I suppose I should admit something. I’m an English hunter/jumper from way back and, well… my favorite ride in the whole world is the (sound) off-the-track thoroughbred. Their willingness to go at the mere shift of your weight, their enjoyment of the sport, and their overall enthusiasm for life is just so infectious! So many of these horses develop special bonds with their new owners, as if the memories of their racing careers help them to truly appreciate the lifestyle change that generally comes with a new home and a new job.
2009: Marley and I Jump with Egg Bars and Bell Boots
One common theme with off-the-track thoroughbreds, however, is that they are known for having unhealthy feet.
Marley’s Right front with Egg Bars (2009)
My horse Marley is an ex-race horse whose feet were mismanaged for about 10 years (of course, this was back before I learned to trim myself). I acquired him when he was 5, and went the way of metal shoes for 5 more agonizing years.
2009 Before Picture:Marie Daniels Pulls his Shoes.
To this day, Marie and I can both say he’s the worst case we’ve ever seen.
Finally, after pulling his metal shoes, putting him on a low-starch diet, fitting him with EasyBoot Epics, and making sure that he got lots of exercise and regular trims by a natural hoof care expert (my colleague, Marie Daniels), he finally grew some kind of OK feet. Marley is completely barefoot and sound today, although he does have bone loss at the tip of his coffin bone on his right front. He will never have great feet, and so hoof maintenance is a crucial part of his soundness.
Some clients act surprised when I tell them at my first visit that I keep my horse clients on a strict 5-6 week schedule. I warn people during this initial visit that I will not continue trimming their horses unless they are willing to have their horses trimmed regularly. At first, these individuals have difficulty understanding my reasoning for being so strict. One client, for example, insisted that I trim her horses once every 12 weeks; after all, when she was growing up, her family trimmed their horses only 3 times a year. Her current animals have very sick feet.
2011: Marley’s less-healthy right front (missing coffin bone)
I inadvertently performed a little experiment on poor Marley that illustrates the importance of regular trimming. Recently, I became very busy and my own horses fell completely off of my trimming calendar. With the thought in my mind one evening that my horses must be due soon, I was appalled to look down at Marley’s overgrown toes and find a nasty crack that ran all the way from hairline to the ground. How could I allow this to happen to my high-maintenance horse?
2011: An ugly crack just right of center on his left front that actually looks better than it did the day before. Darn for not having my camera the day before.
I knew exactly how. I took in an off-the-track thoroughbred this past May who was dead lame and needed trims every one to two weeks to keep the separated hoof wall from pulling away at ground level. My days were filled with trimming other people’s horses, and my evenings were taken up with my new 4-year old project…and my "sound" horses fell to the wayside.
Rin: My newest project, and a "gift" from the trainers, Lisa and Victor.
The moral of my little story is that regular trimming is so important, whether we’re talking about a horse who is uncomfortable on his feet and in need of rehabilitation trimming every 2 weeks, or a sound horse who just needs maintenance trims every 6 weeks to keep him balanced and moving well under saddle. Certainly, if Marley had stronger hoof walls and healthier soles, the crack that he developed probably would not have traveled so far up his foot. However, the ugly truth is that the majority of my client horses do not have very healthy feet. Instead, they are recovering from carbohydrate overdoses and improper shoeing and trimming, putting them in need of a very regular schedule to keep the old, weak part of the hoof from invading the healthier hoof that is growing down from the hairline. Marley is no exception. Although he has grown new hooves from hairline to the ground at least twice since starting natural hoof care, it is going to take a lot longer than 2 years to grow truly healthy feet after 10 years of improper hoof management – and when there’s permanent damage, such as Marley’s missing coffin bone on the right front, that hoof will always need very special attention.
Marley and Rin.
Every horse wears his hooves differently, depending on diet, exercise, and the terrain in which he is most often worked. Your natural hoof care professional will be able to help you find the trimming schedule that is right for your horse, as well as the diet and exercise plan that will best fit his needs.
Marley and Rin are now pasture pleasure riding ponies. The racetrack horses we will be discussing next have many more trimming, booting, and even shoeing considerations.
Stay on track, and don’t let your horses fall off of your trimming schedule.