a lot less work that is sounds. It’s about bringing your horse back to his natural state, in as many ways as you possibly can with the resources you already have. The most important part is for you to get educated about proper foot form, diet and lifestyle.
The aim of the Natural Performance trim is to ensure the whole hoof shares in the weight bearing, promoting a healthy and strong hoof structure. When a horse has proper foot form, a healthy frog, correct trim, natural diet, and healthy living environment, they should not require any hoof protection. If they do, hoof boots are a great option. Hoof boots provide protection for the whole sole while allowing the hoof to expand and flex naturally. There are many new, more user friendly hoof boots on the market these days that work great for both horse and owner and allow you to be the master of your own hoof protection.
A shoeless or a ‘pasture’ trim is NOT the same as a Natural Performance trim. Pasture trims tend to be flat in preparation for a metal shoe. Healthy functional hooves are concave, and they even have an arch! A correct trim honours the natural shape and function of your horse’s hooves.
The goal of your hoof trimmer is to trim to have the whole hoof share in weight bearing the way nature intended it to. Front hooves should be round in shape while rear hooves are more spade shaped. The hoof wall and bars are always growing forward and need to be trimmed back.
A healthy frog is VITAL. A weak or diseased frog will discourage a heel first landing. Thrush or contraction will cause pain and “toe stabbing” or toe-first landing. When a horse is constantly walking on his toes to avoid heel pain, larger body issues can arise such as strained tendons, muscle soreness or even misalignments. Consult your hoof care professional for effective thrush treatments. Thrush is NOT normal and should be taken very seriously to avoid further complications.
The bars are an extension of the outer wall and curl back towards the frog to form the heel and give support to the back of the hoof. Incorrectly trimmed bars can invade the inner working mechanism of your horses hooves which include the navicular area and digital cushion, causing excessive heel pain which can manifest as toe first landings, short, choppy strides, and sometimes in worst case scenarios a diagnosis of navicular disease. Correct trimming of the bars can immediately relieve some of these issues.
The whole hoof should share in weight bearing, not just the outer wall (which is called peripheral loading). Peripheral loading puts all the weight of the horse on the outer wall where nature never intended it to be. In this case your horse is hanging his entire body weight on the laminae that hold the coffin bone to the outer wall of the hoof, severely weakening the connection. This is similar to you having to bear your weight on your long finger nails. No mammal on this planet walks on their fingernails.
New research has shown horses that laminitis or founder can be brought back to health with correct trimming, diet and lifestyle changes, it is not the death sentence it was once known to be. The condition can actually be reversed when addressed early, before permanent damage occurs to the structures of the coffin bone. Founder and laminitis are signs that something is WRONG with care (diet, lifestyle and/or trim). With a little diligence and perseverance from the owner under the guidance of your trimmer and veterinarian, foundered horses can still lead productive lives of soundness, comfort and happiness.
Horses in the wild move 20 – 30 miles a day searching for food and water. Like elk, moose, deer etc, horses forage on roughage and they are in constant motion. Their feet rise to the demand of their environment and the outer wall, sole and frog work together to protect the inner structures of the foot. Natural horse care works to imitate natural living conditions. Movement is encouraged by scattering good quality mixed grass hay when pasture and foraging is not available. Free choice minerals, placed away from water source, is a great way to encourage travel. Exercise is very important!
Getting your horse moving, even if you don’t have time to ride or drive, is essential to the natural lifestyle. A routine of getting out and moving your horses will encourage movement beyond what they are willing to do on their own getting their heart rate up and improving circulation. Get creative, bag on a stick, or games. Do not scare your horse, just encourage forward movement.
Manure and urine mixed with hay, or left over bedding (straw, shavings), are a caustic mixture which burn away the protective coating on the hooves, inviting thrush and infection. You cannot expect your horse to stand in this sludge all day and be comfortable in the mountains, or on any other terrain. It is very important to remove this from your horses pasture and keep your horses area clean as possible.
Round bale feeding causes multiple problems such as dental issues, lung issues (from dust), it discourages movement and encourages standing in a caustic mixture, destroying the integrity of your horses hooves and encouraging disease. A good way to combat this is to roll out the round bales to encourage foraging and movement or spread piles out all over the field, pasture, or paddock. It helps to eliminate dust and prevents dental problems too. Small hay piles are blissful, and there’s one for everyone.
Try strengthening your horse’s hooves by placing gravel around waterers, gates, shelters, and mineral stations. This will help to create strong callused thick healthy soles. The sky is the limit: get creative and let nature be your guide.
Diet plays a major factor in a healthy hoof. 70% of barefoot success is diet. A diet of grass, grass hay, mineral, and salt, gives your horse everything he needs. Alfalfa is a legume and should be used as a supplement, and not in your horse’s main forage. Kelp is another option as it is a natural complete vitamin and mineral source. Feeding minerals, kelp and loose salt, free choice will allow your horse to pick out and consume what he needs. Minerals should NOT be force fed by mixing with feed, instead allow your horse to choose what they need.
A diet which includes ANY processed feed will put your horse into a low-grade laminitic state, rendering the feet ‘ouchy’ . These feeds will contribute to thrush (black smelly fungus/bacteria) which can infest your horse’s entire foot rendering them tender or lame. Carrots, apples and treats are extremely high in sugar and can also put your horse into low grade laminitis and perpetuate thrush in feet. They, like alfalfa, should be fed sparingly if at all. Whole natural feeds should be used to supplement a horse that is in need, refer to our website for more information.
Hoof boots are not only a great alternative when transitioning your horse to barefoot, they can provide great traction on all terrain. Corks and studs are available for some hoof boots for traction on ice or slippery grass. They work great!
Barefoot horses get fantastic traction on the pavement for parades, where there is a lot of stop and go, and in the mountains on the rocky trail. Horses travel through rivers with ease when they can ‘feel’ their way through.
The Success of the barefoot horse depends largely on the correct Natural Performance trim, and the owners commitment to diet, lifestyle and environment of their horse. A truly transitioned barefoot horse is a beautiful thing – barefoot horses can go anywhere and you know every step is a step towards your horse’s health and longevity.
Connie Challice and Birgitta Wilkinson run clinics and workshops educating horse owners on the importance of hoof care. You can find clinics offered through success with horses or contact Connie at [email protected] or Birgitta at [email protected].
Success With horses Natural Performance Hoof Care and Rehabilitation
Katie Arbour – Natural Performance Hoof Care Practitioner: [email protected]