by Lauren Hetherington. Barefoot Forward at Graveney Equine.
I want to start this with a disclaimer. If the statement “I have never let my horse’s feet become overgrown” applies to you, please humour me and still read on.
There are many, many shades of overgrown hooves. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at severely neglected hooves and know that they need immediate and specialist attention.
What I want to talk about are the hooves that, to all intents and purpose, look good. They look healthy and the sort of hooves you would be happy for your equine to sport.
(Picture above shows a common ‘owners eye view’ of a hoof that, to most, will look in good condition and in no rush for a trim.)
I want to talk about the smaller, less obvious adjustments that can make a huge difference to not only the health of the hoof, but how your horse behaves and performs.
In a perfect world, a hoof grows and self trims through everyday work and remains perfectly in balance. In reality, the hoof very rarely wears perfectly and you will find that it will either become unbalanced inside to outside (medial/lateral) or from front to back (anterior/posterior). It may also have extra length all around the hoof wall in general which can cause other issues overtime from the hoof wall becoming the main weight bearing structure. Issues such as cracks, flare (if lamellar connection isn’t strong), thrush, overgrown bars and atrophied frogs. The untrained eye may also miss the hoof becoming slowly more distorted over time which can also have a huge impact on performance.
The following picture shows another view on the hoof above. A ‘before’ and ‘after’ trim photograph. This is a horse who has regular trims and healthy feet. No thrush, lameness or white line disease which would make you worry something is going wrong. What she does have, is the tendency, due to confirmation, to wear the lateral (outside) of her hoof and not the medial (inside) wall of her hoof.
As you can see from the first picture, her hooves are turned out and you can see the effects of this further up the leg where the muscles are more pronounced. In the second picture, after the hooves have been trimmed back into balance which only involved a few millimeters of medial wall being removed, you can see the difference in the placing of the feet in relation to the leg and rest of the body.
Now look back to the first picture and imagine the effects of this out of balance hoof being amplified up the leg, into the shoulders, hips, back and neck during repeated exercise. It doesn’t need to be prolonged and intense exercise to have an impact on the whole body (have a go at walking around for half an hour with your toes pointed outwards). Many people wonder why their horses are reluctant to perform, develop behavioural issues or develop mystery lameness and the hoof is not to be ignored in the process of diagnostics in these instances.
Commonly, companion horses, youngsters or retired horses are left longer in order to save a few extra pounds and because their ‘performance’ issues are not so apparent or pressing. This doesn’t mean that the issues are not there or that they aren’t either currently causing problems or building up to much bigger issues down the line.
My point is, hoofcare should be seen as something to be kept on top of rather than to be done at bigger intervals as an exercise in ‘damage control’. Some horses need much shorter trimming intervals and others wear very well for much longer than normal. You should take the honest guidance from your trimmer over how long your horse needs between trims. You should also be aware that changes in your horse’s environment and workload can have a big impact on those timings. Create a schedule that works for your horse as an individual and you will set not only your horse, but yourself up for success (we like success!).