Working With The Wild Mustang Hoof

By Alyce Powell

The feral horse population of the western United States often comes under fire. Many ranchers feel that the horses take away valuable grazing from their cattle. Laws have even been passed to protect these beautiful animals who are an integral part of our national heritage. Many people are now studying them to see what makes them so hardy and how this information can be used to help domestic horses. The wild mustang hoof is one of the most interesting fields of study so far.

Mustangs are rounded up on a regular basis and distributed to homes throughout the United States. Many people have noticed and commented upon the excellent quality of their hooves when compared to horses born and raised in domestic situation. One of the most important influences is the environment. Many mustangs live in the arid regions of the west. They spend their days moving over very hard rocky ground.

Lameness is the number one reason for a horse to be out of action. It is also one of the most typical reasons to call a veterinarian in. It can be quite costly to not only have the initial visit, but in many cases the animal needs further tests to try and determine exactly what is wrong. Medication may be the next step or even surgery. Throughout this time the horse is not able to work and the owners are typically getting quite frustrated.

In contrast free range mustangs rarely experience this type of problem. Researchers are finding that their feet have adapted perfectly to life in very harsh conditions. In fact they have some excellent features that their domestic cousins could really use. One of the most obvious differences is in the thickness of the hoof wall.

One of the most interesting finding has been the typical patterns found in the mustangs feet. The front of their hooves is worn down in a characteristic roll that helps to distribute their weight evenly over their entire foot. This in turn leads to better circulation and overall better hoof condition.

The adaptations seen in wild horses can be put to practical use with domesticated animals. Learning how best to distribute weight can really help to ease or even eliminate common foot problems. Keeping horses barefoot is also a good idea. Many owners routinely put shoes on their horses, weather they need them or not. Not only is this very expensive, but it is also the cause of many problems.

There is a new trend in the equestrian community towards bare foot trimming. This style of hoof care is aimed at providing a minimal amount of interference to the horses natural ability to take care of himself. Trimming focuses on not only shortening the hooves but also rolling the toes to mimic the feet of the free range mustangs.

The work continues and it is hoped that in the next few years many of the finding from the mustangs will be put into practical application with domesticated equines. The wild mustang hoof is the perfect example of genetics and environment coming together. These sturdy little horses are well known for their stamina and strength. It now seems that they have a lot to offer their domestic cousins.

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