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Care About Hoof Care?
Why is it that your horse needs his hooves trimmed every six weeks while wild horses get along fine without ever seeing a farrier?
Horses evolved over millions of years in semi-arid climates traveling over varied terrain. Constant use made their hooves tough and resistant to abrasion. Hooves wore evenly and growth matched wear. Natural selection eliminated horses with unsound feet.
Today's wild horses live in similar conditions as prehistoric horses, but domestic horses definitely do not. Many horses spend most of their time in a pen or stall, and when they are exercised it is often for a short period on soft footing. Their hooves don't wear away, so they get too long, deform and break off in chunks. When the hooves grow unevenly or wear unevenly, they become imbalanced; this can lead to many forms of lameness.
In addition, domestic horses are often bred for a pretty head or coat pattern - no matter how bad the hooves of the mare or stallion. So poor feet are often passed on through genetics.
Here are some things to consider when planning a hoof care program for your horse; and when deciding whether to shoe your horse or leave him barefoot.
If your horse has smooth, tough hooves like a wild horse's, he might get along fine without shoes. But, if his hooves are weak and tend to form long toes, low heels, flares, or cracks he'll likely need shoes to stay sound.
Age Your new foal should be examined by a veterinarian and a farrier within the first few weeks to see if his hooves need attention. A young horse can go barefoot until activities require added support, traction or protection.
Hoof Growth Your horse's hooves grow about 1/4" per month. If they grow too long they'll crack, chip off, break off in pieces and become imbalanced. That's why you need to have your barefoot horse trimmed about every six weeks.
Even if your horse is shod, his hooves still grow, and they grow faster at the toe than at the heel. So every six weeks or so you need a farrier to remove the shoes, trim and balance the hooves, and replace the shoes. Shoes left on too long can cause irreversible problems.
Wear If your barefoot horse wears his hooves too short, he can suffer from painful bruises and serious abscesses. Shoes protect his hooves from wear and help keep them in balance. Unless you ride a lot on hard abrasive ground, shoes will last at least six weeks and can sometimes be reset (used again).
Traction A barefoot horse often has sufficient traction for pleasure riding on most surfaces. Specialized shoes can alter traction for events from jumping to reining. Too much or too little traction can cause injuries to joints, tendons and ligaments. Your farrier can help find a horseshoe that's best for your activity.
Management Manure, mud, rocks, and snow pack into the bottom of the hoof. This buildup can put undesirable pressure on the sole and lead to bacterial infections such as thrush. That's why it's important to pick out your horse's feet every day. A properly trimmed unshod hoof self-cleans as the horse moves and is easy to pick out. Dirt can pack tightly in a shod hoof, however, making cleaning a difficult but necessary chore.
Finally, a horse wearing shoes, especially shoes with projecting traction devices, is potentially more dangerous to other horses and humans in the event of a kick or misstep. Also, he could step the shoe off or catch it on a fence or halter, resulting in injury or damage to the hoof. Barefoot horses are safer to others as well as to themselves.
We've removed the horse from his wild environment, where his hooves basically took care of themselves. Now we must make sure he gets regular hoof care to keep him comfortable and sound.
© 2001 Richard Klimesh
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