Martha Olivo on the Hooves
Q. My 10-year-old gelding Vinnie was deshod a
year ago. He was in shoes from the age of two. I believe that barefoot
is best, but he still is ouchy over rocks! He has 24-7 turnout with
other horses, and eats only hay and oats. What's the problem?
A. Vinnie is in the age bracket and circumstances that many horses share. Great that you've pulled his shoes and provided 24-7 turnout with others. I see two probable causes for the tenderness: Poor hoof form and too much bar.
Poor hoof form is from the distortion that so often results from incorrect trimming, shoeing ('correct' or incorrect) or from neglect - especially before the age of 5. Horses don't have fully developed bones until then, and the coffin bone is no exception. Stalling during foalhood will also cause the hooves to be weaker and more prone to distortion, due to a lack of movement that ligaments, tendons and bones need for healthy development. It can take several years for horses to overcome the effects of early life problems. Some horses are so damaged that they require rehabilitation. "Orthopedic" shoeing (unwittingly) only aggravates the problems while masking the ongoing destruction.
Bars are the internal support structures of the hoof. In nature, healthy, well-formed active hooves wear the bars constantly. Domesticated horses frequently are denied the opportunity to move enough to wear their walls, much less the bars! The sole and frog should be able to descend and spread when bearing weight. Bar can either lay down or stand up in the hoof, depending on the basic hoof shape. Overgrown bar causes painful pinching, bruising, and can even cause bone to degrade!
In Vinnie's case, since he is willing to
go but is only ouchy over rocks, mindful tweaking (minimal trimming)
with special attention to making the bars passive to the wall should
make him more comfortable. Boots will help ease any discomfort until
the hooves recover, and are a good idea for trail rides when a horse
is habituated to living on soft ground. (Keep in mind that cautious
placement of the feet could indicate that a horse is simply feeling
his way on unaccustomed ground. When possible, putting stones in
the pasture or wherever horses are fed and watered will accustom
them to tougher ground.)
Remember: Trimming hooves (to mimic natural wear) and providing a natural lifestyle are our best compensations for domesticating creatures adapted to continuous movement.
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