MS-CL-MR-1-Horse Tales #111One of the most important duties of a horse keeper is taking care of your horse’s feet. The old adage, “No Hoof, No Horse!” rings true — just ask anyone who’s planned a ride and then had a horse lose a shoe, or even worse, come up lame!
Several years ago a horse came to us that had poor feet. He had been shod regularly, but his hooves were brittle, and it was difficult to keep shoes on for more than a few weeks. In addition, a farrier that had been used formerly had nailed ‘too close’ and caused the horse a good deal of pain — and resultantly, a strong fear of farriers and shoeing! We decided, after many trials and errors, to turn him out to pasture — barefoot — and wait until he was able to grow out good, healthy hooves. We supplemented his feed and used hoof dressings, including Venice Turpentine, to help toughen up his soles. On the occasions when I wanted to ride him on our wooded trails, I used “Easy Boots” — which are custom-sized rubber boots that you slip on the horse’s foot prior to going for a ride to prevent stone bruises and excess concussion from riding (and then are removed when you return and turn the horse back out.) These worked nicely in keeping him comfortable on our rides.
As time went on, I was pleased to see how healthy the gelding’s feet were looking as they grew out. I had contacted a ‘barefoot trimmer’ who specialized in trimming barefoot horses (horses that are shod are trimmed differently than horses that are left barefoot) that had been recommended to me as being very knowledgeable about problem feet, as well being an instructor in barefoot trimming. She stressed the importance of being diligent with my horse’s hoof care, and being observant of his feet and his gait. Over the course of several months to almost a year, he had grown out what appeared to be an entirely “new” healthy hoof — and we were satisfied with his progress, and grateful we had the luxury of time to wait for all those months for his feet to improve.
Unfortunately, at about this time, my trimmer informed me that she would be moving to another state, and would no longer be able to trim my horse’s feet… but as she did offer instructional clinics from time to time, I was able to make arrangements to take lessons from her and learned the basics of barefoot trimming, and utilized those lessons in keeping my horse’s feet trimmed regularly.
It’s been a number of years since that first experience with barefoot trimming  — and today we have two Morgan mares — both are barefoot. The lessons learned in trimming have been very helpful. The ‘new’ Morgan, an 11-year old mare, was resistant to having her feet worked on when I first got her. I learned that she is very receptive to reward training; and found that a handful of sunflower seeds in my pocket can be very effective in encouraging her to pick up each foot as I make my way around her. Starting with cleaning out her feet each day (she didn’t like her hind feet lifted up even for cleaning) I would reward her with a couple of seeds after she ‘gave’ me each foot. We progressed on to where she will pick up her feet pretty consistently for me, and allow me to clean out or rasp her feet, before looking for that reward.
I found that I was more comfortable using the rasp than the hoof knife; and so on Saturdays I usually schedule time to rasp each horse’s feet — filing away just enough to keep them comfortable and in good shape. I call upon my farrier every so often to check on the horses’ feet and to even up my work when necessary.
How long should a horse go between trimming and/or shoeing? A general rule of thumb is about six weeks. However, this will vary depending on a number of factors. In warm weather, hooves tend to grow faster — therefore, you don’t want to wait more than six weeks in between trimming or shoeing. You can get by with a bit more time during the winter, as hooves tend to grow more slowly in cold weather. Certainly, any issues your horse might be having, such as if you notice your horse’s feet are looking a bit uneven, or if he is traveling unevenly, or resisting changing a lead to one side or the other, or acting sore or lame, would necessitate a call to your farrier. Loose shoes will also need addressing — nothing is worse than noticing a loose shoe, only to have it later twist halfway off or risk puncturing the horse’s foot with a nail!
Horses pastured consistently on soft ground will need their feet checked more frequently, as soft footing will encourage faster hoof growth. And if your horse is pastured in a wet area, you’ll need to be more diligent in his hoof care — and will need to try to alleviate the source of the wetness. Uneven pastures or paddocks should be graded so that they are slightly crowned, if not level, so that water drains away from the area. Watering sources should be checked regularly, and maintenance done to prevent wet and muddy areas — either by installing drainage or at least bringing in some gravel or other material to fill in areas that tend to puddle up.
It almost goes without saying that if you stable your horse, make sure his stall and bedding is dry and clean, keeping manure and wet bedding picked up regularly and replaced with fresh. If your horse uses a run-in shed, pick up manure and soiled hay on a daily basis to prevent buildup of muck and mud and can lead to fly infestation, hoof problems and other unsanitary conditions.
Checking your horse’s hooves and cleaning out accumulated manure, dirt and debris on a daily basis will go far in preventing problems from cropping up when you least expect them to, and will help keep your horse happy and healthy.