Natural Horse Care ~ Growing Healthy Hooves…One In The Same

Horses are amazing, beautiful gifts from GOD. They require special attention and care. I strongly believe the closer we can get our domesticated equine partner’s environment and lifestyle to that of their “wild” relatives, the better we can serve them.

Horses were never meant to be confined to small enclosures. In the wild, they’d travel 10~20 miles a day in search of their nutritional requirements, shelter and escaping predators. A horses digestive system wasn’t designed to live off the rich grasses, hays and grains produced today or in the manner in which we feed them. Today, the average horse owner has only a few acres, if that, to work with. We have to feed and house our horses in such a way that is convenient for us, but not necessarily beneficial to them. It can be a real challenge, but with a little thought and planning, we can get ’em moving and living a more “natural” lifestyle.

Diet:

  • ALWAYS provide plenty of clean fresh water. If several horses are pastured together, it’s a good idea to have more than one water source.
  • Vitamins, minerals and salt. In proper ratios and according to type of forage fed/available.
  • Closely monitor horses and their rations. It isn’t healthy to be either too thin or too heavy. Make adjustments when needed, but do so slowly, over a period of time, never all at once.
  • Feed the individual horse, according to his needs and work load. Feed by weight not volume. (A 2 pound coffee can full of feathers or rocks is not going to weigh the same.)
  • Restrict/eliminate all excess NSC’s (nonstructural carbohydrates, sugars, starches) in all horses diets, but especially in the “easy~keepers”. Like people, horses do not need or thrive on a diet full of sugars and in some individuals an excess can cause real health concerns. Read feed tags, be aware of NSC content and avoid anything above 10~15% and/or made with molasses. When possible, have forage tested, or at the very least, educate yourself on the different types of forage, their average NSC content and “best” grazing times. Check out Kathryn Watts web site safergrass.org She has a wealth of information in one convenient location and helps sort thru all the scientific research.
  • Use grazing muzzles or a dry~lot to help restrict the “easy~keeper”. When using a muzzle be certain it has a safety release strap, buckle or feature. Also make sure the horse wearing it can and will drink.
  • Instead of feeding hay in one spot, spread it out in thin, small piles all around your pasture or paddock. You’d be amazed at how much it gets ’em moving.
  • Use small holed hay nets to make hay ration last longer thru out the day. Can be hung in stall, pasture or used as a “hay pillow” laying on the ground. (Holes should be no more than 2″)

***Word of Caution: I do not recommend using hay nets with shod horses.  They could catch a shoe and get in an awful  wreck.

Environment ~ Lifestyle:

  • Provide as much turn~out time as possible. Preferably in a herd situation or at the very least with some sort of pasture mate.
  • Use pea gravel or small river rock around water troughs, feeders and loafing areas to help wear and condition hooves.
  • Place all of their necessities in different locations. Water, shelter, salt and minerals, a spot to lie down, all around their enclosure. Make ’em work to get it! Check out Jamie Jackson’s book “Paddock Paradise: A Guide to Natural Horse Boarding.” He has some great ideas on adapting your own property to facilitate the natural environment our horses thrive in.
  • Try to incorporate whatever terrain you wish to ride in, into their daily lives. Either bring it to them using pea gravel or other abrasive material or take them too it, in short, light intervals.
  • Ride or work in hand as often as possible. Aim for at least 30 minutes 3 times per week. (never ask a sore or lame horse to work, get him the help he needs first!)

Hoof Care:

  • Clean hooves daily. Check for thrush, chips or cracks, ripples indicating a possible dietary issue, sensitivity, heat, anything out of the ordinary.
  • Treat thrush. It’s not a “cosmetic” or smelly problem. It can and will prevent that all important heel first landing, eat away frog material and eventually invade the frog corium, causing severe, potentially lifelong lameness.
  • Research the different techniques and types of hoof care and hoof protection that’s available today. Make an informed decision based on your horse, his or her needs, the work expected of them and what you as their owner can do for them.
  • Arrange for and maintain a consistent schedule with a competent hoof care provider, whose ideas, methods and goals mirror your own.