Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Hooves and Shoes

The more natural the hooves are kept the happier the horse. In today's world sometimes it can be difficult to achieve this but I think it is definitely worthy of attention.

There are basically two different types of lives we map out for our horses;

1) The amateur/professional sporthorse
2) The family hack, maybe with local shows

Number 1 tries to have the horse in tip top condition all year, plenty of exercise and probably high quantities of concentrated feed. He will be ridden probably every day, will be clipped in Winter and rugged up so that he can be ridden without too much fuss. This horse is usually always shod although there are professional sport horses going barefoot now and you will find that their owners use horse boots of some kind or another to protect their hooves in place of shoes.

Number 2 is a horse in good condition, goes out on regular hacks throughout the year but probably lives out all year, probably without a rug. This horse doesn't really need shoes.

The average horse who is hacked out during the week with maybe a few shows during the year could get away with no shoes. If left to their own devices the hooves harden up very well on most horses. There will be the initial soreness after the shoes have been taken off but after that if the horse is walked out on hard surfaces (he may be short-stepped for a while) and has all kinds of natural terrain to walk on then the sole calluses into a hard surface. It's a bit like if you walked barefoot yourself now, most people have been in shoes for most of their lives and it would be painful to step over stones etc. But, after a couple of weeks, your heels, sole and bottoms of your toes would be very tough, all except the instep where there is no ground contact. This is callusing and because of this you'd soon be walking without pain. It's exactly the same with horses hooves. There are also a vast array of hoof boots to choose from nowadays that can help either transition your horse to barefoot or to be used if doing a sport or excessive amounts of riding out.

The way to be barefoot and natural is not just about de-shoeing your horse though. The whole keeping of the horse has to be as natural as possible for the barefoot horse to work.

They must be out in good sized fields, with other horses. They need to have lots of different terrain to walk on including; rocks, grass and mud, water with sandy or stony bottoms, woodland with it's soft ground etc. The more choice they have to walk on things other than grassy fields the better. Some people can change their fields to accommodate these conditions putting rocks in fields and making water features. Most of us don't have the luxury of choice but we could probably think of certain rides we could do regularly which involve rocky countryside or pathways.

The other things that need to be done is a more natural type of grazing and all the other things that go with it. Check out the separate grazing section on the blog.

The main thing to think about here is whether or not we really need to shoe our horse. Maybe we could let the horse be barefoot during the Winter when it's not doing so much. Farrier books even advises shoes off during winter to give the hooves a rest and to regrow length away from the shoeing holes during winter but competition seems to have taken over even the horses having a winter break nowadays.

There have been studies that say that the concussion caused by riding on tarmac roads with shoes is far greater than the horse being barefoot. Consider the way the hoof works. When the weight goes down onto the hoof, the hoof spreads out to reduce concussion and the frog passively contacts the ground surface. The contact of the frog is like a second heart and causes blood to pump back up the legs and to the rest of the body. Without this working (ie when you have shoes on) the frog doesn't do it's job efficiently. It's no wonder there are so many diseases of the hoof? It also makes you think of the concussion caused by the shoes themselves when the hoof hasn't got the ability to naturally spread out, it must in itself cause lots of problems with tendons and bones. Just think about it.

The book 'Horse Owners Guide to Nature Hoof Care' by Jaime Jackson opened my eyes to a whole host of problems caused by shoeing and now all my horses go barefoot. I keep a regular eye on their hooves and sometimes I even exercise them by walking out with them and not riding all the time which keeps my weight off their feet. It's these sorts of ideas that make a difference between a happy or unhappy horse.