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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Hind foot shape change

Just deshod Beg Sep 09

End Nov 10

Apologies for the different views. I just happened to grab the second picture on my phone this evening and thought it worth sharing.

I actually took it because just 20 days ago Grace lost a huge chunk of frog in a field accident.

Note how the same hoof has different shapes in each photo.

Sep 09 is sporting blood in the toe. The toe is oddly square - showing how shoes can change the natural shape of the hoof. And there is a big chunk missing from the quarter. The bars are overlaid, the sole completely flat and the heels are contracted.

Nov 10 - no blood and the toe is naturally rounded. There is natural concavity (grown not cut), the heel is no longer contracted. This hoof could benefit from working on rougher surfaces or a modest trim, the frog has been shredded by a field accident, but is otherwise very firm, solid and healthy.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Are you being kept in the dark?

Reason I ask - couple of conversations recently made me realise that with shoes covering up our horses feet we really have little idea of what is going on underneath and often during the shoeing process we are not always encouraged to have a good look or ask questions.

So just to get the thought process flowing - have a look at the two pictures above. Recently deshod, not trimmed because the hoof carer was concerned there was nothing to take off.

Your thoughts please - no wrong answers as such. I will post more on this in a few days.

Monday, 22 November 2010

If I kiss this frog will I find my prince?

Frog of left hind 21 11 10
Right hind 11 11 10

Frog right hind 21 11 10

Detail frog apex 11 11 10

Detail frog apex 21 11 10

Usually when you see a tattered frog it has been ravaged by thrush. In this case the frog has been sliced through by a chunk of tarmac/ashphalt (black top). Twice.

So as an example of how quickly things can progress we have two sets of photos just 10 days apart.

The first photo shows the frog on the other hind. The sliced one looked like this too, before Grace decided to play reining pony.

The frog in photo two was down to the 'quick' at the apex and very squidgy to the touch and if I pressed I think it hurt a bit. Ten days later, photo three and the new apex can be seen sticking up a little black snout. The whole frog is very solid, hard rubber to the touch and even hefty probing provokes no pain.

Photos four and five show the apex in more detail.

The horse has been sound throughout.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Hind gut acidosis - learn to love your microbes

And you thought that all you had to worry about was your horse?

They might not be fluffy and cuddly and have super cute silvery moustaches, but the microbes in your horses gut deserve your love...... :-)  if only because keeping them healthy helps keep your horse healthy too.

You'd be forgiven for thinking I've given microbes quite enough attention in this earlier post.  I certainly did, but some recent conversations with various horsey peeps including experienced professionals made me realise just how little is known about hind gut acidosis (where the hind gut becomes too acidic).

The symptoms of hind gut acidosis can range from mild short term 'not quite right' to reduced appetite, mild colic symptoms, diarrhoea, development of repetative behaviours such as wood chewing, weaving, and box walking,weight loss, reduced performance and according to some sources eventually laminitis.  The first thing you may notice is sour smelling, loose droppings.

Techy Stuff

The equine digestive system alters ph along its length; the stomach is acidic, the cecum is relatively neutral and the colon is alkaline.

The beneficial fibre digesting bacteria in the cecum such as Ruminococcus albus and Fibrobacter succinogenes are sensitive to decreases in pH. For optimal performance, these bacteria prefer an environment with a pH between 6.5 and 7.0.  When pH drops below 6.0, which is often the case with subclinical acidosis, fibre digesting bacteria become less efficient and begin to die off.

In contrast, lactate-producing and lactate-utilizing bacteria thrive in an environment with a low pH.  Certain microorganisms such as Streptococcus bovis actually shift their metabolism and produce lactic acid rather than VFA (volatile fatty acids) when exposed to acidic conditions, serving only to compound the problem.

Some research uses ph testing of droppings to test for cecal acidosis, but this doesn't appear to be a widespread, general practice.  Certainly a number of vets I have spoken to were not that familiar with the practice, but I can't help but think I might try it, just to see what I get.

Hind gut acidosis is usually triggered by over ingestion of sugars/starches.  There is some anecdotal evidence that other factors, such as stress or over use of antibiotics may also be implicated.

If you suspect your horse has hind gut acidosis, and you know you are not over feeding sugars/starches, then please speak to your vet about potential causes and how to manage them.  Acidosis is not trivial and shouldn't be ignored.

Personal note
My own horse Grace arrived with sour smelling droppings and had them for ages, months even.  At first I just dismissed it as 'normal for her'.  Now I know it is not normal and I can help her by feeding a 'proper' good quality probiotic. (As well as watching her diet etc).

Grace also makes me think about causes, her diet could not practically be any lower in sugar/starch, but she still on occasion gets rancid droppings.  I pretty much have these incidents tied into stressful episodes.  So as I can not predict when Grace will stress out, I now feed probiotics routinely.  A little expensive, but better than her being ill.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Mind your language - laminitis/LGL/Sub Clinical Laminitis

No pictures today.  Just a bit of a health warning.

You have probably realised that the words laminitis and navicular are used a lot. But unfortunately they mean very different things depending on who is using them.

For example there has been some research publicised this year which promotes the finding that fructans do not cause laminitis.  Now this might very well be the case.  But for this particular piece of research the definition of laminitis does not include all those horses which we barefooters observe going footy after X length time out on grass.  The definition for the research is quite limited and only includes (if I understand my source correctly) cases where there has been (their words not mine) rotation of the pedal bone.

My source tells me that for the purposes of the research (and in other areas too) laminitis is viewed in the same way as a heart attack; kind of on or off.  It is not viewed as something with a continum.  So the spectrum of symptoms/degrees of problem that many barefooters are so familiar with are not recognised by the veterinary community involved in the research.  Or if a back office technician wants to recognise it they are not allowed to because of the directives they are working under.

Second element of health warning.  The research also promotes the idea that obesity alone is the causal factor for laminitis.  This research seems to quietly ignore all the thin horses that get laminitis and the separate piece of research that shows that a high proportion of in work/fit racehorses also have sub clinicial laminitis.  I did raise this point and it is not that the researchers are unaware of these points, but they don't fit the story and are not allowed to discuss them. Which naturally makes me then question the research; because research shouldn't have an agenda and findings should not (in my opinion) be reported 'pick and mix' style.

So what does the research show?  Well to be grossly over simplistic; if you put a large and completely unnatural bolus of fructans by stomach tube into a horse then they won't get rotation of the pedal bone.  And that is about it - from a practical point of view.

How does it help the barefooter who knows that 30 mins on spring/summer grass will make their thin/fit horse lame?  Not at all. So it is back to bare paddocks and grazing muzzles for now.

Now onto 'navicular'.  Not everyone is aware that the diagnosis of 'navicular' is a rather loose one.  That changes to the navicular bone on x-ray can be pretty meaningless, that lots of horses have changes and are perfectly sound and lots don't have changes and are lame.  Equally 'navicular disease' is confused with 'navicular syndrome'.  Again unfortunately the latter tends to be the diagnosis when the horse has caudal heel pain (pain in the back of the foot) and the source of pain can not be identified.

What research does show is that soft tissue damage of the DDFT happens in advance of damage to the navicular bone.  What is starting to happen is that people (a very small minority) are realising that poor foot health is a key contributor and if the foot is brought back to health (yes you have guessed, good diet, appropriate exercise, natural trim) then the symptoms resolve.  No need for drugs or expensive shoes.

But it is important to distinguish between 'disease'; usually referring to damage to the navicular bone and 'syndrome' which is a catch all that sometimes involves damage to the DDFT but not always. I don't know anyone who is claiming that the barefoot approach mends diseased bones.

Please also be aware that 'syndrome' can include any kind of caudal heel pain, even if the horse only actually has a bad case of thrush. (and that comes from personal experience)

So in summary be very careful to check that when you are having a discussion about laminitis or navicular that all parties are talking about the same thing.  Unfortunately at the moment, it can't be guaranteed.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Hoof pastern axis

These photos are terrible - sorry - but for today the detail is not so important - we are talking bigger picture - in every sense of the word.

Just an aside - using my cameraphone which has been in two loos and a bucket of water and it still works! But being just a cameraphone it struggles with the confines of Grace's stable.

Having a discussion with a foot specialist vet a few weeks back and naturally we got to technology, in particular x-rays, MRI scans and of course their impact on trimming.  One of the points the vet made which I think worth passing on is how misleading the technology can be.  For illustrative purposes we talked about hoof pastern axis.

Now I like my clients horses to end up with a naturally full square stance.  Many start off with their legs all over the place, usually trying to cope with undiagnosed pain.  Particularly common is having one or both fore limbs tucked slightly behind the vertical.  Rectifying this usually means finding the source of pain and dealing with it; however that may be - but it is often deep central sulcus thrush.  Othertimes it might be a corn, or just sky high heels that are forcing the foot and leg out of balance.

The vet's point was that if the limb being x-rayed wasn't properly set up, and in their opinion the very act of putting the foot on blocks destroys the natural stance, then the x-ray can be misleading. Didn't go on to explain how to fix this though.  I'll try and get that next time.

The trouble is; if your horse has pain in the back of the foot they may stand with the limb out of true.  With this stance you may be told your horse has a problem with their pastern axis.  Which is true.  But the common treatment of wedges and/or 'remedial' shoes don't actually address the problem.  They can make it worse.

Below are the terrible pictures I promised, showing the same foot seconds apart.  The horse doesn't have thrush and wasn't manipulated in any way for the pictures.  Grace was eating and no one with any sense interrupts her when she is chowing down.  The image with the broken axis is when she is leaning forward and the better one is when she is standing more upright, chewing.  This is her left fore - can't remember the last time I trimmed it (well rolled really).  It is about time I gave it a slight tidy, if only for aesthetics, but it is working for her just fine for the minute - although I think trouble is brewing - we will see in due course.

Left leaning forward, right stood upright

Crumbling hooves

The farrier refused to shoe this horse any more because the wall quality was too poor (my hat off to the guy for being so honest).

Hefty event lines, crumbly walls the texture of cardboard, quite a bit of bruising, washed out colours, they all add their clues.

This is a work in progress of which we may never see the end.  But here are photos just a few months apart.

Note the changes in angle, event lines, colour, texture.  No bruises particularly in these views, but the other views have quite a few.

LF side beg Aug 10

LF side mid Oct 10

RH solar beg Aug 10
RH solar mid Oct 10

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Robust health really helps - what happens when your horse cuts its frog off

Depth of sole where frog apex missing approx 1cm (0.4 inch)

Detail of where apex of frog missing

My focus with Grace is maintaining her in good general health; a task complicated by EPSM, a tendancy towards laminitis and a yard which is completely unsuitable for a 'metabolic' horse. Her feet get no special attention beyond a daily scrub with salt water and walking over a variety of surfaces.

Her basically ok general health is currently standing her feet in good stead. We have had to battle an onslaught of crab apples in her field and the quarter horse part of her brain has decided to practice sliding stops. Fine in a sand arena, not so much in a sloping field with thick mud dotted with large (4x4) chunks of tarmac (black top).

She has twice sliced her right hind frog, this time removing the apex entirely. Although there are large bits missing, what is left is solid, leathery and dense. The only bit I am a bit concerned about is the apex where the damage is greatest.

These feet are a good example of how the hooves are a window to health. The sensitivity to sugar is showing in the slight white line stretch and the solar ridge. But her high quality forage based diet has given her the nutrition she needs to build good horn and frog. Even if she does try to destroy it with her adventures.

I am going to carry on as usual, but I will pay special attention to looking out for any infections/thrush because her frog is temporarily more vulnerable.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sub Clinical Laminitis - happy days

Very quickly as I have to dash...........


You know want to know why? - Because they have openly acknowledged the existance of sub clinical laminitis.  Have it in writing in a glossy newsletter they have just sent out.

Yippee!  May all vets become equally enlightened.

Want to know who they are?


tell them you love them and tell them I sent you :-)

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Southern England, United Kingdom