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Hoof care and sensitive hooves


I have a subject you may want to share with the rest of your readers.

I am wondering how sensitive a horses hoof is.

Can you explain with the barefoot horse and also the shod horse what areas when riding should you avoid, such as small stones, hard ground, etc. How do you know when the surface you are riding doesn't agree with your horse.

My question comes from an accident- like most -where now when I am riding in my outdoor arena I am obsessed with any stones larger than a quarter (or golf ball size) that are on the ground. My arena is native soil-no sand. I can spend hours picking up rocks!

I am afraid my horse may land on one and buckle her leg at the onset of bearing weight on any thing hard like a small rock. Am I being too hard on myself? Are the chances that they might land on one and stumble pretty unlikely? Or should I be careful of the surface I am riding on and pick up any stones to avoid any problems?

Thanks for your advice in advance, Cheri

Hi Cheri,

When trail riding, or riding anywhere actually, it is always good to be aware of the surface you are asking your horse to travel over. Certainly sharp stones and objects can be buried in dirt and sand anywhere. But most often if a rider pays attention to where they and their horse are going, a majority of risk can be eliminated. Perhaps not 100%. But quite a bit.

The sole of a horse's hoof is the most sensitive area and is quite sensitive to even moderately sharp objects (like small stones).

The term 'stone bruise' comes from exactly what you describe. A horse only has to step on a small piece of gravel to receive a bruise that becomes an infected abscess that will need to be soaked daily (sometimes everal times a day) and drained of puss. Treatment can take weeks. Usually the outcome of a stone bruise injury is good. Occasionally antibiotics will be needed as part of the treatment.

The 'frog' of a horse's hoof is the triangular shaped protrusion in the back area of the hoof. Ferriers often trim the frog with a special knife. Even though the frog tends to be softer than the sole (as it suppose to serve as sort of a pump, pumping blood though the tissues of the hoof as the hoof touches the ground), it is rarely bruised. However, it can be cut and care should be take when moving over any surface objects that may have an edge that could potentially slice the frog. Often a ferrier trims a frog back too much and it becomes protracted which is not good. It serves a real and important function and this is often overlooked or misunderstood.

Barefoot trimming and riding a barefoot horse is becoming popular in many countries now. It gets hooked on the the 'Natural Horsemanship' movement often times. Personally, I don't think there is much that is 'natural' about a domesticated horse's life. Care should be taken not to subject a horse that has worn shoes all its life to all of a sudden be ridden barefoot. The hoof would need to be toughend up gradually first, which can take quite a while. A strong, healthy hoof is always a desirable trait in a horse. When purchasing a horse a thorough inspection of the animal's legs and hooves may prevent the acquiring of a horse that will tend to lamness all of it's life. There is a saying that a horse is only as good as it's feet. There is a lot of truth to that. Also, not all barefoot trimmers are competent and have simply jumped on the natural horsemanship bandwagon. Neither are regular ferriers always right on. References should always be consulted when searching for a ferrier for either precess. Switchng over a horse to barefoot trimming may lame the horse initially. There is also a way of shoeing a horse called natural/balanced shoeing. Again, tied in to the natural horsemanship movement, proponents say it is a more 'natural' way to trim and shoe a horse. Well, sometimes it help a horse and sometimes not. A lot depends on the skill of the ferrier. Some ferriers use the term to describe what they do to help market themselves. Again, always check references.

There is always a risk of a stone bruise anytime you ride whether on a trail or in a dirt or sand arena. It goes with the territory, so to speak. The chances of a horse falling out from under a rider because it steps on something sharp or pointed is slim. Generally it will just immediately start to limp. In that case, the rider should dismount immediately and check for stones lodged within the hoof. If no stones or foreign objects are present and the horse continues to limp, it should not be ridden but rather hand-walked back to the barn. Unless you can ride in a manicured, perfectly surfaced arena all the time, the possibility of a hoof bruise is always present.

I never suggest riding in an arena all the time. Trail riding is fun, good for the horse and generally an injury free activity. It is also very beneficial for a horse to have a varied routene with plenty of going on trails. There will always be rocks and stones on trails and some in most arenas. 99% of the time, nothing will happen. But there is always a risk.

Good Luck and thank you for your question....Happy New Year.

Sincerely, Franklin

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