I am fascinated by them. Not in a I-want-to-quit-my-job-and-become-a-farrier way, but in a I like to learn as much as I can way.
Now, I am no expert. I don't claim to be one and I don't want anyone reading this to get their panties in a twist about my opinion on things. Talking about hooves can get really hot and bothered. Silly horse people, I know. But people are passionate and there is great debate on barefoot, boots, shoes. It is not my intention to get into any of that. To be upfront, I like barefoot. I like natural anything better than man manipulated, but I am smart enough to realize that we are in a man manipulated world and some horses in the hands of some people in given situations just can't go without shoes. And that is just fine. There are numerous (actually I think most of the horses) endurance hall of fame horses that were shod and lived great lives with more miles than I will probably do in my lifetime. I'm not knocking it. Who knows? Maybe my next horse will be shod. But for now we are proud to be barefoot and the remainder of this post is about that.
It is amazing what can occur when we just stay the frick out of the equation. A horse's hoof is made to carry them many miles. To do this, there are certain nutritional factors and physiological factors that need to be in balance. I wish I knew a heck of a lot more about horse nutrition, but I don't. So lets leave that to the experts (or at least those with a lot more knowledge than I have) and say that there are certain things that promote healthy hooves (biotin I think is one) and certain things that don't (lots of sugar/starch). But another key factor (and I believe the reason Gem's feet are rocking it so much right now) in all this is blood flow. The body is lazy (both human and horse) and will only work to build things when needed to. The more a horse uses it's feet the more the body will respond by building it up better. The more miles you put on the horse over the more varied terrain you can find, the better. If all you did was ride in the arena, the hoof wouldn't be suitable for work on hard surfaces. It hasn't needed to and so it isn't. And don't expect anything overnight. Only bad things happen overnight. The good things take time. About 1 full year for a whole new hoof to grow out.
Over the last almost year that we have been in the land of sunshine and happiness I have watched Gem's feet change. The toes have become shorter, her heels less steep and thick and her frogs are just now beginning to look fabulous. You know what I think the change is? Not nutrition. I hate the hay and grass down here. It stinks. Give me back my timothy/orchard hay that is grown in a field any day. Not this crap that someone bailed from their front yard. Ick. And her grain is the exact same as it was up north. I added a multivitamin a couple months ago, but she only gets it when I ride so maybe 2 days a week, some times more, sometimes less. Not enough for long enough to be showing up in her hoof capsule just yet.
The one key element that has changed is miles and terrain. Not riding miles really. I think I rode a whole lot more up north pre-W coming into our lives. But the miles I put in up there were on either nice soft arena sand or on nice soft sandy trails. Great for being barefoot, yes. But not enough to stimulate the hoof. Down here the trails are hard. Either clay or rock or roots. That alone has required a stronger hoof capsule, thicker more supportive frog and better shape. But the real difference?? Living outside in a large pasture. That mare walks a lot. She is all over that pasture all day long. Not only is she keeping in better shape because of it, but her hooves are having to do more work.
It is shown in the mere fact that up north she was getting trimmed by the best farrier on the planet every 6-8 weeks. Down here? We do them every 12 weeks and that's only because we feel like they should be done at some point. I've passed on the farrier here the last 3 visits. She just doesn't need done. She is doing a ton of self trimming and her feet look wonderful.
I looked at her feet after Sunday's ride. She has always had great hind feet. The frogs are wide and dense. Her fronts have been iffy. She has not been lame on them, but the frogs have been wimpier than I would want and they just haven't looked the best. But after the ride I noticed her front frogs are beginning to match the hind. Her hoof capsule is strong. Her toe is short and even after 12 weeks she doesn't need a trim.
I am so happy with how they are looking. I plan to keep her barefoot as long as she goes well. I would still like to get some boots for actual rides, but we will see.