How long do you spend riding your horse each day? How much time does he spend turned out in a pasture? How many hours is he kept in a stall each day? The answer to these questions play a definite role in your horse’s hoof health.
The correct footing is uber-important in any performance arena, of course. But what about the rest of the horse’s day? It’s important to consider foot function while the horse isn’t being ridden.
Like anything, there are always a lot of variables to consider. Standing on stall mats, big shavings, hard ground, etc. for too long can all be detrimental to hoof health and function. Why? Without good footing even while a horse is resting, problems will develop in the hoof capsule over time.
Frog pressure is so very important that some may say that it pumps the hoof. While the hoof capsule is very complex, for simplicity’s sake we will let the frog take the credit. The frog needs to be in action most of the day; whenever it’s not hitting the ground, it’s not working. Anytime your shod horse is on hard ground, the frog isn’t doing anything unless the hoof is packed with some sort of soil. When a horse is in nice arena footing, the frog is being loaded and unloaded a lot like a barefoot horse.
If the frog isn’t being used, bad things can happen to the hoof. Heels crush/contract/run forward, toe starts to run forward, flares start appearing, etc. That’s why I teach trimming heels down to the widest/highest point of the frog. It makes the heels and frog the same height and allows the horse to use the entire back half of its hoof for support.
Shoeing a horse can be very important, as it allows us to provide a hoof with protection, traction, and/or specific therapeutic enhancements. With that said, I believe shoeing isn’t always the best option. I recommend going barefoot often, and it’s because it has lot of natural advantages. If your horse can go barefoot, it is the most affordable way to return the frog back to full function, assuming the correct barefoot trimming is being done. In some instances, you could call it hitting the reset button.
What can be done if a horse can’t go barefoot? Even while I’m working at a vet clinic to correct a horse’s crazy lameness or therapeutic issue, my goal is to get the hoof back to basic functions. That typically requires some sort of frog support pad or heart bar shoe.
Regardless of a hoof care treatment plan, it’s vital to keep evaluating your shoeing. I’ve seen some really bad shoeing on horses and wondered to myself, “How does that not bother the horse?” Usually, the answer is that the horse is only shod once or twice a year and trimmed for the rest of the time.
The hoof is so forgiving that you can get away with about anything for a time or two. Unfortunately, it’s going to bend until it breaks. It takes around a year to grow an entire hoof, so it can be hard to know immediately if you’re on the right track. That’s why it’s more important to evaluate your shoeing at the end of the cycle then it is when it’s freshly shod.
Keep your horse’s feet healthy and in good footing at all times.
God Bless America