What is Barefoot Hoofcare?
It is an approach to hoofcare that forgoes the use of metal shoes in the pursuit of developing strong, healthy, durable feet. The diet, environment, and state of the hooves are taken into consideration when creating a hoofcare regimen for each horse as with any other kind of hoofcare. Hoof boots, pads, and even composite shoes can be used in the process when necessary to ensure comfort. It's focus is to provide the horse with the appropriate care so as to restore health to the body which in turn will cause the horse to build strong healthy hooves from the inside out. It is not enough to pull shoes and trim regularly, nor is a horse who has never had shoes necessarily better off. Keeping a horse sound encompasses having a horse appropriate diet, a movement based environment, an appropriate physiologically correct trim on a short enough cycle to maintain the appropiate form, as well as involving other professionals such as veterinarians, massage therapists, chiropracters, equine dentists etc.
How Do We Grow A Better Hoof?
Horses are designed to move and move alot. Up to 24 miles a day. The reason for this is linked to their feet. The horse's hooves when functioning properly act as auxilliary heart pumps. These pumps rely on the loading and unloading of the hoof....
A healthy horse has simple dietary requirements. They need free choice forage or grazing (with a few exceptions), a well balance loose mineral, loose salt, and clean fresh water. That's it.
If you have a horse with health issues the diet must change slightly...
Type of trim and trim intervals will affect the health of the hoof though this is one of the factors that can be removed all together if the diet and lifestyle are up to par. A healthy horse should be trimmed every 5-6 weeks. If pathology is present this interval will be greatly reduced..
The Importance of Movement
The Barefoot Horse
A horse's heart is relatively small compared to its body size and requires some help to properly circulate blood throughout the body. The hooves of a horse, through their proper function, act as auxiliary pumps for circulation with every foot fall. Every time a horse loads and unloads a foot, blood is pumped in and out of the foot and aids the circulation of the entire horse. Blood is vital to proper metabolic function in the hooves, it provides nutrition and nourishment to all the tissues and is key in producing and maintaining synovial fluid in the joints, as well as aiding in detoxification. When a horse is motionless, they have 80% less circulation than when they are walking. In general to maintain overall health a horse should get around 60,000 steps a day. Not only is movement vital for circulation, the stimulation and pressure caused by moving over varied and firm terrain is needed to build strong healthy tissues in the hooves. Think of it like going to the gym, if you want to build more soft tissue and increase bone density you need to exercise.
Now in our conventional way of boarding horses this is difficult to achieve without making some changes, especially if the horse is stalled overnight. There are a few things you can do as an owner to promote more movement.
If you do not have land of your own and must board your horse, choose 24/7 pasture board. Look for a boarding facility that uses slow feeders spread out around the pasture instead of round bales placed in one spot or even round bales that are rolled out on the ground. If that isn't available ask if the hay can be placed as far away from the water as possible. Spreading out the food source encourages the horses to move and mimic grazing behaviours. Mineral can also be used as a movement incentive by placing it as far from the water source as possible. Excercising your horse daily will also help.
If you have your own land but not alot of it, the same things can be done. Spread out the hay (if they are not grazing) all over their pen in small amounts, and place the mineral and salt as far from the water source as possible. Doing this will incentivize the horse's to move. Another excellent option would be to build your horses a Paddock Paradise.
Side Note: It is also very very important for any horse to have at least one companion. Goats or other companion type animals are not sufficient. Horses are herd animals and as such require horse to horse interaction.
The biggest percentage of a horse's diet should be forage in the form of mature native grasses and grass hay. A good grass hay with less than 12% Non Structural Carbohydrates or NSC is ideal. If you are not into testing your hay, late cut fully mature grass hay is generally recognized as safe. Look for timothy or brome grass hays.
Avoid allowing your horse to graze on early spring grasses. At this stage the grass is extremely high in sugar and can compromise a horse. If they must go out and graze, let them graze in the very early morning when the sun is still low, or in a paddock that is shaded. Sugars in grasses are at their highest at midday and lowest before sunrise. For laminitic, IR or Metabolic issue horses, I would recommend keeping them off of grass until it is fully matured and even then proceed with caution. It is much easier and less costly to prevent founder than it is to rehab it, though, rehab it you can.
For more in depth information and research on certain types of forage and how it affects the horse visit: www.safergrass.org
Salt and Minerals
A little on salt blocks. Due to the smooth nature of a horse's tongue, they are unable to lick the amount of salt that they require off of a solid block. Loose salt should be provided free choice for your horse.
Mineral likewise should be supplied as loose mineral fed free choice. There are a couple of things to watch out for in your loose mineral.
First : Mineral supplements will sometimes have added sugar to encourage a horse to eat it, this can lead to over indulgence on the horse's part as well as low grade laminitis.
Make sure the loose mineral is free from added sugars
Second : Majority of mineral supplements have added iron to them. That poses a problem as we here in alberta already have iron rich soils and water. Excess iron inhibits the absorption of other minerals that are vital to hoof health. Check out this article from Dr. David Marlin for more in depth information on the effects of excess iron in our horses.
Things to Avoid
Unless your horse is a race horse he/she does not need grain or processed feed in fact it can be very detrimental. Click Here for more info.
Avoid grains and processed feeds, especially pelletized feeds. Treats such as carrots, peppermints, and crunchies can cause and keep a horse in low grade laminitis. As little as half a cup per day of any of the above mentioned feeds can cause degradation of the connective tissues in the hoof wall due to inflammation, and can lead to cracks, prolonged thrush or white line infections, flaring, and sensitivity or full blown laminitis. If you feel the need to give your horse treats, go for things like celery, watermelon rinds, or timothy hay cubes.
If you have a hardkeeper, you can supplement with black oil sunflower seeds, whole unmolassed oats, praise hemp body builder or alfalfa pellets, until the horse has gained back appropriate condition.
The hoof is responsible for absorbing 80% of the shock that a horse experiences during movement, it aids in circulation and detoxification, as well as having proprioception ( The ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium) which makes it very important to have a fully functional hoof. There are many different methods of trimming, the most important thing is to find a trim that honors the physiology of the hoof and creates function. There is too much information to write on one page. If you are interested further in hoof physiology and trimming that honors it there is a great website loaded with the appropriate information. Check it out:
Or take a three day clinic with the SWH Team. In this clinic you will learn everything you need to know to keep a healthy sound horse.
Along with the trim it is vitally important to keep a regular trimming schedule. Each horse has different needs and will grow at different rates so these time frames are guidelines only. Some horses will need more frequent trims. For a healthy barefoot horse who has been barefoot for a while, a 4-5 week schedule in summer and 6-7 week schedule in winter is ideal. If your horse has laminitis or other hoof pathologies the schedule will need to be anywhere from 1 – 4 week intervals until they are healthy again.