Horse hoof trimming is an important part of health care for domestic horses. Owners must trim the hooves into the ideal shape and length for comfort as the animals walk. Those that deal with horses regularly accept this as a normal part of horse care. It is the same as getting them shoed and any other healthcare procedure. But, what about wild horses? Why don’t they need this sort of treatment?
Horse hooves can indeed grow out of control.
You may have seen images of horses with hooves that have become distorted and overgrown. These pictures aren’t easy to look at because you can see that these animals suffer the consequences. It can be very painful for them to walk, or they may not even be able to walk at all.
The reason for this overgrowth of nails comes down to a lack of human intervention. Many of these creatures were neglected by their owners – perhaps left chained up in fields or barns because owners couldn’t afford them or moved away. The kind people that rescue them can work to trim the horse’s hooves back to a healthy shape and improve their condition.
This need for human intervention to shape and maintain the hooves leads to an important question. If domestic horses are so reliant on us for this form of health care, why don’t we see the same issues of overgrown hooves in wild horses?
Why don’t wild horses get overgrown hooves?
There are a few possible reasons for this natural maintenance of their hooves. Three of the following explanations relate to key differences between wild and domestic horses. The other may have some bearing on the condition of the hoof.
1.Wild horses get a lot more exercise than domestic horses.
First, we have the issue of exercise. Now, there are plenty of horses that get exercise with their owners on long rides and that have space to roam outdoors. They have a happy and comfortable life.
But, we have to compare this to the activity levels of wild horses. These herds can roam for many miles at high speed to reach food and water. They do this daily, so they end up covering a substantial number of miles compared to domestic horses. The more steps they take, the more chance they have of wearing the hooves down naturally. They never have a chance to grow too long.
2. Wild horses do this on rougher ground than domestic horses.
Then there is the type of terrain that wild horses travel along. This could be pretty rough ground in harsher areas, with grit and loose stones. Those abrasive surfaces should help with the natural wear of the hooves. It is a bit like the difference between using a fine emery board to file our own fingernails compared to a coarse one.
By comparison, domestic horses handle much smoother and softer terrain. The floor of their stable may be smooth with soft hay to step on. The outdoor area is more likely to be flat and grassy. They may handle some rougher ground out on rides on the weekend, but not as often as wild horses.
3. Wild horses don’t need horseshoes, unlike domestic horses.
Domestic horses may also wear shoes to stop the weight of their human riders damaging the hooves. It is a form of protection where the downward pressure on each step goes into that metal plate and not the surface of the hooves. It gives greater protection and prevents damage. But, this extra layer means that there isn’t the same wear on the hoof.
As there is no need to have wild horses shoed, there is no risk of this happening here. The surface of the hoof is exposed and ready for general wear.
4. Wild horses may obtain something in their diet that domestic horses don’t receive.
There is also an idea that differences in diet may have some knock-on effects on the health and growth of hooves. Perhaps the nutrients in a natural diet provide the minerals needed to keep hooves strong enough to handle ongoing wear. A domestic horse’s diet will differ from that of a wild horse, with less variety and potentially a less nutrient-rich feed. Supplementation could help. Some owners provide additional methionine, calcium, zinc, and copper to improve hoof health.
The need to trim domestic horse hooves is actually a lot similar to other pet grooming needs.
Another way to look at this is to consider the efforts we take to clip dog nails. There is a similar process here, as we trim down overgrown nails to make them more comfortable and prevent injury. Wild dog species don’t need this sort of treatment because they spend so much time running around in the wild over rough ground. This regular activity is enough to file their nails and maintain the length.
Why don’t wild horse need humans for maintenance of their hooves?
In short, wild horses don’t need their hooves trimmed by humans because their wild lifestyle does it for them. The need to trim horse hooves and other animal claws only came about because of the way that we domesticated them. We changed their habits and landscape. While this has led to a pampered, comfortable life for most, there is the downside of the effect on their nails. Horses that live in comfortable stables, and that don’t roam for food, won’t wear down their hooves the same way as their wild cousins. We have no choice but to trim them for them.