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Is mud good or bad for hooves?

From: Shelley

Jessica, I have found your common sense very valuable. I hope you can help me with this one: My neighbor has been a horse owner and stable operator (small scale) for most of her life and I'm a new horse owner. Today during a visit to her place she said something that puzzled me while we were filling water troughs . I suggested moving the water buckets to a drier location along the fence because where the buckets were was very muddy - so muddy the horse's hooves sunk down at least 4 inches as they walked around the buckets. She said it was good to have mud around the water buckets - mud "saves the horses hooves - clean mud". I had always thought muddy conditions were not good and could easily lead to hoof problems in horses. Please help me understand this contradiction. Thank you. Shelley

Hi Shelley! Mud isn't necessarily harmful to hooves, but I suspect that your neighbour is working from the assumption that exposing the horses' hooves to mud several times a day will make them softer and more flexible. This could happen, but it's not necessarily a good thing.

On the other hand, a horse standing in clean mud - that is, earth and water - is definitely better off than a horse standing in ammonia-soaked bedding and soggy manure. A horse removed from a filthy, wet stall and turned out in a muddy (but clean) paddock will be healthier, there's no doubt about that. But the ideal for hoof health would be a consistent footing, with no shifting back and forth between hard, dry ground and soaking, muddy one. Much more than the type of ground itself, dry and hard or wet and soft, it's changing back and forth between the two extremes that causes stress and damage to the hooves.

Horses in nature will develop hooves and a hoof-wear pattern that suits their environment and their level of activity. Wild and feral horses can do quite nicely in dry environments or in wet ones. Wild horses on hard, dry ground tend to develop solid, hard, strong hooves that wear down to a good "using" length through the many miles of walking that those horses do each day. Wild horses on marshy ground also tend to have good hoof quality, and they, too, wear their hooves down. Even though the softer ground doesn't wear away the hoof wall as quickly as would hard or rocky ground, the horses' hooves are also softer and so will wear down at a reasonable rate, since those horses, too, walk for many miles each day. Remember, too, that constant travel on marshy ground is still a huge improvement over standing in a stall or enclosure full of manure - but those horses would be at a great disadvantage if they were worked on hard ground during the day and turned out into marsh or mud every night.

Domestic horse have a harder time of it, since comparatively few of them are lucky enough to have good natural hoof quality and be managed in a way that allows them to move around freely on clean ground. Barefoot horses in clean pastures tend to develop and maintain better hoof quality than horse that are shod and/or confined to stalls or small enclosures.

If you talk to your farrier, he will probably tell you that keeping a horse in a dry environment full-time is better for the horse's hooves than keeping it in a dry environment most of the time AND asking it to stand in mud or water on a regular basis.

Your neighbour's horses are probably fine - again, clean mud is not inherently bad for hooves, as a dirty, wet stall would be. It's unlikely that the time spent standing in water or mud required for a horse to drink (just a few seconds, several times a day) will have an extremely damaging effect on her horses' hooves. However, if someone regularly floods the areas where the horses spend most of their time - in the only shady spot in the paddock, for example - then the horses could well be spending a good bit of time standing in mud, and the constant alternation between wet and dry footing will probably hurt the condition and quality of their hooves.


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