Natural Hoof Care: For a Better Bare Foot – Part I
Much has been written and discussed in recent years about the natural hoof care movement. In the next few months, Horse Force Productions and Delaware Natural Hoof Care will present a series of articles covering the concepts of the bare foot movement, it’s application; and hopefully dispel some of the myths or misconceptions about natural hoof care. We will also be covering the difference between the traditional pasture trim and the trim applied by natural hoof care providers and why attempts to get your horse to go bare foot in the past may not have been successful.
One of the primary considerations towards good hoof and body health is circulation. There is an old saying “the horse has five hearts”. One, the heart itself and the other four being the hooves. The hoof’s ability to expand and contract when being used not only improves and promotes circulation but is also the hoof’s protection against impact. The horse has developed a system to aid in the delivery and withdrawal of blood to and from the hoof. That system is the expansion and contraction of the hoof itself. Upon impact of the hoof on the ground, the hoof is supposed to land heel first (we will cover other important factors of heel first landing in the future). When this heel first landing occurs, pressure is applied to the inner, softer structure of the hoof. This pressure begins the process of pushing the hoof wall outward. As the hoof rolls forward the weight of the horse pushes downward, flattening the sole. This widening of the hoof wall and flattening of the sole creates a negative pressure inside the hoof and therefore a vacuum effect that pulls blood in to the hoof. Once the hoof comes to the point of the stride where the hoof is completely weight bearing, the inner structure cuts blood flow off stopping it from leaving the hoof. Dr. Robert Bowker from Michigan State University found that during this process the hoof will lock this pressure in for a fraction of a second and this containment of the blood acts as a liquid shock absorber. It is not the only shock absorbing function on the horse but this process acts in conjunction with the circulatory system and is why I am mentioning it now. As the horse begins to lift the hoof from the ground, the release of weight allows the hoof to contract and the sole to obtain it’s original solar shape. This contraction quickly releases the built up pressure and pushes the blood up and out of the leg.This process aids in more effective delivery of oxygen and nutrients to vital organs. This increased efficiency has been found to also aid in quicker recovery during exercise and is one of the reasons why natural hoof care is gaining acceptance in the discipline of endurance.
One of the things Pete Ramey teaches, in practicing natural hoof care, is to apply an arch in the quarters. This arch was discovered in mustangs and has been shown to have a number of positive effects on the hoof. The quarter arch creates a space that allows “give” from back to front on the hoof when vertical pressure is applied. This give allows for flexibility and room to expand. If there is no arch,then the hoof’s expansion is impaired and impact will jam the hoof up into the coronary band above it. Mr. Ramey also states that this pressure can distort the coronary band and therefore hoof wall growth. This relief in the quarters along with pulling the toe back is extremely effective in combating under run heels while helping prevent quarter cracks and flaring.
Stop in next month when we will be talking about toe cracks, other hoof pathologies, and the simple approach to treating them.
Dan Lynch, Delaware Natural Hoof Care
Natural Hoof Care for a Better Bare Foot – Part II
Welcome to part two of a series of articles brought to you by Horse Force Productions and Delaware Natural Hoof Care. This series of articles will cover the concepts of the barefoot movement, it’s application and dispel some of the myths regarding your horses’ hooves form and function. We will also be covering the difference between the traditional flat trim and the trim applied by natural hoof care providers; and why previous attempts to get your horse to go bare foot may have failed.
If you missed last month’s article regarding how the hoof plays a part in the horse’s circulatory system, it is posted on our website @ www.DelawareNaturalHoofCare.com.
In this month’s article we discuss hoof wall cracks, some of the causes, & how they can be treated & prevented.
The most common cause of severe hoof wall cracking is because for one reason or another, the laminae has been weakened. The laminae is what attaches the hoof to the horse. If the laminae has been affected due to too much sugar in the diet, a horizontal line may also be seen in the hoof wall. First thing you’d want to do is adjust the amount of sugar in your horse’s diet by evaluating the NSC (non-structured carbohydrate) rating for your grain. If you go to www.DelawareNaturalHoofCare.com, there is an NSC chart which lists ratings for the most popular grains available in this part of the country. Please be warned, just because you feed pelleted feed does not mean your horse is not getting excessive sugar. One of the most popular pelleted feeds contains almost 30% sugar. Once you evaluate and/or address the sugar in your horse’s diet, the hoof wall cracking will have to grow out. In order to do this we would need to stop the hoof from cracking further. One way to do this is to relieve the pressure on the cracked wall by making the sole the primary weight bearing surface in the cracked area and relieve stress on the hoof wall.
The next form of cracking comes from imbalanced trims. If your hoof is trimmed crooked and the hoof is landing consistently more on one side than the other, this imbalance may very well cause excessive pressure in one area causing cracking. A balanced trim is key to a long term healthy hoof & sound horse. Just looking at the back of the hoof trying to obtain balance, I feel, is not a very effective method. The back of the hoof is highly dynamic and can be deceiving when looked at while non-weight bearing and being held in your farriers hand. In order to get true balance between the horse’s skeletal system and the hoof, we in the natural hoof care world measure the depth of the collateral groove that runs along the side of the frog. This measurement gives us the true position of the hoof and the coffin bone and therefore, true balance and alignment with each other. This alignment helps the horse distribute the weight evenly on impact with the ground and reduces cracking.
Damage to the coronary band can also cause a crack or vice-versa, a crack can cause damage to the coronary band. If treated correctly it can be grown out leaving only a scar with little effect on the integrity of the hoof wall itself.
How often your horse is trimmed can also cause cracking. The optimal time during warm weather months is every 4-6 weeks. If you wait longer and the hoof starts to crack then your hoof care provider may need to get overly aggressive in trimming to address the cracking and may cause soreness. Letting the hoof wall get too long can also take the sole completely off the ground and adds a tremendous amount of stress on the laminae and possible damage may occur.
Many believe that hoof wall cracking is due to dryness. We in the natural hoof care movement do not believe this is as much of an issue as some would have us think. After all, the wild mustangs thrive in some of the most arid areas of the world. What most feel is cracking from dryness starts as a process that evolves from the hoof drying out then getting wet then drying out again. This cycle causes microscopic cracks called fissures. These fissures get bacteria in them and as the bacteria multiply the fissures get larger & deeper until it becomes a crack that is said to be there because of hoof dryness. Then what is our next step? Trying to rasp the crack out sometimes to the point that the hoof wall is thinned and the integrity is compromised so much that when it grows down to ground level it easily cracks again. Maybe we try hoof dressing. The application of hoof dressing covers up bacteria and gives it a warm, dark, moist area to thrive, causing the crack to grow even larger. The best way to address this is to put your horse on a soaking program which we will discuss further down in this article.
No matter what cause your hoof cracking, two of the most effective tools in treatment & prevention is the application of a “mustang roll” and anti fungal soaking. The mustang roll as you can guess by name was discovered on the hooves of mustangs in the wild. This is applied to our domestic horses by trimming the hoof wall so the inner hoof wall is the primary weight bearing surface at ground level. Studies have shown that the inner hoof wall is more pliable, has more strength and is better suited to dissipate the force of impact with the ground then the harder outer wall. The outer hoof wall is better suited for protection from abrasion and acts as a protective barrier for the inner hoof wall. The mustang roll shape also directs the force of the hoof sinking in to the ground in toward the center of the hoof where as a standard flat trim can cause the hoof wall to actually be pulled out & away from the center of the hoof and possibly cause flaring and cracking.
Then we have soaking. No matter what the reason for cracking is, the fact remains that a crack more than likely will get bacteria inside and as mentioned above, can continue to multiply and eat away at the hoof until we get rid of it. There are a couple of products I recommend. White Lightning and Clean Trax. Both of these products are advertised as a one time treatment and are very effective but with a crack in place it can easily become re-infected. One of the methods we use in the treatment of bacterial infection is Lysol (in the little brown bottle). I like Lysol because it is safe and does not harm live tissue. Many of the products sold for the treatment of bacterial infection can kill live tissue. We use a mix of 2 oz. of Lysol to 1 gallon of water and soak the hoof for 30 minutes to help control the bacteria while the cracking grows out. How often depends on the severity of the infection and the horse’s living conditions.
Dan Lynch, Delaware Natural Hoof Care