Barefoot Grazing – The Model
Keeping horses barefoot – Here are practical ideas which will help you towards maintaining and keeping your horses in optimun health.
Ideas which you can do irrespective of where you. Ideas that you can incorporate in large or small fields and paddocks.
Here are practical ideas which will help you with their daily living.
Here are ideas and suggestions to help you maintain and keep their hooves and physical bodies in optimun health and condition, independent of you the horse owner.
The Ideal Model
Jaime Jackson (Director of Operations for the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners) says, “He uses the
wild horse as his model and wild horses live outside in the company of other horses all year long, in all climates, with no rugs and are continuously on the move.”
This is by far the healthiest way for our horses to live and the model, for us to attempt to copy, if we wish to try and keep horses in optimum health.
A goal which must be worthy of working towards.
Challenges of Keeping Horses Barefoot
The question is then, “How do we best adapt this model to our domestic situation and at the same time, still be able to ride and enjoy keeping horses barefoot?”
This is the question we have struggled with and have tried to find practical solutions towards:-
- keeping horses barefoot
- maintaining and improving their hoof structure
- so they remain sound.
Even if you remove their shoes, transition them, keep them turned out, work out how you are going to manage your paddocks, as well as work and train with them, so that you and they understand each other, so they are safe and fit to ride/ compete/hunt/show jump etc. you are still left with the challenge of:-
- how to maintain “keeping horses barefoot,”
as they need to be continually on the move, grazing, walking over different surfaces, in order for their hooves and physical bodies to function to the best of their abilities.
Movement being the key with keeping horses barefoot and healthy. When they move, like humans they keep their blood sugar and insulin at good levels and also their hunger is less.
By this I mean for their hooves to stay strong and hard, for want of a better word, “roadworthy,” so that they can be ridden over different surfaces, rocky/stoney paths and they remain sound.
The horses condition/weight
Apart from their hooves there is also the monitoring of their weight. In the summer months it is important that they don’t get too fat whilst grazing on lush green pastures as this can create havoc with the structure of the hooves as well as their weight.
So how do we keep them outside without them standing all day grazing on rich grass?
Solutions – Paddock Paradise, a Track for Horses.
Fortunately, while we were struggling with the above, “how to incorporate the wild horse hoof model into the daily caring of domesticated horses and how to get the hooves so there was no stretched white line…….” (an impossibility when they are out grazing 24 hours a day.)
Jaime Jackson published, ‘Paddock Paradise,’ a guide to Natural Horse Boarding.
The idea outlined in his book is very simple, but so very clever. He suggests making a track around the perimeter of your field for your horses to live on all year long.
Food, water, shelter etc are positioned around it, in different places, so encouraging the horses to remain on the move all the time. The idea is quite amazing, so simple, yet it has never been thought of before.
With horses that are just turned out to graze in a field, there is no reason for them to move. They are surrounded by ‘food’ (grass), so continuous movement which is so important for their health and hooves does not occur. Although you may say, “my horses move,” the mileage they cover in a field compared to their wild horse cousins, has no comparison.
Paddock Paradise is well worth reading in order to gain greater understanding of this concept. The theory is all there, it is then a matter of transfering that theory into practice, in your own particular situation.
However it will help you tremendously towards keeping horses barefoot and maintaining their health.
Track Ideas to Help towards Keeping Horses Barefoot
To set up the track buy some electric fencing and posts and set these around the perimeter of the field.
It does not matter what size your field is. In addition to your electric fence posts also put in some wooden posts every so often. Put these in between the electric posts to support the electric fencing tape. This will make the electric fencing safer, more stable and secure.
Within the track you place water, hay (this may be in several places), mineral blocks as well as providing a sheltered area. (This could simply be existing trees that are there, or a field shelter).
In addition to the above you can create different types of footing, e.g. stones, boulders, dried out areas and stony areas.
Above is a picture of horses on the move, on a track. You can see the stony surface, which is hardcore (stones) that has added to the track.
This will enhance and toughen up their hooves which all helps towards keeping horses barefoot.
When setting up the track, keep in mind that the idea is that the horse is continually on the move, as in the wild, in order for it to meet its daily requirements. So hay, water mineral blocks need to be positioned as far apart from each other, as possible.
The width of the track needs to vary, to create some interest. The wider parts can be 40ft wide and then you can have some narrower parts e.g. 20ft. All this will encourage forward movement. I.e. not too wide and not too narrow. (The above has worked for us.)
Advantages of the Track
The track creates the following advantages towards keeping horses barefoot:-
- Continuous movement of the horse outside, independent of the owner.
- Continuous concussion and movement on their feet which is essential for the development and maintenance of the internal structures of the hooves.
- Companionship, as the track is suitable for more than one horse
- Easy grazing management
- The potential to make your own hay from the center of the field.
- Reduced time and maintenance on pooh picking
The above is a very simple explanation of how managing your paddocks can help you towards keeping horses barefoot.
So from a long term cost angle, keeping horses barefoot on the track can have advantages after the initial expense of buying and putting up the electric fencing. This is if there is enough ground in the centre to make your own hay. hay.
More Track Ideas
Ideally one would like to have them on the track all year round. The track in itself becomes a project. It will depend on your environment and the conditions of the ground as to what you will need to do to make this possible and how difficult or easy it may be.
You may need to make some ditches to assist drainage if your ground is very wet.
Setting it up in the summer can be quite easy and then gradually work on it and add to it, so that long term it can be used throughout the year.
The object is to try and get different footings on the track, stones, boulders, pea gravel, hard core, mud, sand etc.
In the above picture you can see a stony surface, which has been added to part of our track. Here we used hardcore, an inexpensive stone that you can get from a builders merchant or stone quarry. This has been laid down now for well over a year, and is ideal.
Here is a more detailed picture of the stones that are shown in the above picture.
The weeds that have subsequently grown through, have secured the stones further to the soil, as well as, blending in the stones to the surrounding area.
Natural Horse Track
Just beyond the stones in the above picture you can see a single worn track. The horses create their own single track within the track.
When this first began to show it was so exciting, as you could actually see evidence of their natural continuous movement on the track. Which is what we were trying to create – continuous movement as in the wild….. (Well done Jaime Jackson – it works)
Our Experience to Date
We set up a track in the early spring 2006, after Paddock Paradise came out and the horses remained on it through to November of that year.
It was a huge success. The horses and their hooves benefited, and they remained fitter and leaner. It also saved us a great deal of time managing the grazing and there was no worry of the horses putting on weight.
We had to close the track off in the autumn as it became too muddy for us to manage and we realized we needed to work further on the track to make it work all year round. We also needed to incorporate more wooden posts inbetween the plastic electic fencing posts, so that the electric fencing was more stable and secure.
During the winter months they were back in the centre of the field.
Then in March 2007 we were able to put them back on the track. They have remained on the track ever since. That the track has helped us enormously towards keeping horses barefoot.