We often talk or hear talk about the idea of “no hoof, no horse” and the importance of regular hoof care and maintenance. But what constitutes maintenance, and more importantly, why is maintenance so important? We asked our Hoof Health Consultant, Danvers Child, to tackle this tough question.
At a basic level, maintenance is as simple as establishing a consistent schedule with the farrier to trim or shoe every five weeks or so. Along with regular visits from the professional hoof care provider, maintenance also includes using a hoof pick daily to clean and inspect hooves, and other routine concerns such as applying topical treatments to the hooves in order to address issues such as minor thrush or excessive moisture.
Moving beyond that basic level of care, however, and addressing the concern of why maintenance is vitally important, we have to look at the goal of maintenance: to maximize overall health and soundness. Additionally, we generally want to promote and enhance performance and foster longevity. And, to that end, hoof care and maintenance isn’t something that happens every five weeks when the farrier arrives; likewise, it’s not simply a matter of using a hoof pick daily.
Instead, it requires us to look at maintenance as a “whole horse” concern that involves more than appearance and begins to focus on biomechanical concerns and issues of balance, support, gait, movement, and overall health. In effect, it’s not simply a matter of looking at the foot; it becomes a matter of looking at the foot in relation to the whole horse.
Thinking in these terms, the first step is to look at the orientation of the hoof. Although it’s at the bottom of the limb, it’s not exactly under the limb. Instead, it’s situated at a forward angle. Subsequently, when we talk about the idea of a horse growing approximately ¼” of hoof during a shoeing cycle, we’re not simply talking about downward growth; we’re also talking about forward growth. In a very real sense, the hoof is migrating forward, and the horse’s base of support is growing out from under the limb it is attempting to support. Ultimately, the hoof base serves as the foundational element for everything from the ground up, influencing joint health, posture, and even behavior.
Just as the horse depends upon this supporting base, you — as the primary care provider — must depend upon a support base as well. Establishing a “whole horse” approach to hoof care and seeing the relationships of hoof maintenance to biomechanics and overall health requires a team of professionals. While your farrier serves as the team leader for consistent care and maintenance, an ideal team effort includes you, the farrier, the veterinarian, and other equine professionals, all focusing on preventative efforts designed to avoid the need for recovery efforts. Ultimately, hoof care is horse care. It requires an understanding of connections, attention to detail, and a commitment to the horse from the ground up.