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Elizabeth TeSelle hoof_maiden@hotmail.com
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Frequently Asked Questions about
Natural Hoof Care
Is natural hoof care cheaper?
The answer to this question depends on how your horses' feet are currently being addressed.  If your horse is wearing shoes, then almost certainly going to a performance barefoot trim will be less expensive.  However, it may not be as much of a reduction as you expect.  For instance, most farriers shoe (or even trim!) on a 6-7 week schedule, while I prefer to have horses on a 4 week trim schedule.  The reason for this is simple:  after 4 weeks of good hoof growth, the foot inevitably becomes unbalanced.  No good comes of leaving an unbalanced foot untrimmed:  the results of doing so include chipping, cracking, and continued overall poor hoof form. No improvement can occur because the foot does not remain in a balanced state.

If your horse is currently being trimmed barefoot by a farrier, natural hoofcare may well be slightly more expensive.  Traditional farriers often charge a low fee to trim, but it is important to take into account that for the most part, farriers simply trim a foot as if they were going to put a shoe on it, horse shoeing being their real business.  This can entail removing toe height (and the all-important toe callus) and leaving the heels too high.  In hoof trimming, as in most things, you get what you pay for!  If what you want is a carefully trimmed barefoot horse, you want a hoof trimmer, not a farrier.

Fees: Hoofmaiden charges $40 per trim for most horses (less for minis, more for drafts and for horses with behavioral issues that make them dangerous to trim), with a $50 charge for the first, or "set-up" trim.  Treatment trims for horses with laminitis, founder, navicular, or other serious pathologies, are $55 (less for minis, more for drafts) and these horses will often need to be trimmed more frequently than every 4 weeks for a while.  Given increasing gas prices, if the roundtrip will be more than 60 miles, a trip charge will be added on.

The bottom line:  While performance barefoot may or may not be the "cheaper" option for you, it is certainly the better option for your horse. 
Why does trimming this way take more time?
Clients who are accustomed to the farrier pulling up in his truck and trimming 6 horses in an hour are often surprised that a performance barefoot trim takes longer.  There are several reasons for this.

Photo Documentation. At Hoofmaiden, we document our trims with photographs.  That means before and after shots (4 for each foot) for the first trim, and after shots at regular intervals thereafter.  The photos not only help me explain to you what your horse's problems are and how I intend to address them, but also allow you and I to track the progress your horse makes.  Taking photos takes time, and I take even more of my own time, after I leave your place, to mark up the photos and send them to you with an explanation of  what the photos mean.

Individualized Care. A performance barefoot trim is geared specifically to each individual horse and is done with deliberation and care.  A pasture trim involves simply slicing off the bottom of the foot, without concern for maintaining the toe callus or for respecting the natural (and all-important) concavity of the sole.  Doing it right simply takes longer.  The first trim will always take longer than subsequent trims:  during the first trim I am learning about your horse's feet as much as I am trimming them, and there is always more "work" to do in terms of balancing the feet.  Once the trim is balanced, and as long as we stay on a 4-schedule, subsequent trims will go faster.  However, a performance barefoot trim will never be as quick as a farrier trim, nor is that ever our goal.

Positive Reinforcement. Finally, I try always to work WITH the horse, donkey, or mule, rather than against them.  This means using well-timed positive reinforcement, giving the animal frequent breaks, and making concessions to any special needs they may have.  For instance, rather than trying to bring a miniature horse or donkey's foot up to my knees in normal hoof-trimming stance (which is uncomfortable for the mini and often results in resistance), I get down on the ground to trim, thereby keeping the patient happy and getting the job done at the same time. A horse who has a serious condition, such as founder or navicular, may well need very frequent breaks, as he simply may not be able to stand on 3 legs for long.

I have a background in the training of animals (dogs, cats, and birds in addition to horses) and use the principles of
operant conditioning to work with them, rather than brute force.  Initially, this may cause the trimming job to take longer than it if a big, strong guy hung onto the horse for dear life and forced him to submit.  Over time, however, the results are far, far better for horse, owner, and trimmer.

 

The bottom line:  Quality, not quantity, is the emphasis at Hoofmaiden.
Why do you ask about my horse's turnout, diet, etc?  What does all that have to do with hoofcare?
The answer is that turnout, diet, and every other aspect of your horse's life have EVERYTHING to do with hoofcare!  It would be negligent to ignore those aspects.

Turnout: Horses are animals of almost constant movement, and their entire physiology is set up that way.  Healthy adult horses lie down to sleep only 60 minutes or so in a 24-hour period;  they nap on their feet (during the day as well as at night) and they are on the move most of the rest of the time (night as well as day).  Horses' feet are also set up for being on hard, supportive ground.  When they are stalled on soft bedding, their feet fail to get the stimulation they need and their posture is actually altered when their toes "bury" in the deep shavings.  So stabling, even for a few hours a day, is quite damaging to feet.  In fact, the advent of horse shoes coincided closely with the beginning of keeping horses stalled for human convenience; when horses started spending time in stalls, their formerly strong feet began to fall apart (thereby "necessitating" shoes).  As long as horses are allowed to live and they were meant to live, their own hooves are more than capable of taking care of them. It's when human beings began interfering that horses suddenly "needed" shoes.

The best 24/7 turnout situations include varied, supportive terrain, shelter in the form of a run-in shed or at least good trees, and sufficient impetus for movement. Many pastures are boring rectangles;  it is much better to provide a more winding, interesting landscape where possible.  Some ideas are on my
Natural Lifestyles page, on Equinextion's page, and in the book Paddock Paradise.  It is possible to create an interesting turnout area with very limited acreage, and simply spreading the hay around every day instead of leaving out a round bale will encourage movement.

Diet: Again, it's important to look at the physiology of the horse in order to understand how diet affects hoofcare.  Horses are foragers, whose long, winding digestive tract is set up for almost constant grazing on relatively low-quality grass.  They are not set up for large meals of starch and protein-rich grains, which they would encounter only rarely and in very small amounts in nature.  In horses, too much nutrition, especially in the form of starches, can cause stretching or separation in the white line, and laminitis, as well as colic.  Laminitis, like navicular, is an almost entirely human-caused "disease"--it is not found in the cadaver feet of wild horses, nor does it occur in naturally kept horses.  I recommend the use of a ration balancer, such as Buckeye Gro N' Win, which provides vitamins and minerals in an extremely concentrated, very low-starch vehicle, and for those who need more calories, the addition of black oil sunflower seeds, unmolassesed beet pulp with oil, or a fat supplement like Buckeye Ultimate Finish.
The bottom line:  Hoofcare is a holistic process.
All the pieces must be in place for the  horse to thrive.
More FAQs to come!
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