Care and Rehabilitation
of the Equine Foot
The Contributing Authors of this book represent a "dream team" of equine knowledge, experience and forward-thinking. In addition to being at the top of their particular fields, each of them has something very special in common: they are explorers. None of them ever stopped learning. None of them ever got "too comfortable" with their own knowledge and ability. None of them ever stopped asking "why." They each have improved the world for horses in their own way, and they each have achieved notoriety in their field while still proclaiming to be students of the horse. These are people you want around when your horse has a problem. These are people that are expanding the body of equine knowledge and forging a better future for horses worldwide.
Throughout this book, you will find a few contradictions between the various Authors’ teachings. I might have edited them to give the book a more singular voice; but that would have defeated the purpose of the whole project. All of the Authors are thinkers, and this book is designed to make the reader think. If I smoothed over the areas where these experts have differing opinions, I would be thinking for you. Additionally, each of these Authors would tell you that the total body of equine knowledge is nowhere-near complete; that everything we think we know might be altered by future research. On top of that, "what to do" for a given horse, at a given time is a moving target anyway. Anything that anyone could recommend will be correct sometimes, and incorrect another time. This brings me back to where I started: the best we can do for you, as an equine practitioner, is better arm you to think—to go outside the box and give you more possibilities to consider for each individual case.
A note on measurements:some people will be quite annoyed by the variance between Imperial and Metric measurements. Welcome to the United States! Most veterinarians here say, "missed it by a mile" and "within an inch of my life," but use the Metric system to refer to hoof measurements and dosage—unless they are generalizing, in which case they slide right back into the Imperial system. At one point, I was converting everything in this text. But I found that saying "missed it by a mile (1.60934 kilometers)" or "the horse has 8 mm (.31496 inches or approximately 5/16th inch) of sole thickness" seemed horribly cumbersome. So, right or wrong, I decided to allow the book to be representative of what most US veterinarians are currently doing in everyday language—a combination of both that varies with the subject matter. I believe this will make it more readable for the target audience (working farriers and veterinarians) while providing a nifty educational opportunity for everyone else. If you aren’t accustomed to Metric or Imperial measurements, use a thin metal ruler (with both Imperial and Metric units) as your bookmark. By the time you are done with the book, you will have learned a new "language." Pete Ramey
Barefoot vs. Shod
Let’s get this out of the way now, so we can move on to more important subjects. There are those who think that all horses must be barefoot, all the time, no matter what. There are those who think that all horses must be iron-shod, all the time, no matter what. In my opinion, both categories of people are wrong. Every experienced equine practitioner has seen horses’ hooves harmed by both inadequate protection, and by excessive protection—personally, I have seen hooves destroyed by metal shoes and I have seen horses’ lives saved by them (and I’ve seen both with barefoot horses as well). As with almost every debate, there is a more reasonable balance somewhere between the two extremes. Cover-to-cover, this book is simply about growing healthier hooves. What you do with those healthy hooves is up to you.
I stopped nailing on metal shoes about 14 years ago (1998). I did this because I generally stopped seeing an equine need for it. Personally, I can almost always see a healthier option for a given horse. There is, however, often a human need for metal shoes. For this reason, I refer horses to competent horseshoers on a regular basis—which from any moral standpoint is identical to shoeing them myself.
Some people are unable or unwilling to improve the diet, lifestyle or environment for their horse. Some people are unwilling to mess with hoof boots. Some people are unwilling to allow the hooves to have the time and space to fully develop their internal structures. Some people are unwilling to pay for routine hoof care. Some people insist on doing whatever is possible to get one more competitive season out of a compromised horse—even if it dooms the horse to permanent injury. This is their business, and I came to terms with it years ago (but I don’t have to watch). As for their horse; do I want to see it limping around barefoot, with no hope of improvement? Nope—I want to see that horse shod, if it makes him feel any better!
I will also say here and now that perhaps some horses are born so defective that they could never grow a foot capable of comfortably supporting them. In truth, though, inadequate movement/development, improper diet, unsanitary and improper environment, and inadequate hoof care are currently so common, that the vast numbers of hooves (and horses) that never reach their true potential effectively hide the less common, truly defective hoof (and horse) from study or observation. So most horse owners have no idea whether their horses’ hooves are genetic garbage, or if they simply have failed to reach their true potential. That is what this book is about—we hope to change that.
Barefooters often act like pulling the shoes off a horse will cure all that ails him. In turn, shoers often act like shoeing the horse will cure all the problems as well. Anyone with any real-world experience knows that both notions are often false. This book is packed with information that all horses need: the rest of the story.
So to the horseshoers out there: I know you are good at what you do. You protect horses from the rigors of competition and from a domestic life that almost always violates their nature; you feel good about the work you do, and you should. But I am good at what I do, too. I stand my ground about making that horse’s world as healthy as it can possibly be. I get "all-in the horse owner’s business," often recommending changes to almost every aspect of the horse’s life. Sometimes, I tell horse owners their horse must have 6 months of rest, right in the middle of a winning season—I have more concern for what that horse will feel like when he’s twenty, than I have for blue ribbons when he’s six. The horses love me for it. Some horse owners love me for it. Some horse owners call me a fruitcake and move on to someone more compliant to their wants and desires—that’s their business. So none of us are going to run out of customers anytime soon, and I am not your enemy. If you are looking out for the horse’s best interest, we are on the same team, even if we have slightly different points of view.
To the best of our combined ability, the Authors of this book have detailed the veterinary care, nutrition, trimming, booting, padding, exercise, movement, environment, early development and general health requirements necessary to grow the very best hooves that an individual horse can genetically grow, and to thus provide prevention and cure of many problems that might affect them. The biggest reason we find this is all so important, has less to do with the hooves—more to do with the rest of the body. The same things that improve the hooves, also improve every aspect of the horse’s life: performance, immune function, protection from injury, strength, stamina, recovery, longevity, general health, happiness and well being.
Each of the Authors cares deeply about horses, and we know you do too. So even if you shoe horses for living or own shod horses, this book is for you. We are on your side. Every horse owner can make small improvements that pay big dividends for their horses. None of the information here is absolute. None of it is "all or nothing." As with the whole Bare vs. Shod Debate (or actually almost any debate), the most logical person will usually find a middle ground somewhere between the extremes.
The way I look at it, "If you learn to do it my way and your way; you’ll be smarter than both of us." And if you study this book with that attitude, I can promise it will help the horses in your care.