‘Bed your horse in the terrain you wish to ride’
Dr Robert Bowker. VMD, Phd
Michigan state university

^ The paddocks and fields typical of the UK may not provide the correct stimulus if we expect to ride horses on different terrain. Adding a variety of surfaces in the field will help to create a hoof capable of working on different terrain. If it is not possible to provide variety in the environment then it can be even more beneficial to give the horse consistent exposure to the surfaces through a consistent program of exercise.

^ Winter 2004. What joy !
The horses were out 24/7 with access to shelter. We fed hay on the hard standing - front of picture - but naturally they wandered off for a stretch into this bog. (No, the hooves didn’t fall to bits). The frogs on ALL stayed healthy and never showed signs of thrush, proving that with good diet and routine hoof care thrush need not be a problem, even in the UK winter.

Environment plays an important role in developing a healthy hoof.  A natural environment is best, where a horse is allowed to roam free, as movement stretches and strengthens joints and muscles in their entire body, promotes healthy gut activity and stimulates hooves. Hooves should be put to work. It is through movement and stimulation that hooves can grow strong and healthy. An ideal environment would contain various surfaces: hills; uneven ground; rocks; fallen logs; shrubs and trees etc. Horses need the company of other horses around the clock, being separated from other horses will cause stress and anxiety; creating chemical imbalances effecting horse and hoof. Too much moisture ican be detrimental to the hoof so in the UK climate giving horses access to hard standing in order for the hooves to dry out will be beneficial.

Providing a pea gravel bed around a regularly frequented area will provide a comfortable, dry surface which will help develop both internal and external hoof structure .

The ability to choose where to go and what to do is just as important for horses as it is for ourselves. The reason horses fight each other is to attain a ‘position’ so they can move when and where they want - freedom of choice. It is important to look at environment from the horses point of view. Horses are confined in the domestic environment on many different levels, but making their environment interesting and offering as much freedom of choice and movement reduces the impact of psychological stress. The term scientists use is ‘enriched environment’. Research dating back to the 1950’s has proven an ‘enriched environment’ reduces fearfulness and anxiety, increases habituation to unfamiliar objects and counteracts boredom associated with confinement, therefore reducing stress. Animal and human welfare is significantly effected.
By offering choice, freedom and stimulation both horse and hoof will be healthier. To use a human analogy - a person serving a prison sentence is told when to eat, sleep, exercise, and work in a confined space albeit having access to several areas within the facility at certain times of the day... A person in a holiday resort is ‘confined’ but they can choose when to eat, sleep, relax, exercise, interact with others, and  access  lots of interesting and fun things to do. Providing an enriched environment for a horse will make a world of difference to their well being as it can for our own

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