Performance, Expectations and Exceeding the Capabilities of the Equine Hoof.

(Above: Photograph of my beloved Nemo, before I took him bitless - cantering in the X-country paddock)


In today's blog post I feel compelled to write about the expectation that is placed on our horses to perform to a level that is deemed "acceptable" or "desirable" by their owners. I want to discuss the relationship between performance output and hoof health, and why this seems to get little or no consideration when determining what performance output a horse is actually capable of achieving. Finally, I want to touch on the uphill battle we as hoof care professionals have when navigating horse owners aspirations and goals for their horse, and why sometimes it is fundamental that we re-examine if we are pushing our horses towards certain breakdown.

Personally, I'm not all that competitive - I enjoy horse ownership in general. I don't have a horse just so I can ride it, I have a horse because I enjoy the outdoors, I enjoy his company, I find it therapeutic titivating on the yard or taking him for in-hand walks round the village. Sometimes, if I feel like it I'll hop on board but it's not the "be all-end all" for me. Therefore, during my barefoot journey - I have always accommodated my horses workload in accordance to what his whole body was capable of doing. By whole body I included the hooves in making that judgement!

Not every horse lover is wired like me though, some adore the sport as well as their horses and that is completely ok! I have clients who are super competitive (and may I add are excelling in their discipline - barefoot). But I have many clients that have transitioned to barefoot, claim the horse was "lame within a week" so they put the shoes back on. Believing that the horse was now repaired in some way, and up to doing the workload they have always done prior to shoe removal.

Reality is, the horse still has an issue and is still lame or footy underneath that shoe.

The shoe hasn't fixed anything, other than your horses comfort levels. Which of course, isn't a bad thing we want our horses to be comfortable at all times, not just when they are in work. This isn't an "I am anti-farrier" post, because I'm not anti-anybody - I'm pro horse health, I'm pro caring about the animal I am working for and I am also pro-reaching client/horse goals and imparting knowledge. All of which are in alignment with what farriers and other hoof care professionals want for you and your horse too.

This blog is about putting the responsibility on the owner - surprisingly. In fact, my successful client-horse stories have been down to a willing and open-minded owner, putting in place my recommendations and being prepared to change for the greater health of their horse. The destiny of your horses health does not begin and end with your hoof care professional, your vet, your body worker or anyone else you want to blame when things go wrong.

The owner decides on the majority of their horses existence, from what environment they will be in, to whether they will live a life in isolation or with companionship, to what food they will be given and if they receive the necessary care they deserve. Will the horse exercise? if so, how long for? Will they be expected to go for a 10 minute hack, or be competing dressage at grand prix level? Perhaps their life is being thrashed around a school and being expected to throw themselves over fences again and again, just to get their owners Instagram photo for virtual likes. (Sorry I say it how I see it). Maybe you scream absurdities and hit your horse, and have no respect for him/her but claim they are rude when they push past you? The truth? There is a complete communication break down between horse and owner.

Our horses have zero choice or freedom. (Unless you make that a part of their life, and that is a whole other blog post - which I will write up in the future). But if you are unable to make that a part of their life, I encourage you to be conscientious of your horse and how experiences, environment, diet, exercise and ill-health can really affect them. Just how people understand how those sort of things affect you.

Too often, I see horses hooves that have collapsed heels that are underrun, with a weak back third of the foot whereby the structures are infiltrated with thrush. The hoof wall is butchered, the soles are thin and there is clear inflammation going on due to the amount of laminar stretch present that has created lateral or medial flaring (sometimes both). Yet, these horses are expected to perform let alone be sound once the shoes come off.

It takes patience and time for healing, both of which people do not seem to want or have. It also takes discipline, are you really prepared to do a hoof soak every other day? Or pack the foot with hoof clay, simpler than that - can you even be arsed to pick the foot out to ensure your horses bacterial infections get better?

A few other things it takes for success - is change, flexibility and adaptability.

Are you prepared to change the diet, the environment, are you flexible with your ridden goals and aspirations? Are you prepared to adapt your horses work load to what they can comfortably do to aid the healing process? Maybe your horse was comfortable yesterday on your hack, but he isn't today - so perhaps it is in your horses best interest to not go. Give him a day off, do whatever it is you should be doing and not what you want to be doing. And I guarantee, your chances of successfully establishing a hoof that is capable of contending with what you would like your horse to do, are far more likely if you are patient.

As hoof care professionals be that farriers, barefoot trimmers, equine podiatrists, barefoot farriers or whatever you want to call us. It is an uphill battle sometimes! Our client is actually the horse, the owner just pays the bill. But we expect the bill payer to take on board our recommendations and implement them where necessary. The trim, the shoe (or the hoof boot) is only one part of this puzzle, but it is not the only thing that is going to ensure your horses hooves remain healthy and up to whatever you ask of them. Next time, before you pass on the blame - be sure you have done your part.

Think about it, the horses hoof is the only interface between the ground and your horses bony column, tendons and ligaments. The purpose of the soft structures found in the back third of the foot are there to dissipate ground reaction forces. To minimise the likelihood of sustaining injuries. Putting a shoe on a poorly formed foot, is only going to continue predisposing the horse to injury. Then, not only will it be lame without a shoe, but it will be lame with one too.

Got on my high horse today - thanks for reading!

Olivia x

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