Natural Hoof Care, the Why and Why Not.
The Hoof: A Horses Foundation
As a Farrier, I've been asked numerous questions about horse health and care. Among those is the question of Natural Hoof care. How often to trim or shoe, Why shoe instead of just trim, etc. In this hub I will address the importance of the hoof and it's health, and some guidelines for the novice horse-person to follow.
The hoof is the foundation of all horses. And as we know from a houses foundation, it is the most important part of the building. If you don't have a good foundation then the stability of the animal or home is compromised. A horses hoof is like a tree, it can tell you the history of the horses health. Rings, bumps and cracks are a few of the signs that the horse has had some health problems or simply that the horses hooves have not been properly cared for.
Diseases such as founder, abscess, or navicular can occur at anytime during a horses life and their are special things that a farrier can do to help the horse to overcome these problems. And it is very important that all horse owners have a good farrier. If you do not currently have one, and don't know where to find one, then check your local farm store or vet and ask if they can recommend one. You may also check your local newspapers classified ads. These are great places to start your search. Don't be afraid to ask your farrier or vet any questions that you may have. There's no such thing as a stupid question. I've met a lot of horse-owners that don't know the first thing about horses, so ask away.
Founder and Navicular are two of the worst hoof and leg problems that you may have to deal with. Neither disease is curable and once symptoms occur the horse will have the problem for the rest of it's life. Now I'm not going to go in depth on these diseases. Your vet or farrier should be able to answer most questions that you may have should this occur. Both diseases are crippling but can be managed and in most cases the horse can live a comfortable life and even be ridden if the disease is properly treated and maintained. I like to have my clients walk the horse around a little before I start my work, so I can watch for any signs of potential problems. That way I can inform the owner of the problem and what we need to do to control or fix it.
An abscess is not a disease, it is actually an injury. I think most of us have had a splinter or something get wedged under a fingernail. That's basically what an abscess is. It usually occurs when a piece of sand or a rock gets wedged in between the hoof wall and the sole in the part of the hoof called the white-line. When this happens you will notice your horse limping and in most cases the animal will be very sore footed. If this is not caught early on then the rock will work its way up inside the hoof and eventually come out at the top of the hoof near the hairline. If you suspect any of these problems or are simply not sure, contact your farrier or vet for an examination.
To Shoe or Not To Shoe...
Some horses require shoes in order to conduct daily activities. These horses are working horses, rodeo, show or performance horses. If you ride a lot and cover various types of terrain such as rocks, gravel roads, and pavement, then it is important that you keep your horse shod. I recommend to my clients that they have the shoes either reset or replaced every 8 weeks. If you don't ride on these types of terrain or you do not ride the horse very often, then it is not necessary to shoe the horse at all. In these cases you can generally get by w/ just keeping the hooves trimmed so as to keep all angles and problems the hoof might have in check. Trimming schedules can depend on the horse. All horses hooves grow differently and some grow faster than others. Your farrier can help you decide what schedule best fits your horses. However every 3 month's is a good place to start.
Lets discuss angles. The angle of a horses hoof is very important. If the proper angle is not maintained then the horse can appear to be sore when they walk. The hoof can grow in various different directions if this is not done. In most cases a hoof when it grows moves forward instead of straight down. With this type of growth the toe or front of the hoof grows faster than the heal or back of the hoof. In this case the toe gets real long and will start to break off and the heal remains short putting a strain on the tendon that runs up the back of the horses leg. Imagine walking on your heals, the muscles in the back of the leg are tight and the tendons slightly stretched. Causing irregular steps or even the appearance of a limp in some cases, and some discomfort for the horse.
The best thing to do is get around your horses. ride them, groom them, talk to them, become their friend. If you're around the horse often then you will notice any slight changes in the horses behavior and health. And before buying a horse, for those of you that don't have one and are thinking of becoming a horse owner. Then don't forget to look at the horse from the feet up. And if you want ask your farrier to come along w/ you to look at the horse you want to purchase. In doing this, you will get an expert opinion of the animal and a glimpse of the future care that the animal will require.
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