To keep our horses healthy, sound and useful for their whole long life requires knowledge and consideration of their innate needs and what is optimal for their management.
Some of these that relate to the hoofs are;
Bare, well maintained feet - essential to health and strength, from the hooves up. Enables proper hoof function, circulation and shock absorbtion.
24/7 turnout in a large paddock, to allow horses to move freely at all times.
near constant exercise - The more the better. 20-30km per day being what the horse is designed to do. This enables proper hoof function, growth, strength and healing capacity of feet.
live-in company, to motivate exercise - besides the other physical and mental benefits of keeping a herd animal in a herd.
firm dry ground to facilitate proper hoof function and help keep feet hard & dry.
good nutrition - essential for the whole horse, feet & all. A natural diet of mixed grasses or hay, supplemented with appropriate nutrients is best.
The horse is a 'trickle feeder', built to have small amounts going through their digestive tract near constantly. Their system is not designed to go hungry for periods.
In the case of horses in hard work requiring more energy, 'hard feed' needs to be easily digestible. Feeds high in starch, such as cereal grains are not easily digested and can cause digestive and hoof problems. Copra meal and beet pulp are two good examples of healthy digestible energy. Hard feeds should be fed at least twice a day - preferably more frequently - to be utilised effectively.
Now lets look at these factors in more detail, to understand effects on hooves, and how best to manage our horses when compromises are necessary - of course, in our situations, it is rare that domestic horses are able to be kept under optimal management...
"If you don't use it, you lose it" (or in many cases, don't develop it in the first place) is definitely a relevant saying with regard to hoof health. If your horse is kept in a large, mostly hard, dry environment where he is motivated to exercise a lot, &/or he is worked for many miles per day - think endurance horse in training - then he will develop strong, tough hooves which will be adapted to the environment & workload he is used to. To a large degree(extra long endurance rides for eg may be too much for any horse), hoof growth will keep up with wear, if the horse is allowed to adapt gradually to the amount.
However, if your horse lives in a stable or yard, or a cushy, soft paddock where he is alone or otherwise not motivated to move around much, guess what his hooves will adapt to? He will not likely cope bare with working on rough, hard ground, his hooves will grow so much slower too, so work on abrasive ground may wear them down too much. His weaker, thinner soles & frogs will be far more prone to bruising and other injury, and his feet will also be more susceptible to opportunistic infections such as 'seedy toe' & thrush.
So... what if, like so many of us in 'the real world' we cannot provide an optimal environment and lifestyle?
First & foremost, depending on what we want to do with our horses, they will need artificial protection in some situations at least. Hoof boots for long, rough trails for eg.
We may also need to exercise the horse more in hand or ridden, and consider paddock management to motivate more exercise around the clock. Ensuring horses are kept with at least one other horse and on a track system is a great way to get them moving frequently at home. The idea is that the horses live on a narrow track around the outskirts of the property, rather than having an open field. This can be anything from about 10' wide, with wider areas for them to graze or hang out. If hay nets or other 'feed stations' are widely placed around the track, preferred hang out areas and water spaced as far from food as possible, this motivates them to move more too.
If the ground is too soft & 'nice', or wet, we can put down areas of sand, stones, concrete even, for them to walk on regularly. Another plus of the track system is that we can provide narrow areas of these surfaces along the track, so we don't have to cover large areas of the field in stones, or have the horse just avoid the carefully made areas!
Check out my track setups below for ideas, or google 'paddock paradise' for more.
Click on pics to bigger them
Stay Tuned ~ Coming soon!