Six Things For Success

Diet.
Environment.
Trim.
Movement.
Movement.
Movement.

Yes, three of those are the same.

That’s how important it is.

All of these work together. They’re necessary. I’ve talked about this on a different page; but I’m talking about it again. That’s how important it is.

Transitioning takes time, patience, but it also needs all of these; with the right combination, a transition usually goes beautifully, barring serious pathologies or other minor catastrophes.

All of these go together, in synergy. Without one, the others may well fail.

Don’t make me say it again.

Diet
The majority of the time, those horses who just can’t transition? Who can’t grow ‘good feet’ despite all the Farrier’s Formula you shell out for? Yes, it’s diet. It’s almost certainly a mineral imbalance. But, beyond that, quite often, it’s low-grade laminitis. Yep… LAMINITIS.

Medical text-hat on: Anything ending in –itis means ‘inflammation’. In this case, we have lamina, then itis. What are the laminae, you say? Oh, only the Velcro-like structures that hold the outer hoof wall to the internal structures. Literally what your horse is hanging by… not that it’s important, or anything. (It’s VERY, VERY IMPORTANT.)

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Courtesy Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care

Subclinical or low-grade laminitis is absolutely rampant, and it MUST be controlled to have a sound horse. Shod or not. Many of these horses are metabolically challenged, whether pre- or fully insulin resistant (IR) or suffering from Cushing’s disease. Many breeds are prone to insulin resistance–have an ‘air fern’? one you just can’t keep thin? always cresty, with fat pads? Yep–start preparing for laminitis prevention now.

Frankly, for most horses, an insulin-resistant horse’s diet is not a bad thing. Start there and get more flexible if you find you can.

  • Bermuda, teff, or Timothy hay are your best bets, by and large. No grain hays (oat, 3-way, etc)–Orchard is also often very high in non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs)–and alfalfa will often trigger a sensitive horse. (Personally, I feed bermuda in slow-feed nets, with varying amounts of teff, if I can. I love Hay Chix 1 3/4″ HD nets–or smaller, for the blimps among us. NibbleNets are another great option. Don’t go larger than 2″ square holes.)
  • No sweet feed. Horses aren’t built to eat grains covered in molasses. Keep the grains, complete feeds, etc to a minimum for best results. Start with hay pellets (alfalfa is acceptable in smaller amounts here for a non-IR horse, as it has been processed) and go from there. Some horses can tolerate more NSCs in their diet–some less. It also depends on what you’re desiring to do. If you’re just riding in the arena, or willing to ALWAYS boot for tougher terrain, you can sometimes get away with a weaker white line connection. Not recommended–but we can only do so much in boarding barns, sometimes. (My young horses get a couple of cups of bermuda pellets with a handful of low starch/no molasses senior feed, for taste.)
  • Most hays here in the Southwest need balancing for high iron: supplement extra copper and zinc. My personal preference is HorseTech’s AZ Copper Complete, which gives a great vitamin/mineral profile in a stabilized flax base. You need to order it online, but shipping’s free! (And they send you cookies. Really!) Another option is California Trace. It comes in pellets, for those who need pelleted supplements.

Environment
You can get away with different environments, depending how intensively you want to compensate with care. However, 24/7 turnout on a variety of footings–at least some of it abrasive, if possible–is best. If in a space smaller than 24×24, be prepared to do a lot of handwalking and turnout to transition a horse. (Been there. Done that. It sucked. I finally moved her to a paddock. She transitioned beautifully.) Keep it clean, make sure there are plenty of places to get out of urine-soaked mud. Good horsekeeping is good horsekeeping.

If you can have multiple food stations across the paddock from the water, do it. If you can have a buddy, awesome. (For the newly bare horse who is ouchy–be choosy about buddies. Too much forced movement too soon can have its own issues. If your transitioning horse is in charge, though, it might work out great.)

Jamie Jackson’s Paddock Paradise is a great resource. While track systems in Southern California are a bit of a pipe (corral) dream, the concepts are sound.

Trim
Trim is, obviously, a big part. It is not the same thing that a farrier will do before putting on a shoe. Many farriers do the same trim whether shoeing or not–and this is where the performance barefoot trim, or wild horse trim, really shines. We are trimming for optimal performance capacity and soundness barefoot. This means engaging all the structures of the hoof how nature designed them.

The first trim: will probably not be much, in truth, unless you’ve got severe pathologies going on. Most of the time, for a horse who’s been on a pretty solid schedule with nothing overly notable going on, we’ll pull the shoes, balance the hoof, roll the wall, boot, and see you in a couple of weeks. Your horse needs the time to adjust, get used to feeling the ground again, grow some hoof, and your trimmer needs to see natural wear patterns, if possible.

Be prepared for a 4 week trim schedule. I’ve yet to have a performance barefoot horse wear his feet down too much working in sand, even 5 days a week. The hoof recognizes the wear and speeds up growth. Some go 5, occasionally you can find a horse going 6 weeks, but especially for the first hoof capsule–8-9 months for most horses–every 4 weeks is pretty standard.

More details about the trim? Sure! Coming Soon… but for now, Pete Ramey’s Hoof Rehab is a great resource, as is Iron Free Hoof and Barefoot Horse.

Movement, Movement, Movement
You Must Achieve A Flat, and Eventually Heel First, Landing

Every step a horse takes toe-first (with the exception of when going uphill, when it is normal, or if walking extremely slowly) damages the internal structures. Full stop. Over time, it damages everything further up. So many lamenesses are thanks to years of toe-first landings!

Horses with heel pain–“navicular syndrome”, “navicular disease”, deep seated thrush, whatever the reason–need help, and they need it now.

These issues can be solved! Wedges, bar shoes, and isoxuprine are not your life sentence. I’ve taken a navicular horse into an endurance career (when he was clocked trotting at 17mph–and you had better believe he was landing heel first!). Sometimes too much damage has been done to return to ‘normal’–but your horse doesn’t care what his radiographs look like if those feet work.

If your horse ‘points’, or always stands with his front feet underneath him, you’ve got heel pain, and you’ve got to treat it, and fast. Catch it now and you won’t need Osphos, or steroid injections into the joint, or $300 shoes every six weeks.

Resolve the heel pain–start the flat landing–get him moving–and you’ll find the open, swinging, confident swagger of a heel-first landing awaits.

The magic of padded boots is what can tip your not-quite-right horse over the edge into beautiful, unadulterated soundness. And for those who need a different solution, products like Sole-Guard (which finally achieved soundness for that 17mph trotter) and glue-on boots can be that extra oomph to get you where you need to be.

Thousands and thousands of heel-first landings is what’s needed to build up thick, healthy frogs, digital cushions, and lateral cartilages. Turn your horse out, get him moving happily under saddle, and let’s get started! It’s amazing what a truly sound horse feels like.