OK, so I'm seeing alot of posts lately about sore hooves. Hooves that LOOK OK .... but horse is still sore. I realize its different seasons in different parts of the world. I also realize there's a plethora of metabolic horses out there! (which shouldn't BE that way) ...
Let's examine some of the reasons hooves can be sensitive:
1. UNCONDITIONED TO ENVIRONMENT Horses that live on soft ground, soft pastures, will be sensitive when asked to move out on harder terrain if the hooves are not conditioned to the harder environment. This is a good reason to purchase hoof boots for riding but also, get the hooves conditioned by walking the horse on tarred surface for at least 10 mins a day!
2. THIN SOLES This is a PRIMARY reason that I see frequently and about which I am commonly asked.
Soles that grow thin due to heels that are taken down too far. (see note below on heels)
A common belief is that the coffin bone must be ground parallel, aka, "Strasser Method" of trimming. That might work well in rehabilitative situations where the horse is being cared for in a controlled environment such as a matted, clinical set-up. It does NOT bode well when the horse is pasture kept in real time on varied turnout surfaces -- sand, rocks, soft damp grass, etc. etc. Trimming this way seeks a 30 degree hairline and that is just not going to work for most horses. When the hoof is weighted in soft ground, a parallel coffin bone will drop down in the heels leaving a negative palmar angle to the hooves. This overstretches the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon which then causes discomfort to the horse.
Thin soles can also be caused (and yes, I see this frequently, too) by over trimming the sole! The sole is there to protect the Coffin bone! Many farriers are taught to trim the sole until it 'gives with thumb pressure' ... YIKES! That may do well for the hooves that are getting shod but for a barefoot horse? No way! That leaves the sole completely tender and vulnerable to bruising from stones and hard ground. And many trimmers, in the quest for that perfect hoof will attempt to carve out the concavity in the mistaken belief that all hooves must be concave in order to be healthy. Again, carving out, trimming the soles, thin the sole and will leave the horse vulnerable to injuries and much discomfort. Of course there is a time to help the hoof 'exfoliate' the sole but many cannot distinguish when that time is at hand.
The soles of the horses' hooves should be a solid 1/2" to 3/4" thick in order to adequately protect against the environment.
3. SHORT HEELS This goes along with over-trimming and is a MAJOR cause for discomfort. Everyone wants to see the "heels" brought back and down to the widest part of the frog. Well, in theory, I get this but, in reality? This means bringing the heels down to such a point that a major portion of the heel buttress is removed. This causes, basically, a collapsed hoof. There's a simple fix for this ... don't trim the heels until there is 1 inch of collateral groove depth under the heel buttress! Then, bevel the heel from the seat of corn down and back to the widest part of the frog. But, one must also make sure the toes are not left too long. Read this: http://scootboots.com/blogs/blog/where-oh-where-is-the-p3 to determine where, in the hoof, the P3 is situated and how the hoof is proportioned to meet the need for proper breakover and form.
Photo from http://hoofforum.com This depicts a 30 degree hairline. NOT favorable!
4. DIET Yes, inadequate diet can cause soft sole and sensitive feet. Especially diet with too much sugar in it. By that I mean an excess of simple sugars and carbs. On the other hand, a diet rich in complex sugars and starches will help to build up the hooves to iron strength and optimal health! Simple sugars and starches are the mainstay of processed, bagged horse feeds that offer nothing in the way of nutrition and everything in the way of dis-eases. Complex sugars and carbs are those found in raw forages which contain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and will not only assist in the growth of sound, healthy hooves but also sound, healthy minds and bodies, too.
5. LAMINITIS The word that every horse owner dreads. Laminitis is not something to fool around with but, contrary, it is something that almost every domestic and feral horse goes through at one time or another for various reasons. The reduced blood flow to the outer perimeter of the sole slows down the growth of the sole. Combine that with the separation of the wall from the bone and that causes most laminitic horses to have dangerously thin soles resulting in sensitivity.
6. HUSBANDRY & GENETICS While many believe that genetics plays a strong role in the development of the hooves others will contend that husbandry will affect the hooves to even a greater extent. Thoroughbreds are notoriously labeled as having horrible hooves and 'will always need shoes to be sound'. Well, first of all, if a horse isn't sound barefooted then it ain't sound in shoes, either! It just ain't sound, period. Secondly, I've worked on many TB's over the years, taken them out of shoes and they've developed strong, uber-healthy hooves! But the husbandry has to play into this .. .along with the diet. Horses that are stabled 18 or 20 hours out of a 24 hr. period of time can't be expected to be in optimal hoof health OR optimal health, in general! On the flip side, stabled horses that are not doing well can come around almost miraculously when they are turned out 24/7 with shelter and proper feed!
7. DISEASE Brewing abscess, cankers, Thrush, Yeast, White Line Disease, Navicular Syndrome, Navicular Disease, Bruising, Quarter Cracks, can all cause discomfort. Of course any hoof disease can cause tenderness and even down-right lameness. The trick is to determine the CAUSE of the discomfort and remedy THAT in order to get the inside AND the outside balanced properly so whatever 'disease' is causing the issue can be eradicated.
Of course, solid, properly balanced hooves, a good diet and proper husbandry will go a long way in ensuring a sound horse. One other thing that was not mentioned above would be ...
8. MOVEMENT Whether the horse is ridden or exercised regularly or simply has the acreage to MOVE ... the entire horse is created around MOVEMENT ... each organ, each hoof is geared to function at its best with MOVEMENT. A lack of movement means a decrease in blood circulation to the hooves which then results in lack of nutrients and oxygen. Strong, healthy hooves cannot develop without movement. Even those hooves without proper feed management can still be relatively healthy if the horse is getting enough movement on varied terrain.
A truly SOUND barefoot horse will be able to carry its rider over hill and dale, through snow, sleet, even ice, rocks, pebbles, sand, grass, water .. you name it and that horse will march through without a hitch. So, if you have a horse that is less than comfortable on any type of terrain then it would seem behooving for you to assess the situation and ferret out the cause of the discomfort.
Meanwhile, if the horse is 'owie' and not in 'downright' pain, throw on some boots and go riding! But, don't forget to walk him, barefooted, over tarred something-or-other (driveway, road, path) to get the hooves conditioned. That works better than anything else. Especially when combined with adequate fresh forage diet and good maintenance trimming.
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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 including The 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 20 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. You can email to Gwen -- firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone in the US (23)-573-9687. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf