WHEN IT COMES TO GROWING AND MAINTAINING HEALTHY HOOVES on our horses, I believe in taking a holistic approach. While a balanced, physiologically correct trim is absolutely important – because by trimming hooves we are mimicking for our domestic horses the wear they would get if they moved many miles a day over abrasive terrain, such as the horses of the U.S. Great Basin do – the bottom line is that a proper trim isn’t enough on its own. We have to consider the bigger picture, and by that I mean our horses’ nutrition, their environment, and how much and what sort of movement they get.
Nutrition: I can’t stress enough how important proper nutrition is for our horses. A diet of free choice, slow feed forage is ideal, in my opinion (horses did not evolve to eat meals, but rather to eat small amounts throughout the day and night), with a supplement to balance the all important minerals. I feed my horses Horse Tech’s Arizona Copper Complete, which balances most of our hay around here (Wyoming and Colorado). Also good by Horse Tech is their Colorado Mix. Another good forage balancing supplement is California Trace.
Environment: By environment I mean where the horse lives, who they live with, how many and what sort of stressors they have, what sort of terrain they live on. Horses need other horses, they need to have at least some autonomy when it comes to where they choose to be and with whom, stressors need to be kept to a minimum, and they should have access all the time to dry footing. As for footing, if you can afford to put down some pea gravel in places where they tend to stand and walk, you’ll be amazed at the good effect that can have on a horse’s feet!
Movement: It’s unrealistic to think that the majority our domestic horses can get the kind of movement that the feral horses of the U.S. Great Basin do, but there are things we can do to encourage as much movement as we have the room for. A track paddock system is a great way to help keep our horses moving. Not only is more movement good for our horses’ minds and bodies, but for their hooves, as well.
Trim: As for the trim, it is the necessary substitute for abrasion caused by miles and miles of daily travel over varied and abrasive terrain. The goal is to help our horses’ feet come into contact with the ground in proper balance to facilitate healthy movement that doesn’t negatively impact the joints and tendons and ligaments of the lower leg. A good trim allows the horse to move to the best of it’s abilities according to its conformation and condition. Most important is to understand and respect the internal structures of the hoof, and thereby encourage proper hoof mechanism and function.
Trim cycle is extremely important, as well. We don’t want to wait until the hoof looks like it needs trimmed. By then it’s overgrown and most likely quite out of balance. If I had my way I would keep all my clients on a 4 week trim cycle, but I know that simply isn’t realistic for everyone. Most of my clients are on a 6 week trim cycle, and that is adequate in most cases to keep the feet in good shape, so long as all other elements are in place, as well.
Nutrition & Management Resources
“Feeding the Hoof”
Carol Layton, Balanced Equine Nutrition
“The Art and Science of Feeding Horses”
“Minerals and Hoof Health”
Eleanor Kellon, VMD
“Hay Wars – Which Is Best?”
“Matching Feed to Activity Level”
“Alfalfa for Horses”
“Does Your Horse Need Grain?”
“Do Any Horses Benefit from Grain?”
“Do You Really Understand Protein?”
Kathryn Watts, safergrass.org
“Horse Mineral Deficiencies Can Create Health Problems”
“When Excess Carbs Create Problems in Horses”
“Not All Carbs Are Created Equal”
“Testing for Sugar/Starch in Feed”
“Don’t Guess. Test Your Hay”
“Forage and Pasture Management for Laminitis Horses”
“Founder Fodder: High Risk Weed
Rio Grande Mule & Donkey Association
“Testing for sugar/starch in feeds: glycemic carbs in hay and feed”
Balanced Equine, Carol Layton
Safer Grass.org (Kathryn Watts)
The Naturally Healthy Horse
Equi-Analytical Labs – Nutrient Requirement Tables
FOR SLOW FEED HAY NETS, I really like Hay Chix nets. But there are plenty of other ones out there, and it’s pretty easy to make your own. For my DIY nets, I like to get the netting from Hay Burners Equine, LLC. You can also get DIY netting from Hay Chix. When it comes to slow feeders, you are only limited by your imagination.