Aside from environmental factors,
breeding affects the way your horse's hooves work. While many horse owners focus
on conformation around the head or even the colors and markings of the coat, too
few people pay attention to the way horse's hooves are shaped, how strong they
are and how they affect the overall health of the animal. Whereas wild horses
with poor hooves would have been taken out by natural selection, bred horses can
pass along the genetics that create weak or badly shaped hooves.
If you start with a foal, start him off right by getting an opinion on his hoof
conformation from your veterinarian and a farrier. Working horses need to be
shod to protect their hooves; since hooves need trimming about every six weeks,
finding a good farrier is vital to keeping your horse in good shape. You'll want
to consult with an expert about when your horse should start wearing shoes and
the type of shoes that will work best for the kind of activities your horse will
take part in. Since proper traction is a factor in hoof and leg health, there
are shoes made especially for equestrian sports like jumping, dressage or
reining. Talk to your farrier about the way you plan to work with your horse, so
he gets the right shoes for the job.
Hooves grow about a quarter inch each month, and need trimming to stay even and
to prevent breakage. The farrier removes the shoes, trims the hooves and
replaces the shoes. Shoes won't keep your horse's hooves from growing; if they
aren't trimmed often enough or if they shoes stay on too long, your horse will
go lame. Sometimes the shoes can be reused; your farrier will decide.
Shod hooves do pick up more debris than unshod ones, and the packed rocks, mud
or even ice can cause your horse pain and injury. The added pressure makes
walking uncomfortable and can create a bacterial infection in the sole of the
foot. Pick out your horse's feet each day to remove foreign matter and prevent
Should my horse go barefoot?
If your horse has tough, smooth hooves that aren't inclined to get too long in
the toe or deform in other ways, and if your activities don't require special
shoes for support, you horse may be able to get along fine barefoot. The hooves
will still need trimming every six weeks: many horse owners learn to do this
work themselves. The drawbacks to shoes include more difficulty in keeping the
hooves picked clean, the fact that shoes sometimes catch on steps or rails and
can cause injury, and that getting kicked with a hoof is a wee bit less
dangerous than being kicked by a hoof shod in metal. Much depends on the
conformation of your horse's feet and legs as well as the way you intend to work
with your horse. Talk to your vet and speak with a farrier before deciding if
your horse can go without shoes.
We've removed the horse from his wild environment, where his hooves basically
took care of themselves. Now we must make sure he gets regular hoof care to keep
him comfortable and sound.