Saturday, July 8, 2017

What I've Learned About My Horses' Feet

My horses and I had a very good and educational session with our new hoof trimmer - I learned a lot and a number of things became much clearer - particularly about Red's feet and his soundness/body soreness issues over the years I've had him.

My horses were at three weeks since their last trims with my old trimmer, which worked out well, as Kevin likes to trim (if needed) every three to four weeks in order to make changes very gradually.  Kevin also is very conservative about his trimming - he rarely takes anything off the frog or sole, even if it looks "ugly", and uses a variety of methods - stand, cradle and holding the hind feet forward on his thigh, as needed to keep the horse comfortable.  Due to how often he works on the horses, he really doesn't use nippers but only a rasp and hoof knife.

Red and Pie were in the indoor arena hanging out together (and not getting into too much trouble for a change) when the trimmer arrived.

I asked if he'd like to see them move around and he said yes.  I haltered both of them, and led them around in a big circle together.  He said "the bigger one on the outside" - that would be Pie - he's a big footsore in front (no pulses or heat but somewhat short-strided).  I said yes, I'd noticed that recently and was going to ask him about that.  He said "the smaller on on the inside" - that would be Red - he's landing toe first in front.  Yes, well, more about that . . .

I brought them into the barn aisle and put them on cross ties, one behind the other.  Missy was eating hay in her stall, and after a bit, I brought her out and put her on cross ties behind Red, who was looking for her and calling - she's not in his herd but he knows she's "ours" and looks out for and worries about her - his sphere of concern is large, and I think there's some residual stallion behavior there.

Kevin wanted to start with Pie - Red was fretful, and doing some pawing, but we left him be - and, as I noted in the prior post, Kevin would stop working on Pie and go to talk to and stroke Red and reassure him that all was well.  I was pretty impressed already . . .

Kevin said that Pie had exceptionally fine feet - well-shaped, large, springy frogs, perfectly shaped feet and well-developed heels.  He had, though, developed a lot of chips due to stomping at flies, and seemed a bit foot sore, perhaps due to the stomping but also perhaps due to the high fever he'd had a month or so ago or to the very lovely new grass hay he's been eating - I pretty much don't let Pie near grass, and he's in an almost dry lot turnout due to his propensity to have grass sensitivity.  Later in the year, if the grass dries up - we've been having a lot of rain, so that's a ways off - he may be able to do a few minutes of hand grazing.

Instead of yelling at/jerking on Pie due to his sensitivity to the flies that were trying to bite his legs (like my prior trimmer would have done), Kevin suggested that I put some fly spray on my lead rope and gently use it to brush Pie's legs to keep the flies away.  Worked great - there's a lesson for me.

Kevin asked if Pie could wear fly boots - I said he's be great with them but knowing Red, Red would probably try to pull them off - Red likes to explore and get into things.  So instead, Kevin suggested using Keratex on Pie's soles and the lower half of his outer hoof wall to help combat the chips and soreness.

Then we left Pie and moved on to Red.  Kevin was great with Red, really interacting with him and listening to him, and Red quickly relaxed, started licking and chewing and was extremely cooperative.  Kevin clearly really appreciated how special Red is and really liked him.  I had told Kevin that Red tended to have very low heels in front and to grow a lot of toe, both to the front and sides, and that he also had large but long and fairly underdeveloped frogs in front.  Red also has tended to stand with his front legs under his body - this is also, I learned, symptomatic of what was going on with his hooves.

Fortunately, Red has a couple of good things going for him - he has very good depth of sole, and his hind feet are also in very good shape - nice plump frogs and well-developed, healthy heels.  He also naturally has very good medio-lateral balance in all four feet.

But then Kevin showed me the dynamics of a horse with low heels and long toes - essentially the whole hoof capsule is moved forward - the heel is long and underrun, with the tubules of the hoof wall at the heel butresses folded over and crushed, the frog not contacting the ground (and thus undeveloped) and the toe growing out in front and to the sides and flaring/dishing outwards.  The horse's breakover is far in front of what it should be, putting a lot of stress on bones, joints and ligaments/tendons, often causing the horse to trip in front (a constant problem with Red) and the horse will not be able to load its heels due to the pain that results and will have to do a toe first landing. He says that horse often develop this when they are put in shoes for the first time - horses' feet don't naturally do this - and that every farrier/trimmer after that, even if the horse is barefoot, doesn't address the issue if the horse isn't obviously lame and this issue is just carried forward.

Wow, is all I can say.  It explains so much - Red's sometimes reluctance to move forward, his tendency to catch his front toes and trip and his recurrent shoulder/neck/sternal soreness.  I'm both sorry I didn't understand and that it took me so long to get a trimmer who did understand.  Due to the stresses this puts on the tendons and ligaments in the back of the leg, it can lead to the bone loss and lameness know as navicular.  I'm fortunate that he hasn't developed more serious soundness issue - it's likely that the severe right front lameness he experienced earlier this year was a warning sign.

(A side note on "remedial" shoeing and wedge pads for horses with this issue - many traditional farriers advocate putting on bar or heartbar shoes, with heel wedges, for horses like this, particularly if they aren't sound - all this does is lead to further atrophy of the frog and heels, and not to the healthy heel growth that is sought - the horse already has too much heel, just in the wrong orientation.)

In Red's trim, Kevin started the very gradual process of changing Red's hoof dynamics.  He took down the crushed and contorted heel butresses just enough to the point the wall tubules were straight, and they were level with the frog, allowing it to engage for the first time in a long time.  He also removed the dishing and sides flares at Red's toes, without chopping the toe off, to give Red some relief from a too-forward breakover.

The purpose of this is to allow Red to grow a new hoof - this will take 11 months or so - that will properly support him, allow his frog and heel to develop, and move him from a toe first landing to a heel first landing.  But Kevin said I should start noticing some changes in how Red can comfortably move right away, and to let him know about how it goes.

Red couldn't have been happier and made his feelings know.  When Kevin was done, he was standing in front much more normally, and he walked off sound back to turnout.

Missy was up last - her feet have improved enormously in the two plus years she's been out of shoes, but she still has contracted heels and very small, narrow frogs (although they're much bigger than they were).  Her best hoof feature is her very hard hoof substance - she never chips or cracks.  If anything, Missy's feet tend to be too upright and to grow too much heel in an upright manner.  Her right front was out of balance with the left - either due to, or partly responsible for, her right front/left hind lameness that is partly attributable to her continuing left hind hock fusion.  She avoids using her hocks too much - she's more likely to swing her legs to the outside and back rather than really flex.

Kevin took down the excessive heel on the right front, and also said that we shouldn't open up her lateral frog sulci too much, as pressure from the frog could help make the heels gradually widen.

All three horses were very happy with Kevin, they all walked off sound, and I'd say we were pretty pleased.  Kevin will be back in three weeks, and we'll see where we are.

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