There was a time not too long ago when many barefoot hoof practitioners wouldn’t take on clients who kept their horses in boarding stables.
Why would reputable hoof trimmers oppose horses being kept at a boarding stable? There are two primary reasons; first of all, horses don’t get to move enough to create a truly healthy hoof. In all but the very best (and very costly) boarding environments, horses are stalled for close to 23 hours per day. Secondly, feed choices are compromised, in that there is rarely a choice at all. Boarding barns can’t possibly cater to the needs of an individual horse when it’s their responsibility to feed and clean up after 100 horses or more each day.
Barefoot hoof practitioners and equine nutritionists respect the fact that horses are designed to cover several miles in day and their digestive systems do best when they are allowed to graze continuously. Thus, we can easily see that confining such an animal in a small space and offering 2 or 3 concentrated meals each day cannot be optimum for their overall well-being and hoof health.
Boarding stables are designed to offer convenience to the horse owner.
If you want the luxury of sleeping in until 6:30 am, relaxing with a cup of coffee and putting on nice attire so you’ll be presentable in your workplace, you’ll probably prefer to keep your horse in a boarding barn versus taking on self-care with a paddock paradise that will allow for a more physically and mentally healthy equine partner.
If you appreciate an indoor arena where you can ride after dark or escape winter snow, sloppy mud, or sweltering summertime heat, you’re probably going to have to forego runs enriched with clean sand and smooth pea gravel, opting instead to house your horses in dusty shavings and ask him to lounge in a sub-200 square foot pen when you’re not riding.
Unless you are willing to get up by 5 am to feed each morning and get to the barn by 6 pm to feed every night (7 days a week, 365 days a year; no vacations, ever) and don’t mind the back-breaking (or at least back-straining) work of lifting buckets full of filthy water, scrubbing water troughs, dragging out hoses, picking out stalls at least once a day, figuring out how to dispose of manure, deciding how and where to store hay, arranging hay deliveries and taking care of the necessary purchase, deliveries and maintenance of sand, pea gravel, and other footing or bedding materials, along with securing safe fencing and keeping up a hazard-free environment, you’ll probably prefer to house your horse at a reputable boarding facility rather than purchasing or leasing land sufficient for a self-care set up.
Are there boarding facilities near the Wasatch front that offer all these luxuries (covered riding areas, feeding, stall cleaning) along with adequate turn out time and hoof-stimulating footing in the horse’s roomy but sheltered living space? No, there are not.
Does that mean you have to give up on the hope of maintaining a reasonably healthy barefoot horse if you choose to board? No, it does not.
Here are a few things you can do to help keep your stall-boarded barefoot horse as healthy as reasonably possible:
1. Work with a qualified barefoot hoof practitioner who is open to the idea of tending to the stall-bound horse. We’re lucky to have a few knowledgeable trimmers in the greater Salt Lake area, including Chad Montee, Meisja Wagner, and Vanessa Sharp.
2. Get your horses feet trimmed regularly; every 4 -5 weeks is recommended. If you’re letting them get too long and miss the input and advice that you’ll glean from frequent consultations with a professional trimmer, there’s no point in keeping them barefoot.
3. Listen to your hoof practitioner. If you’re not going to respect your trimmer’s input or follow their advice, there’s no point in keeping your horses barefoot.
4. Keep the hooves clean! Picking them out a few times a week isn’t sufficient. Use a cleaning agent at least once a week to irrigate collateral grooves. Enhance your efforts with a brush and cloth to thoroughly clean the frog.
5. Pay attention to the hoof’s changing condition and respond accordingly. Maybe your mare decides to stand in her own urine for an hour (or more) one week. Tend to the effects. Possibly the shavings used the next week are particularly drying, sapping moisture from her feet. Apply a conditioner, add oil to her supplements, use an oil-based topical substance (Magic Cushion is great) on her soles.
6. Rubbing a bit of sand paper over the soles after cleaning can be helpful and stimulating.
7. Use a rubber mat in the area where your horse is most likely to eat; sweep shavings away so he’s not ingesting those at meal time. If you can go to the barn at meal times, put the hay in a net so it’s eaten more slowly.
8. Put a rubber mat by the water bucket. Use the type with holes and pour in sand and pea gravel so the horse’s feet get some stimulation each time she goes to get a drink.
9. Ride as much as you possibly can. Exercise is essential to the healthy hoof. If you’re riding out on rocky or hard terrain, add hoof boots. When you can’t ride, put your horse in turn out. If turn out is limited and you don’t have time to tack up and ride, take the horse for a walk in hand. Anything you can do to get the horse moving and looking at something besides the walls of his stall will help.
10. Be proactive and involved; keeping a horse barefoot will require some extra effort on your part. Keep up a good attitude, cooperate with your trimmer and make sure you’re willing to do what’s needed to provide your horse with sufficient hoof stimulation and nutrition.
Are these fixes as good as traveling up to 3 miles a day along a scenic paddock paradise trail? Of course not, but they’re better than nothing. Most lives demand a bit of compromise, for all species. Enjoy your equine friends and do the best you can.