Natural Hoof Care
Balanced vs Unbalanced
Natural horse care is the wave of the future
and the barefoot approach is one of the main principles. Mother
Nature has given these magnificent creatures all they need to
be happy, healthy horses. It’s up to the humans to support
them by becoming knowledgeable and empowered about what is truly
best for their equine partners.
Below is some basic information and photos to help educate about
natural hoof care. There are also awesome interviews with hoof
care experts on the If Your Horse Could Talk show & Archives
page, hoof articles on the Writings page, great links, and great
informational resources in our store.
Healthy Hooves, the Natural Way
By Lisa Ross-Williams
“A loud rustling in the bushes alerted the colorful
herd to possible danger. Led by the ghostly gray, this herd
of many colors, breeds, and ages tore through the natural terrain
at breakneck speed, nimbly navigating the uneven rocky ground.
Even when crossing the wet river bank, not one horse, even the
18 hand gangly draft colt lost their footing on the slippery
clay. Mother Nature had indeed given this herd a gift for survival—strong,
healthy, natural hooves.”
“This band’s hooves were very different from the
normal shod horses often seen today; compact, short, hard-as-rock
hooves with large frogs, these feet give maximum traction, protection,
and shock absorption to these horses. Never had they been weakened
by a farrier’s hammer & nails, the restricting nature
of steel hooves, or have been afflicted with the common hoof
diseases such as laminitis, navicular, thrush, and white line
Although the norm in horse care has been to shoe horses in the
past without a second thought, a new enlightenment toward natural
hoof care is growing strong. More and more horse guardians and
even some open-minded farriers and veterinarians are starting to
question this practice and through educating themselves, are turning
to the barefoot approach.
However, simply removing the shoes will not produce a high performance
barefoot horse. By understanding why horseshoeing began, what a
natural hoof is, the adverse affects of shoeing, and what other
care factors are involved, horse guardians are able to break this
long standing belief that horses need shoes and more toward a natural,
Food for Thought....
Why Not Shoes?
Most people shoe their horse because they
believe it protects the hoof, but are often unaware of the negative
effects of this practice. Although a metal shoe may protect the
hoof wall from chipping, it impedes other natural functions and
causes adverse consequences. Some of these include:
Decreased Shock Absorption: Shoes decrease the
hoof’s ability to absorb shock by 70-80% by not allowing
the hoof to expand properly upon weight bearing. In 1983, a study
at the University of Zurich found “a shod horse walking on
pavement receives three times the impact force as an unshod horse
trotting on that surface.” The excess force must then be
taken up by the legs damaging joints, tendons, and even the lungs
which were not designed to deal with this force.
Metal Vibration Damages Tissue : A doctorial
thesis at the University of Zurich found that metal horseshoes
vibrate at about 800 Hz, a frequency damaging to living tissue.
This type of circulation and neural conditions in humans is called
Raynaud’s Syndrome. We must realize that every step a shod
horse takes is damaging tissues throughout the body, setting him
up for chronic conditions such as arthritis.
Decreased Blood Circulation: Each hoof is actually
a secondary circulatory pump which supports the heart in circulating
blood throughout the body. When the natural expansion and contraction
of the hoof is diminished by shoes or unbalanced hooves, this important
blood flow is hindered, putting the horse at a disadvantage not
only in his hooves but his whole body.
Decreased Traction: Metal shoes do not give
the amount of traction on slippery ground, pavement, or rocks as
an unshod hoof. A natural barefoot uses the skid-break action of
the bars, suction-cup effect upon weight bearing, and the ability
to “feel” the ground as an all-terrain tool.
Damage by Nails: Nails weaken the hoofwall in
addition to contributing to tissue damage from the vibrational
frequency. Since old nail holes do not close-up, they leave the
hoof vulnerable to bacteria as well as temperature extremes.
Hoof Contraction: When a hoof grows, it does
so not only in length but also in diameter. Since the metal shoe
doesn’t become wider, it contracts the growing hoof in a
squeezed position. Proper hoof function (contracting and expanding)
is hindered and the hoof is forced into the all too narrow hoof
shape. Contracted hooves are oval rather than round and have very
narrow frogs and heel bulbs.
Prevents Development of Young Horse’s Feet: A
horse’s coffin bone grows and develops until they are about
five years old. If a horse is shod before that age, the constricting
influence of the shoe prevents normal growth of this all important
bone, predisposing the horse to lifetime hoof problems.
Basic Trim Principles
We really don’t believe there is some special “magical” trim technique that someone has come up with that works for every horse. What we have found is that every hoof tells you what it needs to be balanced for that horse and that there are specific roadmaps to follow which gives you clues as to what is needed. Ultimately, we strive for the wild horse hoof model.
Hairline tells the story: Distortion in the hairline normally show areas of excessive
Don’t force hoof into set angles: Each horse will have individual angles that are best for
them. There is no magical angle or length that works for all
Short toes-Short heels: Horses are not meant to have excessive hoof. Keep them compact
The hoof will show you: There are roadmaps to show what the horse needs.
Active and passive areas: A properly balanced hoof is not flat, but instead has active
and passive areas. The passive areas are those that make contact with the ground upon weight bearing.
Healing angle of growth: We follow the premise that the new hoof growth at the coronary
band shows the hoof’s natural angle. This is called the “healing
angle” by Jaime Jackson.
Round over edges-Mustang Roll: The hoof wall edges should be rounded over to prevent chipping.
Same concept as rounding the edges on wood to prevent splintering.
Body work as support: We have found that body work, such as The Equine Touch is
helpful for horses making the transition to a balanced hoof.
Remember, the whole body must make this change including the
muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments.
Common Hoof Conditions
Below are some of the common hoof conditions found in horses
today. These are all signs of imbalance and/or environmental & nutritional
Thrush: Is an infection of the frog and/or sole,
often bacterial in nature which produces a black, foul smelling
substance. This is often caused by improper hoof function, insufficient
cleaning, and/or nutritional imbalance. Balance the hoof and nutrition
and use Tea Tree or Oregano Essential Oils topically.
White Line Disease: Infection of white line, often bacterial
in nature. Often caused by a stretched white line, laminitis, and
unbalanced hooves. Balance the hooves and use Tea Tree or Oregano
Stretched white line: The white line which should be tight and
narrow is wide and weak. Often caused by long toes and imbalanced
hooves. It is occasional red in color. Keep toes short and over-all
Bruising: Can be caused by exterior forces, such as rocks and
bars or shoes and nails or interior from the coffin bone. Condition
the horses feet properly.
Underslung heels: Although the heel looks short, it is actually
long and positioned at a slant under the hoof. Caused by unbalanced
hooves. Keep heel back.
Wall cracks: Can be located anywhere on hoof but normally seen
at the toe or quarters. Caused from weakening from nails, injury
to coronary band, and unnatural wall pressure.
Flares: Excess hoof grows outward and if this is not corrected,
the new wall will continue to follow this path. Keep toes back
and hoof balanced.
The Hoof Will Tell You
What we have found is that every hoof tells you what it needs to
be balanced for that horse and that there are specific roadmaps
to follow which gives you clues as to what is needed. Ultimately,
we strive for the wild horse hoof model.
The hairline tells the story
The hairline should follow a nice, gradual angle toward
the back of the hoof. If there is a bump or rise in the hairline,
often that points to excessive pressure. Follow that distortion
down, following the direction of hoof tubules and that is where
there is too much pressure.
Wall cracks mean excessive pressure.
Follow the new or healing angle
The frog is a good indicator of where the height of the heel
Cracks in the sole and flaky areas are good indicators of
how much sole wants to come out
A stretched white line indicates too much pressure, often
on the toe.
Hoof Photos and Descriptions
This is an assortment of photos including before and after shots,
examples of imbalance and balanced hooves, and some common hoof
LINKS TO SOME NATURAL HOOF CARE ARTICLES
Hoof Care Consultations & Training
Kenny is offering special hoof care services which include consultations,
vie email, telephone, or in person as well as tutoring and private
lessons in trimming. Please visit the Clinics & Consultation
page for more info.