As a barefoot trimmer, nothing makes me happier than to see a well-balanced horse with a healthy hoof. So many of my clients understand the importance of allowing their horses to MOVE, and the horses benefit greatly in a more “natural” environment.
As the world seemingly gets more and more populated, it’s difficult at times to find a place for your horse that gives them ample room to move. In addition to that, it’s just become an easy and common practice for boarding barns to be on a very small parcel of land that only allows for stall boarding with minimal turnout in a small paddock. I see this time and again and stalled horses are not happy horses, nor do they get enough movement to make them (or their hooves) healthy. These horses tend to have more problems than horses who are living in a more natural environment. If you read children’s horse books, they portray horses living in stables and with shoes. So we’ve gotten used to the idea of that being the way horses live, but that is not the best way for our horses.
Historical records from around 8,000 years ago showed that most horses have been ridden unshod and that they lived their lives in pastures. Both of these things are favorable for a strong healthy hoof and a happy horse. As civilization grew, particularly during the Medieval time period, the need grew for keeping horses in smaller areas like stalls and paddocks. This eliminated the need for large parcels of land, but it also eliminated movement for the horses. The horses stood in stalls, in straw bedding and waste, day in and day out. With this, the hooves weakened and began to deteriorate. Shoes were created to try and keep the hooves protected and elevated a bit off of the wet straw and waste. By the early 1800’s, the ill effects of shoes were being recognized and documented by veterinarians. It’s funny that since Medieval times, everything else that we do has evolved and changed, and improved. One thing that hasn’t? The practices of confining and shoeing horses.
Even though these practices have been proven to be detrimental, some professionals still insist that it is alright and horses continue to “suffer”. I know from experience that horses thrive in a more natural environment, where they have the opportunity to move at will. I recently came back into contact with a couple of horses that I’ve known for many years. They were sold and moved to a different ranch. Both of these horses had metabolic issues and one was frequently laminitic. These two horses are now turned out with a herd of about 20 horses, on nearly 150 acres of land. The changes in the horses were phenomenal, both physically and mentally! (The previously laminitic horse is also being treated with the EMS formula from For Love of the Horse to address the underlying metabolic condition.) Their hooves were in the best condition I had ever seen them and they both were very well balanced in their bodies and minds. All of the horses in the herd were the same, even a newer horse who has lived her entire life as a show horse. She, just being in this environment for about 6 months, has shown improvement in her flat feet and in her physical and emotional being. It was very exciting to see these horses thriving in a natural environment. The horses are all a part of a camp, trail riding, and therapy program for children. You couldn’t ask for a better place for the horses. It made my heart happy.
Even though that sort of environment is not always an option for owners and boarders, there are things that we can do to make things better for our horses. If the horse must be confined for any reason, making sure that they have some sort of turnout and/or ample exercise every day is truly beneficial. Giving our horses free choice hay, in hay nets or spread around the paddock as well, will encourage movement and the feeling of “grazing” as they pull the hay through the holes (1 ½”-2” holes are ideal) or move about from pile to pile. This makes for a happier horse all around. Making sure our horses have the best hooves possible in a confined environment is tricky at times, but with a proper barefoot trim and no shoes, it is possible. A true barefoot trim is of great importance to the overall health of a horse. This is not simply a trim without shoes, but is done with full consideration to the natural structures of each individual hoof, allowing the foot to perform and function as it is intended by nature. This will eliminate the need for shoes and if done properly, any horse can live a full and happy life, barefoot! If horses have trouble on rough or hard ground there are hundreds of boot options to improve performance and keep them comfortable on difficult terrain. Boots are also a great option to help your horses transition from shoes to being barefoot and they are a much cheaper option than shoes.
If we look at our horse’s bodies, their conformation, their feet, it is obvious that they were created to move. The more we are able to allow them to do that, the healthier and happier they are. When they are healthy and happy, we are able to create healthy relationships and bonds with them much easier than with horses who aren’t. Being a true partner with a horse is an experience worth having, for both you and the horse. They are truly intelligent and majestic beings and I believe that making the effort on our part to create an environment for them that is beneficial to their health is something worth doing. They give us so much and are so willing to please us that I believe we owe them much the same.
This article is also published in The Horses Hoof: http://thehorseshoof.com/THHissueinfo.html