The topic of hoofcare for foals has been mulling about Facebook lately so thought I might write on this today ...
The easiest way to put this is, hoofcare principles for foals is not much different than hoofcare for yearlings or adult horses ... as needed.
When a foal is born the hooves are covered in soft tissue that protects the mare's womb. As the foal gets up and starts moving, those soft tendrils are worn away and a perfect little hoof appears with all the same parts as an adult horse's hoof.
Dr. O'Grady says that the first trim should be when the foal is about a month old. After that, trims every month should be given as the foals need it.
Knowing that it takes 5 years for the hooves to completely develop (same as with the teeth of the horse) there are many factors during those years that will affect the growth and development of little hooves.
Think of the foal born in the wild. They are up in about 1/2 an hour, on all 4 legs, ready to keep up with the herd as it moves along in search of food and water. The herd doesn't stop but continues to move upwards of 20 +/- miles a day. The foal must keep up with the herd or be had for dinner by a predator. The stimulation of that movement begins the foal's journey to healthy hooves.
Without man's intervention, the hooves will balance and keep themselves balanced as they grow. They will wear as they need to wear and grow according to the wear. This is how horses are created. This is how 'nature' intends.
We could attempt to mimic 'nature' in that way but .... there are few facilities with the hundreds of acres over which the herds move that truly allows for 'nature' to care for a foal's hooves. In fact, most domestic foals are kept in close quarters and have little room to move about.
MOVEMENT is the first ingredient to healthy hooves.
With the lack of the capacity for 'natural' movement it then becomes the responsibility of 'man' to see to it that the hooves are well tended. So, back to Dr. O'Grady's statement ... trim at first month and then every month thereafter.
"In most cases, all you need to trim foals on a monthly schedule are a hoof pick and rasp. The frog is left untouched to serve as a protective mechanism, absorbing and dissipating concussive forces. Since a foal’s sole is very thin, it is also left untouched to provide protection to immature, developing structures in the foot. Removing as little hoof wall as possible and simply shaping and smoothing stimulate it to become thicker and more durable." -- Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS, Oct 18, 2001
With this in mind one must consider the overall balance of the limbs as well as the hooves. Limb deformities, of course, will affect the balance of the hooves and a well-experienced and knowledgeable hoofcare provider is needed to insure the correct care for those hooves. It is NOT a task for an inexperienced or novice trimmer or farrier.
"The objective in trimming foals is to achieve balance; that is, to encourage the foot to land flat (with all sides contacting the ground evenly). Careful thought should be given before using corrective trimming procedures on a foal with a limb deformity. Since the problem is generally a conformational deformity of structures above the foot, changing the balance of the foot might lead to other problems. Careful examination of a foal’s limbs at birth and throughout its first few months–along with accurate record-keeping and a good working relationship among you, your veterinarian, and your farrier–are the keys to a sound, athletic horse in the future." -- Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS, Oct 18, 2001
I'm not going to even begin to think of writing a 'how to trim foal's hooves' instructional -- again, this task is best left to an experienced and knowledgeable hoofcare person. However .. it IS important for the foal's hooves to be handled from birth so the foal gets used to hoofcare and knows it is a safe procedure for him/her.
"Regular hoof care is an important part of the health care routine for all horses, starting when they are young foals.
If at all possible, begin handling the foal from the day he is born. From then on, make it a habit to handle his feet and legs regularly. In addition to picking out the feet daily, run your hands up and down each leg when you’re grooming him. This way you will notice any swollen areas, places that feel warmer than usual, small cuts, abrasions, or bumps on the skin, and can treat them promptly.
“Handle the foal every day and pick up the feet. Clean them out and simulate what the farrier is going to do. Tap on the foot or use a brush to brush the bottom of the hoof so he gets accustomed to this. If people will just work with the foal every day, this makes life easier for me, for them and for the horse, too.” --Roberto Gomez, DVM, a farrier in Ocala, Florida
With all this in mind let us remember that we are, literally, shaping the future for that foal with regard to hooves, limbs, way of moving and more. The adage "Less is More" would be a good word to remember with respect to trimming foals BUT "a stitch in time saves nine" also would be good to remember -- careful observation and frequent care can prevent life and career changing situations in the hooves later on in the horse's life.
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 including The 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 hoof care for the last 20 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. You can email to Gwen -- firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone in the US (239)-573-9687. For further information please click here: www.thepenzancehorse.com