Sunday, February 22, 2009

Barefoot is better...and we've known it for CENTURIES...

Think barefoot is a new idea that goes against hundreds of years of farrier science? Think again. Even in 1889, it was widely recognized that shoeing and traditional farriery caused most of the hoof and limb maladies suffered by domestic horses. We knew it then...we just didn't know how diet and environment thwarted our attempts to keep barefoot horses comfortable!

Read the section on horse shoeing from page 686 through page 691:

Horseshoeing: Supplement to Encyclopedia Britannica, 1889

Sure, there are a few assertions in the text that I would vehemently argue...in particular, the idea that the hoof wall is the primary load bearing surface, and the notions regarding how energy is dissipated (via the laminae? yikes!!), but hey, it WAS 1889, and the overall message is that the nailed on metal shoe is the root of many of the evils prevalent in the hoof and limb of the domestic horse.

Now that we understand how movement, hygiene, diet and trim work together to forge and maintain a brilliantly healthy bare hoof, it is indeed time for an end to horseshoes...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dry Weather Feet....Wet Weather

Nothing ruins my month like a horse going even slightly tender after a trim. So the rainy season -- when it actually *rains* -- gives me fits. You'll hear a lot of people refer to the wet weather as "abscess weather". That's not really true for healthy footed horses, and I'll explain why in an article on abscesses in the upcoming newsletter. But it is absolutely true that the soggy conditions present challenges for horses acclimated to a predominantly moisture-free existence.

You'll notice a lot more going on on the bottom of your horse's feet in these muddy weeks. Everything becomes soft to the point of mushiness. The wall reacts much as your fingernails do after a long soak in a hot bath. Heavily calloused frog becomes spongy. Laminae swell and protrude, fringe-like, from the white line. And sole that has stubbornly clung despite exaggerated depth suddenly sloughs out in great hunks, leaving the much sought after, spectacular solar concavity that's been elusive through the dry months.

The result of that sudden metamorphosis is a double-edged sword: the upside is that the hoof capsule definitely has the ability to make much more dramatic changes in the wet climate, and we can make great strides in correcting pathologies with this much more yielding foot. The downside? Tender feet.

Sometimes, even in dry weather, the sole sloughs dramatically, but in the dry season, it presents less of a problem. It's hard to imagine that the new layer underneath would be tough enough for the outside world after such a shed. It's possible that if a horse is truly moving enough, getting enough steps on the right sort of terrain, this type of dramatic shedding doesn't happen...perhaps the wear is much more gradual, and the sole sheds at a much more even rate. Then again...maybe even healthy hooved wild horses shed big layers, and have a day or two of tenderness. Either way, it's unavoidable. Leaving excess sole can be just as detrimental as carving into healthy material -- it can cause bruising, force an unnaturally long hoof capsule, and inhibit hoof mechanism (the expansion and contraction of the hoof capsule). If it's ready to go, it's best to take it -- you'll always wind up with a more accurate trim. And a proper trim is critical to forging a healthy hoof. Tenderness, however, is never desirable. And so we're faced with a bit of a paradox.

One thing is certain: horses with healthy digital cushion rarely exhibit the sensitivity that less healthy hooves are prone to. As always, the ultimate solution is to forge a truly healthy hoof.

What to do in the meantime? Arm yourself with boots and pads, just in case. There's never an excuse for letting the horse be uncomfortable, and rarely a good reason to make him stand still when movement is the real cure!