Educate Yourself

As a practitioner of Applied Equine Podiatry, one of my responsibilities the education of the horse owner about the equine foot in relation to the whole animal, and to help the owner to learn to keep the healthiest foot under the horse, there by achieving the highest performance.

For me as an A.A.E.P. The learning never stops. There are new studies that are constantly causing us to reevaluate what we understand about the equine foot, with our horses receiving the benefit of our greater understanding.

Applied Equine Podiatry is a science and an art that goes beyond trimming the hoof as the most important aspect of equine foot care. The trim is just a tool and you the owner begin to understand and provide the important care that occurs between trims.


More and more, horse owners are beginning to ask “why do we shoe our horses, and is it really necessary?” As Holistic and Naturopathic practices of human and animal health care become more wide spread, the idea of keeping our horses in a more natural way (including bare foot) is becoming the desired ideal for many.

The “barefoot horse movement” has developed largely through the studies of the wild horse. These investigations have had a profound impact on our understanding of the equine foot. The main difficulty of using the wild horse model, as the sole reference to go barefoot is that our horses are not wild! Domestication is the harshest environment that horses can be subjected to. They are stalled, trailered, fed things they would never eat in the wild. They are often kept in small pastures (sometimes alone), and wet muddy conditions are often the norm. Then we add the weight of tack and rider.

Applied Equine Podiatry addresses the foot of the horse in domestication.

As owners and care providers of our horses, we can develop an environment that will be conducive to the maintenance of healthy hooves, and in fact “whole horse health”.

So how can you provide an environment to promote healthy hooves? First you need to understand that the term environment means more than where your horse lives. It also includes things like nutrition, feeding schedule and supplements, weight, age, conformation, weight of rider and tack and whether he is shod or barefoot.

Begin with an environmental evaluation. Do this in writing and be as detailed as possible.

1. Living environment:

Where does the horse spend most of its time, stall paddock, pasture? Is he alone or with other horses? What is the footing in the stall, paddock, and pasture?

If turn out is 24/7, are there areas that are wet and muddy? Are they wet and muddy all year or seasonally?

2. Nutritional environment:

Does your horse have access to free choice hay, pasture, and salt? What concentrate is fed on what schedule and is it fed to balance the forage? What supplements do you give and how often?

3. Exercise:

What type of exercise does your horse receive, how frequent and what is the footing in the exercise area.

4. Performance:

What performance do you expect from your horse and does she have the conformation to support it? What type of performance do you currently participate in? How often? What is the weight of tack and rider, rider experience? Do you show? How often is the horse trailered?

5. Medical:

What is your horses height and weight? What is the horse’s medical history? Any past injuries? Any recent injuries? What vaccinations does your horse receive and how often? What is the worming schedule and product? What fly repellants do you use and how frequent?

6. Stress:

What kind of stress is your horse subjected to? Stress comes in many forms. Stress can come from our toxic environment, nutritional deficiencies, poorly fitting tack and rider imbalance, pain, and sometimes even other horses.

By using this type of evaluation you will begin to get a whole picture of your horse and her lifestyle.

The Applied Equine Podiatry approach to hoof care takes this whole picture into account. Feet are not just what the horse stands on. The structure and function of the equine foot has a profound effect on the whole horse.

So how can you improve your horse’s environment to promote healthier hooves?

Lets start with the living environment. It is common knowledge that 24/7 turn out is healthier for a horse than living in a stall. There may be times or situations when more stall time is necessary. Consider the bedding. Saw dust can cause particles in the air and depending on the type of wood could be toxic. Consider shavings, commercial dust free bedding, or a mat. If your horse spends a lot of time in the stall, daily exercise is a must.

So we know that 24/7 turn out is more natural for the horse, but continuous exposure to wet and muddy conditions is detrimental to the feet. It is the classic environment of the development of Thrush and White Line disease.

Install drainage ditches and pipes to divert the excess water.  Try to provide turn out with a variation in terrain (rocky hillsides, creek crossings, sandy areas). You can artificially create this variation by using pea gravel or 1” river stone and sand in areas that the horses frequent such as water troughs, run-ins, and gates. The pressure of sand helps to develop a healthy frog, and the stone assists in exfoliating the sole. Hand walking on asphalt will help with inner wall development.

Now lets look at the nutritional environment. Read your labels!!! Be sure that your concentrate compliments and balances the forage. Have the forage tested. Be sure that you are feeding the proper amount of concentrate based on the weight of your horse. Look carefully at the supplements that you give your horse. Are you sure she needs them? Are you over supplementing? This can have as detrimental an effect as a nutritional deficiency.

Exercise is crucial to everyone’s health. Your horse should receive daily exercise without a rider. This is especially true for the horse that has to spend a lot of time in a stall. Be sure the exercise includes linear and lateral activity and not always circular longing or round pen work. Also consider the footing by spending some of the exercise time on gravel or black top, you will be conditioning the foot to withstand a harsher riding environment.

The performance environment affects all horses except lawn ornaments. First you must be sure that your horse has the conformation and personality for the type of performance you are asking of her. Some horses just can’t be high performance animals. Be sure that your horse is fit and ready for the job you are asking. Be sure that you are fit and have the skill level to ride in concert with your horse’s ability. Weigh yourself and your tack. Know what your horse has to carry when he is asked to perform.

The medical environment is one that is not often considered. Consider the vaccines that you use. Don’t use any that are for area specific diseases, unless you are in that area. Think about worming as needed rather than as a routine practice. Have a count done before you decide if it is necessary.  Weigh your horse regularly. An over weight horse is just as unhealthy as an underweight horse.

Lastly I would like to offer this. Begin to consider that a problem with your horse’s foot is just as important as any injury. If the hoof has a problem, the horse needs to be given time off from riding and proper care so that it can heal. We need to change the way we think about equine feet as we  change the way we care for the whole horse.

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