Monday, December 1, 2014

Species appropriate living conditions as an important factor in the rehab of different health and hoof conditions in horses. Part 1

Natalija Aleksandrova
Presented at 6th World Holistic Hoof and Horse Care Conference, Germany, September 27–28, 2014

We will look into two cases where the natural living conditions, built in a way which allows horses to exhibit all the natural behaviors they would in the wild, become one of the main — if not the only factor in the improvements of the horse’s hoof/health conditions.

The Wolne Konie/Free Horses Educational Center located in Northern Poland.

A mixed herd, consisting of 6 mares, 8 geldings and 1 yearling, lives in a 30 ha size natural pasture with different types of grasses, bushes, trees and natural water sources. All the horses except two, are former riding horses.

As it can be observed with wild horses, this herd is divided into bands. The bands consist of a gelding and a mare; a mare and two geldings; two geldings and a mare. One family also includes the youngster. There’re three ‘bachelor’ geldings, which can be involved as ‘lieutenant’ geldings with some of the families at different times, or create 'temporary' families. Like in the wild, there’s also inter-band hierarchy observed, with the highest band being also the highest in numbers — the band gelding has two mares and the band also includes the youngster.

This band is usually observed occupying better places for feeding and resting.

Besides this division into families, all other kinds of natural horse behaviors and social life attributes can be observed in this herd throughout a year.

Playing in summer, autumn, winter, spring:

Resting (including deep sleep):

…including 'sun-bathing' on winter days — one of the horses thermoregulatory mechanisms:

Exercising the thermoregulatory system (more on termoregulation in horses):

Searching for food:

Caring for the coat and skin:

Exhibiting family and family protecting behavior:

Exhibiting sexual behavior:

Exhibiting parental behavior:

Finding herbal help:

Consuming 'seasonal food':

Dry grasses in late autumn

Some water plants in spring

Common reed in autumn

Grazing through all the seasons following the nature rhythm — summer, autumn, winter, spring:

Using water sources for different purposes:


Cooling down an inflamed wound, caring for coat in spring

They have naturally occurring shelters:

...and a human built one, which they use mostly on hot summer days:

Additionally the horses receive hay ad libitum throughout the year, oats, apples, carrots.

Via this possibility to exhibit all the essential natural behaviors, the horses receive enough movement and also different kinds of movement without the need for additional exercising from humans. Grazing and searching for food provide the herd with the most important type of movement for the horse — relaxed steady movement that the horse is supposed to have the majority of the time. Social life and games provide them with more active types of movement. Also this way of life, where all their essential biological needs are fulfilled on a very high level gives the horses peace of mind which is important for their psychological balance and mental health. And we know how important the psychological balance is for healing physical conditions.

Case 1. Improvement of health conditions in a foal born with a high degree of flexural carpal deformity and a low degree of angular carpal deformity without any veterinary involvement or help

A Polish warmblood mare, 10 y.o., who otherwise wouldn’t be considered suitable for the brood mare role, got pregnant by accident. A Polish warmblood stallion, 5 years old, became a sire after he escaped from his paddock. What was remarkable is that the stallion once more exhibited a natural species survival behavior — he chose the mare who belonged to the highest ranking band. This behavior would have provided the best opportunity for his offspring to survive in the wild.

The mare had a history of being shoed, of having kidney problems and was also abused by humans. As a 5 y.o., upon de-shoeing she suffered laminitis, kidney failure and a heart attack. Since then she continued to have hoof problems: farriers always reported there was no growth in her hooves even after half a year untrimmed. She was often sensitive and lame; always sensitive after farrier’s trimming. When I started trimming her I found her wall horn was very brittle, similar to what we often see in freshly de-shoed hooves after long term shoeing. She had high heels, full soles and considerable contraction. One could notice the pregnancy was quite a burden for this mare.

Remarkable, the stallion had a clubfoot in one front hoof and light toed-out in both his front feet:

The sire’s dam (the foal’s ‘grandmother’, who also lives in the same herd) had a pronounced asymmetry in her front hooves with low degree clubfoot in one hoof as well (opposite foot as the stallion’s):

The conditions of both horses improved after correct trimming was applied. In the end of the case presentation we will have a chance to see if the foal inherited any of these hoof conditions, which are believed to have to do with genetics by many horse professionals.

The mare stayed with the herd during her entire pregnancy and gave birth to a colt while with the herd as well. The birth was easy and the foal stood up and nursed in a normal amount of time. But the mare needed help from a vet with passing the placenta, as too much time had passed since giving birth and it was evident she couldn’t do it on her own.

When the colt got up it became clear he had a high degree of flexural carpal deformity and a mild degree of angular carpal deformity:

The owner reported that for the next weeks and months after the birth, the colt spent more time laying down and sleeping than normal, never really running and playing. Each time he needed to run with the herd, one could clearly see it was strenuous for him. On a couple of occasions, when he was 2-3 months old, he got lame after especially long runs with the herd, and his flexural deformity condition also got worse.

In the beginning he tended to grow too much heel in his front hooves due to his condition — walking too much on his toes. He was trimmed in his front hooves on occasions when he was laying down.

The owner wanted to be very careful not to stress him with forceful trimming.

The foal and his legs conditions throughout first 3 months of his life:

Receiving natural hydrotherapy in a waterhole:

Considerable improvements in his flexural carpal deformity condition became visible when he was around 3 months old — it was middle of September:

This rapid improvement after a long time of almost no progress might have to do with the fact that the horses started moving more when weather got cooler.

At the end of autumn, around 5-6 months old, he got fairly straight in his legs. At this time he only showed signs of his condition when he was tired from too much running. He still didn’t like to run or play much in autumn.

A real breakthrough came at the end of the winter when he was 8-9 months old. We could say that the worst of the condition was fully over when he started playing actively with his ‘step-father’ and the other geldings in the herd, being the first to invite them to play.

He kept improving throughout the spring, running and playing a lot:

12 months old — his first serious ‘standing’ trimming (only the front hooves were trimmed):

His stance improved after removing some overlaid bars — he weighted the heels better:

So the colt grew into a strong, beautiful and healthy animal without any interference from vets, without any forcing from humans, at a pace that was comfortable for him and in natural living conditions.

After the birth conditions in his legs were rehabilitated fully, there’re no noticeable signs of any other hoof/feet/leg problems (we remember that his father had the clubfoot and toe-in confirmation and his grandmother had the pronounced asymmetry in her front hooves):

Judging by the difficulties it brought to him to run together with the herd in the first months of his life, we can imagine that the foal probably wouldn’t have survived in the wild where predators are present. But under the conditions where horses don’t need to fight for their survival, and where otherwise all their natural needs are fulfilled on the highest levels, foals born with such kinds of so called ‘genetic’ health problems have all the chances to survive and to grow into strong healthy animals naturally, without a need of intervention from traditional veterinary medicine.

Case 2. De-contraction and overall hoof/body shape and behavior improvements in an arab gelding living in natural conditions. >>

Photos Berenika Bratny, Natalija Aleksandrova
English Edit Courtesy Jamie Joling, 2014
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  1. Its truly inspiring to follow your posts:). I have a dream that one day I can go and visit a herd like that.

  2. All horses should have the Chance to live like this! It is gruelty to restrict the horses living room with stabel and boxes! Hiltrud Strasser, Germany

  3. Thank you so very much buddies! I like your all best ever posts daily here. My hat is off to you on your special working. Salisbury Farms