We all want to help our horses to be comfortable and sound. As horse owners, farriers and veterinarians it is worth considering some things we have control over (nutrition, exercise, regular trimming and shoeing intervals) and things we have no control over (genetics, congenital defects). It is important that we recognize the things we have little or no control over (and to accept it) and to take responsibility for the things we do have control over that can have a positive influence on the horse.
Some things we have no control over
Foot and limb conformations are estimated to have .65 heritability. This means that 65 percent of conformation’s cause is due to heredity or genetics and 35 percent is due to environment or management. Some people wrongly get the idea that we can “fix” these conformational defects. It is true that we can have some influence on straightening young foals’ deviated feet or limbs by applying glue-on extensions. However, the best time to positively affect conformation is when the stallion is introduced to the mare. Conformation is passed on through breeding. Though we may accommodate horses with these problems with good trimming or shoes that can make them more comfortable, it is a fallacy to say that we can fix it.
Another factor we have no control over is age. As horses get older, they tend to get stiffer and arthritic (like people!). While trimming or shoeing horses like this, it is best to exercise patience and hold the legs low to where it is comfortable for the horse.
Some things we do have control over
There are things we can control to positively influence our horses. One of these critical factors is feeding. What we feed our horses as well as how much is very important. Often times, horses are owned by people who have no experience in caring for them. In an effort to show love or to produce a larger horse, these people tend to over-supplement and over-feed. Even though they mean well, these people can actually cripple the horse. Horses need to eat 1.5 to 2 percent of their body weight per day (depending on their use). This means that a 1000 pound animal would need about 15 pounds of feed per day (7.5 pounds per feeding if fed twice a day). That covers quantity of feed but quality is also important. 15 pounds of grass hay would have a different effect on the horse than 15 pounds of corn! The required protein and energy in the feed will vary with age, reproductive condition and athletic use. By controlling how much we feed our horses or allow them to eat on pasture we can prevent serious diseases like developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) and laminitis or founder.
Another thing we must take responsibility for is regular intervals for foot care. Most horses should have their feet trimmed every 6 to 8 weeks. Some horses may need shoes depending on the quality of their feet or to keep them comfortable if they have deviations in the limb or conditions like navicular syndrome. Keeping horses’ feet maintained makes for happier horses.
As horsemen and horsewomen, we should learn all we can about horses so we can recognize conditions that we may have little or no control over and take responsibility for the things we do have control over.
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