No Hoof, No Horse. We’ve all heard the saying; we all know that hooves are important, but what does it take to keep them healthy and strong? Today, I talked to knowledgeable farriers and hoof specialists to learn just what it takes to keep our footies looking and feeling their best.
1. The best secret to healthy hooves is no secret at all! All of our experts were emphatic about picking out horses’ hooves at least once a day, more if necessary. Be sure to pick hooves before and after riding your horse, as well as when you bring them in from the pasture to keep them free of damaging stones and mud.
2. When you pick your horse’s hooves, check them for new problems, foreign objects or bent shoes. This early detection will allow you and your farrier to work together to solve issues before they become large and difficult to deal with.
3. Budget for farrier visits along with your other horse expenses, so you don’t neglect your horse’s hoof care due to budget constraints. Trying to stretch out the intervals between farrier visits in an effort to save money can end up being a more expensive venture as you start to deal with unhealthy hooves and injuries that could have been prevented. According to Mike Stine, a Registered Journeyman Farrier and Certified Natural Balance Farrier and Trimmer, stretching the interval between farrier visits can lead to hoof distortions, which strain the horse’s tendons and ligaments and could lead to lameness or other problems in the future.
4. Try to maintain a regular schedule with your farrier for trimming or shoeing. The interval between hoof care visits may vary due to the time of year, activity level, or the horse’s needs, but try to book your next appointment when the farrier is there. Most busy farriers find it difficult to fit in last minute appointments, so guarantee yourself a spot in the farrier’s schedule by booking ahead.
5. A common hoof care mistake made by horse owners is listening to advice about a specific horse that is given by someone who has not seen the horse or the hooves (such as on the Internet). There are many variables that can affect a horse’s hooves, such as environment, past history, how recently trimmed or shod, the hoof quality, feeding program and riding/activity level. A professional farrier or veterinarian who has actually seen your horse will best be able to consider all the different factors affecting your horse’s hooves and give you educated advice.
6. Following that same train of thought, some horse owners may instruct their farrier to follow the latest fad or opinion about hoof care or horse shoes. If you have questions about how your horse’s hooves are trimmed or shod, discuss it with your farrier, and your veterinarian if necessary. They may recommend something new, or there may be reasons why the trim method or the new design in horseshoes would not work for your horse. Insisting that a certain method is followed may force your farrier to do his or her job in a way that will be detrimental to your horse’s hoof or performance.
7. Eric Nygaard, the Immediate Past President of the American Farrier’s Association™, urges horse owners to take a look at paddock conditions before turning your horse out for the day. “Many people do not take environment into consideration; for example, you need to ask yourself: ‘Is it too wet or too muddy to turn out a shod horse?’” Use common sense when turning your horse out in inclement weather.
8. If you are considering hoof supplements or hoof dressings, make sure to ask your farrier and/or veterinarian’s opinion. Using these tools properly can be very beneficial to the health of your horse’s hooves. However, Monetta Farrier Specialties points out that applying hoof dressing too frequently may actually provide the hooves with too much moisture, making the hooves softer than they should be, and therefore, more prone to injuries.
9. Don’t think that you need to put shoes on your horse. If your horse does not have a specific need to wear shoes, letting a horse go barefoot is perfectly acceptable if it can continue to perform and stay sound without shoes. Remember to continue to have horses trimmed regularly.
10. Mike Stine offers this last tip for horse owners. “In order for your farrier to do the best possible job on your horse’s hooves, be sure he is trained to stand quietly for trimming and shoeing. The owner should be responsible for making sure this training is done and that someone is present to handle the horse for the farrier. How would you feel if your unruly horse caused your farrier to sustain a career-ending injury? A horse that is well-behaved, clean, dry, and not distracted by feeding or other activities is ideal. Your farrier will appreciate it and keep coming back!”