Long before the rise of civilizations, horses roamed over the plains of Eurasia, free and unbridled. After we tamed them, things changed as we kept them in our stables, cared for their needs, their food, and their grooming. So it begs the question, how do wild horses trim their hooves?
If dogs are a man’s best friend, horses are certainly on the dinner party guest list. They have been instrumental to mankind’s progress and have formed an integral part of our cultures for generations. In almost any old tapestry, piece of epic poetry. or folk tale, there will be a mention of a horse somewhere. However, they haven’t always been tied to humanity.
What Are Hooves And Why Do Horses Need Them?
Hooves is actually the toe of a horse that is covered in a hard substance called keratin. Keratin is the same substance that makes up your hair and nails. But a hoof is much more densely packed and so creates a harder structure. The hoof of a horse evolved over time from one single toe, while the other toes receded.
Not only this, but horses became unguligrade walkers, which means they began to walk on the tips of their toes.
Being an unguligrade walker allows horses to move faster, with the leg being further extended. The foot is less flat than plantigrade walkers, i.e. humans. On the native open grasslands of the horse, where there are few places to hide this would have been essential to outpacing predators.
Now, what does this have to do with hooves? Well, galloping quickly as a heavy animal puts an incredible amount of pressure on a foot. If a horse had a human’s foot and tried galloping it would break in minutes.
However, a hoof, with its complex design and its extraordinary strength, is an amazing shock absorber. When in good condition, can last as long as the horse has the energy to spare.
Why Do Domestic Horses Need Shoes?
Part of the reason domestic horses need shoes is the terrain in which we and horses both live. In the wild, horses will run over rugged terrain that is made up of earth. It is hard and compact but overly punishing, as the earth still has a little give. The surfaces of stables and farmyards, however, are often concrete or tarmac.
This is an incredibly tough material that has been designed to be so and is meant to last years. A surface this hard and unforgiving would never be encountered by horses in the wild. So they would never evolve an adaptation to it.
A horse’s hoof is designed to absorb shock. This is due to the hoof being harder than the surface the horse would be running on. Since concrete is harder than a horse’s hoof. The impact between them would always be worse for the hoof, leading to cracking or white line defects.
This affects other hoofed animals as well. This includes cows, goats, and sheep. But due to a horse’s foot being one solid structure. It absorbs all the impact in one area and can be particularly damaging for a domestic horse.
A horseshoe adds an extra layer of protection between the hoof and the ground. It cushions every impact that a horse’s foot may have, keeping it protected and well-maintained for a long time.
Do Wild Horse’s Hooves Overgrow?
Wild horse’s hooves do not overgrow and will rarely, if ever, need trimming. This is due to the environment that wild horses inhabit. Wild horses travel over vast plains, grasslands, moorland, and open forest. In these areas, the earth is often compacted and hard, this wears away at the hoof with being too abrasive as to cause damage.
Even in more damp or tropical climates, where the ground may be more sodden, the terrain is often varied, with horses having to trek over bracken, branches, gravelly riverbeds, and many other areas. The difference in terrain and the materials they walk over wears away at the hoof over time, keeping it healthy and at appropriate length.
Domestic horses, however, wear shoes to protect their hooves from the man-made constructions on a farm.
This means that when they are let out into fields or paddocks, the hoof is also kept away from the abrasive materials that would stop them from overgrowing, meaning that farmers and farriers must manage overgrown hooves themselves.
Even if the horse was in a field with no shoes on, the field would likely only have grass and be constantly cleared, and the horse would not have the abrasive material it would need to wear down its hoof.
How Often Should A Horse See A Farrier?
The phrase ‘no hoof, no horse’ is a common one in farming, even to this day and it is appropriate. Hoof care is extremely important in a horse and needs to be done on a regular basis.
An overgrown hoof is debilitating and doesn’t just affect how a horse walks. A hoof that has grown long, curled, or ragged start to disrupt the inner working of a horse’s foot and can pull at the various parts that make up the inner hoof. This can lead to defects or abscesses in the hoof itself and be extremely painful for the animal.
If a hoof is left in this condition too long, it can also affect the ligaments and tendons in the horse’s leg and cause lameness, which no animal or horse owner wants.
Wherever your horse is kept and whether it has horseshoes or doesn’t, your horse needs to see a farrier or have its hooves cared for every month and as late as every six weeks.
As explained, domestic horses cannot wear away at their feet like wild horses can and rely on us for their care, so it is important to keep to this schedule.
Horse hoof care is tricky, even for wild horses, however, they have advantages in environment and circumstances that domestic horses do not.
Evolving to adapt to the environments they live in has helped them to keep their hooves in check, without ever worrying about going lame, overgrowth, or even a regular visit from the farrier and vet.
This has allowed them to thrive for thousands of years, and they will probably keep thriving for many more to come.