Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shod to Bare

I have written on this topic several times before but since it is a concern that never goes away I thought I would address it again. One of the most common concerns we hear about from horse owners is a lot of worry associated with removing the shoes. And they have good reason to worry, it has taken a highly skilled farrier working in conjunction with the vet to keep the horse serviceabley sound with shoes on. No wonder it gives people heart palpitations just thinking about taking those shoes off.

Before anyone gets the wrong idea I am not a barefoot nazi. At times, for very specific reasons, we have recommended that shoes be put back on one of our residents for anywhere from one to a few shoeing/trim cycles. However they have all managed to transition to being barefoot and comfortable while living on a soft grass pasture and  doing only self directed movement. If any of them were asked to return to work many would need shoes, although some I think would be just fine without.

We've learned a few things about this through the years. One, when you do pull the shoes, it is best to stretch the cycle out before pulling the shoes if you can. The extra growth will be very handy as it is inevitable that the hooves will chip off up to the nail holes. It doesn't matter how beautifully you roll and beval the edges, the chipping is going to happen sooner or later.

Two, for those that do get really sore at first boots are your friend. We have found through the years that when a horse needs boots they need boots with pads in them. We have quite a collection of easyboot epics in all sizes and we have pads that we cut to fit the boots (yoga mats work great for this).  I really like using the easyboot glue-ons with a pour-in pad even better than the epics. Most of the time the horses that need this extra help only need it for one cycle so the extra expense for the owner is short-lived.

a hoof outfitted with an easyboot glue-on with a pour-in pad

easyboot epics

Finally, our goal is not a pretty hoof, our goal is a functional hoof. Sometimes you get both in the same foot, but most of the time you don't. I find a lot of horse people really do not have any idea how to evaluate a hoof. They can see if the hoof wall has cracks or if the edges of the wall are ragged and need a trim. Other than that they often do not have any other criteria to judge a hoof, and as they are making their statements don't even bother to pick up the hoof in question and look at it from the bottom. I used to be squarely in this category myself, and looking back I now realize in the early years I made the transition out of shoes more complicated than it had to be for many of our retirees. I was determined to make the hooves pretty instead of simply allowing them to be functional.

Although we do have some very pretty and functional hooves walking around the farm, we have more that are varying degrees of ugly but highly functional. I've heard many times "his hoof wall looks dry and shelly" or "her hoof has a crack." Yes, you will see a lot of dry and shelly at our farm and what I call sand cracks (cracks that do not go all the way through the hoof wall).  Since most of the horses live outside24/7, and the stall boarders spend more time out than in, the hooves on our farm constantly go through the wet/dry cycle and we can do absolutely nothing about that. This summer has made for some particularly unattractive feet since we seem to be in a permanent wet cycle and the hooves are very soft. It is what it is and there is not a thing we can do about the weather and ground conditions except complain (and for those of you wondering Jason has that part well covered).

I could care less about shelly looking walls or little cracks. Without fail when you pick up that same hoof an owner is worried about and look at it from the bottom you see a very functional hoof. The vast majority of the horses have very weak hooves in the caudal (heel) area when they arrive and the shoes are removed. It is amazing to see how much stronger the hooves look after being barefoot for awhile. Not to mention the hoof in question is attached to a horse that used to be crippled at the mere thought of not having a shoe on it, and the horse is now galloping around the pasture with confidence. To me that should speak for itself - the hoof may not be pretty from the top but it is clearly much more functional than it has been in years.  However I cannot be too hard on anyone when it comes to pretty vs. functional hooves since it took me a long time and a lot of horses to finally have the lightbulb moment. My only defense is that sometimes I am simply a slow learner . . .

There is so much more I could talk about on this topic, I could easily write a novel, so I've tried to just hit some of the high notes. Hooves are fascinating to me, they are so vital to a horse and are constantly changing with their environment. I wonder what lightbulb moments I will have in the next several years when it comes to hooves, and horses in general. It is eye opening to realize I did not know how much I did not know, and I imagine in a few more years I'll be writing a similar type of post and wondering why I did not realize sooner all the things I will have finally learned. Horses tend to be very humbling like that. Or maybe I should say life tends to be very humbling like that.


Donovan, Toledo and Kennedy having a group nap; Oskar and Stormy are grazing in the background

Clayton and Stormy on the move

Bergie clearly had a very good roll

George and Gibson grazing during one of our many rain showers

Lily and Maisie grooming while waiting for their turn with the farrier

Merlin, Fabrizzio and Walden

Lucky, Lightening and Thor

Hemi, Baby and Thomas


Lisa said...

I'm a professional barefoot trimmer and its amazing how many new clients are so worried about cosmetic issues in their horse's feet when all I can see is the contracted heels and long toe! This is a good little write up Melissa!

Essie L said...

I think hoof care is the single most complicated aspect of horse ownership, particularly for new owners. I have seen a lot of new owners relying solely on the advice of their coach or trainer and his/her preferred farrier, with the result that sketchy trims become almost the "norm". It's not until the owner moves elsewhere or has another farrier give a second opinion that they realize that their horse's hooves have looked crummy for years.

I have also (very unfortunately) seen a lot of really, really cheap people out there who are actually willing to look past less than ideal trims and shoeing jobs because they've found a farrier who charges less than everyone else, and who doesn't comment if they wait 6 months between trims to "save money".

It's hard to blame people for getting riled up about hoof care, since it can be so expensive to fix problems if things aren't done properly. I loved this informative post!


lytha said...

well said. i'm curious how much variety of footing you have there to create this level of success. you've got retired horses moving more kilometers per day than most working horses, i bet: ) and you've got your eyes on the nutrients throughout the year - so really, weather is the one thing you cannot optimize for your residents' health. for now: )

RuckusButt said...

I love your posts like this, can't get enough, in fact. How often do intelligent people with a penchant/ obligation for sharing have the experience you and Jason have cumulaitvely ammassed in your years of caring for that many horses. Not many (hopefully!).

I would never be able to have that large a sample in a lifetime of owning horses, so I gratefully apply any learnings you publish to my situation, as appropriate. From my researcher brain, you are a goldmine! Perhaps you should tap that?