But now I´d like to get us moving! Having established the condition of your horses hooves (including assessment for any possible organ issues) and adjusted the diet accordingly, we must now assure that the hooves benefit from this good nutrition. To do so they need circulation. Good circulation improves hooves quickly and strengthens them easily.
In order to get the circulation going we need to stimulate the hoof by pressure. Quite simply, pressure is what will improve the strength and condition of your horses hooves. But that pressure needs to be carefully gauged to the condition of the hoof!
Just as you would not get out of your armchair and run a marathon, but start by walking a good distance and slowly building up speed and distance as your body tells you it can, you would not have your horse galloping up rocky mountain sides.
To establish the level of pressure your horses hooves can tolerate, you do need to know how to ´read´ your horse pretty well, or just simply start with sand. A great exfoliant to remove false sole and clean up frogs as it gets in to all the nooks and crannies of the sole, including the central sulcus** and collateral grooves. It also provides even pressure over the entire solar plane. This stimulates blood flow, which creates new cell growth and promotes strong healthy hooves.
Please note I said ´controlled environment´. If you don´t have pea gravel available and your “stones” are as nature made them, of varying sizes, shapes and finishes, some smooth some sharp, then you must take care with this next step in strengthening hooves. Again, build up the time slowly. Walk them a short distance then move off to a soft verge, if you can. Or dismount to lighten their load, if ridden, as you negotiate a rocky path.
If you are doing your conditioning out on the trail, remember concrete and asphalt are great surfaces to build up heel integrity, but, they can also very much wear away hooves that are not yet strong enough to cope with this. So again, limit the time on these surfaces, building up slowly.
Just as pressure stimulates growth, too much can cause the opposite or wrong growth. Foundered hooves for example, where the P3 has rotated and caused pressure on the many capillaries trapped between the bone and the sole, can suffer further deformities and even necrosis if they receive too much pressure before they are ready. A horse really flicking out his hooves at the swing phase and then landing almost on the bulb, rather than the heel buttress itself, will cause the heel to push forward and collapse. So in order to assure the correct stimulation to strengthen the hooves you must be aware of how your horse moves, and encourage free movement, coming through from the hinds. (If you are unsure this is where someone trained in biomechanics, an Equine Massage Therapist of Osteopath for example, is of great help. Straightness Training, of which there are many schools, so don´t be afraid to check out a few, is also an incredible tool on the road to recovery or transition)
Having established the current condition and the actual movement of your horse, you now work regularly, building up time or distance. As you started your marathon training, you don´t sit back down between sessions and do nothing. You slowly build up your sessions, including being generally more active in all areas of your life in order to reward your efforts, not be the undoing of them. If your horse is in recovery from a serious pathology then do not discount hoof boots as you start this journey. I still stand fast behind Equine Fusion, with their flexible soles that aid stimulation and therefore circulation, to perform this job magnificently. They can also be fitted with pads for extra comfort in those extreme cases, or for heavier horses.
* Believed to be of Scottish origin, from shanks' nag (shanks-naig, attested 1774).
walking, as a way of travelling: As there's no public transport, I suppose we'll have to use shanks's pony.
**If your horse has a very deep, contracted, central sulcus be very aware that sand can be an irritant to any infection there, worsening it.