Custom Search
Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Contracted heels

One day deshod
Seven weeks deshod

This horse's feet can be used in so many case studies. Today it is contracted heels. I have seen heels similar to those in the first photo described as 'genetic'; ie they can't be changed.

Seven weeks later this horse is well on the way to decontraction - all by herself, just daily turnout and a bit of light work.

A year and innumerable dramas later the hoof is still decontracted. No shoes required. Just a good diet and sensible management. Oh and because of pretty horrible environmental conditions they get scrubbed daily with salty water to keep Thrush at bay - a common culprit in contracted heels.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Growing out hoof cracks, deviations etc

Throughout this blog you will see hooves with various issues; missing quarters, hoof cracks and deviations.

All of these have been managed by applying the AANHCP trimming/hoof management protocols.

The crack in yesterday's post is resolving much faster than I anticipated, because when I first saw it, not only was is worryingly long and wide, it was also very deep and somewhat infected.  I forgot to mention it yesterday (exhausted) but the red circle shows just how fast the hoof is growing.

The foot is trimmed at precisely 4 week intervals and the horse lives out 24/7 in the damp UK climate.  The owner is very conscientious and I have shown them how to maintain the mustang roll in between visits.

As always the difference is really made by the owner.  In this case someone who is devoted to their horse and prepared to buck tradition in order to maintain them in good health.

Hoof cracks

End May 2010
End August 2010
This horse is 22 years old and in May 2010 was already officially retired with an unresolvable lameness.

Extensive vet tests had revealed no probable cause other than psychosomatic. The farrier had found no fault with her feet.

The first picture shows a hind foot, front view six weeks post the last farrier visit.

The second picture shows the same foot 3 months later after 3 AANHCP protocol trims. This horse is now sound enough for quiet hacking which she apparently thoroughly enjoys! :-)

Age need not be a barrier to improving feet, regaining soundness or having a good time :-)

Sunday, 29 August 2010

The shoe should fit the foot.............

August foot against June shoe
Recently(ish) deshod

Today we dug out the front shoes for one of the more difficult transition cases. Have a look at the photos? What is your view - did the shoe fit the foot or was the horse having to use a shod foot shape that was not natural to them?

An interesting 'tell' regardless of the photo evidence is
that the horse abscessed on both front outside quarters shortly after deshoeing.

Although this transition is tricky the carer for this horse is doing a remarkable job.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Don't read this if you are eating or squeamish - breakover

I read a post the other day which seemed to be saying that horses' are unable to wear an appropriate breakover for themselves without drawing blood (I paraphrase), hence the need for a shoe. 

I thought it worth posting about this, because scaremongering techniques are a particularly unpleasant way of trying to stop someone from trying the barefoot approach.  (I've put comments on moderation for obvious reasons - but don't let that stop you.)

The Shoddy also suggested that by bringing the shoe inside the hoof wall (unlike in the picture at the end of this post) the breakover would be eased all round.  This is technically impossible as the shoe has to be nailed on.  It is possible to bring the breakover back at one point (usually toe) but even with a heavily bevelled shoe, there are limitations because of the nails which have to go somewhere.  And I won't even go into the arguments about whether the nailing on itself is problematic.  Just think about sticking a splinter up under your nail.

Cross section - freeze dried hoof
Dissection - domestic hoof
Dissected hoof with 'ideal' shoe/nail placement (vet supervision)

Quiz answers

1.How can you tell these pictures are of the same foot?

This hoof has a 'finger print'.  When the sole is cleaned up it is a good way of identifying a foot and it can help plot changes.  But sometimes, I freely admit, with plain soles, I have to rely on good sequencing (take pictures in the same order) and the position of my hands and feet ....... :-)

2.Describe five differences in the hoof between the pictures (ignore the trimming)

Ok - hooves never lie, but photos can mislead.  So it helps to really understand landmarks.  Although this is the same hoof, the one in the second photo is a good bit smaller than the one in the first.  It has got broader side to side and shorter heel to toe.  Also the hoof in the second photo is wet, which distorts the image somewhat and the hoof is a little later in the trim cycle.

So what do I think has changed?  1) Well the hoof is shorter toe to heel and broader side to side.  2) The central sulcus used to have a deep, narrow crevice in the middle.  This has filled in with healthy tissue. 3) Thrush is less evident 4) White line is tighter 5) More concavity in foot (hard to see, but check out just how flat the sole is in the first picture)  [And 6 - check out the collateral grooves; much more open in the second photo.]

3. Are these differences for better or worse?

All to the good

For part two of the quiz the pictures do link up with these (first photo to first photo, second to second).  The deep event lines which spread more widely at the heel are evidence of multiple laminitic events.  In the second photo The foot still continues to suffer LGL, which is hard to see, but the healing angle is not maintained to the ground.  For an idea of what to look for try this post.  And what is never evident from a photo, is that the horse is often footy over stones, albeit sometimes she is rock-crunching.

Just deshod
Several months later

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Mystery footiness and other mystery issues

I make no claim to be an expert in equine nutrition, disease or otherwise.  But I am reasonably good at reading hooves, and time and again it has been proven to me that the barefoot hoof is a window to a horse's true health.

And we all want our horses to be in the best of health don't we? I appreciate that not everyone is as soppy about their animals as I am, but even the truly hard nosed among us must realise it makes economic sense if nothing else?

So if you have a horse that outwardly appears to be in full, bouncing, splendid health, but is footy over stones what do you do?  Well trust the hoof for a start, a horse that can't manage stones is not in perfect health and in the wild is going to get eaten.  In domestication, long term, they might get shot.
Well many of us (self included) end up wrestling with this problem for one horse or another.  Often, the answer lies with diet, but sometimes the diet and environment etc appear to be very good, but still the horse remains footy.  So other options are explored including Seasonal Rise, temperature/humidity, hormonal status and so forth.  These are allowed for, or discounted and still the horse remains footy.
Well for some, the answer may lie in a rarely discussed condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome.  It doesn't just cause mystery footiness, there are many other currently un/misdiagnosed conditions that may also have a root in this condition.
Websites, forums and blogs are no place to diagnose an illness/problem. But the purpose of this blog is to be informative and to encourage people in their barefoot journey, including when things get tricky (hence all the transition and before/after photos).
So have a gander (look) at this: Leaky Gut Syndrome explained if you think it fits your circumstances why not discuss the possibility with your vet?

Need a product to help with Leaky Gut? Try Thunderbrook (UK).

Monday, 23 August 2010

LGL - low grade laminitis

In some quarters the subject of LGL is controversial.  Not all vets believe it exists, but among my barefoot community we believe we see it a lot and it is commonly believed to be a barrier to complete barefoot soundness over all terrains.

The following list of symptoms is an extract from a veterinary paper (source detailed at end)

Tell-Tale Signs of Low Grade Laminitis
  • 'Jarred up' or sore feet in the front hooves, particularly when worked on hard tracks
  • A short, scratchy gait which does not warm out, and worsens after fast or hard work - the horse may appear sore in the shoulders
  • Prominent 'growth rings' on the hoof wall
  • A dished hoof wall with flared out toes (often with low compacted heels)
  • Broken away hoof edges and flaky soles - sole may appear flat or dropped
  • A crumbly white line or low grade seedy toe
  • Pain when hoof testers are applied around the edges of the sole, particularly in the toe region
  • Sore footedness after hoof trimming or shoeing
Research in Australia has shown an association between high grain diets, hindgut acidosis (high levels of acid in the large bowel) and symptoms of low grade laminitis.  Hind gut acidosis can also cause other side effects in addition to hoof disorders including loose 'cow-pat' droppings, sour smelling droppings and nervy, fizzy behaviour and other behavioural changes such as bedding eat and wood chewing.

Extracted from:  Veterinary View; Laminitis - Racing Horses are at Risk!, Ruth Davis BVSc, Vetsearch International

Sunday, 22 August 2010

For people considering transitioning 'metabolic' horses - some survival tips

Transitioning a horse with metabolic issues is rarely easy and I believe undiagnosed, misunderstood or hard to manage metabolic conditions are a key driver for why some horse/owner combinations never quite make it to full barefoot, sound, performance.

These same metabolic issues can cause problems for a shod horse too, but the symptoms can be masked by the shoes only to be revealed when the shoes come off. 

The experienced barefooter may have no major issues in dealing with a metabolic horse, having been through the process before, they know what to expect and how to deal with it.  But relative newcomers can be understandably terrified/dismayed/overwrought when their previously shod/sound horse goes lame shortly after having their shoes removed and without obvious or apparent reason. And for some so starts the journey into the upside down world of metabolic disorders of the horse.

I've transitioned a variety of horses with different metabolic issues including HYPP, EPSM, Insulin Resistance and Laminitis.  Along the way I have learnt a lot, not least some very vital 'Survival Tips'; which have helped me save most of my sanity and some of my bank balance.  In no particular order here are some of the things I wished I knew or had done before I took on my first metabolic horse.

Survival Tips
  • Most important of all - take complete ownership/responsibility for your horse's hoof health
    • this will enable you to be a more effective manager of the resources you need to restore your horse and their feet to better health
    • transition can be a roller coaster ride, taking responsibility will help you feel more in control
    • you will be in a better position to understand what works/doesn't work for your horse
    • you will be able to minimise the risk of negative outcomes caused by well meaning, but misguided individuals who want to 'help' by interferring with your horse's management
    • you will reassure all but the most (!?) of equine professionals, they want to know who is in charge and will be happy it is you
  • Educate yourself as thoroughly as possible.  Learn all you can about the management of bare hooves and research your horse's condition.  If you don't know quite what the metabolic issue is, beware of leaping on fashionable bandwagons.  Take a step back and consider all the options, discuss them with your vet, but don't rush headlong into a course of treatment unless a) it is urgently needed for life/health saving purposes or b) you and your vet are certain you have the correct diagnosis. 
  • Talk things through with educated individuals who have no agenda.  Listen politely but do not believe most of what the local 'experts' tell you; likewise be wary of internet sites and wild marketing claims, even those endorsed by vets.  Do your own desk research, read books* as well as websites.  Check sources.
  • Learn to trust your horse and her feet before all others
  • Learn to read your horse and her feet as well as you can read a book, or maybe better
  • Cultivate patience; understanding how to manage your metabolic horse successfully can take time, you will make mistakes and have set backs
  • Cultivate tolerance - for those who don't understand why you have chosen to go barefoot, for those who feel threatened by anything different, for those who are willing, but slower to understand the challenges and benefits of taking a metabolic horse barefoot
  • However difficult, try to keep your vet, yard manager and horsey friends on board.  Largely this involves no preaching to them (wait until they practically beg you for information) and getting very deaf when they start going on........ 
  • Find a decent barefoot trimmer - or invest in a proper training programme for yourself.  At the very least know what to look for and expect from a trimmer.
  • Learn how to distinguish between a functional trim, a 'pretty' trim and a just plain bad trim
  • Take each day as it comes and have no expectations other than that there will be good and bad days with no guarantees
  • Be really strict over diet. Yes really strict, no TGI Friday moments, they can really mess with your horse
  • Do not believe the big writing on bags of horse food.  Get the detailed analysis; protein, sugar, starch, plus a vitamin/mineral breakdown including percentages/quantities per kg.  If the manufacturer will not tell  you exactly what the product is made of don't buy it.  Many bagged feeds are full of cheap and unhealthy fillers like wheatfeed and the dust is kept down with molasses and/or sugar syrups.
  • Take all 'but this worked for my horse' advice with a pinch of salt, all horses are different
  • Don't believe anyone who says they know everything about equine diet or nutrition.  They may have a degree in it, but the truth is the science hasn't been done yet and no one really knows.  Most studies that have been completed have been on Thoroughbred racehorses and do not equally apply to different breeds of horses or those with different lifestyles. Some folk are also drawing conclusions about equine diet from studies done on people.  A useful starting point maybe, but a dangerous place to finish
  • Celebrate every small success or good day and try to view bad days as a reminder of what you are leaving behind
  • Learn deep breathing techniques (so you can walk away from the 'helpful' know-it-alls who want to advise you that you are mad/cruel/blind while their own horse walks around on tin can stilts for feet and colics every few months - and is as fat as butter with all the symptoms of IR)
  • Use any time off from ridden/driven work in a productive way - there are lots of useful 'life' lessons you and your horse can practice on the ground.  eg. standing still by the mounting block, standing untied for foot trimming/washing/picking, backing up/moving over, walk by your shoulder (or however you prefer) - I am sure you can think of many more which can either be done in the stable on on a surface which your horse is comfortable on.
  • Find out which hedge treats your horse likes best; this can be comforting because you are doing something positive for your horse and it can give you 'health safe' alternatives to the sugary rubbish generally sold as horse treats.  But do be careful and make sure you know what you are picking and that it has not been contaminated in anyway.
  • Take lots of photos, whole horse and hooves, and make a photo diary - to look back on in good times and bad. Take video too if you can
  • Keep a diary of feed, behaviour, hoof health, gut health, work load, grass, weather
  • Learn to take a step back and reflect before panicking (very useful skill in true emergency situations)
  • Chat up an independent (of feed companies) equine nutritionist
  • Research the equine digestive system (it is truly fascinating - yes really)
  • Enlist a barefoot friend for support
  • Prepare open, non threatening questions for any professionals whose support or opinion you may need and learn to agree to disagree without falling out, you may need the object of your conflict for something else later
  • Try to avoid just managing symptoms and instead tackle the cause whenever possible
  • Read this blog and for a warts and all commentary on barefoot and all its ups and downs
  • Sell the horse and get a motorbike (ONLY JOKING!)

*Good books, all available from Amazon include:

The Natural Horse: Lessons From the Wild (1992)
Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care (1999)
Founder: Prevention & Cure the Natural Way (2000)
Guide to Booting Horses for Hoof Care Professionals (2002)
Paddock Paradise: A Guide for Natural Horse Boarding (2006)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Which one is laminitic?

Quiz - Part Two

Which hoof is showing signs of laminitis?
What are the signs?
Can you match the photos in this post to the ones in the previous quiz?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Ok for a bit of fun - Spot the difference; a hoof in transition

Recently deshod

Several months later



Quiz - for a bit of fun - I'll post answers in a few days

  1. How can you tell these pictures are of the same foot?
  2. Describe five differences in the hoof between the pictures (ignore the trimming)
  3. Are these differences for better or worse?  

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Heels - same horse, fore foot

RF Shod
RF Deshod approx 1 month

Solar views

RF Shod solar view
RF 3.5 weeks ago
RF just deshod
RF 2 days ago

This horse has abscessed in both fronts during the transition. This is unusual, but it does happen when the foot has a lot of rubbish to clear out. You can see how the shod foot is a different shape to the unshod foot, and over time it is changing shape.

Positive changes include:

  • improved frog quality (denser, less thrush)
  • heels broader
  • buttresses becoming more robust
  • sole depth improving
  • foot becoming more front foot shaped

Some of the challenges faced include:
  • abscess in each front outside quarter
  • heavy thrush infection
  • seedy toe
  • tender soles
  • pink in the white line
But the horse is making better than expected progress, allowing for where the feet started.  Boots would allow the horse to continue a moderate work load.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Heel buttresses - do they need support?

LH Solar shod
LH just deshod
LH Solar 3 months deshod
LH Shod

LH Just deshod

LH 3 months deshod

Once again many thanks to the carer of this horse for their support in posting these pictures. They are working extremely hard to get a difficult case on track.

Now - the point of this post. How often do you hear the phrase "This horse needs shoes to support underrun heels/weak heels/crumbling walls/weak soles....."(delete as appropriate).

The horse in this case literally has them all. The soles when shod gave under lightish thumb pressure, there was very little collateral groove, the walls were thin and breaking away, there was flare and the heels well, they didn't look so bad with the shoes on.

Take a look at the just deshod pictures - look at the heels in those. The side view is pretty average - it's what you are expecting to see, what you do see in hundreds of horses in hundreds of yards. But how many times do you get a close snoop at the heels when the shoe has been taken off?

Look at the second photo in the series; the solar view. This heel is not strong, robust or particularly ready to bear a lot of weight (so it must need a shoe?).

Now look closely at picture 3 - can you see how the heels are beginning to take shape? They now have a buttress and are now about the widest point on the foot - which as you can see has changed shape dramatically. Compare the shape of the foot in picture 3 with the shape of the shod foot in picture 1.

You can see equally dramatic changes taking place in the side view. Although it is not so easy to see the heel change; if you examine the whole foot you can see how all the damage is growing out and how the whole foot has 'relaxed'. Despite appearing a very solid structure, the hoof is remarkably 'plastic' and it is possible to force it into unnatural shapes; and equally possible for it to 'relax' back to normal if given the chance and if the forced unnatural shape hasn't caused long term damage.

This is not an easy one for the carer to take on. Their first transition to barefoot and as you can see there was a lot of damage to undo.

Important point - the horse is sound on arena surfaces and grass. Still struggles with stones, but this is improving very slowly as the sole thickens and gains some concavity. There is still flare to grow out.

Congratulations to the horse and the carer for their efforts :-)

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Broken quarters, abscess holes

Abscess split: heel - quarter (April 2010)
Split when weight bearing
Looks awful, horse still sound on all surfaces
Damage now at toe - nearly gone
Damage completely grown out (August 2010)

Shod - it appears abscess crack
has been 'dressed'
Looks awful, but horse sound.
'Super' structure grown in provides
natural support.  Previous 'dressing'
not apparently helpful

Solar view
Nearly grown out.  No 'help' other
 than AANHCP trimming,
a good diet and regular exercise
Solar view
All grown out - super structure remains

I thought you might like these photos as examples of how a horse can have a significant hole in a foot and still manage just fine. Without shoes and continue to work. No packing, filling, fancy goo, or other specialist ttreatment required. One of these hooves lives out 24/7 and works on a variety of surfaces several days a week. The other hoof is part or fully stabled and works every day. Both hooves are trimmed according to the principles as laid down by the AANHCP. The carers ensure the horses are properly fed and the hooves picked out effectively.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Diet - hooves don't lie

I'm trialling a new dietary regime on my own very complicated horse.

In all other respects she appears really healthy; her coat is blooming, eyes bright, chatty, friendly, droppings in good order, doesn't smell odd, no filling in the legs etc.

But her feet have not been right since we very ill advisedly used a particular brand of wormer in April and she then got let loose on some grass.  And I firmly believe hooves don't lie, if they are not right then the horse can not be classified as 100%.

We suspect the wormer damaged the gut lining, which then had knock on effects, but who knows for sure - there is precious little research, just lots of anecdotal type information.

Anyhow I'm not one to let matters lie, so we are trying the dietary regime which is designed to help support/restore a damaged gut.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Does a deviated hoof need shoes?

4th Barefoot trim
Not quite sure how to draft this; I guess it is aimed at people who are thinking about taking the barefoot plunge, but are worried about the consequences.

Re the hoof in the pictures.  I am paraphrasing, but my understanding of the circumstances is this. The carer was advised that the hoof in these photos would be damaged if taken barefoot. It had a deviation and wouldn't be able to cope without a shoe.

The hoof has now had 4 barefoot trims, and typically works over a variety of surfaces 6 days a week, sometimes for several hours.

The hoof does have a deviation, but it is relatively minor and doesn't seem to trouble the horse.  We do take care to make sure the hoof is well balanced post trim.

Q.  Look at the front view and then the solar view.  What would happen if the hoof were trimmed from the top without taking proper reference to the landmarks in the solar view?
4th Barefoot trim - solar view

Recently deshod

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Lameness a case study - 8 weeks 6 days

This horse was deshod on 09 June 10.  You can see the foot with the shoe on in the first picture.  If you look at the first three side view photos you can see how the profile has changed.

The fourth photo shows the foot, partially cleaned, just after the shoe was taken off.  Look at the:
  • stretch in the white line
  • condition of the sole
  • skinny, thrushy frog
  • condition and placement of the heels
  • general overall shape of the foot
Check these points out on photos 5 and 6.  Especially review the stretch of the white line.

What can not be shown in these photos are the following positive points:
  • horse now marches on a level concrete surface as though on a mission
  • heel first landing
  • bright eyed and alert
  • can stand to be trimmed on concrete (used to need a rubber mat)
Thank you to the carer of this horse for generously allowing us all to check their progress.  And thank you for caring enough to put in all the effort this transformation is taking.  I know it is tough - but you just 'Keep on swimming!' (Finding Nemo)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Just how tall is that wall?

Solar view - before

Side view - before

Front view - before

Solar view - half exfoliated
Solar view - close up

Solar view - after
Side view - after

Front view - after

Tall feet are often seen in shod horses, not so much in the barefoot world.

If you know and use your landmarks it is easy to see just how tall this foot is; and how much it has been shortened, without changing the overall shape much.

The big things to notice are:
  • In the before solar view, it is not immediately apparent just how tall the wall has become (in relation to the hard sole plane) - because we can't see anything under the crud.  Also can you see the extent of the flare, the stretch in the white line, the thrush and the not 100% healthy frog?
  • If you look at the side view before, you can see the foot looks a bit odd.  If you follow the healing angle to the ground you can see the toe is scooting out in front. Q.  Should we just chop the toe off?
  • The front view shows the event lines - these are useful visual markers
  • The half exfoliated picture shows where the chalky crud has been flaked off.  Note 'flaked', there is no force or cutting involved.  One way of doing this, provided the hoof is healthy and sound on stones is to walk the horse on some gravel.  Then they self exfoliate.  In this case the hoof hasn't had the opportunity - so a gentle flick removes what nature would have.
  • A close up view shows you just how far the wall really extends above the hard sole plane.
  • In the cleaned up foot; see solar view, the flare and stretched white line have gone.  They were products of the overgrowth in this case.  You can see traces of the thrush - which can be cleaned out with salt water and cotton buds or a tooth brush.  If you look at the toe you can see how you can not bring that back any further without trashing the structure of the foot.  This is where some patience is required - we should facilitate correct hoof form, not attempt to force it on the foot.
  • In the side view - after you can see how the foot is still flared forward, but I hope you understand that you shouldn't just chop the end off to make it fit a human ideal
  • In the front view - after; try comparing the event lines with those from front view - before.  Now you can see just how much shorter that toe is.
This is a skilled job and this blog is not a 'how to trim'.  The pictures are for learning and discussion purposes only.  For interest and context - the foot in question belongs to a robust but not so young native pony.  He is out at night and in by day.  His carers are devoted to him and take care to feed him a low sugar high fibre diet.  His hoof horn quality is excellent, dense but able to flex appropriately when the hoof is loaded.  His feet have got so tall because his work load has suddenly decreased because of circumstances not to do with feet.  Of course it takes time for the hoof growth to slow down to match the decreased wear, so his feet have 'tin canned'. 

About Me

My photo
Southern England, United Kingdom