I first read the term of “passive conditioning” on trimmer Linda Cowles’ site. If you can adapt your horse’s habitat, his transition to performance, natural feet will be smooth and quick. Of course depending on where you horse starts, transition varies. Fortunately I carry a full line of boot from Easy Boots to get us over the bumpy spots.
In 2006, Jaime Jackson, president of the AANHCP, published Paddock Paradise (PP). Available here. By turning the typical, rectangular pasture, into a horse path/track of diverse widths, we encourage our horses to walk and graze all day, just as their wild cousins do. Walking, punctuated with naps, will transition your horse’s ‘deformed’ feet into the natural, high performance hooves he was meant to have. And the body….oh be prepared for wonderful changes in body and mind!
You may be able to introduce all or part of this program. Remember every change helps your horse’s health. These ideas aren’t about some wishy washy notion of “being natural”. No!
Let me make one point perfectly clear. Healthy bare hooves, adequate movement, correct diet, social interaction within a herd are all about Your Horse’s Health. Shoeing horses, keeping them in the confinement of stalls with minimal turnout, feeding them sugar rich diets are all responsible for the dis-ease of our horses and their inevitable early deaths.
So let’s get on with doing whatever we can to improve our horses lives, one by one. If you board, maybe you can’t implement the entire plan. Perhaps your horse is now stalled. I hope you will make it your top assignment to get your horse to field board, by next month. I have heard every excuse in the book from owners; I feel like smacking them. What is more important than your horse’s health and happiness? Want to see some sick and insane horses; visit your neighboring show barn.
From the easiest and cheapest changes to the more complicated:
- Horses eat and drink at ground level. Move your buckets to the right position.
- Try overflowing your outside water buckets or tubs, encouraging the horses to stand in a small pond or mud. See Paddock Paradise for ideas.
- Normally horses will make areas to roll in. Encourage this behavior.
- The equine diet is 99.9% forage. The hay should have 10% or less non structural carbohydrate. (Katherine Watt’s site, Safer Grass) That is, a low sugar content. You can’t analyze hay by look, feel or smell. Have it tested especially if your horse is “an easy keeper”, prone to fat deposits on the neck, shoulder and rump. This type of animal has the potential to be insulin resistant (IR), diabetic, and could founder with too much sugar.
- Learn more about pasture management. Grasses rich in sugars can founder a horse. In fact in Paddock Paradise, Jaime recommends scraping the grass off the horse paths and feeding hay at different spots. For the insulin resistant horse with an owner who owns a farm, please consider this option. Again I direct you to Safer Grass and two excellent and affordable CD’s by Katherine Watts, plant specialist. Ground which isn’t analyzed and fertilized appropriately every year may be high in sugar. Over grazed pastures may also be high in sugar. Learn, don’t assume!
- Get Sweet Feed out of your horse’s diet. Reconsider sweet treats. Blue Seal makes a Timothy Hay Stretcher that is popular with clicker trainers. Even that has a small about of molasses. Call the company for more details if you have an IR horse. Soaked, unsweetened beet pulp combined mainly with oats is a better feed when needed. Feed “expert” will tell you that horses won’t eat grain without molasses; in my experience, they are wrong. Dr. Eleanor Kellon offers consultations and courses on equine nutrition. She is an expert in the diet for the Insulin Resistant horse.
- Add rocks to your pasture, especially in the lounging areas. If you have mud, consider making a base of large rocks, then small and finally PEA or landscaping gravel. I have also heard of using ‘road gravel’ or landscaping sheets as a first layer. Most horses do very well on pea gravel as it is tiny and rounded. Put in 4” layers where ever your horse stands, around the water tub and where he routinely walks. The massaging effect helps restore weak, external and internal structures. Take your horse for “doggie walks” on gravel roads, always being careful to make sure he is comfortable. If it hurts, stop.
- Sheds with overhangs or woods offer a welcome respite from the northeast sun and flies. It’s been my experience in Delaware that horses do not need or want to seek shelter in the winter, even during snow storms. Just keep the commercial stuff like wipes, Show Sheen, etc off their coats. You will ruin their ability to keep themselves warm; silicone coats the hair follicle making the horse shine but incapable of trapping heat.
- Create a horse path out of your pasture. We have all noticed how horses move each other along, based on pecking order. Take advantage of that to get your horses out of ‘camping mode’ and into movement. Their hooves and bodies will reflect a new level of health almost over night! The path might vary from 10 to 20 feet for the walking sections. Make the napping areas wider, like 40 feet from the fence line. Include or add as many natural obstacles as you can think of: creeks, ponds, scattered logs to step over, woods, muddy sections, etc. Mazes make horses crazy so don’t go there. And be sure there are no places where a horse could get cornered. See Paddock Paradise for some really wild ideas about adding predator scents and noises for stimulation of all the senses! Do a blog search for PP’s around the country.
- Boot your horse and ride the tires off him! Half lease your pleasure horse so that he is ridden every day or even twice a day.
Now sit back and watch those hooves self trim and condition!
In the northeast, we have plenty of hard ground. Without concussion, it’s hard to develop great hooves. Consult your agricultural extension for ideas on this and other pasture matters particular to your area. And by all means, have fun with this. Please read Paddock Paradise by Jaime Jackson (and upcoming site and workbooks) for more ideas and visit barefoottruth in Yahoo groups to discuss additional ideas.
Here are some great pictorials of Paddock Paradise in action: