Is Natural Hoof Care Right for Your Horse?

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Answered by: Allison, An Expert in the Mind and Body of a Horse Category
Natural hoof care is one of the fastest growing trends in the horse world, and with good reason. The horse's foot is an amazing thing, designed perfectly to carry him over some of the harshest terrain on Earth. Allowing the hoof to function normally and freely has been shown to increase athletic ability and even alleviate pain and help chronic injuries heal. However, not every horse will benefit from these techniques.

One of the first questions to consider when thinking about natural hoof care is whether your horse has any medical conditions or hoof pathologies which may make it a bad choice. Never switch methods while treating a major injury such as a fractured coffin bone, or while recovering from surgery including hoof resection from white line disease or founder. These conditions all require careful corrective shoeing because the hoof cannot support itself. Barefoot trimming requires a hoof that has all its basic functions, even if they are not ideal. However, pathologies such as navicular syndrome, contracted or under run heels, or mild laminitis do not rule out a horse and can actually be helped with correct and careful trimming.

Once you have decided your horse is a candidate for going barefoot, you must look at your environment and management strategies. Environmental causes are the biggest reason for difficult transitions to barefoot and for people putting shoes back on their horses. The hoof requires lots of movement, not too much moisture, good nutrition and careful conditioning to function properly. If any of those are lacking, your horse will likely never be totally comfortable without shoes. If you are willing to make sure your horse gets plenty of movement and experiment with the best management strategies, your horse will likely succeed. However, even with less than ideal conditions barefoot care may be an option, especially if you are willing to use hoof boots for riding.

Finally, you need to be willing to take the time and energy to help your horse through the transition period. Think of your own feet for a moment. If you suddenly decided not to wear shoes and tried to walk down the trail barefoot, you would be in a lot of pain. Your horse is the same way. The hoof grows and shapes itself according to its environment and work, and if the horse has been wearing shoes it will take some time for the horse to become barefoot. As an owner, your job is to make sure the transition is comfortable and easy for your horse. Natural hoof care should never cause lameness in a horse. There are plenty of strategies including the use of hoof boots and careful management techniques to make sure the process is gradual and comfortable.

If you can meet all of these needs, your horse may do very well with natural hoof care. The next step is to locate a local trimmer to come out and evaluate your animals individually, as well as work out a transition plan with you. With a little care and conditioning, you will be riding barefoot in no time!

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