Your Turn: What Does the Hoof Say?

Narayan Khalsa explains why natural horse care practitioners look to rings and bulges on a horse’s feet for clues about its health.

Top photo: Narayan Khalsa

From Narayan:

Why Your Horse’s Hoof Is the Window to Its Health

There’s simply no hiding the evidence of chemical medications and poor diets in horses–it’s written all over their hooves. Natural hoof care practitioners can look at a horse’s hoof and know, quite reasonably, how that horse is managed, including the quality of the animal’s diet and if they have had chemical treatments, including dewormers and vaccinations. Harmful feed and medicines leave indelible marks for quite some time.

By understanding healthy growth patterns and average growth rates, we can understand a lot about an animal. Analyzing a horse’s feet is an excellent way to tell how particular management practices have affected their health over time.


Chemical Dewormers

For a very long time, chemical dewormers have been thought to be a necessary evil. Many owners didn’t like the idea of pumping their beloved horses full of blind chemicals that could kill the infection, but might also damage healthy tissue. However, they had to do it if they wanted to treat the worms; administering chemical meds was risky but what was the alternative?

Chemical dewormers, while wreaking havoc on a horse’s internal tissues, also show up in their hooves. When natural hoof care practitioners examine the hooves, they’re looking for straight line growth of the outer wall. If abnormal growth is present, such as a bulge or rings, we know that something is going into this horse that is causing it harm.

Bulges on the hoof are the result of inflamed laminae (soft dermal tissue inside the hoof) and are a sign of either an acute or chronic phase of laminitis. There are other sign posts for diagnosis, but rings and bulges are a definite giveaway. In that case, you’ve, in a sense, traded one undesirable state for another–the chemical dewormer hopefully got rid of the worms, but triggered laminitis.

Poor Diet

What also shows up in hooves is the evidence of poor, sugar-rich diets. Unnatural feed makes itself known through rings in the hoof wall as well. These rings, while extremely common, are not normal in a sound horse that is consistently being fed a reasonably natural diet. Though you may be quite used to seeing these rings in your horse’s hooves, they shouldn’t be ignored, as they are the outward sign of internal problems.

In the case of diets, what has traditionally been considered a normal diet for horses is actually quite detrimental to their health. Lush green grass pasture is a founder trap and should always be avoided. Horses evolved eating high desert pasture and their bodies have not adapted to metabolize these rich grasses safely. To remedy the effects of a poor diet, also avoid using feeds that contain molasses, beet pulp, or other sweeteners like cane syrup or corn syrup.

When it comes to grain, it is best avoided–any more than a cup of oats a day can be harmful for some horses. Try treating your horses with pure low sugar grass pellets like Timothy or Orchard. Horses like treats, and are happy to be treated at all, so we must be intentional about the ones we choose.

Healthy Hooves

When your horse’s natural equilibrium is maintained you will see straight line growth down the outer wall starting at the coronary band, all the way down to the ground. That said, you must account for natural variety of size and color. Because of differences in genetics and environment, all healthy hooves are not identical, so don’t be alarmed if your horse’s hooves look slightly different from ones you see online.

It may take up to a year for signs of poor health to leave the hoof. Though you may have remedied the causes of bulges and rings, they will likely remain on the hoof for several months. The main point is that you shouldn’t be discouraged that your natural practices aren’t benefiting your horse; they are, but the hoof may not reflect that right away. Focus on establishing and maintaining straight line growth that is newly emerging at the coronary band, and be patient.

Although horses cannot talk to us and explain what may be wrong, their hooves do an excellent job at communicating for them. Once you know what to look for, examining and assessing the hoof is a great way to get insight into the effects of the management practices that you choose. When in doubt, consult a trained natural hoof care practitioner who understands the importance of diet for further understanding of what you can do to improve your horse’s health.

Many traditional care practices have become so commonplace that they are no longer questioned. However, now that we know the harmful effects of certain meds and diets, we can choose alternative, time-proven practices that will benefit the animal and result in healthy hoof function and appearance.

Narayan Khalsa is a Co-founder of Effective Pet Wellness, a company specializing in equine wellness and clearing infectious disease is equines, cats, and dogs. Effective Pet Wellness provides 100% guaranteed herbal formulas that are designed to eliminate all known infections, including strongyles, Lyme Disease, and even EPM. Narayan also has a successful hoof care practice in Colorado, whose methodology is based upon the Great Basin wild horse model taught within the AANHCP. For more information, visit Effective Pet Wellness or connect with Narayan on Google+.


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