published in Saddle Up Magazine March 2015
Frequent trimming is the most important step in building and maintaining healthy hooves. The average horse should be trimmed on a 6 to 8 week schedule. This can be varied slightly depending on the time of year and how fast the hooves are growing. It also depends on the amount of movement and exercise the horse is getting over varied terrain. Anything more than an 8 week cycle is just damage control and will not facilitate the growth of a healthy strong barefoot hoof. During rehabilitation trimming of damaged and sensitive hooves, the frequency of trims can vary anywhere from once per week to every 4 weeks depending on the situation.
Even with frequent trimming practice, a horse will not develop strong hooves without movement. Wild horses in the US Great Basin have been documented to travel up to 40 miles per day in search of food, water and shelter. In contrast our domestic horses usually live in paddocks where they are fed next to their water and do not have to travel far for shelter. One of the best things we can do for our horse’s hooves and wellbeing is to keep them in a herd on a track based paddock system. A track based system where horses are fed throughout the track encourages horses to move on average 7 times father then they would in an open paddock. For more information on this type of horse keeping I would urge you to read Jaime Jackson’s book, Paddock Paradise.
Movement is key, but movement on varied terrain is plays an important role in hoof strength. A horse that lives in a soft grass paddock and only works in a sand arena will not be able to callous his hooves to be comfortable on hard packed ground or rocks. The best way to condition your horses’ hooves is to bring the surface you want them comfortable to ride on into their paddock. That means you can bring in river rock, pea gravel, and road crush gravel. Putting these materials around areas your horse frequents is key. You don’t have to do your entire paddock in them. Placing them around the water trough, or in their shelters is a good way to ensure exposure to those surfaces. At first the horse might be uncomfortable, but over time their hooves will start to callous and strengthen and they will become able to traverse those surfaces without discomfort.
A low carbohydrate and high fibre diet is essential for hoof health. It is also important to make sure your horse’s diet is balanced in vitamins and minerals. A diet rich in carbohydrates can cause sensitivity in the hooves, poor horn growth and laminitis. Horses are designed to forage 14-16 hours per day. The best way to feed our domestic horses is by slow feeding. There are many great feeders and nets on the market to simulate natural grazing.
Patience is key in rehabilitating damaged hooves as well as forging strong healthy barefoot hooves. It takes time to build callous, and to condition the hoof to the environment. Rehabilitation also takes time as you cannot always achieve your trimming goals for a specific horse in one trim. Soundness is key when trying to build healthy hooves and the horse’s comfort must always be a priority.
Kristi Luehr is a barefoot trimmer, author, and founder of the Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care. She is certified by the Canadian Farrier School as well as the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care, and also has certification in equine massage and dentistry. Her focus is to educate owners about hoof anatomy, function and proper barefoot trimming that supports and grows healthy and functional hooves specific to each horse's individual needs. She is the author of two online courses specific to hoof care and is always striving to create more educational content for students to learn from.