We all love to ride our horses in beautiful places. Many of the most scenic places in the world are miles off the road, in rough country that can turn a wonderful ride into a nightmare if an accident occurs. We are often unaware of the many potential dangers that are associated with this grand scenery. Two of the dangers that I would like to address in this article are the risk to our horse’s hooves, as they bear our weight and their own, as they travel many miles of distant horizons, and the danger to us if our mount slips and falls.
I want to mention the different types of common injuries caused by rough terrain and sharp rocks, and offer solutions for preventing them. Some horses have very healthy, strong, and well formed hooves which can withstand almost any riding that they are subjected to. The majority of horses, with proper care, can be ridden in most terrain and stay sound. Then there are the others, those that have either genetic hoof weakness, or injury, that need to have special shoeing in order to be ridden at all. Without dividing these categories, I’d like to give some general advise that applies to all of them.
Understanding hoof biomechanics, how the hoof functions, is essential to helping prevent or correct a problem in the most beneficial manner. I will briefly describe what the different parts of the hoof do: *The Hoof Wall is the main weight bearing tissue, and the portion of the hoof that is protected from excessive wear by the horseshoe. *The Sole is the largest area in the underside of the hoof, and is essential in providing protection to the sensitive structures inside the hoof, as well as supporting the interior bones. *The Frog is the "V" shaped portion in the underside of the hoof. It is essential in the process of pumping blood back up the leg to the heart. When a horse travels, and weight is transferred down the legs to the hoof, each part of the hoof contracts or expands in a different manner and puts pressure on the structures above or around them. If a horse steps on a sharp rock or other object, a puncture or bruise can result, which may lame the animal. If a horse slips on slick or loose ground it can have similar results, and sometimes even worse if the rider is thrown or falls. If horses are flat-footed they will be prone to bruising and should not be trimmed excessively in the sole. All horses should have enough sole left to protect them from the objects that will protrude higher than the steel horseshoe. The sole should be trimmed to a concave as much as possible. Plastic or leather pads can be placed between the shoe and hoof to protect the sole and frog, and absorb concussion to the wall. Pine Tar & oakum or hoof packing must be properly distributed inside the pad to keep foreign matter out and prevent bacterial growth. Silicone rubber can be injected, when the hooves are healthy, to give additional protection to the sole, with the same results. If a horse’s sole is already bruised or punctured and you assume he has to heal completely before being ridden again, you’d be surprised what packing and padding the hoof will do. I have seen some horses that were considered totally lame before this procedure take off afterwards as if they had never been injured! For those horses who it seems could be ridden through any field of cut off tree stubs or sharp lava rocks, there are still other types of beneficial aids which can be used to enhance their performance in other ways. How often have you felt you horse slipping on slick pavement, or sliding as you attempt to ascend a sandstone cliff? If you haven’t experienced it yourself, you may have seen evidence of other’s "close calls" in the white streaks that shoes and nails left behind. There are several products available to provide traction for various applications. The most commonly used is a toe & heeled shoe, which in my opinion, is worthless in any terrain other than dirt, gravel, or mud. Often horses will slip with the front foot and because of the slip, the rear hoof will strike their front leg or bulbs and cut them. This is best prevented with good traction that prevents the slippage in the first place. If you are riding into any rough country with slick rock that may put you in a dangerous position, I recommend having Drill-Tech applied at the heels and toe of each shoe. This usually costs a little more than regular shoeing due to the propane and oxy-acetylene used to apply them to the shoes. Nevertheless, it will make an incredible difference in the safety of riding high cliff sandstone trails like I ride every year while elk & mule deer hunting. A similar process is used to apply borium to shoes for those riding on pavement. Additionally, you can attach studs by drilling a hole and driving them like a rivet in the shoe. These studs vary in size and style and are very effective traction. Nails with Drill-Tech on the heads can be used. They are the easiest solution and work fairly well. Based on the responses of many customers and my own experience with each of these, the floating of drill tech on the toe and heels is the best if properly applied. Any of these methods will result in quite an improvement in traction, thus your safety on slick surfaces. Only one word of caution: If your horse is one that dances around and steps on your foot occasionally, you may need some special shoes yourself to protect you from their new traction!
Contributed By: Alma DeMille (Certified Farrier & Blacksmith)