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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Saturday, 28 May 2011

And my (old) vet said

LF April 10 - corn, sole thin at toe, weak heels,
spoon shaped
LH April 10
RF April 10
RH April 10 - apologies for poo!
LF - May 11, 5 days post GH, more
concavity, sole thicker, heel bulbs
developed, wider at heel
LH - May 11 5 days post GH
RF - May 11 5 days post GH
RH - May 11, 5 days post GH


........... "Horses can do everything barefoot except Endurance."

The May 11 hooves are 5 days post the Golden Horseshoe.  80km in two days over a stoney moor*.  Although the owner reports it is not as stoney as their regular training ground.  Horse vetted sound with a Silver, missing Gold by one heart beat.  The icing on the cake was the compliments from the vet on the hooves! :-)

Maybe if my original vet were still practicing today he would change his mind?  He was pretty open minded and pragmatic so I like to think so.

* I took this horse on as a client April 10.  Previously always ridden out in boots as always a bit footy.  Diet change and a few modifications to hoof care and what a difference a year makes.  Owner is incredibly dedicated and it wouldn't work without their ability to manage their horse.  Horse lives out 24/7, until recently in regular grass livery.  Now on a grass track.

Saturday, 21 May 2011


There seems to be a hell of a lot of confusion about flare.  Certainly conversations with my clients makes me realise it has become a dangerous term to use unless both parties are absolutely certain they are discussing the same thing.   So for the purpose of this post I am going to try to be more specific.

Many of the horses I deal with suffer from white line stretch.  This largely occurs because the lamellar bonds have been weakened, generally but not always from dietary disturbance.  I'll cover this in more detail in a future post.  For now stick with the idea that the lamellar bonds are compromised and a visual clue is that the white line is now wider than the edge of a credit card.

Other horses, in squaring off their toes create a hoof wall which has an uneven thickness.  The solar view may show a thicker hoof wall at '10am' and '2pm'.  For horses that don't move perfectly straight this might be '9am' and '1pm' or '11am' and '3pm' but you get the general idea.  The hoof wall in between has been worn thinner, creating 'corners' at either end of the thin section.

Much more rarely and I don't really see this in the South East, although I have seen it on my travels, the hoof wall grows at significantly variable thicknesses.

And then there is what looks like 'flare' from the outside but is actually nothing of the kind.  An update on this hoof is here.  Let's call this a 'deviation'.

On various occasions I have heard each of these scenarios described as 'flare'.  As each needs a different approach I think it is important to label/understand them more clearly to ensure the correct techniques are adopted.

Starting with the last scenario first - a deviated hoof.  More than one person has suggested that this foot should be tackled by rasping the outer hoof wall.  But check out the solar view - can you see what would happen if this were doneThe hoof wall would be substantially weakened, possibly badly compromised and the deviation would still be there.  Only with a weakened hoof wall the hoof would be less able to continue with the (fairly substantial) work load the horse currently enjoys - completely boot free over all sorts of surfaces.

Continuing my backwards theme.......  the uneven thickness of hoof wall (which I don't see much of these days).  If this is significant and likely to cause problems as it grows out then this can be dressed out, but extreme care needs to be taken as over enthusiasm can leave the hoof wall compromised.  Less is more.

Squared off toes.  I see this most often in horses that do a lot of straight line work on more abrasive surfaces and those that are seeking to bring their breakover back.  If the 'corners' are left they can break off leaving a ragged and unsightly edge.  Usually this causes the humans more problem than the horses.  Sometimes, especially if the horn quality is very plastic, a nasty tear can result.  If the hooves are very tough and the corners don't snap off then they can interfere with the horse's ability to move efficiently.  Corners are dealt with as part of the normal roll process.  The hoof should not need dressing higher up as there is no uneven wall thickness, just uneven wear.

White line stretch.  Now bear in mind you are dealing with a horse that has compromised feet.  Sometimes substantially compromised.  Along with the white line stretch there may be quite poor hoof quality, depending on how long the horse has been in distress.  I have seen some real shockers where the whole capsule reminds me of one of those chicken eggs with a weak shell.  Dealing with this by rasping the outer hoof wall is unhelpful at best.

There are but two things to do.  Remove the causal factor which is usually but not always diet related.  Grow down a tightly bonded hoof capsule (see posts on healing angle). And trim the hoof according to AANHCP guidelines, removing only what nature would have done given the chance.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Help my horse has gone footy

Footiness is a mixed blessing.  Now don't get me wrong, we would all rather our horses never got footy.  But with the barefoot horse it's a really useful early indicator of something going wrong.  And this is something that I think a lot of people don't quite grasp. 

Footiness is a symptom of less than perfect health.  Sometimes only minor, sometimes something more.  But less than perfect health nevertheless. 

This is a quick list of things to consider:
  1. too much grass
  2. impact on grass of change in environment (rain after drought, several days of frost, fertilizer)
  3. too much sugary/starchy feed
  4. sugary hay (for cool season grasses)
  5. other non specific dietary upset
  6. course of antibiotics
  7. thrush
  8. bruise
  9. corn
  10. abscess brewing
  11. sole been thinned by inappropriate trimming
  12. foot overdue for trimming
Generally speaking if you can remove the causal factor the footiness will resolve within days, although some will take a couple of weeks.  If in doubt always consult with your vet.

But please don't be tempted to shoe until you know what the problem is - you may resolve the footy symptom, but you won't resolve the cause and without the footiness to guide you, you won't know if your horse has been restored to better health.

If you are determined to shoe (and of course I'd counsel against) then only shoe a sound horse.

Friday, 13 May 2011


Aug 10 - slightly contracted - note lack of substance and the
groove between bulbs

Aug 10 solar view of above - note weak butresses and
deep central sulcus

Oct 10 - heels decontracted - note how groove has disappeared

Oct 10 solar view of above - note changes to buttresses,
central sulcus, sole and frog generally

Note weight bearing section of heel is towards middle of foot
Note weak structure, poor horn quality, excessive wall rasping
Slowly weight bearing section moving back to where it should
be - toe still really long, quality improving a little
Heel in suspension, lami rings, excessive wall rasping
Contracted, infected, sore and weak
Few weeks later, decontracting, infection cleared, not sore
later still, note heel bulb position and shape

Of all the structures most abused in the horses hoof, my current bug bear is heels. Remember 'Fred'? Tall heels, contracted heels, infected heels and underrun heels.  None of these are normal or healthy and with appropriate care, diet and exercise they can all be improved.  A good heel is vital to a horse and sentiment aside, a horse with a well formed hoof is going to stay sound longer.

Oh and for those debating shoes/boots - if you need to put something on your horse's foot, boot everytime.  I have yet to deshoe a horse that had a good heel, but they can usually grow/build one pretty quick once that shoe gets taken off.

NB - building good heels doesn't happen by magic or overnight - a good diet and an appropriate management regime are important. And even horses living in less than ideal conditions can have a good foot/heel if they work hard enough

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Southern England, United Kingdom