The health of the horse’s hoof depends on more than just mechanical trimming. The farrier can have a large effect on how a horse loads his hooves and therefore an effect on hoof shape, but there are other influences every day, all day, with an equal, if not greater effect on the hooves.
Lifestyle strongly influences the appearance of the hoof. A horse that lives in dry conditions and walks on hard ground will have healthier feet. The hoof responds favourably to the weight-bearing impact. It strengthens the internal structures of the hoof and asks for greater resiliency and function from the hoof with each step. As the horse travels in its environment, the hooves are adjusting to what is asked of them.
The greatest effect on hoof wall growth for a healthy horse given sufficient nutrients is amount and type of exercise. Movement stimulates the growth of a good-quality hoof capsule. Blood circulation in the foot is enhanced when the horse is moving. Horses grow into the hoof change desired. Every time the hoof hits the ground it grows a little to compensate for the wear. So hoof growth is more accurately measured in miles instead of time.
Posture has a substantial effect upon hoof structure. It shapes the manner in which the hoof hits the ground. This then affects hoof wear and thus hoof form. Horses in good posture land heel first and stand square. How a horse carries his body affects hoof shape and, vice versa, hoof shape affects how the horse carries and moves its body.
The nature of a horse’s hoof also relies highly upon the animal’s diet. As a continually growing structure the hoof is constantly formed from its cuticle and/or coronary band. No trim mechanics can grow healthy walls, laminae, soles or frogs. Horses need to consume nutrients in adequate amounts and balance with one another.
This is not just about growing healthy hooves either. Balanced nutrition profoundly affects attitude, immune function, stamina, recovery – actually every expression of health and performance. Salt is important and is ideally provided in a loose form.
Zinc, selenium, iodine, methionine, and biotin are often singled out as key components in improving hoof health. They are important but not any more important than other macro-or micro-element. A recipe or formula for hoof care is not available, and likely not forthcoming. Basic nutrition consists of keeping things simple and avoiding fads.
Within any group of horses living a common lifestyle you will notice certain individuals seem to have hooves that require minimal upkeep, and others that require much more attention. Hoof health depends on how the feet respond to their environment. The breed or genetic makeup of a horse can be a large determining factor in this response.
Healthy balanced hooves are a natural outcome of a healthy balanced horse living a healthy balanced lifestyle. In striving for a healthy hoof, one is striving for a healthy horse.