According to the American Farriers Association, only 10% of domestic horses are absolutely sound. Natural hoof care pioneers were farriers or veterinarians that noticed this trend and looked for answers in the wild. As an unsound wild horse is condemned, they figured that the ones they would see would provide a model for soundness.
Wild/feral horses and domestic horses are genetically and physiologically the same. Even though some equine professionals claim that ‘’we’ve bred the feet out of our horses’’, there is no scientific backup for that affirmation. Genetics takes thousands of years to evolve and diverge within a species; there has simply not been enough time for that to happen. Both domestic and wild horses are equus caballus.
However, we cannot ignore the differences between wild and domestic horses, in particular when considering their feet. Since they are from the same species – inherently identical – we can conclude that these differences come from factors external to their physiology: their way of life is at issue.
First of all, horses are gregarious animal. Wild horses live in herds, which corresponds to their nature, while most domestic horses are kept alone or with only one or two other horses. We can assume that their social and psychological needs are not met, thus creating chronic stress and the resulting inflammatory responses.
Wild horses travel up to 20-25 miles a day in search of food and water. Their lifestyle has been observed and given the health of their bodies, hooves and gaits, we can infer that it is optimal for them. Domestic horses, on the other hand, are mainly sedentary; they do not need to search for food, nor select forage. The motility and flora of their digestive system is greatly impacted, creating life-threatening problems such as colic.
Due to the lack of stimulation, the locomotory system never fully develops and the feet do not provide sufficient protection. The lack of exercise combined with non-diversified, overly rich feeds lead to obesity and the resulting skin and limbs inflammatory issues such as laminitis. These issues could be compared to human diabetes and are far more likely to be life-threatening when the feet are already weak from poor growth and callousing.
Finally, during their daily travel, wild horses go through a diversity of terrains, which vary in slope, moisture content, evenness, hardness, etc. Being highly adaptable, the horse conforms to its environment: wild horses are comfortable on almost any footing as their feet and joints are strong and flexible. The feet and joints of the domestic horses are neither as they mainly live and work on soft, flat, dry and even footing. The risk of injury and unsoundness is much higher for them.
Visit http://www.hoofrehab.com/Article/Wildhorses/Sub%20page/WildHorsePictures.htm and http://www.tribeequus.com/ to see how much variety there can be between wild horses’ hooves. I think that there are a few similarities between the wild hooves presented there. Most of them seem to have very short walls, which don’t protrude much from the sole. They also tend to have low and relaxed heels. I didn’t notice any flaring.
Aside from the horses are the BLM holding facility, all the hooves were clean – as opposed to soiled by manure. These horses also seemed to have higher, more contracted heels. The feral horses of the Barrier islands had rather long toes, but it seems to help them when traveling in the dunes so it appears to be an adaptation to their environment. Their feet were also chipped, which is the way they seem to self-trim. It was quite obvious that the Dartmoor ponies live in a wet environment given the deep frog sulci and the swollen waterline. Their feet resemble those of the Camargue horses – although the Camargue horses have very large feet.
The mountain prairie feral horses have shorter toes. The specimens collected by Jaime Jackson have the shortest toes of all. The sagittal sections show well-developed digital cushions, strong digital flexors tendons and very thick walls compared to our domestic horses. I don’t think that we can compare donkeys’ to horses’ feet because they are structurally different, but the burros of the Mojave desert also has short walls, low heels, thick and leathery frogs and short toes.
These are just a few examples to show you how adaptive horse’s feet can be. They all look different, but are all healthy and functional. This is the most important thing: that the horse is sound and functional in his environment. Trimming a hoof to make it look like some ideal feral model does not make sense. We use data from wild horses to learn – because they are the soundest of all horses – but under no circumstances should we force a domestic horse to look like them.