In this seven part series I sat down with one of this country’s leading farriers to tackle the age old debate of shoeing your horse verses leaving him or her barefoot. The series is both controversial and enlightening and in the end, my goal is to provide information on both sides of the fence so that you may make an informed decision about your horse’s shoeing needs.
In the first two installments, To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 1 and To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 2 I introduced the series and provided some initial shoeing factors. In To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 3 I covered the healthy hoof and options to protect it. Finally, in To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 4, my expert provided some trimming options to consider should you decide to leave your horse barefoot. In To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 5, we talked about reasons why an owner might choose to shoe his or her horse. You’ll want a quality farrier to guide you along the way so in last week’s post, To Shoe or Not to Shoe: Part 6, I covered how to select and keep a quality farrier. Regardless of your eventual decision, optimal hoof care is your goal. That’s why I’m ending the series with a post on how to provide just that.Part 7 (Optimal Hoof Care): Regardless of whether or not you choose to shoe your horse, leave him barefoot, or select another method of protection Davis offers these suggestions for optimal hoof care:
• Follow a good nutritional plan. Davis recommends working with your County Extension Agent to design a nutritional program that meets all of your horse’s needs. A detailed nutritional plan will take into account the individual horse’s activity level, his current feeding program including any hay or grain your horse receives, as well as any supplements currently provided him. A quality nutritional program will aid your horse is growing healthy feet.
• Develop an exercise routine. A consistent exercise program aids in helping blood flow to the horse’s feet which will facilitate growth.
• Help your horse maintain an appropriate weight. Davis recommends an optimal body condition score between a four and a six.
• Choose an acceptable environment in which your horse will live. Areas to be avoided include those which are excessively rocky, muddy, or wet.
• Select appropriate supplementation. While Davis is not an advocate of feeding hoof supplements stating that they could easily double your feeding expense and should not be necessary for a horse receiving a balanced diet, he does ask that owners who have reason to believe they will be helpful to select a supplement then to stick with it. Because it takes the dorsal hoof wall between nine and twelve months to grow from hairline to ground, it will be six months before a farrier will be able to see any discernible difference in the quality of hoof he or she has to work with. Caregivers should not stop feeding the supplements too early or they may never know of any benefit received.
• Be responsible with the use of sealants. Based on personal preference, some farriers will recommend the use of sealants on your horse’s hooves. These can include hoof conditioners, softeners, and hardeners and Davis will occasionally utilize these. Conditioners may be applied by the farrier or owner, for example, after the horse is shod. Hardeners and softeners may be applied seasonally on a schedule dependent upon your horse’s individual needs.
The decisions you make about your horse’s feet can be much more involved than choosing your own next pair of shoes but by taking all of these factors into consideration you’ll no doubt be better prepared the next time you work through the decision-making process with your horse’s team of caregivers.
About the expert: Jeremy Davis has been a professional farrier for nineteen years. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier with the American Farriers Association and is a Diplomat with the Worshipful Company of Farriers. He is currently the Farrier in Residence at The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.