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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Managing your microbes (or how to decrease horse farting..........)

Sorry guys but I promised a client I would post tonight about farts (and how to reduce them - in horses that is.)

One of the coincidental (or not) things I have noticed is that a horse with LGL or worse is usually a bit gassy (or may have been gassy in the immediate past). A horse with a happy tummy tends to have less gas - so fewer farts and just maybe, less incidence of LGL.

This is not a precise or even any kind of science. Just one of the things to watch out for when managing your horse for optimum health. Certainly since Grace has been on her mega low sugar and very high fibre diet she doesn't fart at all. Whereas client horses with high starch diets have a habit of dropping wet ones at the most inopportune moments, certainly I regularly sport a unique and unsaleable brand of hair gel. Maybe it is their way of getting their own back for me messing with their toes.

Anyway, enough of the locker room humour and onto the techy stuff.

Techy stuff

The equine Cecum is pretty big; 28-36 litres (7.4 - 9.5 US gallons) (6.2 - 7.9 UK gallons) and it is home to billions of microbes.

These microbes are reliant on their horse for protection as well as for nutrition. The horse’s diet provides the microbes in the cecum with an energy resource unusable by the horse. In turn, the end products of the microbes’ metabolism provide the horse with an energy resource.

Horses rely on the microbes in the cecum, to aid in digestion and to make nutrients available that would otherwise be unavailable through enzymatic digestion alone.

It has been observed that disruptions to the delicate balance of cecal microflora can have systemic effects on horses, including changes in fecal and blood pH levels, diarrhea, weight loss and lameness due to laminitis.

One common source of microbial imbalance occurs when a horse ingests a large amount of cereal grains or grass that is too rich in carbohydrates or starch. Such a carbohydrate overload is common in pasture-fed horses during the spring and summer when grass grows very rapidly. It is also common when horses are fed large amounts of cereal grains.

When the cecum is overloaded with sugars/starches certain bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Streptococcus bovis over grow, resulting in an increase in lactic acid production and an overall change in bacterial populations as pH levels decrease. (Rowe)

The exact mechanism of laminitis is still not fully understood.  Fortunately for us, we don't really need to know, we just need to keep the microbes happy so the that unhappy chain of events that lead to founder never get started.  (Also read this blog entry.)

So - keep the farts to the minimum, feed your horse the diet he was designed for.  Low sugar/starch and high in fibre please :-)

Important note
If your horse is lacking in energy - before you whack extra carbs into his diet, consider reducing them instead.  Sugar overload is exhausting.  The bacteria in the cecum are disturbed, digestion goes haywire and the horse actually gets deprived of nutrients rather than getting extra.  You may find your horse sleeping more, or standing around with head hanging; maybe with a slightly hungover expression.  If you get any of these, cut the sugar as a first option, give it a few days and then reevaluate.

If your horse is losing weight then add safe energy - always fibre first.  If they can't chew another blade then add a low sugar/starch food source such as linseed (flax seed in the US).

Fibre digestion keeps a horse warm too, so you won't need as many (or maybe any) rugs.

Deviated hooves and an abscess - updates

Regular readers may remember the interesting hoof that both lost a quarter to an abscess and deviated somewhat wildly to the medial side.

I didn't think that hoof could get much prettier than it was in September when I last posted about it.  I was wrong.......

Abscessed and deviated in April - hoof as is today

Abscessed and deviated in April - hoof as is today

It will be interesting to see how the hoof copes with a reduced workload over the winter.

The attached horse lives very simply on the recommended barefoot diet and is out 24/7 on average UK type grass.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Successful barefoot - putting the horse first

Left hind front day one

Left hind front plus 5 months
Left hind solar day one

Left hind solar plus 5 months

Putting the horse first
One of the things that will make/break a barefooter is the ability to take responsibility.  The other is the wisdom to put the horse first. 

The foot in the photos is attached to a horse cared for by the most wonderful person.  The first thought when the horse was footy was:

'How can we make them better?' rather than:

'Damn I can't ride!'.

And I've seen for myself time and again how this approach leads to a sounder, happier horse and if the partnership chooses; more riding hours.

I hope you can see how the hoof in the 5 month photos is much healthier than at the start of this particular journey.  Especially look at the solar view - the frog is no longer ragged with thrush, the white line is less stretched, the seedy toe is slowly growing out and the back of the foot is bulking out nicely.  Note the horse lives out 24/7 in all weathers on grass.

When I first saw this horse it was suffering chronic hind leg lameness.  So long as we maintain the roll, this is no longer an issue and the horse has been happily in work.

But the every journey has its downs as well as ups and today we found the horse a bit sore from thrush in a front foot.  But as it is bare, the soreness is soon noticed and the problem can be more readily resolved.

Here is wishing a very special partnership all the best.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Self trimming - here is how I do it with a horse at livery

Prompted by Wolfie (thanks hon) - how do we get our horses self trimming?

Let's put aside those blessed with superb turnout for their horses, a track or paddock paradise system - that's just making it too easy!

Before I knew anything about anything I did, at various non injured times, have my old Grey Mare self trimming.  We did this by doing hours and hours and hours of roadwork.  For those who believe that barefooters can only work on soft surfaces and have to restrict roadwork - that is a myth.  The biggest problem I have with clients is them not doing enough work with their horses.  But like any exercise - you have to build it up, not go mad on day one and wonder why day two is ouchy.

Now Grace is self trimming too.  To be honest I have been so wrapped up in managing her laminitis and EPSM I haven't been focused on self trimming as a goal.  It has been a by-product of the consistency of management/exercise that her metabolic conditions require.  (Every cloud has a silver lining if you look hard enough.)

Grace is kept at livery, with many hours in her stable on rubber mats with whatever supplementary bedding has caught my fancy.  When permanently stabled (a necessary evil at times) because of the dairy grass round here, Grace is exercised at least twice a day, sometimes more.  With the colder weather she has been turning out and I have cut her exercise right down (to be honest this isn't working too well because of the EPSM.)

The surfaces we have here are very average for the UK.  Farm tracks of whatever hardcore was cheapest/to hand at the time of building.  Concrete yarding and sand/rubber menage. Whether working or not I try and give Grace a 20 minute walk in hand every day over as many different surfaces as possible.  Depending on how well we have managed her sugar/starch intake she is sometimes rock crunching and at others finds stones over a hard surface a little difficult (and at these times we can boot if we need).

So to get your horse self trimming - feed them right, work them hard, mix and match your surfaces.  Simples! :-)

Oh and 'technically' she has 'cr*p' feet, but you know she doesn't let it bother her, she just gets on with being a horse.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Amazing Grace

Day after deshoeing (note broken nail)

13 months later, self trimming

Rolled - coronary deviation will drop out in a few days

This is my EPSM and lami horse. The one that nearly went for pies.

The lami is managed through diet and exercise. As with cobblers children, unfortunately Grace is the last one to get trimmed. But she has reached the giddy heights of being almost self trimming, which is a relief for me because her feet are really tough. I just have to roll them from time to time and keep the quarters managed.

'Houston - we have touch down.........'

Or bearing in mind the rain yesterday and the fact that Apollo 13 landed in the sea, perhaps that should be 'splash down'.

Remember Fred?  He of the staggeringly high heels that made Victoria Beckham look like an amateur in the stiletto stakes?

Fred has been out of shoes for 12 days.  He is being exercised and is sound, including over limestone chippings.  I have recommended a restricted regime to give him a chance to adjust to his new style feet and he will start a 'foot fitness' programme.  Fred no longer trips.

If you are not an experienced barefooter - don't worry he hasn't worn his feet down to the bone - they are gradually reaching the height and shape they should be.  It will be a while before they are fully restored to full foot health, but Fred is well on the way.  And he is certainly very happy and sound, which is what matters.

More photos over the next week or so.

Hind side view day with shoe day one

Hind side view 12 days post deshoeing

Hind heel with shoe day one

Hind heel 12 days post deshoeing

Sunday, 24 October 2010

And the good news is

We have another horse come sound.

As alway no names no finger pointing, just the facts as related to me, so we can all learn and hopefully more horses can lead healthy, productive iron free lives.

So scenario is:

Young, unbroken, furry
Acute lameness, one fore with heat
Diagnosis unclear, but vet and other equine professional advice was to shoe

Carer sought third opinion from an AANHCP member, who (to cut long story short) advised a diet change.

I was called for a visual consult.

Solar before

Heel before

Solar after

This horse was not horribly trimmed, in fact it was by far one of the better 'pasture' trims I have seen.  The heels were not staggeringly high and had a reasonable balance.  But the horse at this point was still lame.

The carer and I talked things through and the carer requested a trim.

One of the things you will notice in the 'before' solar and heel shots is the stretch in the white line.  Not the worst but not 'tight' either.  Once the crud was removed there was evidence of blood in the white line of the sore foot.  So the previous advice to amend the diet was right on the nail (no pun intended).

The trim was completed in accordance with the AANHCP guidelines and future diet and exercise were discussed.

Both I and the owner were delighted when the horse came sound.  And from the feedback I have received he is continuing to be sound over a variety of quite challenging surfaces including the dreaded limestone chippings.

It's the apparently small things that make all the difference - tweak the diet, get a proper roll, keep the heels where they should be.  And none of these cost a fortune.

Swamp foot and a hair shirt

I was going to call this 'Florida foot', but as I've never been to Florida, I thought that unwise. However I do have trimming colleagues in Florida who have told me about some of the challenges they face over the pond which is what inspired the thinking (I'll get to the point shortly!).

Now being somewhat long in the tooth and silver of hair I have managed horses in a variety of conditions and made all the usual mistakes. I'm not proud of them, but I do hope I have learnt from them and that by being open about my errors that others can avoid being equally daft.

So before I knew any better I fed my horses things with molasses in them, have let my horses feet grow too long, over rugged, under rugged, not fully understood the consequences of thrush - you name it, I've been around a long time, so I have a long list (and the hair shirt to go with it).

Well I've just added to the list. And I am hoping you guys will realise my mistake and not make it yourselves.

Saw a horse who has previously had pretty good feet. Growing out some issues but nothing too dramatic. As the horse has had some time off there was a bit of chalk to remove and I noticed that the white line had gone from 'standard a bit bit stretched' to really quite stretched, which I pointed out to the carer. I should have stopped then. Because the next bit is horrible. Took off a bit of chalk in the seat of corn and the foot bled. Not huge amounts but not a good thing. The site was so small it couldn't actually be seen and stopped really quickly. But why did it happen in the first place?

Well we will never really know but these are the things that had happened in the time between trims:

Diet change
Intense rain resulting in swampy mud underfoot (hence swamp foot)
More grass
Less exercise

Any one of these can have an impact on the structural integrity of a foot. Although a healthy foot can cope with any one of these in moderation, in retrospect I think a compromised foot faced with all of these has been over challenged.

In future I will be quicker to understand the possibilities.

So going forward the carer is going to reinvigorate the horse's diet, restrict access to grass and will be cautious, but continue to exercise on good surfaces.

Ideally we need to find somewhere dry for the horse to stand and steps are being taken to do this, but it will take too long to be of immediate help.

And me? Well the next time I find a horse with a stretched white line that is stood in mud I am going to run like hell....... no seriously - I will probably leave the chalk in until we have got the situation under control and know more about what is underneath.

Horse wellies anyone?

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Contracted tall hooves

Right hind shod six weeks previous

Right hind initial trim

Right hind solar with shoe

Right hind deshod before trim

Right hind heels

Right hind partially cleaned

Right hind solar initial trim

This is a hind foot from the tall footed horse in 'Tripping'  . To be honest you can see feet like this on most large yards. Now I often read on forums that abc breed is unsuitable for barefoot because of xyz. I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that some breeds are particularly unsuited to being shod. Because the challenges seen above seem to happen to them more often. But maybe that is just the luck of my draw.

The second photo shows the side view post initial trim - can you see the quarter scoop (ok it is kind of hard to miss). On some horses it is barely noticeable. This guy needed something more substantial. If a horse needs a QS and doesn't get it then in my experience the coronary band becomes pushed up (distorted) and quarter cracks and bruising can result; depending on what else is going on. When the quarter is relieved the distortion in the coronary band usually drops out quite quickly.

Just looking at the flat solar shots - well again you see this every day - it is accepted as normal.  I don't know many people with shod horses who would really think twice on the initial shod solar view.  I didn't use to(about 20 years ago mind.)

But if you then look at the heel view - now you can start to see that the foot is contracted, the walls are tall and the thrushy frog is getting buried in sole.

The next picture is designed to show you what the foot looks like when just the chalky sole has been cleaned out.  Hopefully you will get an idea of the depth (remember you can make the pictures bigger by clicking on them) and if you look at the far wall in the heel/quarter area you can see that it rises above the sole by a good 1cm (not quite half inch for the US).  We could have probably got more sole out, but I allow the horse two weeks or so to self exfoliate (and for the owner to get used to the changes) before coming back and checking progress and doing any further trimming required at that stage.

Often with these cases the foot undergoes rapid change in the early weeks and usually the horse is just fine, but the owner might get anxious.  It is important that they know I am coming out so that they can ask questions in the flesh.

If you can, try expanding the photo of the Right hind solar initial trim (the last picture).  Look at top left hand side where the nail holes are.  It would appear that two of the nails were inside the water line, this means they were in the white line; ie in the equine equivalent of the nail bed. It happens more often than is talked about.  Don't blame the farriers, it is almost inevitable that it will happen sometimes. (But do blame the habit of nailing things to living tissue.)

On a technical note and for reasons I can not explain (!) this entire trim was done only with nippers and rasp, no knife involved. Although if you saw the state of my wrists you might think that was a good idea! :-)

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

First trim post shoe removal from very tall/long foot

Shod six weeks previous

Shoe just removed

First trim

The owner of this horse has been incredibly brave and courageous in sticking up for the health of her horse, even though she was nervous of the unknown and had some local hostility.

These two factors alone are sufficient cause for many people not to try taking their horses shoes off. And when you look at this horse with shoes on; you can add fear of how the horse will adapt to a new shorter foot when his current feet are so long and distorted.

The answer as always is to facilitate nature, not force it. So when we took the shoe off we only removed what horn was ready to come. There was no cutting into 'live' tissue or any attempt to make the foot a predetermined shape. We just followed nature's guide. (In accordance with AANHCP principles.)

You will be pleased to know the horse walked away sound (and not tripping), over limestone chippings which are a tough surface, and disappeared into the night. The next day or so his owner contacted me to report that he has been seen hurtling round his field galloping and bucking which he has never done before. This is why in my 'Ouch' notes I mention the possiblity of the horse straining themselves post shoe removal. It is quite common for them to kick their heels up in joy :-)

There is a lot more to do for this foot, but we will have to give it time to heal. I'll be seeing them again soon and will post update pictures when I have them.

Monday, 18 October 2010


There are lots of reasons why a horse trips.  But a very common one is poor foot form. So let's use the foot from yesterday as an example -and provide the extra shots requested.

Compare this foot with the mustang foot
Heel in suspension
Coronary band distorted
Quarters need relieving
Very long/tall
Toe heavily rasped

Although this is a hind foot (and hinds have a slightly different shape), you can see how the relationship with the red rectangle are quite different to those of Fred's front.  From this view and for the purpose of comparing relationships the fact that one is a hind and the other a front doesn't matter too much.
Hoof does not appear balanced
Outer wall heavily rasped, inner wall can be seen at toe
Event lines

Shoe slipped
Impinging on frog

Heel very high
Lateral cartilages skinny and under developed

Remember the owner has done her very best to seek professional advice for her horse and the farrier has done their best too, according to how they have been trained. The purpose of this blog is not to point fingers or criticise, but to try and illustrate good and bad examples of hoof form, so that we can all do a better job of caring for our horses in the future.

After all, the welfare of our horses comes first.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

What would you think?

Met a truly fab lady the other day who clearly loves her horse (we will call him Fred) and puts his needs first.  They are both just beginning the journey that so many of us have found ourselves on.  The scenario goes like this:

Fred  is constantly tripping, has had two abscesses in one year and maggots in one foot.  His carer has sought professional advice from more than one source, but Fred continues to trip.  Fred is shod every six weeks, seen by a vet when needed and has every care and attention lavished on him.

Because so many of us start the barefoot journey with similar scenarios I thought it might be useful to hand over the commentary to readers for this one.  So just based on the picture below; what would you think and what other views of the hoof would you like to see?

And on behalf of all readers and the horses that benefit - thank you to Carer and Fred for allowing us to use these photos.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Hooves and health

Start front
+ 10 weeks front

Start side/quarter

+ 10 weeks side/quarter



Start solar

+ 10 weeks solar

Start heel

+ 10 weeks heel

The horn quality on this hoof became too poor to hold a shoe. The deep event lines, the poor quality horn and heavy rasping of the toe are indicators that something somewhere is not right and it is probably, but not necessarily diet related. Some farriers will rasp out a toe to try and correct what they know to be a bad angle - but it is far more effective (and correct) to grow a good angle to start with.

10 weeks on, with a new diet it can be seen that the top half of the hoof has fewer event lines. The new horn has a better texture and the colours are more clearly defined and the darker shades have a deeper hue.

When first seen the coronary bands on this horses hooves wer almost horizontal, (a little earlier tthan the first photos in the entry but the camera with them on suffered my usual techno trauma). Here it can be seen hhow the hoof is adopting a more natural form. A lot of the change is self determined - as the shoes have been removed - but this has been helped by a correct trim according to the principles of the AANHCP. In particular the heels were lowered and the quarters relieved.

Although the heel views are not the same - I think you will be able to see how the central sulcus has filled out, cleared of thrush thanks to the determined efforts of the main carer. What is particularly interesting is that although the hoof horn in the heel area is shorter, the heel itself is bigger, more robust, 'beefy'. So the 'big' heel which some try to achieve by leaving the heel horn high, has been achieved by building up the back of the foot. This will allow the hoof to function much more effectively.

Although this is a challenging case - it still rocks! Best wishes and all the best to this horse and their people.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Is it the rain? We've shrunk another one............. :-)

Forgive the rubbish picture. I wanted to experiment with something and I don't have the technology. Or I might have but don't know it, so I have hashed something together with PowerPoint.  If you want you can get a bigger version by clicking on the picture.

What you see is the same foot, first with a shoe on and second after 3-4 months of 'facilitative' hoof care. The four red lines are all the same length. Hopefully this will give a better perspective of how the hoof has changed when it has been allowed to grow the shape it wants to.

This foot has had many issues, not least paper thin walls and soles. But the transition has been ok, albeit tricky. Fortunately the owner has put the horse's welfare first and has been careful and considerate. The horse is now hacking out over the better surfaces without boots. Stones on a hard surface are still challenging, but we are getting there. 

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Ballerina feet - minis go en pointe

Even the little guys need good foot care.  But the trouble is if you have a mini it can be hard to find.  I don't know why, but many foot care specialists can't be bothered with them.  Personally I love the little guys, even when they like to blunt their teeth on my backside :-)
Side before

Side after

Heels before
Solar before

Solar after

This mini had 'classic' traditionally trimmed feet - something I see on horses of all sizes - so you could argue he had been treated just the same (unfortunately). Much longer headed in this direction and he would have been in danger of knuckling over.

We lowered the heels and rolled the tiniest walls ever. Took a bit of finesse but the little guy walked off better afterwards.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

News Flash - lameness a case study

This horse which had been very lame with undiagnosed laminitis type symptoms for at least 8 months, is now hacking out sound after just 3 months barefoot.  The owner is delighted, the vet wants to use the horse as a 'show case', and best of all the horse is happy :-)

What did we do?

Changed the diet
Soaked the hay
Restricted access to grass with a grazing muzzle
Instituted an appropriate exercise programme
Maintained comfort for the horse at all times
Trimmed in accordance with AANHCP guidelines

What didn't we do?

Confine to the stable 24/7
Radical or unnatural trimming
Spend a lot of money

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Southern England, United Kingdom