It's a New Year: Put the Right Foot Forward

Put the Right Foot Forward

Human beings are terrible at New Year’s resolutions. There’s probably something genetically hardwired into our brains to make us stop caring about the things we know we should be doing for ourselves. Or at least, science is the excuse I’m using this year. We do tend to take better care of our horses, however, and we do like encouraging other people to keep their resolutions, so it seems likely that any resolutions undertaken on behalf of our equine friends stand a better chance of lasting the whole year.

We take excellent care of our horses already, but we can always level up and be more proactive in protecting our horses and allowing them to put their best feet forward:

Review your trimming or shoeing strategies with your farrier/vet

What is your plan for your horse’s feet? Do you have one? As horse owners, we tend to just keep doing the same things unless something catastrophic happens to destroy the foot. The New Year is an excellent opportunity to evaluate the horse’s hoof care and think about whether anything needs to be changed up.

You can ask yourself questions about the horse’s regimen. Does your horse have shoes? Does he need to wear them? When is he most comfortable? Least? What is your plan for the horse? Is there anything the farrier can do to get him there more easily? Will your hoof care regimen help the horse’s feet stay healthy for his whole life?

Once you have an idea of what’s working and what’s not, you can put the same questions to the farrier and the vet. They’re the professionals, and their input will be essential in developing a plan to keep your horse’s feet functioning well in the long-term.

Pick your horse’s feet before and after every ride

Every ride. Of course we know because we all got told off as kids that feet have to be picked out twice daily. Otherwise stones can get stuck in the clefts of the hoof and packed-in mud and gross stuff can lead to thrush and blah, blah, blah. Be honest, though—how often have you been pressed for time and cut that little corner so you could focus on the ride? I refuse to tell you how many times I did that last year because you would judge me and I would deserve it. Suffice it to say I’m pressed for time a lot.

I will readily agree that treating thrush and bruises is, in fact, much more time consuming, so this resolution is really as much about selfishly saving time as it is about taking better care of the horse. A win for everybody.

Keep to a schedule

Put the Right Foot Forward

Way easier to do if you have an indoor barn and a warm-ish, dry-ish place for a farrier to work, but it’s just as important for those horses who live out in rain and snow. This is another of those resolutions that’s as much about us as it is about the horse. Regular trims/shoe jobs mean fewer cracks and chips, fewer problems and fewer lost riding days.

I’m in no way suggesting we stand in the middle of the yard in a hurricane to make sure the horse gets his feet done right on Tuesday or whatever, but putting the dates on a calendar and making sure that if any trim gets postponed, it gets made up right away, really saves us all in the long run.

Check the footing conditions

There’s often just not much to be done about the footing outside. It could be muddy, soggy, hard, packed, dusty, too dry or too wet, and unless you have the power to run a watering/irrigation system, or are yourself a weather god, the footing your horses live in or travel to will be what it is.

We do have some control, however, over the moisture in the foot itself, which is really the crucial factor. Manufacturers have all kinds of sealants, moisturizers and other products to keep water in or out of the foot and many of them seem to actually work. Taking that extra time each day to help your horse cope with less than ideal footing at home can make a big difference in the health of his feet.

It also doesn’t take long to call ahead to a show and ask about the footing. Or to find out what conditions on the trail are like and then prepare the horse accordingly. If you’re not sure about what boots, corks, shoes or other apparatus would benefit your horse most, this would be another excellent time to ask your farrier what s/he thinks.

Keep an eye on nutrition

Do you know what’s in your hay? Ever done a nutritional analysis? What goes into your horse’s body has an obvious and huge impact on how their feet grow, but again, unless something terrible happens to the horse, we typically don’t question whether they’re getting enough of what they need from what they eat.

Proper nutritional analyses aren’t easy to do. They require math. People go to school for this. To really find out what your horse is eating and what he might be missing, consider getting a nutritionist out to figure it all out right. If you can get a number of people in on it, that cuts down the cost quite a bit, but even just having someone tell you if you’re wasting your time on an expensive type of feed or supplement can also be a worthwhile investment. It’s also worthwhile to help your horse grow the healthiest feet he can.

If your horse has, let’s say… less than perfect feet, this could be the best time to think about changing them for the better. If he has decent feet already, devoting a little extra time and planning to optimize what’s working could still make a big difference in how the horse feels and goes. Something to think on.

Happy New Year!

by Cindy McMann

image 1: Wikimedia Commons; image 2: Tomi Tapio (Creative Commons BY)

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