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No hoof no horse

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

You may think it's a bit of a cliché – but there is no truer saying.

When you think about it logically, your horse has his entire weight loaded onto his four feet when standing and onto only one foot when galloping. Essentially, without good feet you have nothing.

The hoof tells you so much about the state of your horse’s health and without a healthy horse it’s hard to have healthy feet. You can see good healthy feet are an integral part to your horse’s well-being, but the topics of hoof care, shoeing, and going barefoot can all get the conversation going with many differing opinions. It’s probably fair to say that’s no right answer as every horse should be treated as an individual – what suits one, may not suit another.

Mark Johnson has been a farrier for 40 years and he admits he’s always challenged everything and is rarely satisfied with stock answers especially when he sees so many recurring problems, affecting horses in general.

Mark moved away from 'traditional' hoof care methods over 15 years ago and he began a personal search to try and find something for these domesticated feet to serve their owners better. Little did he know how challenging and stimulating this learning curve was and still is. He admits he’s never been happy using steel on horses but has tried to find ways to make it work. He’s been constantly looking for viable alternatives and confesses it isn’t easy.

“I can't stress enough that healthy feet come from a healthy horse which means getting diet and exercise along with the day to day living environment into some kind of harmony is vital,” explains Mark. “You will be amazed at how many issues are actually ‘diet’ related. Whilst diet encompasses everything your horse eats, many problems usually originate from his pasture. Hence the term ‘Grass-Affected’. Meaning there is one or multiple aspects of your horse’s forage and feed that is adversely affecting his health and behaviour.”

Consider the whole horse

As well as considering your horse’s diet and management, it’s also important to look at your horse as whole – not just looking at his feet in isolation. Everything connects to everything and everything effects everything. Mark firmly feels that horse owners need to take a more holistic approach.

Mark and Robbie Richardson presented at the HIO conference – Onwards and Upwards, the title of their talk was Do We See What We Are Looking At?

Their talk will covered three key areas:

  1. Feet develop right in front of you but do you always take in everything that you see?

  2. Environment and the impact this has on your horse and what you can do to improve it

  3. Team Building – why it’s key to have a good group of professionals around you and your horse. Farrier, vet, saddle fitter, therapist, trainer. It’s important that everyone works together for the good of each horse in their care. It’s a team effort and we all need to have the same end goal in sight and that is that the horse is able to do the work asked of him in comfort.

Watch and be more critical of how your horse moves

Mark is keen for all horse owners to get to know how their horse moves in greater detail. Taking the time to do this can be very revealing and can highlight why you may be having issues in your training.

Take some slow-mo video footage of your horse moving towards you and side on. First of all video him from a low-down position - try lying on the floor (but stay safe!) Repeat the videoing again but this time standing up. Study this footage and recognise changes in how your horse places his feet on the ground. This is a fascinating exercise to try - give it a go.

Always learning

Mark admits that he’s still learning and it’s important to remain objective and open-minded.

“It’s the failures that stimulate my learning further, spurs me on to try harder and look deeper to find solutions,” says Mark.


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