It is a funny game this, nature conscious hoof care. Not that there is anything to laugh about when you see some of the hoofs out there. Ruinous neglect that can, with relatively little effort, be kept at least in check.
Only yesterday I came across four horses together, three of which had reasonable fairly well kept hoofs and the fourth had hoofs running to seed at the back. Similarly a couple of weeks ago, another group of horses, otherwise obviously reasonably well looked after, all showed in varying degrees poor to bad hoofs.
The question is why? Certainly in some cases money plays its part – the attentions of the farrier always come at a price be it reasonable or extortionate! But if you think your farrier is charging the earth – and even worse, doing a bad job for it – then it is time for a change; if on the other hand your farrier is reasonably priced and you still cannot afford it, then you should be asking yourself if it is fair to your horse…
But the other problem is “tradition” – the farrier is the man for horses’ hoofs be they with or without shoes. And anyway, the farrier is the old established expert and not someone peddling new-fangled ideas.
But that’s where it all falls down. The farrier is indeed established – for several hundred years, the farrier has been plying his trade and sadly fro several hundred years, it has seen little change. The techniques taught today have little changed from those taught in the 18th century – even the insights are much the same. Perpetuated by an established order and assisted by a large supportive veterinary fraternity that also has changed very little in more than one hundred years when considering the mechanics of movement (internal medicine, on the other hand, has seen many changes, not least of which through vivisection and the availability of effective drugs). Farriers tend to hang on to these traditions too – after all, they also have the backing of many a vet. The same vet that will advocate horseshoes to improve shock-damping!
Nevertheless, the farrier is actually the new man on the scene – Xenophon, the great Greek general from the 5th century B.C. advocated horses with strong hoofs, but does not mention horseshoes! The North American Indians did not shoe their horses; the Mongolians still don’t shoe their horses and if we look at the feral horses of America or the Camargue, or the Konicks horses introduced into various natural habitats in Europe, although we see differing forms in the hoofs, we see a general underlying healthiness.
So the new-fangled nature-conscious way is actually the older of the two since all it does, is assist horses in not-so-natural environments with the development of the best protection they have for their feet: namely their hoofs.