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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Do horseshoes hurt horses?

This post was inspired by something I read on a forum today. Someone was having difficulties with a horse that didn't want to be shod. This post attempts to illustrate why some horses might object to being shod.

The shoe below was nailed onto a cadaver under veterinary supervision to illustrate the 'ideal' positioning of a horseshoe nail. You can see the nail penetrates the water line (unpigmented inner hoof wall) before exiting via the outer hoof wall. You can also see how close that nail gets to the white line or laminae. As you know this is an incredibly sensitive area - just like your own nail bed. To hold the shoe on effectively the nail must go through the water line - it is the tough part of the hoof wall. The outer wall is relatively soft by comparison.

In this example (p1) the water line appears to be in good condition.

But for many shod horses the water line is in much poorer condition. Look at the foot below. You can see the white line is stretched - so the foot is already compromised and probably painful (p2). And if you squint (try clicking on the picture to enlarge it) you can see how emaciated the water line is, especially in the left area of the toe.

The water line is patchy and in places virtually non existant (p3 and p4). Where would a farrier put a nail on this foot?

In the fifth photo (p5) you can see a couple of nail holes in the left hand quarter. You can see how close they are to the white line - the equivalent of your own nail bed. I'll let you figure out if that hurt or not.

This is my own horse - shod before I got her. She hates being shod and hates farriers. I wonder why?

Fortunately after a bit of TLC her white line has reasserted itself - it took about 16 weeks to get a water line around the whole foot (p6). This is a terrible picture, just before a much needed trim, but check out the toe area - much tighter white line and the water line is getting fatter. I will see if I can get a better picture in the next few days.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Environment - does it matter to barefooters?

Most definitely yes! Environment is part of the the DEETT© acronym for two main reasons. Firstly environment can affect what goes into your horses stomach and secondly a dirty and/or wet environment can infect and/or soften hooves.

This post as are all others is largely based on my own personal experience. I deal with horses in the UK; an environment declared by some vets as unsuitable for barefoot horses because it is so wet and has such a high proportion of overly sugary grazing. Fortunately all the successful barefoot performance horses working in the UK don't understand english or they might be insulted.

I am sure if you have read the rest of this blog you won't need reminding how important diet is. So if your environment grows plants which are disadvantageous for your horse to eat then you will need to take appropriate measures. Either to remove the plants or restrict access to them.

This is slightly controversial but based on my own personal experience I have little hesitation in saying that dirty and/or wet environments can predispose a horse to thrush. Some people are dismissive of thrush, but I would never advise this. Thrush can cause intense pain in the back of the foot which then prevents the horse from using its feet properly. This over time will have significant impacts on the rest of the horse. Just imagine if your own foot was rotting. How would you feel?

A wet environment can also predispose your horse to soft hooves - just like how your nails go when you have soaked them in water for some time, and like your nails hooves will harden up again if allowed to dry properly. Soft hooves are not a problem if you are only working your horse on grass or in the arena. But if you want to exercise your horse over more abrasive terrain then you will need to consider using boots. Personally I would recommend finding some way of letting your horse dry its feet out for several hours of each day.

Taking my own horse as an example. Theoretically Grace has very little chance of being successful barefoot. Grace is:-
  1. Living in the UK on wet clay
  2. A warmblood X - a breed often disparaged for its bad feet
  3. Laminitic and is suspected of having EPSM
  4. Kept at livery
  5. Very sensitive to vaccinations and wormers
Now to be honest I can't say she is a 'performance' horse - yet. But she is sound over a variety of surfaces and works every day. If anything restricts her from performing it won't be her bare feet, it will be the injuries she sustained before we met.

On arrival her feet were in very poor condition. Now they are like granite; when being trimmed her hooves break tools which cut through other horses hooves like butter. She is not special, but she does come in overnight (winter) into a dry stable with a very clean bed and I feed a 'barefoot diet'; which is equally suitable for shod horses and is great for laminitics. Grace is also exercised daily, even if only a little and thrush is not allowed.

So environment can provide challenges but for most of us, with some thought and much determination, the worst of them can be overcome. Good luck! :-)

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Scotland Rocks

I've just spent a week trimming with Nick Hill from Clover Rose Equine as part of my quest to be a better trimmer.

Great guy and if you are looking for a barefoot specialist in Scotland he is worth a call.

Over the course of the week we visited just about every shape and hue of horse there is. A great learning experience and I am glad I took the time to do it and very grateful for Nick's patience and generosity in sharing what he knows.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Laminitis - 'barefoot' v traditional approach

This foot is a mess and has obviously been treated traditionally, with shoes and a resection. It has: -
  • contracted heels with very weak heel buttress
  • no depth of collateral groove
  • weak frog, probably thrushy
  • very weak hoof wall
  • thin sole with significant bruising
  • resected toe (WLD/lami?)
  • infected nail holes which appear to penetrate white line

If this hoof were still alive with the barefoot approach we would need to:

  • improve the diet
  • get rid of the thrush
  • decontract the heel
  • strengthen heel buttress
  • grow a thicker sole
  • grow out the infected nail holes and resected area
  • stimulate the hoof within the horse's comfort zone (provide choice of comformable surfaces and opportunity to exercise)

The heel probably won't decontract successfully until the thrush is dealt with. Just that simple measure would bring the horse a lot of physical relief.

When he can weight his heel, the horse can start to use his feet properly. As the hooves decontract and start to be used the way nature intended the circulation will improve and with an appropriate diet the hooves should start to grow more quickly and in better form.

The horse can remain barefoot and be very comfortable if given access to a comformable surface. In the UK we use pea gravel a lot. I like to give horses a choice - pea gravel, sand, rubber mats. But not just a shavings bed.

The horse has to be give a chance to stimulate the foot, wobble it around in a surface that will mould but be relatively stable, and to achieve some self trimming.

He also needs a horse friend - not the youngster who wants to box and play, but someone he can socialise with, but who will respect the fact that he might not be up to a lot of fisticuffs immediately.

Relatively quickly - often within just a few days of changing the diet the horse can start to exercise - with the protection of boots with comfort pads if necessary.

Exercise is important - it stimulates the horse in hoof and mind - but their comfort must be maintained. Do not allow your horse to be forced to move when it hurts.

Below is a picture of a laminitic foot which is maintained successfully using the barefoot approach.

This horse is on a a strict diet and careful management programme. Thanks to this approach it not only lives; it thrives and is working and happy and is a complete credit to its owner. The trimming, although important, comes way down the list.

So before you put down your laminitic horse, consider the barefoot approach. But don't leave it too late.

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Southern England, United Kingdom