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  FAQ's About Natural Horse Care Resources

What is NATURAL hoof care?

There are several schools of thought throughout the world today promoting natural hoof care for domestic horses. Some claim specific hoof wall and hairline angles are necessary, other say naturalness is attained with special horseshoes; they can all vary to extensive degrees. But, true Natural Hoof Care for domestic horses uses the wild mustang foot as its model and understand horse's hooves can be as different as people's feet. The wild mustang hoof has no human intervention and therefore can, without reservation, be called the truth; the way the horse's foot is supposed to be. domestic horses and wild horses are not genetically different; all are anatomically, physiologically and psychologically the same. Natural hoof care is a process and is not intended as a one-time trim or quick fix to hoof problems.

Why should I take the shoes off my horse?

Horseshoes damage your horse's feet. Any reputable Farrier Manual or Text will tell you to keep the shoes off your horse as much as you can. Most people de-shoe their horses in winter to let the feet heal and recuperate. Natural hoof care takes it a step further and lets the hoof continue its healing process year-round, to let the horse grow the feet Nature intended it to have. Loss of shock absorption, contracted hells, reduced blood flow, bacterial and fungal invasion, digital cushion atrophy, etc...are a few of the hoof pathologies directly attributable to horseshoes.

My horse has very thin, brittle hoof wall; doesn't it need shoes?

The membranes inside the hoof capsule, known as the Coriums, that produce all the parts of the hoof that we see (hoof wall, sole, frog, white line and periople) make up a single living entity who's only function is the survival of the hoof. These Coriums receive feedback from the hoof's environment and produce hoof as necessary to ensure the health of the foot. When a shoe is attached to the hoof, this feedback is greatly diminished and the Coriums are driving blind. They can sense hoof wall length however, and when the hoof is left long in the quarters to support a shoe, the Coriums will produce hoof wall that will chip and break in an effort to shorten the hoof wall. Your horse does not need shoes because it has thin, brittle hoof wall; it has thin, brittle hoof wall because it has shoes. As your horse goes through the rehabilitation or transition period, the hoof will grow in thick and hard.

If I take the shoes off my horse his feet always crack and chip!

Chips most usually occur in the quarters but can happen anywhere around the hoof wall, the same with cracks. Tensile stresses on the hoof wall extending below the sole while bearing the horse's weight, constantly apply a spreading force to the tubules that make up the hoof wall. This will start cracks that will widen and run up the hoof as long as the force is applied. A good natural trim keeps the hoof wall no more than 1/16" longer than the sole and the bevel with Mustang Roll contribute to compressive forces on the hoof wall, squeezing everything together. A good strong Mustang Roll may take a few trims to achieve.

I drive my horse on pavement quite a bit; won't I wear its feet off?

Wild mustangs in North Central Nevada live and move up to twenty hours a day on volcanic rock tough enough to rasp wood. Their feet are conditioned from birth for that environment. The key word is "conditioned;" the Coriums must have time to respond to the feedback received. I know of carriage horses in Georgia and South Carolina that work barefoot on pavement every day, but their feet required gradual conditioning to give the Coriums time to produce the hoof wall required. With the correct attention to conditioning and hoof wall maintenance by trimming, any barefoot horse can spend its days working on any surface without harm.

Don't we need the extra support shoes give for the added weight of a rider?

Wild mustang mares travel twenty to thirty miles every day, pregnant, over terrain we could not conceive of living in. It's a considerable etra burden, taxing their skeletal, muscular, and internal organ structures far more than anything a domestic horse is ever asked to do. And they do it barefoot without any adverse effects to themselves or their foals. Furthermore, a horseshoe greatly reduces the natural shock absorption capabilities of the hoof and transfers shock up the bony column to other joints, tendons and ligaments and bones. Horseshoes cause atrophy of internal hoof support structure and hinder the natural movement of the hoof.

How does the trimming involved in natural hoof care differ from a pasture trim?

Pasture trims, for the most part, consist of trimming the excess hoof wall as would normally be done, rasping the hoof wall flat then sometimes beveling the outer edge of the hoof wall to minimize chipping. On the other hand, a wild mustang's hoof is a marvel of Mother Nature's engineering; it's the hoof all horses are born with and meant to have. The sole is concaved, smooth and calloused. The frog is wide, flat, follows up the concavity of the sole and tough as boot leather. The hoof wall is considerably shorter than most people are used to seeing with a very significantly rounded edge known as the "Mustang Roll" and the hoof wall extends no lower than the sole. In this foot, the hoof wall, sole and frog all play a part in the support of the horse's weight. Natural Hoof Care trimmers only compensate for the wear that domestic horses are not able to get with their relatively sedentary lifestyles. When trimming hoof wall, the sole is followed and the hoof wall is not normally left any longer than the sole. Bars are taken down to the level of the sole to follow the concavity of the foot and the frog is trimmed only enough to ensure passive support and frog health. The outer portion of the hoof wall is beveled much more than a pasture trim; all irregularities in hoof wall thickness are addressed, flaring is removed and the "Mustang Roll" is applied. It's a much more detailed kind of trim in an attempt to match what Nature does to the hoof in the wild.

If I take the shoes off my horse, won't it be tender and "Ouchy?"

There is a period after de-shoeing a horse, known as "transition" or "rehabilitation," where it will have tender feet due to atrophy, blood circulation, de-contraction and tissue regeneration. Basically, the horse must repair all the damage done by shoeing. This transition period can last from a few weeks to several months, depending on the length of time the horse has been shod and the amount of damage done by the shoes. The sooner the horse's lifeway is naturalized the better. The diet, exercise regimen, starting condition, expectations and socialization practice all affect this time period. Booting your horse is the one way to help your horse through it. When required to work, putting good quality hoof boots on your horse will alleviate much of the pain associated with movement until full time bare-footedness can be achieved. The rehabilitation or transition period will require more patience and dedication from the horse owner than the horse. This period can only be measured in miles, not time; movement is the key.

My horse has been barefoot for a long time, will his hooves go through transition?

Due to dead sole, long bars and compacted material which may have been left in the hoof during previous trims, horses already barefoot can experience transition because of increased hoof flexibility. Unnatural trimming that leaves this material behind can cause the effects of horseshoeing, casting the hoof and causing insensitivity. After initiating natural hoof care and trimming the hooves to emulate the natural model, a transition or rehabilitation period may occur.

What's the best environment for my horse's feet?

The horse's foot is meant to work and work hard! Natural horses are nomadic, social animals instinctively moving most of the day over very rough ground to obtain food and water. We can only attempt to do the best that domestication will allow; provide a dry lot that is hard-packed with lots of rocks or gravel (lush grassy paddocks are not doing your horse any favors), feed on the ground in several piles, water should be available 24/7. Ensure it exercises regularly and as much as possible, making it sweat is not mistreatment. As much as possible, let them be horses; socialization is very important, playing and fighting are necessary for their psychological well-being. If there is plenty of room, put your horse in with as many other horses, as often as you can.

My horse has "Laminitis;" doesn't he need shoes to stop Coffin Bone rotation?

Laminitis is always the result of toxicity! The horse has ingested something that produced non-normal bacteria in the hindgut and sent the production of enzymes affecting hoof growth out of control. The symptoms of laminitis that we see are the result of the horse trying to correct the situation. Coffin Bone "rotation:" that phrase almost always associated with a death sentence is in fact a natural response to a very unnatural condition. First and foremost, the trigger initiating the attach must be eliminated; the horse's diet must be naturalized. All legumes (alfalfa) and sweet or processed feeds must be removed. The horse should receive nothing but grass hay, preferably mixed grasses, fresh water and a salt and mineral block. Exercise now is very important. The hoof mechanism that works to help move clean, rejuvenating blood through the foot must function. This can't happen while standing around in a stall and its ability is greatly reduced by nailiing a horseshoe to the foot. Laminitis is painful. To help the horse mentally it should be able to associate with its buuddies, don't lock it up in a stall all by itself. Trimming could be the least significant aspect of dealing with laminitis, the horse is going to do most of the work. We're going to trim the horse as we would any other; either you do a natural trim or you don't. We'll remove excess hoof growth, maintaining the healing angle of the toe wall as it leaves the hairline and minimize any divergent toe angle without invading the white line. Then watch as the horse grows a new, beautiful, straight hoof.

My horse was diagnosed with Navicular Disease; doesn't it need long heels and wedges or pads under its shoes?

"Navicular" is a very nebulous term; you'll normally get a different answer from anyone you ask. However, new research by Dr. Robert Bowker, D.V.M. at the University of Michigan has shown that the most contributing factor to this problem is a fatty, atrophied digital cushion which causes a toe-first landing and prevents re-development of the digital cushion...it's a vicious circle. The horse must regain the ability to land flat-footed, putting passive pressure on the frog and redeveloping fibro-cartilage in the digital cushion. This can be done with natural trimming, reading the landmarks that the foot will provide as its shape and mass change. It's a gradual process that can take time, but is vastly superior to masking the symptoms with shoes and pads only to get another couple of years of productivity out of your horse.

You hear a lot about Natural Training and Natural Horse Care these days. How does Natural Hoof Care fit in with these methods?

Natural Hoof Care is one small but important aspect of Natural Horse Care. providing holistic lifeway changes as necessary for your horse is the most important part of naturalizing your horse's life. The horse's diet should be as simplified as possible: grass hay, varied in content with as many mixes of grass as are available (avoid Alfalfa, Clover and rich spring or fall grass), water always available and a salt and mineral block is all your horse really needs to fuel that magnificent, powerful body under all conditions; the wild ones prove this. By feeding rich/sweet feeds such as Alfalfa, you are setting your horse up for potential problems such as laminitis or founder. Your horse needs as much exercise as possible. 24/7 turnout is best, but any on a daily basis is better than none. It needs to socialize. your horse should always be with, or at least where it can touch other horses. Because our domestic horses cannot move nearly as much as they need, regular natural trimming, anywhere from four to eight weeks is vital to keeping their feet healthy. If your horse looks like it needs a trim, it's past due.
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