Hoof Care & Horse Owners

Folks, I want to talk a bit about hoof care and your job as a horse owner. Believe it or not, it is not your farriers’ job to perform the only maintenance your horse’s feet ever receive. Your farrier visits, on average, once every six to eight weeks, and no matter how good he or she is, your farrier is NOT a miracle worker. If you live in an area where there isn’t a lot of bacteria and fungus in the soil and your horse has superb feet, then you may be one of the lucky few people who can get away with simply cleaning out your horse hooves once in a while and sending him on his way. But if you live in any of the tropical or subtropical climates (that would be anywhere in the South or South East) and your horse doesn’t have superb feet or an ideal environment, then you are going to be expected, no, required to perform weekly-to-daily routine hoof maintenance. Why? Because the weather conditions in these regions can be murder on your horses’ feet, not to mention the fact that bacteria and fungus thrives in this type of climate. Day in and day out wet / dry, hot / dry, mucky conditions, soaking wet in the morning and bone dry by afternoon just taxes your horses feet unmercifully. Not to mention what is happening to your horses’ immune system with the environmental stress and the way many of us feed our horses, but that’s a whole separate subject. Regular hoof maintenance on your part can very much help your horse maintain sound, healthy feet year round. Remember, the feet are the foundation to your horse’s health and well-being. Without good, sound, healthy feet, you do not have a good, sound, healthy horse, Period!

But Keith, you say, I don’t have the time to take care of my horse’s feet on a daily basis. I’m very busy and I expect my farrier to do that job for me. After all, what do I pay him for? OR, you may say, I’m afraid of my horse. He always snatches his foot away from me when I try to work on him. But at least I try. Isn’t that worth something? You may also say, My horse is fine. He’s never taken an unsound step in his life. Besides, the horses in the wild never have their feet tended to and they do just fine. Thank you for those comments, folks. Allow me to address each of them separately. I believe I can help you understand the importance of a routine hoof maintenance schedule and regiment.

First of all, please be aware of the fact that I am making a BIG assumption that you have employed and are regularly using only certified farriers. I’ve written a number of articles as to the importance of using certified farriers and how to locate them. Nuff said..

Ok, so you have a very hectic, busy schedule. Believe it or not, I can relate to that very well. For some reason, that seems to be the way life is these days. But that doesn’t give you the right to ignore your horse’s (or any pet’s) health needs. You must make it a point to perform some amount of maintenance. Why? Well, I’ll happy to list a few of them for you.

One, If you don’t have the time to take care of your horse, and you don’t have someone (competent) who can help you out, then in the best interest of the horse, you need to sell him or give him away to a good home. I know that sounds cruel and heartless, but it is said with the best interest of the horse in mind. Since we have domesticated the horse, it is OUR responsibility to take as good of care of these beautiful, graceful creatures as we possibly can. All too many horses are literally ‘loved’ to death. They were loved, but never messed with. They were loved, but never taught manners or discipline. They were loved, but never fed, or fed right. They were loved, but never given proper care. They were loved, but were forced to live in small, cramp, barren pens or stalls when they have barn buddies are roaming and grazing in decent pastures on a daily basis. (This isn’t to be confused with horses kept in areas like Southern California. That’s an entirely different issue that will be addressed in another article.) Ladies and Gentlemen, if you LOVE horses as I do, do what’s right for the horse, even if that means getting rid of them until you can properly care for them.

Two, If you don’t have time for your horse, how will you ever know if he is healthy, sound or even happy. Let’s say that you do feed and water your horse daily, but you are so busy and tired that all you do for your horse IS feed and water. Five, ten minutes tops, and you’re out of there. Unless there is something so blatantly obvious, how will you ever know if your horse is ok? Trust me, the ‘feed and run’ routine is going to catch up with you. And it will cost you! Perhaps all you needed to do was perform daily, routine maintenance to avoid big problems. Have you ever been so busy that you neglected your vehicles’ maintenance schedule? You had to put it off for this reason or that reason. What happened in the end? Chances are, it cost you more on your next visit to the mechanic. There use to be a commercial on TV for some auto maintenance company, it may have been some thing like Midas, I don’t remember. Their slogan was, “Pay me now, or pay me later.” The point to this is, pay attention to you horse. Take care of your horse, or it will bite you in the end, and wallet. Preventive maintenance is much cheaper than fixing a problem.

All right. Let’s move on. So you expect your farrier to perform all your horses’ hoof maintenance needs. After all, you are very busy and you are paying good money for his or her service. Folks, your farrier is only going to see your horse, on average, six to eight times per year. That is NOT enough to adequately treat some of the bacterial / fungal or other problems that your horse may have. What’s more, just because you use a certified farrier doesn’t mean your horse can’t or won’t develop some foot problem. That’s right, we’re farriers, not miracle workers! There are a whole host of problems that can develop over time, depending on your horses use, stall / pasture conditions, conformation, previous ailments / injuries, etc. Your farrier will identify any problems that may arise. They will treat the problem on every visit until the problem is gone. They will also give you their recommendation for treating the condition. But they won’t be there to treat your horse every few days. They have a business to run and they will have to see many horses within a month’s time. Your farrier should give you instructions on what to do between visits. If they don’t give it to you in writing, ask them to or write it down yourself. Have your farrier explain anything you don’t understand. Ask about chemicals to be used or treatments to be performed. Ask about the frequency of the treatment. You should also ask about alternatives or, plan A, plan B, etc. There is always more than one way to treat a problem / situation. Remember, this is your horse, your horse’s health, and you are the person who, supposedly, sees your horse the most. You will be expected to perform the prescribed maintenance. If you don’t treat the condition as prescribed, the condition will likely not get better, it will very likely get worse.

All right, let’s talk about the next statement. Let’s assume that you do spend time with your horse. You do pay attention to their health, etc. And let’s also assume that your horse has some condition that your farrier has to work on and expects you to continue treating in between their visits. But, you have an ornery or difficult horse, or the treatment gives the horse a bit of discomfort and this causes you to have some apprehensive feelings towards performing the necessary maintenance. Your horse is big and powerful and you don’t want to get hurt. This is very common and you have every right to be concerned for your health, as well as your horses’ health. How should you deal with this 1200 lb. of uncooperative bundle of attitude? Well? Sadly, there’s no magic wand. There is no magic drug (though some are close), and there is no single answer. Training and ground manners should be an obvious answer. Don’t over look that. Other than that, each horse is different and must be handled accordingly. I have a saying, ‘Horses are People, Too’. What this means is, horses have different personalities, just like people. For every human personality, there is pretty much an equal equine personality. The trick to dealing with each one is to understand the psychology behind each one and deal with it accordingly. Did I just come up with a new course curriculum??? Well, sort of. Equine Psychology- it should fall under the heading of Horsemanship. (I’ll talk more about this subject in subsequent articles.) Ok, Ok, so horses have different personalities. But what do I do about my difficult horse, you ask? The point to this equine psychology stuff is this, sometimes, not always, but sometimes by knowing and understanding your horses’ psychological makeup, you can finesse your way through various problems just by knowing how to handle your horse. Here are a few other helpful tips. First and foremost, ask your farrier to show you exactly how to handle your horse; where to be, where not to be and how to perform the treatment. This is not an unreasonable request and your farrier should be happy to help you. If he doesn’t, help, he is obviously not too concerned about you keeping up with the treatment and he’s also probably not too concerned about keeping you as a client. Second, you should pay close attention to where your farrier stands, sits, or kneels when lifting the foot and when performing the necessary treatment. He will always be where it is the safest. After all, it’s his job to know these things. If not, he won’t be a farrier long. Some day, some horse will put him right out of business! Ask your farrier to let you practice standing, lifting and treating the foot while he or she is there. This way you can get immediate feedback. You will also very likely get a newfound appreciating for what your farrier has to go through to trim, shoe or treat your horse.

Now to address the last statement. You say your horse has never taken an unsound step in its life. That’s great. Be happy about that. While there are a good number of horses out there that remain sound and don’t seem to have any ‘soundness’ problems, that doesn’t always mean that the horse doesn’t have any problems now, or won’t have any in the future. Your farrier should be able to advise you as to whether or not your horse has some kind of problem now or, in his or her best guesstimate, whether or not your horse will likely ever develop some hoof ailment. Now, you’re right, the horses in the wild never have any farrier appointments to keep and their feet seem to be sound and healthy. So why is this?? First off, most of the wild horses that are generally being referred to as wild, live in the arid, harsh Western part of the country. They travel great distances grazing and traveling to water. Their feet are very tough and have remained, pretty much, unchanged by human intervention, such as breeding. Their feet tend to grow about as fast as they are worn off. For the horses that don’t wear them off as quickly, nature performs it’s own regular maintenance by designing the hoof to chip and break off, thus resetting the hoof back to something close to a natural balanced state. Over the years, I have come to conclude that nature intended for the weakest part of the hoof wall to break off first, which would be the quarters. This allows the stress on the toe section to cause the toe to break off more easily as the horse travels over rough, rocky terrain. If the heels grow fast and weak, or become under run, they too break off, thus allowing the heels to grow back straight and strong, theoretically. There is one more fact most people aren’t aware of. (I hope I remember this fact correctly, it may have changed over the years, too.) As I recall, something like 5 out of 7 horses in the wild do not live past the age of five. This is largely due to hoof problems that prevent them from keeping up with the herd, which allows them to fall prey to predators or starvation. Unfortunately though, not all of our domestic horses have the same rough and rugged terrain to travel over. Therefore, their feet, if not regularly tended to, will grow very long, very out of balance and may eventually cause problems further up the leg; not to mention that fact that hyperextension of the joints is just plain uncomfortable to the horse. The bottom line here is, most of our domesticated horses don’t have the ‘luxury’ of living like their wild cousins. They don’t have the same predator issues to worry about, even though they do ‘worry’ every day, it’s innate, but they do have hoof concerns that must be addressed, or they will suffer the consequences.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your horses’ feet NEED to be tended to regularly be a certified farrier. They also MUST have you, as the horse owner, regularly clean and check their feet for thrush, seedy toe, white line problems, cracked or split hoof walls and/or any other abnormality. And when a problem is discovered, it is your responsibility to see to it that the problem is addressed and that the prescribed treatment is maintained between farrier visits.

Now, I know I’ve come across a little harsh at times in this article, but I care about horses. I’ve cared for them and about them practically my whole life. I will admit, I didn’t always know what to do or how to do it. I wish I had had someone who could have, and would have, given me lots of sound advice about caring for my horses when I was growing up. Had it not been for the fact that my horse developed a problem, under the care a $20 horseshoer, I never would have gotten in to this business. I decided then and there that I would do everything possible to try to prevent others from going through the same two-year long pain for something as simple as a case of seedy toe that was left unchecked, unreported to me and untreated. You love your horses. I know you do. They nuzzle with you, they whiny to you (mostly at feeding time of course). They carry you great distances. They perform under harsh conditions, and they are forced to live in unnatural surroundings. You buy them the best feed you can get. You buy the best repellents, supplements, shampoos and conditioners. You ride with the nicest saddles and bridles that you can. Don’t you think you should pay attention to the four, little feet that are the support structures to your horses’ complete foundation? And if your horse has some foot problem, any foot problem, don’t you think you owe it to your horse to take the best care, the most diligent care of his feet, that you possibly can? Of course you do. Otherwise, I know you would have done the right thing a long time ago and you would have let someone else, who has more time to devote, take your horse and treat your horse the way he should be treated. For clarification or correspondence, you may email me at keith@keithseeley.com, or phone me at 770-312-6909. Thank you for your time and thanks for reading. Now go visit with your horse and be sure to pay attention to his feet. Happy Trails.

Keith