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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Thursday, 20 January 2011


Often overlooked, frequently misunderstood; movement is very important to building good, sound hooves.*  Ideally that movement should be as natural as possible, and when the hoof is healthy enough, as much as possible.  Endless circles on the lunge or around the menage in isolation won't cut it.

Hooves have evolved to support a heavy animal; at speed, over long distances, and in the performance of a variety of balletic and/or warring manoeuvres, every day .  It's a two way street, the movement builds the capability of the hooves and the hooves with healthy robustness, permit that movement to take place.

Lose one and you can lose the other; grow one with TLC and you will be rewarded by growing the other too.

In the good old days of Yore :-) the rule was always 6 weeks of road walking before anything else happened.  This wouldn't be a bad place to start with a transitional hoof, but your horse may need to wear boots while her hooves get into gear growth wise, build sole and generally develop.

More importantly the carer/exerciser needs to learn to listen to, observe and respect the feedback they are getting from their horse.  If she needs to go on softer ground, let her, if she says 'actually those stones are really ouchy' then use boots until she has the foot to cope without.

I can't give you a 'prescription' even though I know that is what many of us would love.  Every horse and her hooves are individual and so require their own movement plan. What I can say is that consistency is pretty important.  The hooves I see struggling are often short on consistency of movement.

Often there is a flurry of activity for a week or two and the hooves gear themselves up for more, only to be let down with a month or two of not very much, followed by another flurry.  This, sadly is not helpful.  Unless the horse is really really lucky, her hooves won't respond terribly well to this regime.  They need to work, they need to have an idea of what work is coming so they can grow sufficient quality and quantity of horn to cope.

If you can't provide consistency, then make sure you provide boots, just in case.

I've gone over my books (other people watch telly, play with the kids, have a life, I look at hoof porn), and time after time, it is the hardest working hooves that survive and thrive.

In the UK we have an expression 'on your bike', well for barefoot maybe it should be 'get that hoof moving!'
* In conversation with farrier this week, we were on the same page with this; very interesting discussion.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Thin soles - where there is a will.......

Austen, hope you don't mind, but this one is inspired by you and is for everyone out there who is banging their heads in frustration when their horse has thin soles.

Just bear in mind that one of the horses in the sole thickness post had incredibly compromised hooves, but even without boots we had the horse ready for work in just one summer. It can be done.  With a bit of patience and ear muffs (to ward off the mites.....).

Let's go back to DETECT.

Diet - every horse is an individual.  There are some basic principles which will set you on the right road, but you will need to figure out some of the specific twists and turns of your own horse.  Read the posts:

Health food won't hurt your horse, so cut the sugar, molasses, alfalfa, haylage and the wheatfeed.  Soak and rinse your hay if you have to.  A thin sole is a warning.  Ignore it at your horse's peril.  Especially if it goes in tandem with a stretched white line.

Some view supplements as the work of the devil, I guess some are.  I have to supplement because in the UK our grazing and forage is typically short of copper, zinc and magnesium to name but three.  Not all supplements are equal and not all horses do well on the same one.  Give it some time, read the labels.

Exercise - a hoof needs to move.  Not just plonking about a pasture/paddock/dry lot/stall.  But really move.  Think about what it has evolved for - 20 miles a day plus all the gymnastics involved in horsey family life.

Many newly deshod hooves just can't cope with real movement to start with.  They have been crippled.  You know how a broken leg loses muscle tone in a cast?  You get the idea.  So start with a graduated programme.  Boot for exercise if you need to. 

Make use of any surfaces you have to test progress, but be respectful and if your horse says no, then no it is.  I generally find that thin soled horses do well on very smooth tarmac (black top).  Even 20 minutes walking 3 X week will help build sole. If you don't have access to this, then concrete can be substituted, but tends to be more challenging, so it will take more sessions of shorter, gentler walks.  Don't trot until your horse can step on stones on the tarmac in walk without flinching.

Need to canter jump and let rip?  By all means, if your horse can otherwise cope, but do your canter work in boots, or in the school.  I am not convinced thin soled horses should be jumping and I am not convinced it is totally safe to jump in boots unless they are a good brand well fitted.

Time - to build a healthy hoof takes time.  Some take longer than others.  Footiness post dietary problems can be resolved within days/weeks.  Thin soles take a bit more work to grow the material required and work it into a tough, dense structure. It also takes time to figure out the right diet for your horse.  It takes time for the hoof to respond to the change in diet and work load.  Give it that time.  Take photos weekly, you will be surprised by the results, I can't promise they will always be happy surprises.

Environment - a hoof is responsive to the environment in which it lives. But that doesn't have to be a completely limiting factor.  I used to keep my gang on a field which was very wet (complete with spring and marsh grass).  But they got out most days to do road work and responded very well to this.  I have clients whose horses are living in very 'unhelpful' environments, but again they thrive if they get to do the work.  The ones that don't do so well usually have dietary issues.  Diet and exercise count for more in my book, although a great environment is really really helpful, a not so good one doesn't have to be the end of the world.

Communication - a two way process.  Unfortunately the BHS, parelli and others seem intent on making it one way.  I have been very firmly taught by a succession of incredibly bright horses that I will get on much better if I listen to them (which includes observation) and respect what they are trying to tell me.  It is not easy, I am a numpty, but my girls are patient and keep on trying so long as they feel I am trying.  In my mind there is nothing so sad as the horse with the blank/far away look; they have given up because no one listens. A bit like the kid who doesn't bother crying any more.

Sometimes the communication is very subtle.  Grace started off with just a tiny tiny lip wrinkle.  Now we have a full range, but it took a while.  Also observe posture, ears, hoof signs, etc etc, it all adds up.  They can have some sort of pain from their guts without it being full blown colic and all you will see is a swishy tail maybe, or resistance to saddling or frequent wood chewing.  Horses are co-operative by nature, if your horse isn't then find the reason why.

And if your horse is footy, find out why; check diet, but don't forget the obvious (like stones stuck in the foot).

Trim - boy are there some bad ones out there, but unless really dramatically awful, or regularly repeated, the damage can usually be grown out.  The best trim in the world won't 'cure' a thin sole, at least not overnight.  But a good trimmer can faciliate the hoof on its way to health and they should be able to advise you how you can help, without resorting to iron.

Whole hoof health, thin sole, contraction?

Ok, third post in 24 hours, can you tell I am supposed to be doing my tax return?

In response to query, how to spot contraction?  I find this easier to show in pictures and Grace was and continues to be an excellent study.

Again remember hooves can go both ways.  If I shod Grace or didn't manage her according to her needs they could go the other way just as easily.

Regarding thin soles; I hate to be boring, to sound like a nag or for anyone to feel exasperated/frustrated or worse, but it really is all about Diet and Exercise and a half way decent trim.  Unfortunately shoes tend to exacerbate (and often cause) the problem.  Partly from loss of circulation, partly from preventing the hoof mechanism working properly, sometimes because of how the farrier chooses which shoe to set and how it is set. And of course they mask a lot of problems without addressing cause. And any well trained, experienced hoof care professional will tell you the same.

Word of warning, because shoes mask problems and numb the feet a shod horse with a thin sole can be more at risk not less.  I know it is then popular to pad, but this is literally swopping one problem with another and generating more expense, whilst doing nothing at all to fix the cause.

Thin soles can be nightmareish, especially for some people in some areas, but if you stick to the AANHCP guidelines, shut out the Ear Mites and take a deep breath they can be fixed really quite quickly.  And if you are really struggling then boot, don't shoe.  Because boots won't restrict the circulation and you can take them off and put them on as needed, which allows the hoof to develop and grow during 'off' time.

Diet wise thin soles can be a reflection of inflammation caused by diet and/or other toxic overload. And a hoof which is never worked and kept permanently on soft surfaces never gets the chance to build up a good solid, dense layer.

I can't show it pictorially, but density is important.  As the (bare) hoof works over firmer surfaces the solar material compacts. I often think of felting as an analogy but then peeps tell me they don't know how that works. Others refer to 'callousing' but that doesn't really describe it either because that suggests hard places and soft places; whereas a properly worked hoof is hard and dense across the whole horny solar surface.
You could try thinking of hard plastic as opposed to bubble wrap?

This post shows a horse with a spectacularly contracted foot. In the solar view (with shoe) it is hard to tell just how thick the sole is (very with lots of chalk).

I am not sure this helps?  Let me know

Thin sole, thick sole?

In response to a request.  How to judge solar depth?  Without the training it can be hard to gauge sole depth and it is jolly difficult to do by photo.  Trust me, there are some horse care professionals who can't do it even with hoof in hand.

And solar thickness in isolation is not 'the answer'.  The hoof health has to be taken as a whole.  That said a thin sole is problematic.  Here are a few of the hooves I have worked on at various stages in their journey.

A random selection with a host of issues.  I make no comment on white line stretch, bruising, abscesses etc.

Some of the hooves were declared 'genetically' flat/thin.  You might be pleased to learn these got just as thick as the 'genetically' better ones, once the diet, exercise and so forth were improved.

Thought you might find the pictures interesting.  All hooves featured have thickened up.  Please note that hooves can go in the other direction just as fast.  If you are not sure how to judge depth, get an AANHCP trimmer to help you.

1 Decontracting, sole thickening

2 Oblique view of previous

3 Getting depth, lacks concavity

4 Recent deshod, flat, almost convex, quite thin, contracted

5 Thin, flexes under pressure

6 Thin, flexes under pressure, infected

7 Thick enough, getting concavity, decontracting

8 Very thin, very flexible, newly deshod

9 Very thin, very flexible, newly deshod

10 As previous

11 Thin, no concavity

12 Getting thicker, building concavity

13 Previous v.thin/flexy getting thicker & concavity, decontracting

14 As previous

15 As previous

16 Hind from earlier, thicker, some concavity, infection/splits gone

17 Previous, alternate view

18 Don't let overall shape mislead, thick enough

19 Thick enough, watch for false sole

20 Previous pancake flat getting thicker & developing concavity

21 As previous

22 Earlier hoof, thickening, more concave, no more flexing

23 Oblique view previous

24 Heel view previous

25 Thick enough, getting ready to exfoliate

26 Previous - layers of sole clearly visible

27 Previous - another view

28 Previous, stripes from boot, sole flaking naturally

29 Thick enough, flat, works mostly on road

30 Previously thin, getting thicker

31 Heel view previous

32 Gaining concavity, thickness, frog torn in accident, new frog underneath

33 Getting there, still contracted

34 Heel view previous

35 Very thin, very flexible, deshod day before

36 As previous

37 Progress of previous, a way to go yet

38 Getting there

39 Classic, traditional 'looks ok' but is actually quite thin

40 Classic, traditional 'looks ok' but is actually quite thin,
 but thicker than it was

You are not a bad barefoot 'parent' and 'Ear Mites'

People who know me well, will realise I think Supernanny Jo Frost rocks.  So much of what she says applies very well in the horse world.

If you make a mistake this doesn't make you a bad 'parent' (horse carer).  Even if you make the same mistake twice.  Going barefoot is easy for some, not so much for others, it is not a straight or rock free path to follow.

Feel guilty if you don't learn from your mistakes, or if you blame the horse for them.  In time you will learn to read the map (your horse's hooves) and avoid the really big rocks (really bad advice from some people).

And learn to ignore the 'Ear Mites'.  Those well intentioned (or not) individuals who don't understand your choices, maybe feel threatened by them and/or completely disrespect your point of view and are at pains to make you feel bad for trying to do the best for your horse.

Or you could do what I do............

And point to all the previously PTS sentenced horses that are now sound and working.  And if you don't know of any personally then there are one or two featured on this blog.  But you know, Houston Mounted Police Force does it for me.  Anyone who can argue with that result - well, what can I say!  (it sure isn't printable!) :-)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

The law of unintended consequences :-) which are the popular posts?

I have a habit of putting up titles for my posts that feel nice when said, or maybe are a reference to popular culture.

I also study my stats*. 

So guess my surprise at some of popular posts:-
  • Madam's feet
  • Madam goes jumpies
  • Great legs and gorgeous feet
And then it dawned on me (actually took a while).......  oh how disappointed some people must be.....  :-)

* Yes I know where some of my readers come from (more or less), you are not all completely anonymous! And you thought you only had to worry about Big Brother (BB) - well now you have to worry about the BT (Barefoot Trimmer) too :-)

Posting comments - professional standards

Regular readers of this blog will know that I tend only to comment on things I have experienced personally.  I am also do my best to be up front, (whilst respecting the privacy of my horse owners) and post warts and all.  I often don't post on the very worst cases, it is too painful for the owners (and me sometimes).

Now I have just had a comment from someone who wishes to remain anonymous, who is questioning whether shoes hurt horses.  I don't mind the question, but I reserve the right to not publish posts which may throw doubt on the professional standards of the poster, are offensive, are anon' and/ or possibly damaging to horse welfare. 

However to paraphase the (unpublished) post and respond.  Yes I do believe it is unacceptable to put shoes on horses in general, but particularly when the standard of workmanship is not up to scratch.  I don't understand the need to defend shoddy workmanship?

Do I believe poor farriery hurts horses?  Yes, but I also believe that poor trimming, poor horsemanship, poor nutrition also hurts horses.  I see the evidence almost every day, in lame horses that come sound when these issues are addressed.  It is not rocket science and there is little room for debate.  Sound or lame?  That is the question.

Thermography - Blood supply - shod v unshod

Somewhat shamedfaced I have half inched this image from a fellow AANHCP facebook page. Their text is spanish(?) or I would have just done a straight link. Mind you I think the pictures speak for themselves. Shod to the left, newly deshod to the right.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Speed of growth - how fast is fast enough, matching wear to growth

Rule of thumb, 1cm every four weeks.  Horses with compromised hooves may grow slower.  Some can grow a lot faster.

Photos below are six weeks apart.  Due to adverse weather horse has had virtually no exercise and limited turnout.

Note the event line on the side views and note the decontraction in the solar view.

Left hind 04 12 10

Left hind 09 01 11

Left hind 04 12 10

Left hind 09 01 11

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Update on Fred - 12 weeks post deshoeing

Right Fore Medial View - nail damage Oct 10


Left Hind Toe Oct 11

Left Hind Toe Jan 11

Left Hind Solar Oct 10

Left Hind Solar Jan 11

Fred was heading for 16hh thanks to his very tall feet and shoes. Now back down to somewhere nearer 15.2hh. No longer tripping and looking several years younger. Chronic thrush is slowing down his decontraction, but it is still happening.

Have a good look at the before and after photos and make your own mind up. I know which I would rather have.

Note: Previously shod by an award winning farrier; now barefoot trimmed according to AANHCP guidelines.

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Southern England, United Kingdom