“The unexamined life is not worth living.”
As part of ROTH’s annual Holistic Horse Certification Course, students must choose a topic on which to do a project and then present to the entire class. Thus far we have seen projects on the benefits and uses of Crystals, Equine Massage, and now, from Asila B. and Keli M., we have a hot topic: Natural Hoof Care!
Feel free to take advantage of their hard work and discover whether natural hoof care is best for your horse and circumstances. Thanks, Asila and Keli, for sharing your project with us in order to benefit all horses and their dedicated people!
Natural Hoof Care as an Alternative Therapy
Why did we choose this topic?
- Photo of Gypsy’s hoof, explaining why she doesn’t want to shoe and is looking for alternatives
- Many people have said horses in WY need to be shod. Is this true or is it possible to ride barefoot horses on hard ground/rocky terrain?
Horseshoeing controversy: To shoe, or not to shoe…that is the question!
- Horses were trained and ridden barefoot for centuries before shoes were invented
- Around the 9th century, shoes were developed as a fix for ailing hooves, and as a tool for war and conquest. *This was the solution at the time for poor hoof health due to the poor conditions horses were being kept in*
- Over the centuries, the traditional practice of shoeing and the fact that many horses were having problems with their feet, led to the belief that horses “need” shoes in order to stay healthy and be rideable by humans.
- Over the past few decades, many have begun to question the logic behind shoes, and began to see shoeing as treating the symptom, rather than addressing and identifying the underlying causes of hoof problems.
- Not only are they not helping hoof problems, in many cases they are probably hurting! Here are just some of the harmful effects of traditional shoes:
- Foot is lifted off ground, so hoof wall becomes contracted
- Shoe prevents hoof from its natural expansion when weight is placed on it
- Clips and nails weaken hoof wall
- Shoe prevents necessary ground contact with sole and frog, resulting in loss of traction and sensation
- Reduction of circulation in the foot resulting in loss of sensation, making horse prone to injury
What is natural hoof care? Overview and benefits
- Applies specialized trimming techniques along with improved living conditions to aid in the development of total hoof health.
- Allows many horses that were previously unable to perform barefoot using traditional trimming/shoeing methods to fully function without any hoof protection.
- Can be used in disciplines of all kinds, including endurance, trail-riding, competitive driving, jumping, roping, barrel racing, dressage, polo, flat racing, and others.
- The aim of natural hoof care and natural hoof trimming is to mimic the natural wear of the hoof, and some of the benefits include:
- Improved blood flow and circulation
- Healthy, strong hoof walls
- Heels trimmed to allow greater shock absorption
- Wearing evenly through movement, and grow evenly and strong
- Lower risk of injuries when playing pasture or fields
- Improved traction because nature designed the hoof to adapt to all terrains
- Less tripping, stumbling, and forging as the horse can feel where her feet are.
- What is unique in this approach to hoof care is that it is holistic, and considers the complete lifestyle of the horse. From this lifestyle, the barefoot hooves become strong, healthy, and fully functioning, and the entire immune system of the horse is strengthened naturally.
- Many hoof conditions such as laminitis, navicular, and poor hoof quality can be healed, and other systemic problems (such as allergies and metabolic problems) can disappear.
- There are several pieces to natural hoof care, each an integral part of the whole system. We are going to cover the optimal scenario, but realize that it is not realistic for everyone to adopt all of these practices.
Natural Living Conditions: This means freedom of movement (no box-stall confinement) – optimally living in a pasture or paddock for 24 hours a day/7 days a week in the company of other horses. Horse clothing (bandages, wraps, blankets, etc) is generally to be avoided.
Exercise: Very important! Hand-walk or ride the horse (depending on situation) as much as possible, aiming for the natural amount of movement of 10 miles per day. For horses in transition, spreading hay out in little piles, taking him for frequent short walks on non-concussive ground or in hoof boots, and keeping him in the company of many other horses will all go a long way to encouraging movement.
Diet Changes: include forage, energy sources, vitamins and minerals, other supplements.
Terrain Changes so that the horse’s feet can adapt to a variety of surfaces and inclined terrain
Soaking Hooves: 30 min prior to barefoot trimming expedites the trimming process. Hard, dry feet are healthier, so do not over soak, and only soak with an objective.
*If you are unable to adopt all of these changes with your horse, implement as many as you can.
Proper trimming of the barefoot hoof:
- Hooves must be trimmed to their natural and proper physiological form, and by someone with the knowledge and training to perform this trim.
- The main emphasis will be on improving hoof form, which is the key to hoof and horse health. This natural trim is often different from what has been considered “normal” in our modern era, yet it is the correct shape for the horse’s hoof, based on decades of studies of natural equines.
Different trimming methods
- Pioneered by Jamie Jackson, a former farrier who developed a trimming system based on studies of the shape of a wild horse’s hoof [show photo of barefoot hoof]
- Emphasized a practical approach, allowing nature to help slowly improve hoof form, with gentle and gradual guidelines for trimming.
- Includes a mustang roll and quarters are arched (“scooping”)
- Specifics on this trim:heels are kept low with bulbs nearly on the ground (which results in a near-ground-parallel coffin bone), hairline is straight, quarters are arched, bars are straight and tapered, hooves are wide and round in shape, and entire hoof expands slightly upon weight-bearing (also called hoof mechanism).
- The Strasser Method, developed by Hiltrud Strasser, a German vet who has been researching the causes and cures of equine lameness for over 20 years.
- This method is highly controversial!
- Developed a powerful trimming technique, using surgically precise trimming to drastically alter hoof form for the pathological horses in her clinic
- The most important message of this method is that we can improve our horse’s health by improving their living condition
- Gene Ovincekis, another practitioner of natural hoof care who also advocates for corrective shoes for certain horses, uses his own designs and materials (plastics) that take the horse’s natural movement and form into consideration.
These are just a few practitioners of natural hoof care—there are many other methods. The barefoot hoof care movement as practiced today is a blend of these different schools of thought.
Transitioning from shod to barefoot
- After the shoes are pulled, there is a rehabilitation period that can take anywhere from several months to over a year.There are many factors that determine a horse’s transition time, including diet, environment, the horse’s personal history, and the amount of internal foot damage. The longer a horse has been shod, the longer the transition can take.
- The increased blood flow starts to rebuild internal structures that were damaged by the shoes.
- Hoof boots are a great way to protect horses’ feet during transition time as their soles callous over.
- At the set of the transition, your horse should be healthy, fit, and young to middle age, and in good body condition. Older horses may require more time to adapt but these horses are the ones most deserving of a less constrictive way of life as they settle into retirement.
Things to consider when going barefoot
- Weigh the pros and cons based on the needs of your horse, the time you have to care for your horse during the transition, the support you have, and the desired outcome.
- Consult with a professional farrier who practices barefoot trimming, as well as your vet.
- Consider the type of trim. Most people prefer a slow approach (Jamie Jackson)over an aggressive approach (Strasser method)
- Managing problems. Most common problems include shorter stride, tender soles, and in some cases, extreme soreness. First aid may be required (soaking, sole packing, foot wrap).
- Be flexible. Some horses with thin hoof walls also have thin soles and may not be good candidates for going barefoot, so it depends on the individual horse and how they adapt.
- Give your horse time. Your horse will require at least 3-4 months to show you how he has adapted to his new shoeless life. Pain is not a part of the process. Though you should exercise your horse during this time of transition, he should not be in pain. Pain can be caused by any number of foot or leg problems. Consult a vet if you see pain symptoms.
Should shoes always be avoided?
If a horse is required to perform a task where nail-on shoes would be a benefit, i.e. to gain traction while pulling loads on icy roads or while on a roadway which would abrade the hoof faster than it can repair itself, then there is no reason not to use shoes, if they are used with respect for the functions of the foot and only for a limited amount of time.
Jamie Jackson Method:
American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP)
Horse Owner’s Guide to Natural Hoof Care
The Natural Horse
The Natural Trim
Institute of Hoof Health, Germany
Podcast on ROTH website (http://www.reachouttohorses.com/news.html)
Even if you don’t decide to go barefoot right away, implementing diet changes can make a huge improvement in hoof health. Here are some recommended changes from natural hoof care practitioners, James and Yvonne Welz.
THE HORSE’S HOOF DIET
How do you keep your horse’s diet as natural as possible if you don’t have 100 acres of varied terrain to supply your horse with the different plants and minerals that he requires to fulfill his nutritional needs? These recommendations are based on our own trial and error experiences and our latest nutritional research findings.
FORAGE: Forage should be the basis of the equine diet. Feed free choice grass hay or pasture as much as possible. Try to provide something for your horse to munch on 24 hours a day. Provide lower quality grass hays to the easy-keepers. We highly recommend slow-feeding systems. Some horses with hoof problems are very sensitive to sugar content of hay, and some grass hays can be high in sugar. Try to limit alfalfa or legume hays to no more than 10-20% of the total daily hay quantity. It may be a good idea to feed a very small amount of alfalfa daily to any horse not on grass pasture, for the extra nutrients it provides. We have personally observed no ill effects on hooves from the feeding of small amounts of alfalfa but it is high in calories, has a poor mineral balance and too much protein for horses, so feed it sparingly.
ENERGY SOURCES: Grain. Grain should be considered more of a supplement than a food due to the many problems caused by excess starch in a horse’s diet. A handful of grain a day fed for variety will not be a problem for most horses. Whole grains should be clean and from a trustworthy source. Ideally buy organic or pesticide free and non-GMO. As long as the amounts fed are kept to a minimum, all grains can be fed to some horses in very small quantities for variety. Horses with Insulin Resistance, Metabolic Syndrome, or EPSM/ PSSM or other grain-sensitive disorders should usually avoid all grains. Grain substitutes. If you need something to mix supplements in, try using soaked grass hay pellets, or grass and alfalfa mix pellets. Many people use beet pulp or rice bran, but those two by-products have very heavy pesticide levels, and most beets are now GMO. Fats. Horses do not usually require high amounts of fat in their diet and green grass will supply all the fatty acids that they need. Non-grazing horses should probably receive a supplement to provide the necessary Omega-3 fatty acids. Our absolute favorite is Chia seeds, which can be fed without any worry about preparation or safety. Other suitable products include whole extruded soybeans which must be properly prepared, whole fresh-ground flax seed, or a stabilized flax seed meal fed in small amounts. We recommend that you avoid feeding liquid vegetable oils in general to horses and to yourself, except for olive oil and coconut oil.
VITAMINS AND MINERALS: If your horse lives on an organic pasture with grass and herbs grown in virgin soil that produces plant life with correct nutrient values, it may not be necessary to provide supplements. However, over-farming, over-grazing, pesticides, chemicals, harsh fertilizers and acid rain have all contributed to a decline in nutrient values of our soils. Ideally have your pasture and hay analyzed to determine your area’s deficiencies. Once you know your hay’s deficiencies, you can look for a supplement that will complement that. Find a nutritionist to help you with this. As a precaution against over-supplementation always choose chelated mineral supplements, which are better absorbed and handled in the body. Additionally chelation prevents a mineral from interacting with other minerals and causing problems. Free-choice minerals can be provided to the horse either routinely or with free access at all times. Although their use is debated, there is anecdotal evidence that horses can regulate their minerals and we have had good experiences with high quality free-fed minerals within a complete supplement program. Provide free choice plain loose salt at all times for all horses.
OTHER SUPPLEMENTS: Probiotics. Use a probiotic or prebiotic daily. It is cheap insurance for keeping your horse’s digestion in top condition. It is indispensable for horses that are stressed, underweight, going through changes such as de-shoeing and de-toxing, any horse prone to colic or digestive upsets, and even for the easy-keeper whose system may not really be working correctly. It works! We also recommend that you feed your horse fresh food as often as possible. Besides the standard carrots and apples (keep quantities small for overweight horses), offer vegetables, fruits and very small amounts of nuts and seeds. Beyond these basics, supplements become a very individualized situation. We always prefer to keep it as simple as possible. We provided the above information in a generic format, without reference to specific brands. With that in mind, we feel there are two general overall approaches to nutrition: scientific and analytical or intuitive and artistic. If you love graphs and grids and flow charts, you might really enjoy going the scientific and analytical direction with graphs and lots of numbers to crunch. The second approach will appeal to you if you are interested in learning techniques like muscle testing, testing reflex points, and other ways to gain insight into what your horse needs nutritionally.
Our shining HHC students on their final day of class! Thanks, everyone, for contributing your projects and ideas! The equine community is a better place because of each and every one of you!
Thanks again, Asila and Keli, for such a wonderfully thorough project!