It has been proposed that the feral horse foot is a benchmark model for foot health in horses. However, the foot health of feral horses has not been formally investigated.Objectives
To investigate the foot health of Australian feral horses and determine if foot health is affected by environmental factors, such as substrate properties and distance travelled.Methods
Twenty adult feral horses from five populations (n = 100) were investigated. Populations were selected on the basis of substrate hardness and the amount of travel typical for the population. Feet were radiographed and photographed, and digital images were surveyed by two experienced assessors blinded to each other's assessment and to the population origin. Lamellar samples from 15 feet from three populations were investigated histologically for evidence of laminitis.Results
There was a total of 377 gross foot abnormalities identified in 100 left forefeet. There were no abnormalities detected in three of the feet surveyed. Each population had a comparable prevalence of foot abnormalities, although the type and severity of abnormality varied among populations. Of the three populations surveyed by histopathology, the prevalence of chronic laminitis ranged between 40% and 93%.Conclusions
Foot health appeared to be affected by the environment inhabited by the horses. The observed chronic laminitis may be attributable to either nutritional or traumatic causes. Given the overwhelming evidence of suboptimal foot health, it may not be appropriate for the feral horse foot to be the benchmark model for equine foot health.