What we have learned over the years through exploring the barefoot trim after utilizing more traditional methods of farriery, is that the trim is really just the tip of the iceberg. Through a lot of trial and error and trying out a few different ideas, we have come to realize that it is very difficult to grow out strong and healthy hooves without paying careful attention to the horse's lifestyle, diet and even his emotional state.
A roughage-based diet free of processed feeds is always the most ideal for keeping the horse's gut and immune system healthy. Horses are designed to eat for approximately sixteen to twenty hours of the day so it is important that they never run out of roughage. We choose to feed our horses a diet of ad lib grazing, teff or eragrostis. Our horses also eat a variety of herbs, minerals, clays, salt and probiotics. Supplements are given in a small amount of lucerne chaff and if extra energy is needed for harder working horses our first choice is oats as a energy source. Sunflower oil cake and/or small amounts of lucerne (usually no more than 2kg) are fed if extra protein is required. We use our favourite "Go Slow Hay-box" and slow feeder nets to regulate hay intake as well as reduce hay wastage.
While we are no longer competitive riders, we have always allowed our horses to live outside with the opportunity to seek shelter in a large and airy shelter designed with enough space for everybody to safely come and go as needed. Often the horses would still rather choose to shelter together under trees or against a weather-break such as a wall or some dense bushes. We allow our horses to grow natural coats and only use blankets in extreme circumstances if there is no shelter available and the rain and wind is very heavy and relentless. A blanket is also important if the horse is ill and his temperature has dropped to a dangerous level. We always offer ad lib hay but give extra during very cold spells as hay helps to keep the horse's body warm through the digestive process. One will also notice that the horse will usually eat more in colder weather for this reason.
Horses are extremely social creatures who require constant companionship in the form of other equines in order to feel happy and fulfilled. We do not believe that horses should be kept alone. We try to keep our horses in herds as large as possible so that they can interact and play with a variety of different equine personalities. This plays a huge role in developing the horse mentally and physically as well as emotionally.
A clean environment in an as large space as possible is very important for keeping hooves strong and thrush-free as well as offering the horse the space to exercise naturally which is also important for bone development, particularly in young horses. Our paddocks are cleaned daily in order to achieve this. If one's property is particularly small an innovative solution such as a Paddock Paradise track system can make a huge difference to the horse as multiple horses can be put on the track without having an issue with space. The track system also helps to prevent overgrazing and damage to the property which is a common problem when horses are kept in small, individual paddocks. Another important benefit of the track system is that it helps to reduce stress and boredom related disorders such as colic, ulcers and wind-sucking or aggression.
Apart from any natural exercise that the horse may receive in the paddock in his own time, we like to keep our domesticated horses' minds and bodies as stimulated as possible. From a young age, our horses are trained in the Academic Art of Riding and we have chosen not to use bits in their mouths. This form of training is perfect for us as all training in AAoR begins without a bit and there is an option to continue bit-less throughout the horses' education or one can opt to use a bit if one desires. We also do liberty work with our horses to improve our body language and communication, as well as trail rides over a variety of different terrains in order to develop the horse's co-ordination and strength. We do not back our young horses before the age of six or seven in order to allow their growth plates time to close without the weight of the rider potentially causing damage. This does not mean that there isn't plenty of training on the ground leading up to this point as the Academic Art of Riding can produce a highly educated horse in preparation for backing.
Through allowing a more natural lifestyle for our horses, stress-levels are naturally kept to a minimum. We also try to avoid any major stress in their lives by training our horses near to their companions if they are uncomfortable leaving the herd, and keeping unnecessary travel to a minimum. But most importantly, we do our best to always listen to our horses and understand what they are trying to tell us, while supporting them through any unavoidable stressful times.
Our horses' are ridden in the German Hop Tree leather tree saddle which is fully adjustable by the rider within a few minutes or even seconds. The saddle naturally adapts to the horse's shape to a large degree with only small adjustments to the two velcro-attached panels being required. We also use the Grandeur Pad underneath our saddles to offer extra comfort or to add additional padding in the event of muscle wastage. We maintain the health of our horses' backs by utilizing massage, acupuncture and chiropractic techniques every month to three months. Our horses are also visited by Portugal-based Natural Balance™ dentist Sylvia Read yearly. We find that Sylvia's unique and holistic approach makes a huge difference to not only the horse's mouth comfort but also has a positive knock-on effect to the entire body which supports what we are trying to achieve in keeping our horses happy and healthy.
Living in South Africa we are well aware of the risks of African Horse Sickness as well as other potentially fatal or damaging viruses. Biliary is also a common illness that we try our best to avoid. The body's first defense against any infection is a healthy immune system which as horse owner's we have a responsibility to look after. In order to achieve this we always opt for natural alternatives to chemicals wherever possible and found that Royalynne Herbs offers us exactly what we need to keep our horses healthy. Because our horses are currently in a high-mycotoxin area as well as high-risk area for contracting biliary, we will feed a course of Royalynne Herbs Biliary Aid a few times a year and our horses stay on a toxin binder and antifungal herbs permanently. Both biliary and mycotoxins are known to cause damage to the immune system so we try our best to avoid this. We also feed Royalynne Herbs anti-viral herbs during African Horse Sickness season. Apart from supporting the horse's body through appropriate diet, lifestyle and reducing emotional as well as physical stress, this approach has served us well thus far.
While we feel that the above guidelines serve as an optimal approach to keeping our horses happy, safe, healthy and comfortable, we fully understand that sometimes not everything is achievable - having been their ourselves at times. Our advice is merely to try to do our best for our horses. If their current situation is less than ideal, we suggest trying to introduce small changes that could benefit them even in a small way, while aiming for the ideal.