The importance of environment on horse health
Natural Herd Environment
A natural environment that includes continual movement, a herd lifestyle, varied terrain and proper nutrition is essential to maintaining a strong and healthy hoof, as the horse’s circulatory system and lymphatic system depend on proper function of the hoof.
Many domestic horses do not have enough daily movement and live and work on terrain that is much too soft for proper foot function, and many lameness and other health issues seen in domesticated horses often arise from insufficient movement and impaired hoof mechanism.
The inclusion of some hard and abrasive surfaces (granite screenings, for example) within the paddock offers some firm footing which encourages the hoof to function, develop and grow and wear properly. The hoof will naturally grow and adapt to its environment… so if you want a horse that is sound on gravel roads and trails, ensure that there is similar footing in its daily environment!
Some access to surface water in the paddock is useful to provide moisture to keep the hoof from getting dry and brittle; this can be as simple as allowing the water trough to overflow at times. Stay away from external hoof grease/moisturizers, as they generally tend to clog the pores along the frog and collateral grooves, and do nothing for the keratinized “dead” tissue of the external hoof wall. A proper nutritional balance is what grows a healthy hoof, from the inside out.
Natural Environment with room to move
Most recreational adult horses require little more than good quality hay, water and free-choice loose white salt and a separate free choice mineral supplement. Feeds and forage with a high level of sugars and other simple carbohydrates have been proven to be a major cause of laminitis and other hoof ailments; they are too rich for the horse’s digestive tract to utilize and metabolize properly.
Depending on the, age, use, exercise level and temperament of the horse, however, it may be necessary to supplement the rations to ensure adequate digestible energy is provided and that sufficient vitamins and minerals are present, and more importantly in the proper balance and ratio to each other. Many minerals work in synergistic pairs and need to be carefully balanced for optimum absorption, and to avoid potential toxic and/or deficient levels.
A hay (or pasture) analysis provided by a certified laboratory will provide a solid baseline of what a particular horse is eating, and should form the basis of any sound nutritional program, for both backyard and performance horses.
FURTHER SUGGESTED READING/RESOURCES:
Katy Watts – www.safergrass.org
Dr. Eleanor Kellon, DVM – www.drkellon.com
www.all-natural-horse-care.com - Jenny Edwards