With the BLM Mustangs gaining more media presence and celebratory events held on the east coast for island ponies, many people wonder about equine maintenance in the wild. Horses are sensitive creatures requiring lots of hands-on care. However, the very nature of how we keep them is why horses require so much from us. For example, how do wild horses trim their hooves when our farriers come out every 6 weeks like clockwork?
Unlike the popular comparison, horse hooves have no resemblance to a toenail. Hooves are actually thick coverings offering protection at the end of the leg and shock absorbency. Perhaps the comparison comes from the keratin makeup, like our hair and nails. But hooves, unlike nails, protect the coffin bone. The coffin bone, or pedal bone, is the lowest bone in the front and rear legs of horses. Weak hooves or hoof issues can be so severe or serious that they are life-threatening. Hence our reliance and appreciation for farriers! “No hoof, no horse.”
Read more about Best Hoof Supplements For Horses
When we remove horses from the wild and control the breeding, we are choosing what traits and features get passed down. Someone may have a horse with persistent hoof problems or even conformation issues but easily controls this with corrective shoeing. Later down the road, this horse might be used for breeding.
In the wild, it is survival of the fittest. These horses prone to hoof issues or improper growth will not survive. It is grim, but it is nature. Horses are prey animals. They need to be able to run, escape, and stay on their feet for extended periods of time for grazing. Survival of the fittest means horses with hoof issues are naturally culled as they will not be able to keep up with the herd. Only animals with strong characteristics that enable survival will go on to reproduce.
Horses in Captivity
Horses by nature are not intended to be kept in stalls, turnouts, or even pastures. This goes against their very nature. When human interference results in horses in captivity, problems arise that would not ordinarily exist. Cribbing, weaving, and other neurotic behaviors are a result of captivity and lack of stimulation. In the wild, a horse will travel on average 10-20 miles per day, just in order to meet food and water requirements!
Many questions are also asked about a wild horse’s ability to tolerate the cold. Again, in nature, horses can move freely. This means they can search out cover and wind blocks in nasty weather conditions. However, a horse in a pasture may not have a shelter or even trees. Therefore, the owners may choose to blanket the horse in more severe weather. We remove their options for self-care when in captivity.
How Do Wild Horses Trim Their Hooves?
Wild horses do not need hoof trimming. Unlike other animals which will intentionally maintain or file down their nails, horse naturally take care of hoof growth. You will not see crazy outgrown hooves in nature! With the extensive traveling wild horses do, combined with various terrains in their travels, hooves are naturally ground down to a suitable length. These animals are not confined and will wear them down accordingly. Their hooves will be worn down at the same rate at which they grow out. In addition to daily travels, horses frequently run. The life of a prey animal!
Natural Hoof Care
Horses in nature are also free to move, meaning they will not be forced to stand in moist or wet environments. Pasture horses may be trapped in flooded pastures after rains, with no other turnout options. This moisture can wreak havoc on hooves, and invite bacterial and fungal infections. Wild horses always have the ability to move to higher ground, and will never be trapped in a stall that may be uncleaned or covered in urine-soaked shavings.
This brings up another issue: shoes. In nature, horses are not hauling heavy loads, made to ride on hard roads or cement, and do not suffer unnatural workloads brought on by human riding/working. Therefore, wild horses do not need shoes. Weak hooves, imbalances, or other issues that would require shoeing for the correct function would typically result in a horse unable to keep up with the herd.
Closing Thoughts- Wild Horse Hooves
As horse owners, it’s hard to imagine a “low maintenance” horse of any kind! But realistically, most of our responsibilities as horse owners come from putting these animals in captivity. This is why regular farrier visits and enrichment is so important to the modern domesticated horse.
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