How you can help your horse
responsibility doesn’t end at the coronary band
Picture this scenario. A horse owner has put a rug on their horse and left it on for 6 weeks. During this time the weather has changed, the rug has shifted, the horse has been exercised, stabled, turned out, and the owner is simply glad that the rug has stayed on. After 6 weeks the local rug expert turns up in his van. He takes the rug off the horse and either replaces it, puts on a different one or leaves it off altogether. He then makes an appointment to return in another 6 weeks. The owner has no clue how weather can affect the horse’s temperature, what rugs if any are appropriate, or what type of shelter a horse may need. They rely on a regular visit from the ‘rug man’ who makes the choice for the horse, often without the owner even being present.
This is quite obviously a ridiculous situation, but how common is it when applied to the care of the horse’s feet? Why is an owner able to make daily assessments of temperature, weather, condition and age of the horse in order to make important decisions on feed, exercise, rugs and veterinary attention but is almost helpless when it comes to the hooves? Lack of knowledge has created this lack of responsibility, resulting in over-reliance on hoofcare professionals.
There is an abundance of theories and opinions on the care of hooves – do not mistake this for an abundance of knowledge. There is a difference between educating yourself and simply taking on board a bunch of theories. Trawling the popular internet sites will certainly give you plenty of the latter but you have to dig deep and question to get really educated.
Books, DVDs, lectures and workshops are all becoming more widely available – question everything: what did this theory evolve from, is it backed up by independent research, is it applicable to the domestic horse living in a man-made environment? What is the definition of a perfect hoof in terms of structure, function and performance?
Apply this knowledge to your own horse. What condition are his hooves in – wall, sole, frog, bars, lateral cartilages. Is there room for improvement? What environment is he kept in and what access does he have to tarmac, sand or stone surfaces? What is his management, workload and discipline? Are you prepared to do what is necessary to help this horse reach optimal hoof health?
As an educated owner you will deal with situations as they arise – the beginnings of an infection, a softened sole – but more importantly prevent them from occurring in the first place. Learn how to assess hooves, what they require in the environment for health and be realistic. We would all like to see perfection but for now your job may be to Cleantrax or walk in pads daily in order to achieve a first step towards that goal.
Taping a set of pads to feet and handwalking every day for a specified time is an onerous task for an owner whose only concern is to be riding again. But for the owner who understands ‘why’, it is simply a necessity for health in the same way you would bring a horse back to fitness after time off. This is where the relationship with your Equine Podiatrist is of such importance. Make sure you see your EP at each visit in order to discuss where your horse lies on the Spectrum of Useability and what steps to take next. They will place the hooves in balance and advise you, but they won’t be there every day to warn you about the rained-on pasture, or the ominous smell on the hoofpick. Be diligent and ask yourself what do my horse’s hooves need today? Learning how to promote hoof health through the environment, management and exercise of the horse and doing what it takes to achieve this will empower you as owner.
Read, research, watch DVDs, attend lectures and workshops. Study your horse’s feet and look out for changes. Schedule regular appointments with your EP and take on board your horse’s Spectrum of Useabilty score. Do what it takes to restore health – whether it’s clearing up infection, using Solemates or handwalking over different surfaces.
Owner empowerment is a healthy situation, not only in terms of achieving hoof health but in terms of the relationship between owner and professional where mutual respect reigns and decisions are taken based on knowledge. There is a further benefit for you the owner – lack of control in a situation is widely recognised as causing stress, so becoming pro-active is good for you too!