"What element in the Horse’s life you feel is MOST affective on the Hooves, their growth and health?"

Dennis Manske:  NHC 101-4  04/07/09  Assign. Week 1

What Single Element I Feel has the Most Affect on Hooves, Their Growth and
The more I pondered this question the more I felt I was being faced with a bit of a conundrum.  While I could certainly narrow it down to three items being what I felt were the most affective, selecting just one seemed impossible.   These are the three elements I wrestled with, though not in any particular order:
   Proper Forage
   Balanced supplements
Freedom of Movement
   Freedom of Hoof Devices
   Appropriately Large Space
   Encouragement to Move
   Willingness to Move
My present occupation requires considerable driving through Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.  I decided to utilize this time to observe the various ways we hold horses in captivity.  I could then create an image in my mind of a triangle, with each point representing one of the 3 elements.  Similar to what we learned as kids about the “Fire Triangle”  (ignition source, fuel, oxygen and how removing one affects the fire) I could eliminate one element and then deduce a reasonable outcome for the future quality of the hoof, based on readings and information from a variety of sources. (see Refs.)
1) Poor Diet / Natural Freedom of Movement/ Nice Varied Terrain.
Typical of this would be a diet that is too rich.  Lush pasture, and/or feeds that are high energy.  People that typically have large spaces for horses tend to own or operate equine businesses (stables, breeders, boarding facilities) they in turn also buy bulk sweet feeds and extruded feed mixes of various components.  It is also common for these feeds to exceed the true nutritional requirements of the horses they feed.   Having freedom of movement and exercise allows the horses to utilize, therefore tolerate the excess components of these enhanced diets and or forages (usually). This same diet can have a profoundly devastating effect on horses contained in a small enclosure due to being “overloaded” with calories and NSCs (non-structural carbohydrates) while maintaining a sedentary and bored lifestyle. 
 Horses may even forage for themselves without a feed based supplement (grains, sugars and corn) and actually become healthier and stronger for the effort, if they have a large enough environment to accumulate sufficient sources of food.  We effectively stop “. . .feeding your horse like a cow.”(1)
2)  Poor Terrain and or Environment / Proper Diet / Natural Freedom of Movement
The horse has an incredible ability to adapt to its environment.  (2)It was completely extinct from North America about 10,000 years ago, hunted to extinction by the indigenous inhabitants of the time.  In fact, at the same time, the horse began disappearing from grass lands all over the globe.  Britain, France and Spain also hunted their horses to extinction.  Fortunately a small herd remained in the Ukraine and over a period of about four thousand years or so, managed to spread and re-inhabit many of their former grazing grounds.  Soon the value of the horse would be recognized for something other than dinner, and would then be captured and domesticated as a means of transportation.  Christopher Columbus brought horses with him on his second voyage (1494) to ‘The New World’.  He arrived in, what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic with 24 Stallions and 10 Mares.(2)  The horse was now traveling with man and his numbers would rapidly multiply across the globe. 
Since that time, the horse has been used in almost every type of environment on this planet.  While man, in his infinite wisdom, created various devices to “preserve” the integrity of the hoof, man has also abandoned or lost track of his horses in a wide variety of environments.  Each time, the horse has managed to shed his foot protection and adapt its feet to the terrain and environmental conditions that faced them.  Hence the various herds of wild horses located in a multitude of locations world wide and the very different shapes of their hooves in each region. 
That being said, be it a large Quarter Horse ranch in the arid regions of Texas, a posh Warm Blood breeding facility in Pennsylvania, a band of wild horses on Cumberland Island, Georgia, or a little grade Morgan mare in Mom and Pops back yard in a little town in Maine, the horse has adapted and thrived.  This does not, however, mean that it doesn’t require a little assistance.  The smaller and softer the area that the horse is restricted to, the more assistance it needs for its feet, only so much as, providing it with proper trimming to make up for lack of natural wear and nutrition of course.  According to Natural Hoof Trimmers and Pete Ramey(3) and Jaime Jackson(4), horse owners can stimulate growth of good quality hoof wall by effectively ‘tricking’ or making the hoof believe it is getting worn down from the effects of a coarse environment by properly trimming the hoof, and doing so in a timely fashion.  This is also supported by the research and findings of R.M. Bowker in his statement;
 (5)The structural appearance of the foot is continually being modified by the interactions of the foot with the environment and the environment's influences on the foot and hoof wall. The term "environmental influences" includes just about everything that the horse has come into contact with since birth, including the extent of movement, ground surfaces, trimming and shoeing procedures or the lack of these practices, nutrition, etc. As a result, the conformation of the hoof and the foot can change when a horse is moved to a different environment and/or to living conditions different from those to which the horse was first exposed. The hoof wall and foot will then undergo additional adaptive changes and gradually become modified to the new environmental conditions.

3)  Poor Freedom of Movement / Proper Diet / Good Terrain and Environment
This was the one element I could not find a good work-around for.  The horse is the consummate  Prey Animal.  To quote Dennis Reis(6) , “. . .the horse is a claustrophobic, panic-a-holic , able to run a mile without a conscious thought.”  This animal was designed to MOVE. 
According to Bowker(7)  A ‘good footed‘ horse after about 4-5 years of age, develops a digital cushion that is more of a fibrocartilage consistency (as opposed to a fatty substance), thicker lateral cartilages and increased  micro-vasculature, that appears to improve the palmer foot with age.  These horses also have lower incidence of clinical signs of navicular and other lameness issues.  This ‘good footed’ condition can only be developed through stimulation and exercise.  In contrast, the ‘bad footed’ horse does not develop thick cartilage and fibrocartilage and has a digital cushion that shows to be mostly a fatty substance.  This is prevalent in such horses as brood mares and pasture pets.  There is indication that with proper exercise and stimulation, these ‘bad feet’ can be converted to ’good feet’ with a fibrocartilage type digital cushion and strong lateral cartilages.
The foot, like the heart, is a pump.  At this point, it is common knowledge amongst the majority of people that research or study basic horse anatomy that, the horse hoof effectively acts as a pump for the circulation of blood through the animals extremities.  Similar to the action of the heart, the foot expands and contracts, literally pumping blood through it with every step.  Hear hoof beats? Think Heart beats!  Video of a bisected cadaver hoof(8)  shows how much flexing takes place in the foot when the weight of the horse is applied to it and how it re-contracts when pressure is removed, simulating the ’flight phase’ of the foot. http://swedishhoofschool.com/Videofilm.htm
When thinking of the hoof as a blood pump, consider this; (9)The heart muscle is surrounded by a sack called the pericardium.  When a blood vessel in the heart begins to leak, the blood begins to fill the sack surrounding the heart.  With every heartbeat, more blood is injected into the pericardium.  Eventually the pericardium becomes too full and there is no more room.  Now, when the heart contracts, more blood fills that space that the heart muscle left behind.  The problem is, now the heart wants to expand again but the expansion space was filled with blood.  This process continues to get worse with every heartbeat until, the heart has no room left to beat.  This is a deadly condition called Cardiac Tamponade. Now consider the horse hoof as a blood pump similar to the heart, since it too uses expansion and contraction to create a pumping action.  One can easily understand how nailing a rigid steel shoe to the hoof will restrict the hoofs ability to flex, hence, decreasing blood flow.  How can restricting the blood flow in the extremities of our horses ‘improve’ its performance?  If something were to interfere with the heart pump, we would consider it an emergency, yet, we continually interfere with the ‘hoof pumps’.  This too shows yet another category of “Freedom of Movement’ that proves to be a major element in the development and health of the horses hoof.
In summation;
 I believe that proper nutrition, good natural footing and lots of exercise are all important to the health of the horses feet as well as his body mind and spirit. The fact that this animal can overcome the limitations of captivity or adapt to the sudden occurrence of freedom in the wild, is just an example, of how incredible he truly is.  Those that deeply love horses can easily conjure up visions in their minds eye, of their own horse in a different place, at a different time, galloping across a vast grassland, hooves pounding the ground with sounds of thunder and  mane and tail flowing in the wind.  It is the sheer beauty of the movement of the horse that captures our imaginations, and it is the single most important element in the horses survival.

(1)  Kathy Watts;  RMRC Inc.  www.safegrass.org
(2)  Stephen Budianky; The World According to Horses (Henry Holt Pub. ©2000)
(3)  Pete Ramey;  Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You (Star Ridge Pub.    ©2003)
(4)  Jaime Jackson;  Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care (Star Ridge Pub. ©2002
(5)  R.M. Bowker VMD PhD.: copied (without permission) from International Veterinary Information Services (www.ivis.org)  The Growth and Adaptive Capabilities of the Hoof Wall and Sole: Functional Changes in Response to Stress. 21 Nov. 2003
(6)  Dennis Reis Horsmanship;  www.reisranch.com/natural-horsemanship.html
(7)  R.M. Bowker VMD PhD : IVIS 2003  Contrasting Structural Morphologies of ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Footed Horses.
(8)  The Swedish Hoof School www.swedishhoofschool.com
(9)   Stephen Lemone;  Taken from a lecture, 1994 UCLA Center for Pre-Hospital Care