In the news recently, a statement was made that was eye opening. It said that for the first time in recorded history, there is more sickness and death related to over-consumption of food, than from lack of food (not to mention all our “adult baby bottles”- drugs in various forms).

I suppose we could have seen it coming with all the hype on child obesity. But the stereotype we all have in our minds related to food problems is usually starving people in Africa.

Some people say that they can have a problem understanding what I write because they do not know horses. But many things I write about horses are eerily close to humans in many ways. Horses are very similar to humans in that they were also meant to work for their food. Horses’ natural habitats are usually very rough, low-rainfall country. Besides looking for sparse vegetation, a good stallion keeps the herd traveling many miles a day – 20 miles or more is not uncommon.

Mike Daniels

Mike Daniels

Modern conditions have horses living like us. Lack of exercise, combined with too much food, in small areas, makes them corral potatoes, like we become couch potatoes (living room or automobile couches). Many horses have “founder” problems like we have “diabetes” problems. It is all related to too much frosting and not enough cake in more ways than one. We all like structural foods when we have built up an appetite and develop a hunger for it. We tend to get finicky and take in more non-structural food when our appetites are dulled from less physical activity. Horses can pick and choose the “candy” out of pastures in lieu of the “fiber” when they nibble all day. We all know children can eat the same way if left to themselves. Through time, bodies that are built with “non structural carbohydrates”(sugar) are susceptible to more problems. As humans have trouble with diabetes and can have feet and lower legs amputated as a result, horses get laminitis (founder) causing lameness and possibly death. We sometimes are surprised when our horses founder, but do not realize that it was not the last straw that broke the camel’s back, but the accumulation effect of everything before it.

With horses, a high energy food overload from rich grass and/or grain weakens the structure of the foot, causing the hard part to divorce itself from the soft tissues (laminae) causing the wall to grow wildly separate causing extreme pain in a horse when standing or in motion.

The more overweight a horse is to start with, the worse it can get. Most horses today are at least slightly tipped toward the founder direction. If you can put a straight edge on the front of a horse’s foot and it shows a gap in the middle before trimming, or shoeing, it is telling you that the hard wall is not united with the softer tissues as it should be. A healthy, rock crushing all-terrain foot will actually let a straight edge rock back and forth, because it will rest in the middle and have the gap at each end. This kind of foot is less likely to need a shoe, because the outer wall is actually bending toward the ground rather than away from it. It provides a great dam to build and callous tough sole, pushing sensitive tissues up farther in the foot. It is in effect building its own shoe, far superior in traction and shock absorption on hard surfaces. This is the foot God intended the horse to have, but as usual we can thumb our nose at the Creator and ignore the recipe. The Bible talks about the rich fool who decided to build bigger barns to store his grain so he could sit back and do nothing. In our modern “mobile” society, we tend to store it in our horses’ bodies as well as ours instead.

When I talk to people about developing their horses’ feet, or developing a work ethic, it always hinges on the food situation. Common sense – horse sense – tells us that horses will feel more like working if we do not make it hard for them to work. A Volkswagen bug that is carrying 200 gallons of gas around with it is not very sensible, and neither is what we are asking of our horses’ bodies as well as ours. Basic reasoning will tell us that gravity alone will overstress feet and bones. Especially with the stop and go stress we put on them in between couches and corrals. At least in endurance situations, bodies are given a chance to adapt. That must be why the tortoise was the wiser individual in the parable of the tortoise and the hare.

Besides backing off on non-structural carbohydrates, emphasizing a structural roughage diet and exercise, horses cannot stand in soft wet surfaces for very long without causing problems. Next time I will offer possible solutions to the overfeeding, sedentary situations, and soft, wet surfaces that can plague our horses today.

Mike Daniels is a horsemanship trainer and barefoot trimming specialist from Raymondville. Email: rlhorse58@yahoo.com.

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