Horse owners often ask farriers what’s the best environment for horses’ feet.
Horses are kept in a wide variety of environments — indoors, outdoors, big pastures, small pens, every kind of footing imaginable — and climates, from the arid deserts of the Southwest to the rain forests of western Washington, humid tropical climates of Florida, or muddy springtime in Maine. The environment definitely impacts the health and structure of horses’ feet.
“The environment a horse lives and works in has a significant effect on the overall health of feet,” says Travis Burns, lecturer and chief of farrier services at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
A dry environment results in hard, dry feet, whereas a wet environment results in softer feet.
“If footing is soft in a wet environment, hoof wall growth exceeds wear, resulting in significant flaring,” Burns says. “Inevitably, a moist/wet environment opens the hoof to micro-cracks and fissures that allow for the migration of dirt, debris and bacteria into the foot. The incidence of white line disease and abscesses are increased.”
Julie Bullock, a veterinarian/podiatrist in Mount Sidney, Va., spends part of the winter in Florida, and serves as a vet at endurance rides all over the world.
“I see a big difference in integrity and hoof quality in different environments,” she says. “Horses in arid New Mexico have feet that are hard as a rock, while horses on the East Coast contend with more humidity…