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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Hooves are barometers

Hooves are barometers, with a time lag. The last time Grace had a jab she had an allergic reaction and it has shown up as a significant event line on her hooves.

I wonder if her tying up yesterday will present itself as another event line in the weeks to come?

This is one of my issues with horse shoes. They don't just cause damage in themselves, they mask the symptoms of other health issues which need addressing, but because the horse is wearing shoes the problems go unrecognised.

With Grace being barefoot I know that if I don't manage her diet properly she will get footy. I can address this quickly and she will recover quickly. Depending on how deliquent her diet was and for how long she might not even get an event line.

But I see horses with countless event lines; indicating a more severe problem, which have not shown any lameness; probably because they are wearing shoes. As the shoes restrict the circulation to the foot, the horse can't feel them properly, so vital feedback is denied.

Which of course is why we shoe horses. It allows us to work animals that are sick and to ignore the consequences.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Livery yards and barefoot

Humph. Am coming to conclusion that keeping a barefoot horse on a DIY yard is much easier than in the horse is at full livery. I've never been satisfied with full livery. Virtually all the digestive/condition/happiness issues I ever had with a horse have been at full livery.

It always seems that owners instructions are optional. As is good basic horsemanship.

If you are at a great full livery yard that can keep its staff, that sticks to instructions and puts the horses first you are very very lucky.

The reason this conclusion has reared its ugly head today? Well I horse I know and love which is desperately metabolic is constantly having its short and long term health compromised by the 'interesting' happenings at its full livery yard. Not fair, not right and not what its very dedicated owner is paying for. :-( Sorry rant over. Its been a long, not so good, day.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Event Lines

Stress rings, grass rings - call them what you will. They are often thought as normal or natural and casually dismissed. Because they are so common few 'professionals' remark on them, let alone give advice, so its hardly surprising that the uninitiated pay them scant attention.

But Event Lines should be taken seriously, observed, noted and the effort made to link back to the 'event' that caused them. This is where a diary or great memory help, because an Event Line will typically first show about 1cm below the coronary band roughly 4-6 weeks after the 'event'. This of course will vary between horses.

All sorts of things can cause an Event Line. Typically a horse is/has received an overload of sugar/starch. But it could be a bad reaction to worming or an injection.

Grace has had some substantial Event Lines as you can see in the picture below. Grace has had (probably previously undiagnosed) sub clinical laminitis. She is sensitive to sugar, but also to vaccination.

In December she had her second of three set up innoculations and suffered a bad allergic reaction. Sure enough, as her foot has grown down, this 'event' has shown up as a substantial Event Line on her hooves.

Event Lines can be rings or grooves. At the time of writing I know of no definitive evidence as to what influences ring or groove. I just know that some horses tend to throw rings, some grooves and some a bit of both.

Don't ignore them, they are vital feedback direct from the hoof that something has happened to upset your horse's metabolism.

From observation only I am concerned that it is possible that horse shoes mask the symptoms of an event, but it doesn't mean a horse is not struggling metabolically, just that the feedback mechanism is compromised.

Feeding a horse is actually 'farming'

Bacteria. The horse is home to an enormous vat (the Cecum) of bacteria and when you feed your horse its important to keep the bacteria in mind. Upset these little guys and your horse (and your bank balance) will pay the price. Here's why:

About the Cecum

The cecum is a blind sack approximately four-feet long that can hold up to 40 quarts (approx 10 UK gallons) of food and fluid.

The cecum is a microbial inoculation vat. The microbes break down feed that was not digested in the small intestine, particularly fibrous feeds like hay.

Feed will remain in the cecum for about seven hours, which gives the bacteria time to start breaking it down. The microbes will produce vitamin K, B-complex vitamins, proteins, and fatty acids. The vitamins and fatty acids will be absorbed, but little if any protein.

The microbial population in the cecum is somewhat specific as to what feedstuffs it can digest.

If a change of feed occurs, it takes about three weeks to develop a microbial population that can digest a new feed and maintain a normal flow through the cecum.

A general rule for safely changing feeds:

Week 1: Feed a mix of three-fourths of the old ration and one-fourth of the new ration.
Week 2: Feed a mix of one-half of the old ration and one-half of the new ration.
Week 3: Feed a mix of one-fourth of the old ration and three-fourths of the new ration.
Week 4: Feed all new ration.

Be aware that sudden switches between different feed qualities result in rapid changes to the bacterial mix and the sudden death of the less favoured bacteria.

Death of large numbers of bacteria will, in turn, lead to the release of large amounts of endotoxin from the bacteria.

If this happens your horse could get laminitis or colic which are the two leading causes of death in the domestic equine. So much unnecessary death, so easily preventable.

A future blog will have a look at the stomach and digestion more generally. And probably more about the evils of sugar! :-)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The elephant in the room is made of molasses

On January 15, 1919 in Boston, US, molasses killed 21 people and several horses. And molasses is still contributing to the death of horses today and every day.

An emotive statement perhaps - but if you understand equine physiology and throw in a splash of economics you can see how the case can be made.

Molasses is a by product of sugar production. And thanks to Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations I learnt that sugar production has grown by over 50% in just over 20 years*. The same sort of time frame which has seen an explosion in the addition of molasses to horse feed.

About 75% of global sugar production comes from sugar cane. The yield of molasses from sugar cane is 3.5-4%. That is a lot of molasses; has to go somewhere and for the moment horses and their owners are an easy, profitable market.

Horses are paying the price with their health. And their owners are paying twice over – once for the molassed feeds and again for the increased vets’ bills.

The impact of a diet too high in sugar is not just the big obvious things like laminitis. There are all sorts of minor symptoms which go unnoticed or are dismissed as trivial or behavioural, when really we are making the horse sick. Have you ever noticed a horse with any of the following:

- Has, or has had laminitis
- Poor feet (crumbly, contracted, or won’t hold a shoe
- Has stress rings on their hooves (also known as grass rings)
- Footy over stones, ruts or hard ground
- Walks like a duck behind (or as if it has a full nappy)
- Has non specific lameness issues
- Is 'off', moody, grumpy or irritable
- Doesn't look you in the eye, or even looks away
- Has a dull coat
- Smells unpleasant generally or has gas issues
- Produces 'cow pat' style droppings
- Is particularly spooky or hard to manage
- Is cresty, has cellulite or excessive body fat
- Gets swollen legs when stabled
- Has a swollen or greasy sheath (gelding) or greasy teats (mare)
- Is 'lazy', reluctant or naps

Just think – it might be the sugar in their diet. But until its taken out you will never know for sure.

Of course it’s not just molasses which is to blame; any diet and/or management regime which doesn’t respect the equine digestive system can cause trouble.

Horses are not designed to eat large quantities of sugars or simple starches. They are miracles of evolution (or day 6 depending on your point of view), perfectly designed to live well and prosper on large volumes of high fibre, low nutritional value, plants, while still retaining the ability to run really fast from a standing start, over a fair distance and turn on a dime (sixpence).

The downside of this brilliant piece of biological engineering is that while a horse's digestive system is perfectly fitted for its purpose, it isn't particularly adaptable and it doesn't work anything like a human's.

So what should we give a horse? It’s really very simple, go back to basics, respect nature feed:-

- Ad-lib high fibre, low sugar, mixed forage (hay or haylage)
- Free choice access to natural sources of minerals
- Free choice access to good quality water

If your horse is working hard or is a poor keeper you can add things like:-

- Micronised linseed (excellent source of amino acids and omega 3)
- (Low sugar) Sugar Beet (Kwik Beet is the lowest in the UK at 3%)

Some horses will benefit from free access to beneficial herbs. My old horse was always better when given access to dried nettles, which she loved. Another horse always feasted on roses after a work out.

Just bear in mind that some plants are really high in sugar, so you need to know your plants and restrict access as appropriate. I knew one horse that adored Elderflowers and berries but her legs always swelled afterwards, probably because of the sugar content.

I’ll write more about diet specifics in another post, as this one is long enough already!

* On average between 1988 and 1990 global sugar production was 109 879 000 tonnes. For 2010 the projected figure is 165 131 000 tonnes.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Barefoot - a horse management question

How often do you hear 'I tried barefoot and it didn't work for me.'

The operative word being 'me'. Where barefoot is not working - it is often for the person and not necessarily the horse. Let me explain my thinking.

Barefoot requires some reworking of how we manage our horses. We have to put aside some of our conventions and start looking at life from the horse's point of view. It may take some time and persistence before we get the management mix right (for the horse).

There are a whole chunk of people out there for whom this is not an option, for whatever reason. For these people barefoot might not work (don't get me wrong - given the appropriate care it would most likely work for their horses).

Let's briefly look at the management issues that need addressing and then I'll post about each in more detail separately. For ease of reference I use the acronym DEET - Diet, exercise, environment and Trim

Diet is a big factor - a significant proportion of the horse population is sensitive to sugar. It's really a digestive problem that has side effects on the feet. Modern diets have a tendency to be very high in sugar.

Exercise - the horse is designed to move, more or less constantly, and can easily cover 20 miles a day routinely. Current methods of horse care tend to restrict movement which has lots of side effects, one of which is poor foot health/growth.

Environment - Hooves adapt to the surface they work/live most on. The current trend towards soft sand arenas, grassy paddocks and protection against wear on hard surfaces contributes to poor, weak and crumbly hooves.

Trim - Hooves will self trim to their own optimum when given sufficient exercise over the right sort of terrain. Current management practices tend not allow this to happen. An effective barefoot trim will mimic the natural wear pattern and only remove what nature would have removed given the chance.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Do you know a foot like this?

I went to Dallas to improve my trimming skills and hopeful that I would see a wider variety of feet with more issues than the feet I usually see at home. You can see by earlier posts that I certainly achieved the latter, the former is still being tested.

But then it occurred to me that actually it would be interesting to examine a foot which is often seen in pastured/retired horses in the UK. A foot which is often accepted as 'normal' but which in truth while it might be common, it is certainly not normal for a healthy foot.

This type of foot (see photos below) is a product of hoof management and is neither genetic nor inevitable. If you click on the photos they will enlarge.

As the horse to which this hoof belongs is already dead, we can't discover how long it would have taken to bring this foot back to the healthy model. But I am 99.99% certain that with correct management of the live horse it could have been and probably within months.

With each pair of photos the first picture is the 'before' photo and the second is the 'after' photo.

Notice flare, hoof rings and chips. These are still evident after the trim, but the improvement can be seen and the hoof is starting to look better already.

The sole looks a scary mess - but its actually relatively superficial and just one trim is a significant improvement. Good management could sort this easily.

The heel is running under and the capsule is long. It will take time to fix these, but a good mustang roll (would have) made the horse more comfortable.

It looks better from this side!

Whether shod or barefoot please don't accept a foot which looks like the foot in the 'before' pictures above. And please understand that the foot is the 'after' pictures is a work in progress. To be tolerated while the damage is grown out, but not the end product. :-)

It is not natural, its not healthy and it needn't be.

You might just find that the pasture ornament you know of with feet like this might even come sound if the feet are brought back to health.

And it doesn't take heaps of money or shoes. Just good management, a bit of patience and persistance.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Me trimming

This is me. Apache was a sweetie to work on and his feet were in good shape. Unlike my apron which is seriously long. Because of her physical condition Grace is not so straight forward, so it was nice to work on a horse that can hold a foot up for more than 30 seconds.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Contracted hoof, high heels, compacted sole

I didn't know where to start with this post, nor how to write it without offending somebody. But the case is what it is. I'll post the pictures, along with notes and let you make your own mind up.

These are a couple of hooves which show what horse feet should look like. When we take care of our horses, these models are what we need to keep in mind.

These hooves belonged to a hard working, healthy, wild horse which regularly travelled 20+ miles a day over varied, rocky terrain.

This hoof arrived wrapped in bandage, with two nails protruding from the bottom. There was blood coming from around the nail at the bottom of the picture.
The heel was raised with a wedge pad, held on with an egg bar shoe.

With shoe and wedge pad removed. The material adhering to the sole is old shavings bedding.

With a basic clean up, it can be seen that the front of the hoof has been cut off.

The hoof is abcessed, the heels are very high and contracted. The sole is deeply compacted and the frog has almost disappeared.
Compare these photos with the healthy hooves.
A competent AANHCP trim will work towards keeping the foot in line with the healthy model.

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Southern England, United Kingdom