The old adage ‘no horse, no hoof’ still rings true today. As the foundation of the horse, hoof damage can easily cause a multitude of issues in various parts of the horse. As an ungulate – a hoofed mammal, the horse, whether shod or barefoot, requires essential and regular hoof trimming to maintain shape and balance. Daily checks and routine cleaning should be done to assess general hoof health and prevent an abscess or conditions such as thrush.
The wild horse is able to adequately maintain hoof health, however the modern domesticated horse requires routine trimmings and hoof care to prevent damage occurring from cracks, spays, chips or overgrowth. The horses’ natural hoof health can be dependent on various factors such as breeding, environment, activity and most importantly nutrition.
Factors Affecting Hoof Health
For some horses it may be that their breed type is predisposed to a genetic condition which affects the hooves. An example of this is Hoof Wall Separation Disease (HWSD) – resulting from a single gene mutation, it is an autosomal recessive genetic disorder. HWSD causes the hoof to delaminate and separate, proving difficulties for soundness and shoeing. Horses which present with this condition will require specialised hoof care, whether that comes from specific shoes or hoof boots. Unfortunately HWSD is not curable and once a horse presents with the effects once, it will be prone to it for its entire life.
The horses’ hoof is susceptible to damage from rapid fluctuations in moisture content. In wet and changeable conditions it is highly difficult to maintain the optimum moisture level for good horse hoof health. Extreme changes of moisture content within the hoof can cause molecular damage, which in turn will then predispose the horse to splits and cracks of the hoof.
Many horses that are in an intensive work regime are subject to certain stressors which can affect the hooves. By wearing properly designed shoes, this can alleviate the strain and therefore protect the hooves. It has also been shown that shoes can aid the horses performance when jumping, galloping and maintaining a higher quality gaits.
A horse suffering from poor health will reflect via it’s hooves.To maintain healthy hoof growth, good nutrition is essential. Tipping too far on either end of the spectrum (over feeding or under feeding) can cause issues such as laminitis or malnutrition, to avoid this, it is important to maintain a healthy diet suited to the type of horse.
Shoes or Barefoot
Shoeing is said to protect the horses hooves from damage, as well as aid performance and way of going. There are four main reasons as to why the domesticated horse should be shod.
- Therapeutic Reasons; shoes can aid a horse suffering from a disease or ailment which is causing compensatory movement.
- Protection; some horses may not have naturally strong hooves, a shoe can provide added protection.
- Traction; for horses that will be jumping and turning at fast speeds they may require increased grip to aid overall balance.
- Gait Alteration; for horses with a gait abnormality, shoeing can be used as a corrective tool.
As a rule, if a horse does not fall into those categories it should be kept barefoot. It is very easy to forget that some horses do not necessarily require shoes to maintain good hoof health – many horses in fact benefit from a more natural approach. Horses that are kept barefoot, but still struggle when it comes to roadwork or uneven terrain can be fitted with hoof boots. There are many types on the market with great reviews – one of those brands include Scootboots.
When considering whether to shoe your horse or keep them barefoot, it is important to seek professional advice from a registered farrier and treat each horse on an individual basis.