Monday, December 7, 2009

A Horsemen’s How-To on Hoof Care ~ Part I

More often than not as horse owners, once the farrier has left until the next appointment we tend to forget about our horses’ feet, however, one thing we should never forget is the old adage, for want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the hoof is lost, for want of a hoof the horse is lost. It might not be exactly quoted, but you get the idea.

Healthy hooves begin with your horse’s diet, so we’ll start there. Many horses in California are still on a primarily alfalfa diet, though a lot of owners have chosen to feed bermuda grass, orchard grass or any of a number of other alternatives. One fact remains, and that is alfalfa is more difficult to digest than the grass hays and that’s in large part why it isn’t the optimum choice to feed your horses without supplementation of other products. I use a high Biotin supplement and generally choose feed products that include additional Biotin. For some horses with especially poor hooves, I’ll also feed powdered gelatin. These are extra steps to help encourage strong hair and hoof growth, and while they may be slightly expensive to feed, the benefits outweigh any added cost by keeping your shoeing bill lower.

Here in the High Desert there are other considerations with regard to hoof care, most noticeably our sandy and often rocky (in some areas) ground. I use a hoof conditioner twice per day on my horses in order to keep in the moisture -- I prefer Absorbine Hooflex™ -- generally brushing it on in the mornings after feeding (and while applying fly spray in the Spring and Summer months), and after each work session. If it’s a day off for the horse, I repeat the process at evening feeding time.

When we first arrived in the High Desert after relocating from Chino Hills, something both the vets and farriers suggested was to keep a small pool of water or at least rather damp ground around our water barrels in outside paddocks, in a wide enough circumference that the horse would have to stand in the water or on the wet sand in order to drink. This worked quite well, though it had to be maintained several times per day during the hot Summer months. These days I don’t engage in that practice any longer, generally because of West Nile Virus worries. We do have very few instances of mosquito sightings up here, but nonetheless I’d rather minimize my horses’ potential exposure to WNV.

Unfortunately, an awful lot of us can’t afford that expensive rubber based footing or even enough loads of store bought screened sand for our arenas and round pens, so we endure what came naturally. What we often don’t realize is how damaging that can be to our horses’ hooves. I routinely drag my arena and round pen with a scraper then a harrow, plus I scour them on a regular basis for rocks, sticks and any of a number of other hazards that can damage my horses’ legs and feet. Just one little piece of gravel can make for hundreds of dollars in vet bills, pain for your horse and lost training time. Something I see distressingly often here in the Desert are really horrible conditions that horses are forced to endure being ridden on, and while you can’t do much about the footing where or when you trail ride, on improved land with an arena, I expect better groomed ground.

What it all boils down to is basic common sense can go a long ways toward keeping your horses sound for long periods of time. Think about how it feels to jog a mile or go on a lengthy hike with a pebble in your shoe and magnify it several hundredfold to understand how you may be inadvertently making your horse suffer.

Tomorrow, part two concerning farrier techniques and shoes. Until then stay safe, warm and dry. We're riding out the storm here at Sunlit Farm!!


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