"If you don't USE it, you LOSE it!"
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Natural Hoof Care
What is Natural Hoof Care?
Mother Nature, in her wisdom, did NOT put anything on the bottom of a horses hoof that is not supposed to touch the ground! It is my belief that Nature's design is a piece of rock hard perfection meant for every horse. It is their birth right.
All structures of the hoof were meant to work together, for the horse. The horse evolved over 60 million years, "domesticated" for approximately the last 2,000 years, and only for the last 200 years have we put iron on their feet. In fact, makeshift booties were used by native cultures long before that. In terms of riding, barefoot has been the mode used for travel long before booties or iron shoes. Add to that, barefoot over great distances and varied mountainous terrain.
"We have bred the hoof out of horses"
I have heard many times from professionals that phrase "we have bred the hoof out of our horses" in domestication. That, for this reason, wild horses cannot possibly be used as a model for what is natural and correct for their domestic brethren. This is simply not true. This is not a different species we are comparing. The hooves of horses are only ruined by lack of movement, improper diet, lack of proper hoof maintenance (trimming), and poor living conditions (environment). The hoof itself is basically a sound structure, highly adaptable, and is rarely the origin point of lameness. The hoof mirrors the whole health of the horse.
What is Natural for the Horse?
To paraphrase Pete Ramey: it is difficult to know what is healthy when unhealthy pathological hooves are the ones being studied, and are all too frequently being described to horse owners as "normal" or at least "nothing to be concerned about, thats just the way he is" (even when the deformities are obvious).
"Common" is not the same as "normal." An example of abnormal would be anything traditionally considered "cosmetic".... like underdeveloped, weak frogs. Or flares from weakened laminar connection. The weakened connection, can vary from mild to severe (complete disconnection). Founder, in truth, can be likened to one big flare.
"High heels" are an abnormality, and has been the cause of the demise of many horses - especially in "Navicular" cases, who are deliberately wedged and thrown forward on their toes in the name of short term pain relief (slackening the DDFT, which only lasts until the body responds by taking up the slack...then its another wedge... and the cycle continues), and "use -ability." The standard of care and prognosis ought to be higher than "keeping them usable" -until they are euthanized. It does not have to be that way. These horses CAN recover with natural lifestyle changes and proper biomechanics - "setting the horse up for success" as Pat Parelli might say.
These deformities can cause varying degrees of pain and discomfort for horses. Imagine someone tearing your fingernail off. Thats what its like for a horse that has excessive hoof wall length to the point of mechanical flaring (prying away of the hoof wall) at ground level. OUCH! The hoof is not a block of wood! It is a living, breathing, innervated, arterial organ. It expands on weight bearing - drawing in blood - and contracts during flight phase, forcing blood back up the limb, performing a significant circulation role for the horse and blood perfusion to the soft tissues in the hoof - vital for growth and health. The hoof flexes laterally, in response to changes in terrain (uneven ground). Ask yourself this question: how can a hoof flex laterally... with a shoe on? Would this not put a horse at higher risk of injury -strains and sprains -of tendons and ligaments? Or chronic "arthritis" of the joints?
Lessons from the Wild
We know from Jaime Jackson's wild horse research that healthy wild horse hooves shared similar traits. The hoof wall is short, with little or no hoof wall extending past the sole. The heels should be low; sole concave and tough; the frog like rawhide. The whole hoof should be free of splits, chips and flares. The hoof capsule should be tightly, strongly connected to the coffin bone (when it is, the hoof is naturally short and never flared). The whole underside of the hoof should be tough and hard.
We do not trim a horse in domestication to "natural parameters" in the first trim. To do so is a terrible error in judgment, and would severely wound and lame the horse. Unfortunately, early practitioners did "hack" off high heels, and tried to cut concavity (which has to be built by the horse) into already too-thin soles, among other things. It is a sad fact, and competent hoof care professionals continue to feel the backlash from it. Using the wild horse model is simply meant as a guide, a vision to have in mind of what is healthy and correct, and a goal to work towards over time.
The health of the wild horse comes from proper movement in many miles a day, and proper diet. Remember, there are no farriers in the wild. The wear and tear of the hooves is great, yet they are never "worn down to a bloody stump." Actually, the more the hoof is used - the more developed, stronger, and tougher it is - the better for the horse. Stimulation through proper movement encourages healthy growth.
The Perfect Hoof?
do not believe there is "a perfect hoof", only the optimal hoof for the
specific horse. The trim itself, while extremely important for proper
biomechanics, is not the "end all" to hoof care. I mentioned
diet, and exercise. These are owner responsibilities. What I do is
facilitate the horses own incredible capacity to heal, and grow the
optimal hoof for the environment he or she lives and works in. This
requires a partnership and willingness on the owner's part to make
necessary lifestyle changes for the optimal health of the horse.
It requires courage and determination to "buck the trend" and to follow
your inner guides of common sense, intellect, and intuition.
I don't know anything about nutrition or hoof care per se!!" Actually
you may discover that you know as much as anyone. There has been very
little research done on equine nutrition, primarily because horses are
not a food-producing animal. I have studied what
equine nutritionists are saying recently, and have paid close attention
nutritional aspects of horse health that are now becoming more
frequently publicized, and further researched. It is my greatest hope
that the lightbulb will come on when it comes to associating "hoof
issues" with their underlying causes (usually found in the diet,
movement or lifestyle of the horse). If we do not treat the cause, the effect will remain.
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