“Of the 122 million equines found around the world, no more than 10 percent are clinically sound. Some 10 percent (12.2 million) are clinically, completely and unusably lame. The remaining 80 percent (97.6 million) of these equines are somewhat lame… and could not pass a soundness evaluation or test.” - Walt Taylor – Co-founder of the American Farriers Association, and member of the World Farriers Association and Working Together for Equines program.[American Farriers Journal, Nov. /2000, v.26, #6, p.5]
Considering all the horse has done for mankind, and for all our supposed care of them. Statistics like this are frightening. Yet the world sticks unthinking to convention, clings to tradition and blindly follows what has always been done.
Natural Horse Care (NHC) is proving beyond doubt that there is another way. A path founded on the laws of nature to bring health and soundness. Bringing a shift away from outdated techniques that have proved questionable at best, to humane horsecare. This does not mean that barefoot is the miracle solution to all your problems, but if a trimmer knows how to encourage healthy hoof development it can go a long way in giving a new way of life.
Now all that's needed is for the world to catch up.
Are Shoes Really That Bad?
“In my practice, the incidence of limb disease and injury is 70% higher amongst shod horses. Shod hooves cannot adequately dissipate forces of torque and concussion. Instead, these forces harm the hoof and are, also referred up the limb to assault other structures that have not evolved to withstand these stresses and strains. The resultant harm to the horse’s flesh and bone is both predictable and inevitable.” -Dr Tom Tesky
But let horse show you for itself...
The Shod Hoof
The Barefoot Hoof
“Horse’s hooves should expand and contract with every step. They can’t do it if their hoof walls are clamped with an iron hoop and crucified with seven nails.” - Dr Robert Cook FRCVS, PhD
Shoeing then prevents the natural function of the hoof. But it goes further than this, it also alters the horses natural weight bearing surface.
All of the horses weight is carried across the wall and toe.
The horses weight is carried at the back and then evenly shared.
Quite different yes? Its no wonder than that shod horses experience increased muscle strain, skeletal damage, pain and pathology. What would your body do if you put on a pair of metal shoes and you walked on the sides of your feet?
So why would it be any different for the horse?
In the footsteps of their ancestors...
The cliche comment is you don't see horses in the wild wearing shoes. And the predicable retort is, domestic horses need shoes because of thousands of years of captivity and breeding. Sometimes seeing the evidence side by side helps put things in perspective.
-Shoes reduce circulation and impair the hoof mechanism.
-Due to lack of circulation, the health of the hoof is compromised and horses heal slower from their injuries.
-Every step a horse takes with a shoe on results in contraction as the frog cannot make ground contact. This means that even after you remove a shoe, the hoof cannot properly circulate blood, resulting in a transitioning period to correct this pathology, which in some cases cannot be achieved.
-Shoes restrict the development of key internal structures leading to weaker hooves.
-Shoes magnify the affects of concussion by 70-80% as the natural shock absorbers no longer function correctly. The concussion continues up the leg and damages tensions, muscles and joints, eventually leading to conditions such as arthritis, navicular and ringbone.
-Muscular skeletal problems are also created by shoeing.
-Reduced traction, except when studs used, however, studs cause incredible damage to both muscles and ligaments due to the strain placed on the system.
-The result of poor circulation also leads to increased risk of injury.
-Conditions aggravated by shoeing include navicular disease, thrush, abscesses, club foot, laminitis, founder, and tendon injuries.
-A kick from a shod horse is far more destructive than a kick from a barefoot counterpart.
-Shoeing a horse will mask underlying health problems. The ongoing hiding of health conditions that could be easily identified in a barefoot horse can continue for years before noticed. By then it may be too late.
-Losing a shoe can put an end to any further activities until your farrier can get out to you.
-Shoeing, especially if done correctly (at least every 4 weeks) becomes a very expensive necessity.
-A truly healthy hoof - internal and external structures working correctly with aligned hoof balance.
-Fully functional circulation to the legs, hoof and body.
-Correct shock absorption, reducing the impact of concussion on the entire body.
-Passive frog contact resulting in increased stamina as blood is correctly pumped by the hoof mechanism.
-The hoof tells a story. Natural wear patterns enable you to read how your horse travels, balances, and provides an overall indication of the horses physical body and health.
-Many hoof and laminitic issues are reduced or completely healed.
-Improved balance and awareness of their feet, resulting in a far more comfortable riding experience.
-The risks of tripping, slipping and stumbling are considerably reduced.
-Increased traction on both wet and very dry surfaces when the hoof is correctly trimmed.
-Injury to the horse, other horses, and humans is considerably reduced.
-Horses can be turned out with other mares, foals, geldings and stallions without concern of serious injury occurring.
-Lower risks of bacterial and fungal infections as the hoof wall is not compromised with nails being inserted into live tissue.
-Easier to detect signs of lameness as they cannot be masked by a shoe.
-Far cheaper compared to shoeing.
-Less damage caused to fields and paddocks by unshod hooves.
-No fear of losing a shoe
-A properly conditioned hoof, in sound working order can traverse terrain a shod horse may well hesitate over.
So Why Barefoot Hoofcare?
Only you can answer that for yourself. My reasons are quite simple, I've seen it help firsthand, I know it works, I trust it, and it makes a great deal of sense whenever I think about it.
But it's only a piece of the puzzle, and people need to remember that. A trim sets the platform, but its the other elements that determine whether or not your horse can truly go barefoot. How healthy the hoof is to start with, how well your trimmer does their job, diet, lifestyle, movement, and herd life are just some of these.
As I've come to see it, a shoe will hide an ailment and keep your horse moving, but it won't fix the problem. It can't fix the problem. In contrast, correct trimming has proven it can create a hoof that is a stronger with results that last.
Healing can take time, and nobody should expect a hoof to look good fast. A good looking hoof is not necessarily a healthy hoof and rushing the healing process can lead to other complications. But with patience, knowledge and application one can transform the life and performance of a horse, whether transitioning to barefoot or continuing on the journey.
I've got no interest in ramming barefoot down peoples throat, and this isn't intended to be a barefoot vs shod debate. This topic can be so fueled with personal conviction that judgement clouds over and nobody gets anywhere.
However, I'll say this, regardless of whether you shoe your horse, or follow barefoot principles, as long as you are driven to do the best thing for your horse at all times, and continue to seek out answers, you're doing right by me.
"The same care which is given to the horse's food and exercise, to make his body grow strong, should also be devoted to keeping his feet in condition. Even naturally sound hoofs get spoiled in stalls with moist smooth floors. [A] place outside of the stall would be best suited to the purpose of strengthening the horse's feet if you threw down loosely four or five cartloads of round stones, each big enough to fill your hand and about a pound and a half in weight, surrounding the whole with an iron border to keep them from getting scattered. Standing on these would be as good as traveling a stony road for some part of every day."
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