It Ain't All Hooves, Ya Know!

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I had an interesting discussion this past week with someone about hooves and their 'health'.  

Definition of "Health":  free of dis-ease in mind, body and spirit. 

Whoa, that sheds a whole different light on what healthy hooves are all about! 

It ain't ALL hooves, ya know! 

Remember way back when I started this blog?  I mentioned that "what goes into the horse grows out through the hooves" ? 

And, so it does. 

But diet isn't all that goes into developing healthy hooves obviously. Neither is the trimming. Either one can make or break the 'health' of the hooves. 

Mechanically, the TRIM of the hoof is what can grossly affect the overall comfort of the horse - whether shod or not. If the TRIM isn't correct for the "hoof-in-hand" on the "horse-in-hand" then the hooves are not going to be comfortable for the horse. Sometimes that means that just a wee shaving here or there on the hoof can make all the difference in the world. A couple of tweaks can balance out a bare hoof and that will affect the WHOLE horse -- from bottom to top and all the way down the back to the bottoms again. 

However, in addition to the mechanical trimming, diet, environment and even social interactions can, and do, affect the hooves in one way or another. 

Now, in the discussion I had this week with another horseman, I mentioned MOVEMENT being probably the most effective influence on the health of the hooves. The ENTIRE system of the horse is based on movement!  It's circulatory system, the digestive system, the respiratory system, etc. etc. ... the horse was created to M.O.V.E. ... miles and miles a day over a variety of ground .. from wet to dry to soft to hard to grassy to sandy. While it was mentioned, in the discussion I was in, that genetics play the primary role in the horses' hooves, I mentioned that there is the law of survival of the fittest ... only those with the strongest hooves are going to survive to pass on the genes BUT, the genes can be altered over time/generations,as environment changes, diet changes and other influential factors affect the horse. When a foal Mustang is born in the wild it is just a matter of 1/2 hour or so that the foal is designed to get up and run with the herd. (Think of why the legs are so very long on foals -- they gotta keep up with the herd somehow!) ... and they do -- they run. For miles and miles. And for the first 5 years of their lives their hooves are developing. What happens to so many domestic foals after they're born?

(This is a photo just recently sent to me from an associate from Two~Hearts Mustang Wellness Ctr.  ... this is a 5 year old Mustang, gathered at 2 years old from one of the 2 remaining herds in New Mexico, USA, who has been trimmed just twice in the last 3 years. Amazing hoof!)  

I've found Mustang hooves to be the most fantastic, awe-inspiring hooves ever. I've worked on thousands of horses of all breeds, ages, types over the years -- 10's of thousands of hooves. The Mustangs, by far, have had the strongest, healthiest feet of them all. My own Mustang kept her own feet in perfect balance for over 3 years before I got her trimmed. And now I really wish I hadn't but, instead, left her to her own care. They didn't always look 'perfect' - in the winter they didn't grow much (just like domestics); in the spring they got long and began to chip (just like domestics) and then, in the summer she'd have tough, resilient, HARD, perfectly shaped hooves that one would ever wanna see. But, feeling guilty that she hadn't been trimmed for 3 years, I decided to "get 'er done"  'properly'.  Now? I "tweak" her as she "needs". Hmmm.  Mostly because I want my horses' hooves to look 'perfect' for others to view.

Is that an ego thing or what? *grin*  I really have to work on that ego thing.  

Why is it that we humans seem to think we can 'improve' on Mother Nature all the time?  

(Photographer unknown)

The DIET of the horse ... yep, what goes in the horse grows out through the hooves. Think of what feral horses eat ... scrub grasses, trees, leaves, bark, roots, dirt, cacti, whatever vegetation and weeds and flowers and 'seeds' are in their environment. They eat 'seasonally' ... and they eat 'locally'. We don't see the myriad of health issues and hoof issues in feral mustangs as we do in our domestics.  Does that not give you pause to think about WHY?

 What do YOU feed your horse? 

Social interaction also plays into healthy hooves. How?  Well, a happy horse that is balanced and centered in himself without negative stress in its life is going to have that awesome symbiotic flow of energy throughout its body. Happy horses are those which live in a herd; able to wither nibble with their buddies, have a few scraps here and there with some, play with each other, graze together, sleep together. Horses are herd animals. They rely on each other for their survival. Domestic horses are, many times, under excessive negative stress from being kept in solitary away from other horses. That is just not 'natural' for a horse and the emotional stress sets up physical and emotional responses that cause excessive stress on their bodies AND ON THEIR HOOVES since their hooves are connected to their bodies and receive the same blood and O2 as the rest of their organs, extremities, brains receive.  

I could go on and on as this is a passion of mine .. WHOLE HORSES! And to have healthy hooves the horse must be 'healthy' ... free of dis-ease in mind, body and spirit. And yes, 'healthy' hooves = free of dis-ease in mind, body and spirit. 

But more than diet or social interaction is MOVEMENT ... the movement of the horse (or lack of) is one of the most influential factors in hoof health. Not just trotting around a sand arena or walking around a grass pasture. But movement on various types of ground .. rocky, sandy, grassy, wet, dry etc. etc.  A 'track' system is a great way to help the horse get more movement on a 24/7 basis! 

If you're transitioning your horse from being shod to barefoot, a simple walk, everyday, on HARD ground for at least 10 mins a day to start will bring amazing results to the conditioning of the hooves. I believe that should take place daily for the rest of their lives unless they are afforded the acreage of grazing and playing and moving in a herd over all sorts of terrain. 

Anyway -- this is just a little bit of my thoughts on HOOF HEALTH today ... It ain't all just all hooves ... the hooves are connected to the rest of the horse. The WHOLE horse. 

Think about that. :)  I'm open for discussion and questions. Fire away!  


Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here:
Gwen also offer Home Study courses for those who wish to further their education on various aspects of the 'natural' horse (including Natural Hoofcare 101). Please go here:
 PENZANCE Equine Integrative Educational Center

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