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In this third of a four-part series, Dr Gerd Heuschmann continues his exploration of how the horse works with a focus on hoof symmetry and the problems caused by horses spending too much time on soft ground.
Many years ago I was at a veterinary congress in the United States, and an old farrier gave a paper on ‘Hoof Symmetry’. He had conducted a study on wild horses in the Rocky Mountains. In the autumn, they bring the horses down, they take the stallions out to be gelded, trained and sold, and the mares go back to the mountains.
The presentation started with a video which showed hundreds of horses coming down and they were galloping over fields of big stones, and after they had galloped over these stones, nothing happened, they were all sound. Then we were shown that they all had round, big hooves and they had very low heels. And I had never seen frogs like that before, very big frogs. Then I started to think – each tissue reacts to the influence from outside.
Things are changing a little in Germany now, but ten years ago, all our foals were born in our winter, snow, cold, wind, rain, so the baby foals live with their mother on a high soft bed of straw. They spend the first weeks, maybe months, in the stables like that. If they are lucky they are allowed to go out to the deep mud! If you go around in the Spring, then you see very good looking foals, strong with big muscles, wonderful necks standing on small, little hooves with high heels and the frog is practically invisible.
Think of the little navicular, how can you expect the small bones to develop if there is no pressure on this little navicular?
THE PROBLEM OF SOFT GROUND
Okay we can’t change the conditions in our paddocks, but we can change what we do with our horses in the wintertime. Horses normally live on the plains. Look at the Zebra again, dry, hard ground. Our foals are born on the soft ground, then the soft mud, then the soft meadows with grass nearly one metre high. We feed them as if we want to eat them! They always look very good, we grow them up on soft ground – how can we expect them to be sound?
Take an x-ray of a three-year-old Warmblood horse out of this typical European production process, and you find a weak dark x-ray. Make the same picture from a three year old Thoroughbred in race-training, and use the same x-ray machine, same everything but what you see is totally different – you will see a white bone. The white bone has a lot of calcium. The wall of the bone in the Thoroughbred is twice as thick as the Warmblood’s bone.
If you don’t influence the skeleton of your growing horse with hard ground, uneven ground, if you don’t cut down the heels with your foals, if they don’t put the frog to the ground, you get a wonderful big mover with soft, ‘cheese’ legs. We forgot that the horse comes from the plains.
HORSES NEED HARD GROUND!
Especially in the dressage scene, think about the horse’s leg – and we find lovely soft leg bandages, and lovely soft ground to work on, especially the younger horses. But it should be exactly the other way. The younger horse’s leg can react to outside stimuli, the younger horse’s leg must feel the hard ground, every day if possible but at least three times a week. When you have finished your training session, give the horse the rein and go out on the road for a walk. Half an hour, up and down. Give the horse this hard ground and you will get strong hooves, good joints, strong tendons and a healthy horse. We have to train our horses on soft ground but we should not keep them on that soft ground all their lives.
IN CASE YOU’RE INTERESTED:
Gerd Heuschmann’s course: ‘Equine Biomechanics: Head and Neck Position’ is available for purchase in the store. Find out more at this link.
You may also be interested in a course: Anatomy of the Equine Hoof. Find out more at this link.
You may also listen to Equitopia’s hoof specialist on the Equitopia podcast ‘ From the Horse’s Mouth’ through this link.
All our courses carry a 10% discount for everyone signed up to the Equitopia membership program.