It's Not Just About the Hoof


Hoof health depends on more than just a correct barefoot trim. There are many factors involved in creating a sound barefoot horse capable of high level performance over varied and harsh terrain. First and foremost is feed/forage type and amount. High sugar levels are a direct cause of laminitis and founder, so it's necessary to evaluate your horse's weight. Signs of obesity (high risk for laminitis) are a cresty neck and fat pads just behind the shoulder and by the tail head. If your horse has these signs, don't panic, but realize it is a serious situation. There is a lot of overreaction regarding diet, in my opinion. Often a simple reduction in calories is all that's needed. For example a horse who is fat, is on pasture, and gets supplemental hay, often only needs to have his hay reduced or eliminated. Increasing the amount of exercise the horse gets is another way to lower the amount of calories that can be stored as fat. Treat the "easy keeper" as you would a person with Type II diabetes.

Second, and most often overlooked, is frog health. An unhealthy frog can mean the difference between a rock cruncher and a horse who is tender footed on rocks, or even lands toe first. Often an unhealthy frog appears perfectly healthy. A good way to test the frog is with your hoof pick. Poke all areas of the frog, including the deep crevices (collateral grooves) on each side of it. Start with mild pressure and gradually increase it - don't apply maximum pressure right away! When you can push and probe every part of the frog as hard as you can and get no reaction, the frog is probably healthy. However, if you get ANY reaction at all - and it can be as slight as the horse just trying to take his foot back - you most likely have some type of infection.

There are many types of frog infections, not just thrush - although we use that term as a catch-all. Yeast, bacteria, and fungi, all attack the frog when conditions are right, and there are even bacteria and fungi that have a symbiotic relationship. The fungi weakens the frog and opportunistic bacteria prey on the frog tissue damaged by the fungus. There are many treatment options available for frog infections, both natural and chemical. If your favorite treatment doesn't work, try another one of a different type, as all organisms do not respond to the same treatment. Remember that fungi release spores, and after the original infection is dealt with, the spores develop and a new infection ensues. Clean Trax was developed to kill both fungi and their spores.

Third, and by no means least, is nutrition - specifically essential minerals. It is a fact that we have farmed the land for many many years. As a result, many of the vital nutrients have been leached from the soil. Hay growers, and other farmers, do fertilize the soil, but that fertilizer is only meant to feed the plants, not provide nutrients that animals (and humans!) need, in addition fertilizers can make any existing minerals unavailable. Feed companies add many "nutrients" to their products, but most often just to be able to say they did, as opposed to adding the amounts actually needed by the horse. After extensive reading, and trying various products on my own horses, as well as feedback from clients, I have found the following to be extremely helpful in producing not only healthy feet, but healthy horses. (See also Pat Coleby Information)

Offered free choice:

Dynamite 2:1 minerals (this is for horses on grass/grass hay 1:1 is for horses on alfalfa)

(Note: I now offer Redmond salt "rocks" and Purina Free Balance 12:12.  Once I offered the Free Balance the horses backed righ off of the kelp.)

Based on recommendations by Pat Coleby, copper is a crucial nutrient. Most feeds and vitamins carry only negligible amounts. Horse Guard (and also Farrier's Formula) contain sufficient copper to give the horse what it needs. Horses with sufficient copper are resistant to thrush and other frog infections, as well as parasites, and sweet itch. (There are many more benefits - I strongly advise reading Pat Coleby's book) Sufficient copper will also prevent fading in horses coats - even those who are outdoors 24/7.

Pat also recommends feeding seaweed meal (kelp). I tried it (it's available in 50lb bags from feed stores as goat dairies use it) and was amazed at the results. If I had known what the results would be, I would have taken before and after photos. We rescued a TB mare in 2003 (aged 15), she developed a large lump in her neck, the vet didn't know what it was, and we never got around to doing a biopsy. It was very large but didn't appear to bother her. She had it for 4 years, up until the time I offered the free choice kelp. Within 5 weeks it was gone!!

Based on my own experimentation, and the results I've seen in my clients' horses, I am convinced that most, if not all, of our horses are suffering from mineral deficiencies. For those who offer their horses mineral blocks, I've learned that they were created for cattle. Cattle have rough tongues and get more from the block than horses. Horse cannot lick enough to get what they want/need - their tongues get sore after licking for long periods. Also, the mineral content and ratios are not really correct for horses. Minerals for horses should be fed free choice, preferably, or in measured, prescribed doses.

Also playing a factor in hoof health - and overall health as well - are vaccinations, worming, etc. In short, chemicals and other substances that enter the horse's system. I have become convinced that our horses are over vaccinated. There is no evidence that yearly or twice yearly vaccinations are necessary. I think about people - as we all know people are more valued by our society - and we are not vaccinated annually, or at anytime after childhood. If people do not need to be vaccinated against every disease known to mankind, or every year, then why should our horses? It is my personal opinion (although I am not alone in thinking this) that drug companies prey on horse owners' fears to sell drugs and make money. I personally do not vaccinate my horses other than when they are young. None of my horses are ever sick. I lived in CO in 2002, when West Nile hit many horses, and none of my horses got sick.

In addition to the actual vaccine material in the shots, there are also heavy metals such as mercury, and other toxic substances. It is my personal opinion that the plethora of vaccines, along with yearly or even bi-annual vaccinations, are the cause of many of the problems now plaguing horses, including Cushings. Dog and cat research is ahead of equine research in this - and many small animal vets no longer do annual vaccinations.

It is not uncommon for horses to become mildly laminitic following vaccination. And many horses have actually foundered after being vaccinated.

It seems that common sense would tell us that vaccinations, wormer, daily wormer, feed through fly-control, and even fly spray, each have potential negative consequences. The more of them our horses are exposed to, the more the potential risk for problems.

To sum up, natural barefoot trimming is based on giving the horse the optimal environment to create a healthy system, and thereby healthy feet. Many of the problems we have with our horses are directly related to their physical health - in areas where we do not even think about it.



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