What is Natural Hoofcare?

by Yvonne Welz ©2006

"Natural Hoofcare" or "Barefoot Hoofcare" are generic terms being used to describe the care and use of barefooted horses in all disciplines. Natural Hoofcare is not only a trimming method designed specifically for barefoot horses, but includes a daily care system that allows a horse to remain barefoot throughout its entire working life. This same system can be used to rehabilitate horses from many degenerative lamenesses.

Natural Hoofcare methods have been developed in recent years both in America and Europe. Two of the most influential names are Jaime Jackson and Dr. Hiltrud Strasser.

Jaime Jackson, a former farrier, was the pioneer of barefoot hoofcare in America, and is the author of the much acclaimed books, "The Natural Horse," "Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care," "Paddock Paradise," and many other books and videos. His trimming system is based on his studies of the shape of the wild horse's hoof, which he started working on during the 1980's. He is the founder of the American Association of Natural Hoof Care Practitioners (AANHCP) which provides training and certification for professionals in the wild horse model of trimming, as well as research, clinics, and support groups.

The Strasser Method, was developed by Dr. Hiltrud Strasser. Dr.Strasser is a German veterinarian who, for over twenty years, has been studying and researching the causes and cures of lameness and other common health problems of domestic horses. In 1993, she opened the Institute for Hoof Health and ESHOP (European School for Hoof Orthopedics) in Tuebingen, Germany--a center for study and learning, in which the hoofcare specialists in Europe obtain their schooling. In this first holistic hoof clinic, equine patients from around Europe are routinely healed and restored to a fully active life after being given up as hopeless and incurable by conventional veterinary medicine. Dr. Strasser is the author of several textbooks on lameness and healing, reference books on natural boarding for horses, and many articles for both horse and veterinary journals. Some of her books translated into English include: A Lifetime of Soundness, Shoeing, A Necessary Evil? and Who's Afraid of Founder?

A blending of their two different approaches has created the barefoot hoofcare movement as we know today. Jackson has emphasized a practical approach, allowing nature to help slowly improve hoof form, with gentle and gradual guidelines for trimming. Strasser developed a powerful trimming technique, using surgically precise trimming to drastically alter hoof form for the pathological horses in her clinic. From Jackson, we have learned to appreciate the significance of the wild horse model and its application in the lives of domestic horses. From Strasser, we have learned the direct link between horse's living conditions and the health of their hooves. Nearly all natural trimming techniques have originated from these two key figures, with the points they both agree on: heels are kept low with bulbs nearly on the ground (which results in a near-ground-parallel coffin bone), hairline is straight, quarters are arched ("scooping"), bars are straight and tapered, hooves are wide and round in shape, and entire hoof expands slightly upon weight-bearing (also called hoof mechanism).

Natural Hoofcare applies specialized trimming techniques along with improved living conditions to aid in the development of total hoof health. Horses that were previously unable to perform barefoot using traditional trimming/shoeing methods, are now able to fully function without any hoof protection at all! This is true high-performance barefootedness, with horses used in endurance, rocky trail-riding, competitive driving, jumping, roping, barrel racing, dressage, polo, flat racing, and more.

Horses with founder, navicular, ringbone and other ossifications, contracted hooves, "heel pain syndrome", and a host of other chronic illnesses and lamenesses are finding improved health and a genuine return to soundness with Natural Hoofcare.

What is unique in this "new" approach to hoof care is that it now extends to the complete lifestyle of the horse. From this lifestyle, the barefoot hooves become strong, healthy, and fully functioning, and the entire immune system of the horse is strengthened naturally. Many hoof conditions such as laminitis, navicular, and poor hoof quality can be completely healed, and other systemic problems (such as allergies and metabolic problems) can disappear. There are basically 3 main parts to Natural Hoofcare, each an integral part of the whole system.

1. Natural Living Conditions: This means freedom of movement (no box-stall confinement) - optimally living in a pasture or paddock for 24 hours a day/7 days a week in the company of other horses. Horse clothing (bandages, wraps, blankets, etc) is generally to be avoided.

2. Exercise: Very important! Hand-walk or ride the horse (depending on situation) as much as possible, aiming for the natural amount of movement of 10 miles per day. For horses in transition, spreading hay out in little piles, taking him for frequent short walks on non-concussive ground or in hoof boots, and keeping him in the company of many other horses will all go a long way to encouraging movement. Set up a "Paddock Paradise" of your own, to encourage natural movement.

3. Proper trimming of the barefoot hoof: Hooves must be trimmed to their natural and proper physiological form. They must be trimmed by someone with the knowledge and training to perform this trim. The main emphasis will be on improving hoof form, which is the key to hoof and horse health. This natural trim is often different from what has been considered "normal" in our modern era, yet it is the correct shape for the horse's hoof, based on decades of studies of natural equines.

Please read these articles:
What is a Natural Trim?
Help! What does a Healthy Hoof look like?
Help! How do I choose a Trimming Method?
Help! How do I choose a Natural Hoofcare Professional?

NEW! Locate a Professional Barefoot Trimmer!

©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.

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