How to Keep Your Horse's Hooves Healthy

I work with the WHOLE horse .. not JUST the hooves; not JUST the behavior; not JUST the physical body -- the WHOLE horse ... from head to hooves. 

In every situation. 

The WHOLE of the horse is the sum of its parts. All those parts work together, created to do so synergistically. 

Synergistally means that all parts work together to enhance the WHOLE ... "holistically". 

Since this is, specifically, an educational Equine HOOF blog let's outline some tips that will help keep YOUR barefoot horse sound and healthy. 

Please keep in mind that each horse is an individual so what is being written here are GENERAL guidelines, BASE guidelines only. It's a place to begin formulating what your horse may need as a unique individual. 

  • DIET:  Now, we talked about about diet in the last two blogs with highlights on the metabolically challenged horse. Here I will state for a MAINTENANCE diet for the relatively HEALTHY horse:

    FORAGE - all horses need forage. At least 80%, if not all, of the domestic horse's daily diet should be a form of forage. The wild horses eat nothing but forage - grasses, weeds, flowers, roots, leaves, bark, trees, bushes, cacti, seaweed - all dependent upon what's naturally in their environment. They lick dirt for minerals, eat manure for probiotics and available herbs and other vegetation for healing themselves. They rarely get 'grain' which is, really, the seeds of a plant. But if indigenous fruit is available, they'll eat that; greens - lots of greens as available etc. etc. ... all forage.

    In keeping domestic horses we can supply varied forages in the way of giving free choice grass hay, grazing as allowed, plus adding a small 'salad' each day or every other day to allow for varied vitamins, minerals and other health benefits that are unique to each plant. Some fruits and vegetables help to lower blood glucose or help to regulate it; others help with inflammation while others supply essential omega 3's, 6's and 9's to the diet. Herbs, of course, are healing agents and can be added to the 'salads' according to the individual horse's health needs. Free choice raw, chelated minerals and salt, along with fresh clean water, should also be supplied.

    Remember -- all that goes IN grows OUT through the hooves. If enough varied FORAGE is allowed for the horse then the nutrients will aid in developing strong, healthy, sound hooves.

    Feeding activities utilize approximately 68% of the horses' daily activities with the night time being the heaviest time of eating as noted by David C. Ganskopp and Martin Vavra in "Home Range Size and Habitat Use by Wild Horses", a study funded by the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center and the BLM.  Horse watering activities were seen to be confined to early morning and late evening activities.  Traveling and drinking completed 14% of the day while 18% of their time was resting with the majority of rest time in the early afternoon.  

    One can see piles of manure in the horses' territories ... very tall piles called Stud Piles. These places of manure are well away from the horses' grazing areas. 

    Domestics, too often, are forced to eat their food off contaminated ground that is covered in their own waste. This contributes to parasitic overloads in the horses's guts which then compromise the overall health of the horse, including the hooves. Uric Acid, from the urine of the horse, will destroy hooves as Uric Acid will crystalize and take up residence in the hooves destroying the integrity of the horn, breaking down the hoof and its health overall.

    Keep your horse's eating area clean. Away from manure and urine spots. 

  • MOVEMENT - the horse in the wild travels up to 20 - 30 miles A DAY in search of food, water and general living. Can any one of us say that our horses travel that much?  I highly doubt it. If one says yes, then it is rare, indeed, in today's domestic horse husbandry.

    The wild herds hold territories that span about 200 square acres upon which they travel. Some of it is grassy, some river bed, some rocks, some sand, some mud -- the terrain is varied giving the horses the opportunity to keep their own hooves trimmed down and in good form for optimal function. Again, the form is according to the environment of the individual horse -- which will affect the hooves' functioning and movement.  According to the study mentioned above, the preference for terrain averaged on grades up to 29%. Slopes greater than 30% were avoided by the herds altogether. This information is interesting as movement on sloping terrain also affects the form of the hooves and, as such, the functioning of the hooves. 

    Unfortunately, we see many domestic horses paddocked in small areas of small size with flat ground that is usually of one content ... grass or dirt, maybe a combination and commonly the horses are only allowed a limited time outside, out of their stalls.

    24/7 turnout, if possible, in a large area with other horses is most ideal. Not everyone has hundreds of acres for their horses. A track system is a great way to increase your horse's movement - of course, with other horses to keep company. 


  • HOOF CLEANING - the wild horse will self-clean its hooves with simply movement. A hoof in good form expands upon loading and any residual muck in the hoof is popped out. The hoof will then gather up 'muck' again as the horse lifts its hoof. Wild horses will retain a bit of mud or dirt in the collateral grooves which is said to help with the support of the hooves as well as the energy dissipation upon loading. But, mud and dirt are quite different from the manure and urine soaked bedding that so many domestics are forced to stand in.

    It is important to inspect the hooves daily on domestic horses and pick out any pebbles or other foreign material that have gotten wedged into the hoof somehow. Again, the wild horses move enough on enough varied ground that the hoof will expel these things naturally as the horse moves, but domestics just cannot do that with limited space and movement. So, regular hoof cleaning is important to maintain healthy, bare hooves.

  • PROFESSIONAL HOOFCARE - Because our domestics do not have the opportunity to move as a wild horse does, it is important to keep on a regular schedule with your hoofcare professional. I found that some horses in my practice were fine with every 6 weeks while others really needed to be trimmed every 4 weeks while a couple only needed attention from me every other month or every 3rd month, depending on the time of the year. I also correlated the differences with the breeds of the horses as well as the work the horse was in. Different riding disciplines will cause the hooves to wear in different patterns from one another. A reining horse will wear down its heels much more rapidly than a youngster's W/T horse. A balanced rider will help the hooves to wear and grow in a balanced way since the horse will be in natural balance when being ridden while a rider who is not so balanced will imbalance the horse which wears the hooves in an imbalanced manner. 

Of course some horses have previous injuries and such that will affect the way the hooves grow and wear. That is why I said these are GENERAL guidelines. Each of you readers need to have your horse individually assessed and tended. There is NO cookie cutter trim for all horses and NO one horse is like another any more than there is not another 'you' or another 'me' ... horses are as individualistic as humans are.

There are other factors that affect the horse as a WHOLE which will, of course, affect the hooves ... but I've outlined the 4 most important things to consider. 




    Gwenyth Browning Jones Santagate is the best-selling author of 10 Secrets to Healthy Hooves as well as a noted author for various international equine publications including The Horses Hoof, Equine Wellness, Natural Horse Planet as well as a contributing author for the 2001 United States Federal Mounted Border Patrol Training Manual. For the last 37+ years, she has maintained healthy hooves with natural trimming on thousands of horses and specialized in pathological rehabilitation hoofcare for the last 20 years. She and her husband John keep a small herd of their own equine in SW Florida and continue to offer consults for horses in need. You can email to Gwen -- or telephone in the US (23)-573-9687. For further information please click here: 

    LIVE, ONLINE COURSE on NATURAL HOOFCARE 101 with Gwenyth Santagate begins Sept. 13, 2017. For more information and to register (limited reserved spots) go here:

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