Let's talk environment today.
Environment and hooves.
Along with diet and hoofcare, the environment plays a huge factor in how the equine hooves develop, from newborns to seniors.
While we all want the best for our horses we don't all agree on what is 'best' for them.
The one constant that we cannot take away from how the hooves are sculpted and formed is the sand, the snow, the grass, the water, the rocks, the dry, the cold, the heat, the ice, the tar ... all of that affects the hooves somehow. Sometimes for the best and sometimes for the very worst.
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Obviously a horse that is standing in water many, many hours a day is going to have soft hooves that will become or are a breeding ground for bacteria and yeast and other insults. Standing in mud or water for a short time every day is NOT going to hurt the hooves but is it necessary for healthy hooves? Some shudder at the thought of their horses standing in mud or water while others seem oblivious to the negative effects of excessive moisture on the hooves.
And, what about always dry? Dry, hard hooves that rarely see a drop of moisture. Is that healthier for horse's hooves? Is that what keeps them hard and strong?
Consider the lush, green grazing fields that we all look at and think what heaven for the horse! But, is that REALLY heaven for the horse or is it hell in disguise?
K.C. LaPierre did a study project on the horses of Abaco Island in the Bahamas to discover how the environment affects equine hooves. Originally the herd of the 200 Wild Barb horses lived in a pine forest. The ground was hard - coral and limestone with topsoil on top of it. There was plenty of movement for the horses as they walked about in search of water and food. They maintained their own hooves nicely.
Development started in the area and the herd died off and were killed to just a few numbers in a short time. Harvesting of the lumber was the main culprit to the well-being of the herd as it disturbed the land, itself. The remaining horses began to reproduce again and once the herd was established to around 35 horse they were returned to their original forest. They were doing well until Hurricane Floyd went through destroying most of the area. The horses then were forced to citrus grove with lush green grass, plenty of food and water within easy 'getting' and the horses, once again, began to suffer. The ground was soft, wet, and chemical fertilizers and pesticides were used to keep the grove healthy. After awhile the herd was, once again, reduced in number to around 14 and they all were overweight, not reproducing and all had extreme hoof issues. Too rich pastures, chemicals and poisonous plants took their toll.
Milanne Rehor spent 23 years of her life trying to help this herd. Unfortunately, the herd is now gone. The last mare of the herd, Nunki, died at age 20 in 2015. Cells and tissue were saved that may be able to bring back the original Spanish Horses through cloning. https://youtu.be/TVwWx9ZtY8o Please take a few moments to watch the short video.
The point of all this is that environment plays a TREMENDOUS role in the health of equine hooves. The type of ground, the terrain, the type of vegetation, the abundance or lack of ... the moisture, the dryness ... it all plays into hoof health. The pressure of the ground as the hoof loads plays into the circulation and the overall functioning of the hooves.
Go back to the beginning of my post ... when the herd was living in its original environment they were healthy and sound. They moved to find water and food and over area that was both hard and soft, wet and dry.
Photo courtesy of aanhcp.com
What does your turnout provide? How much movement does your horse get over what kind of land? Is your horse cordoned off to a small dry lot with the hay and the water within easy reach? I realize not all stables and farms have hundreds of acres but there are ways to maximize the use of the land for maximum hoof health. Take a look at "Paddock Paradise" that was developed by Jaime Jackson. That is something that can be designed and implemented on even just one acre of land. It is something that can be done in the name of 'hoof health' ...
Or is your horse out in a 10 acre pasture of lush, fertilized grass? Any sand? Any rocks? Anything other than lush, green grass? Are there high areas and low, wet areas? Or just level, green lush grass?
Take a good look at how your horses live and think about what you can do to improve on their environment.
There's always room for improvement and your horse's hooves will let you know if something more is needed.
Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications includingThe Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 18 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com/2012/RESUME.pdf