Natural Hoof Care In The Year 2015

When I started practicing Natural Hoofcare more then ten years ago, I had little or no colleagues. No one practiced NHC – at least not in The Netherlands – and hardly anybody was interested in this trimming method. Consequently it took me a while to find a good number of clients and several years before I could quit my job on the side.

Things have changed a bit since then. ‘Natural’ is hot, therefore setting up a business has become a lot easier. I see this in our students who manage to grow a substantial clientele much faster than I did at the time. Now, it could well be that back then I have gone about it in the wrong way. Perhaps I should have been louder, placed more ads, let people know about all the famous ‘hoof people’ I had worked with. Who knows?

Like in any other enterprise we see that people working in the natural hoof business – it has truly grown into a business now – seem to literally bombard the internet with information.  A lot of good information, but also a lot of bad information. Most of the good information is copied very well, but a lot of the bad information is created very poorly.

A bit frustrating sometimes, because on one hand, people speak of the wild horse, ‘natural wear’ and the natural trim. But on the other, they manage to turn a complex piece of physiology like the hoof in to a very simplistic piece of nature by comparing it, for example, to a paintbrush collapsing under pressure. And the ‘mustang roll’, our famous landmark for natural wear is given various impossible shapes and positions in the hoof and with many natural(?) trimmers, it appears to start where the sole begins.

The horses in The Netherlands (and well outside) continue to fall victim to the consumer’s sensitivity to trends. Unfortunately, poorly informed and with little consideration for the heritage of a method, training programme, course, trend or trimmer.

All of us that have children know how difficult it can be to protect them from the internet. But what about ourselves and our horses? Are you able to separate sense from nonsense?

When Jaime Jackson was unsuccessful in finding a university that was – now read carefully – competent(!) at reviewing his work in the early eighties, he decided to write a book. This book (The Natural Horse) was in fact the beginning of Natural Hoof Care (The Natural Trim) and a worldwide movement that advocates natural care for all equines. A movement you, as a reader, are most probably part of. This book found its way to people like you and me. Be it in its original form, or in an ‘adapted’ version, it found its way.

When an article or book is published, two important things happen:

1)    The information is shared
2)    The information is freely interpreted without any practical input.

And this second part is what can create quite a challenge. When information is spread, part of it will always get lost in translation. I think this is inevitable, without practical input and oral transference the chance of  misinterpretation and/or distortion becomes even greater. Additionally, there will always be people wanting to do it ‘their way’. This is understandable, we absorb information, interpret it and then use it in a way we feel is appropriate.

However, looking at the various insights and methods out there, it appears one important element is either willingly or unconsciously overlooked.. the horse… the animal.  An organism formed by nature – or a higher force if you will – that took well over 55 million(MILL-I-ON!!) years to develop into the modern horse. Out of these 55 million years, we have been working with them for merely 10,000 years at the most?

Do you see the difference? Indeed, roughly 55 million years.

Our mark on the DNA make up of horse has proven to be zilch. Of course, we have given rise to different breeds and colours and we have created numerous.. ehm.. challenges(!) with our craving for looks and performance. But any well informed biologist will tell you that these changes are too insignificant to lead to an adaptation (change in an organism in order to become better suited to its habitat) of the species. Scientists have proven through carbon dating that the wild horses in (oh.. let’s say) the Great Basin of the United States are genetically no different from our equine friends at livery in Horseshoe Bend (there is such a place!) Arkansas.

Information I believe we should not, and cannot ignore!

Spread by the wars and colonisations (aka: explorations) of man, the horse has established itself in all corners of the earth. Therefore, the environment in which they live has changed but the horse, as forementioned, remains fundamentally unchanged.

So how do we deal with this?

  • Should we modify the diet in order to fit our needs?
  • Should we trim their feet differently because they live on soft ground?
  • Can we ignore what nature shows us so well?

It is my opinion that this is not only impossible, but also irrational. Most of us have now learned that horn tubules do not naturally grow down at the same angle, a living hoof capsule does not succumb to pressure like a paintbrush and bars are no more, or less, important than the sole or hoofwall.

The sum is formed by the whole of parts.

In other words, everything in the life of the horse is key in the development of its psyche, physique and therefore the hoof.

When we use the nature of the horse as our starting point, it directs us to the right information. It is up to us to interpret this information. The hooves of horses living in an environment comparable to that of the original habitat of the horse will tell you (among many other things) that:

•    the hoof grows down in multiple angles
•    that front hooves tend to be symmetrical to one another (I said ‘tend’ to be!)
•    hind hooves have asymmetrical shapes

They will also tell you

•    there is endless variation and all feet are different from one another
•    that the amount of concavity is of no importance
•    that the unpigmented hoofwall is the most distal part of the hoof and therefore an active bearer of weight
•    consequently leaving the sole a ‘passive’ weight bearer

And they will teach you that horses can get physically damaged in such a way that

•    their hooves will adapt to a shape that is more desirable (e.g. clubfoot) for their performance or at the very least is a warning sign (e.g. bull-nose) for possible future problems.

The Wild Horse foot teaches us that pathology (disease) is of secondary importance with regard to recovery and that any fixation toward pathology will have an adversary, short term or long term, effect.

But why then do we  treat the equine foot in so many different ways?

Well.. the book (the information) finds its way, but not always in its original form – misinterpretation, profit and selfishness, ‘guruism’, the inability of the reader, the inability of the writer, you name it. Every book finds its way and we get to read it. Period.

Allthough Natural Hoof Care is still in its embryonic stage of development, we have reached a point of realisation, but a lot of work lies ahead in order for everyone to agree on the best possible care and management for equines.

As I believe in the Wild Horse Model, I believe in the future development of all Hoof Care Practitioners. I believe in the end we will agree on how to interpret the information given to us by nature.

Björn Rhebergen
Natural Hoof Care Practitioner