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Shoes mask weaknesses, barefoot highlights strengths

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Rehabilitating large horses

Let's be honest - our judgements do have a habit of being coloured by our personal experiences.  It is incredibly challenging to cast our life learning to one side and embrace the new and unknown.

It's no different with horses.

I remember having a challenging discussion with a vet regarding rehabbing larger horses.  Apparently ponies are easy, but big horses are impossible because they are too heavy for their feet and if the feet are compromised and unshod all is lost. Of course this is based on their personal experience.

Well this vet needs to meet the horse I worked on today (among others).  I've been working with this horse and his carer for longer than I remember.

In the beginning there was so much wrong, it was hard to believe there was any point in trying to rehabilitate him.  Not just the poor state of the hooves - and they were exceptionally challenging, but also the multiple upper body issues too.

But here we are a couple of years or so (I've lost track of time) and the horse is unrecognisable, except for his enormous 17hh+ presence.

Sound, his feet are pretty fab.  His soles are concave rather than flat.  The horn is hard, the hoof wall thick and intact. Frogs are hard and well formed.  I can trim his back feet without having to rest his toe on mine. His upper body issues whilst not completely resolved, no longer trouble him to the same extent.  He stands straight, no longer loading one foot in preference to the other, no longer routinely pointing.  He is shiny, a perfect weight and looks half the age he did when I first met him.

If horses could smile, he most definitely does. 

I will ask his owner if I can post photos in a future blog.  But honestly he looks so good, you'd never believe he had been in so much trouble.

And if your vet tells you that big horses are too big for their feet and can't be rehabbed - know that this might be the limit of their personal experience, but it isn't fact.  This horse and his carer prove otherwise.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Long toes - a change in perspective

A lot of comment is made about 'long toes' and many a poor horse has had their toes dumped or worse in an attempt to correct a problem by addressing a symptom without a complete understanding perhaps of the anatomy of the hoof or the consequences of addressing symptoms not cause.

The following photos are of three different horses, Horses One and Two had a toe shape typically criticised for being overly long.  The last one, Horse Three, was considered to be fine.

Horse One
Long toe?  Look at the shape and size of the heel,
particularly the lateral cartilage.  Can we just cut the toe off?

Can you see the lamellar wedge? The heel is weak.
See picture below. 
Collapsed heel - very weak digital cushion and lateral cartilages
Same foot a few months later, still in rehab but
compare heel and lateral cartilage with first picture

Lamellar wedge almost gone

Horse Two

Is this a long toe?
Solar view of above foot.  Which bit of the toe
would you cut off to shorten?
Notice contracted heel and thrush

Still a work in progress, but notice how the heel
has bulked up apparently shortening the toe

 Horse Three

This is a genuinely long toe.  Shod every 6 weeks

Front view of above
Same foot two months later, sound, no longer tripping
So what is often considered to be a 'long' toe is actually one with a shallow angle, often caused by a weak/atrophied caudal hoof.  This can be only be properly fixed by developing the back of the foot through proper diet and exercise.
A truly long toe is often completely missed - they are even considered normal or desirable in some circles.  Despite the fact that they can cause secondary problems such as tripping or injury.  The truly long toe as shown in Horse Three is easily remedied by a competent HCP.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Barefoot Performance Award

This trophy will be awarded at our inaugural Barefoot Performance show this coming Sunday.

I am so excited to find out who will win it.

Details of the show can be found here

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A day in the life of a Barefoot South student

Hi there, I’m Michelle. Some of you will have already met me and others will have heard that Lucy has taken on a student. Well that’s me and Lucy has set me the challenge of telling you about a day in the life of a Barefoot South student, so here goes.

6am – I get up early to attend to my four horses. They all live out 24/7 on a track and are fed ad-lib forage. I’m allergic to hay and have been trialling them on haylage but after 4 weeks it’s clear that it isn’t suiting them. All four have lost some of the concavity in their soles and one of them has developed really soft frogs which are prone to infection despite daily scrubbing. I’m amazed how much of a difference it’s made but it’s unquestionable: my lot all grow better feet on soaked hay.

8am – Set off to meet Lucy armed with my essential flask of tea – you never know how long it might be to the next cuppa in this job so best go prepared!

9am – Our first client is a small native type who has been diagnosed with PPID. We watch him walk across the stony car park and he walks over the stones happily. I trim his front feet and he’s an absolute dream; not only does he pick up each foot easily he actually holds the weight of his own leg which makes trimming so much easier. He’s an absolute sweetie so we have lots of fuss and cuddles too, always a bonus. Lucy trims his hind feet as he is a little arthritic and can find it uncomfortable. I watch as Lucy takes the time to let him relax his leg to where he finds it comfortable and she trims it there even if it’s not in the easiest place for her. After trimming we watch him walk on the same surface again and he’s moving very nicely, a slightly longer stride than pre-trim. We aim to watch all our clients horses walk before and after trimming to assess how they are moving and how the trim has altered that.

10am - Our second client has cancelled which leaves us time to find a cafe and catch up on some admin; booking appointments and responding to new enquiries. By pure coincidence we find somewhere selling cake.

12pm – Next up is an established client with a new horse. We deshod him two weeks ago and tend to leave a couple of weeks before trimming. His owner meets us direct from a clinic where he’s been moving forward and striding out better than he did in his shoes. Despite this she’s been ‘helpfully’ told by onlookers that he looks a bit short so she’d probably better shoe him! He has contracted heels from being shod but has all the makings of really solid feet. Lucy trimmed him and we then watched him stride out over the stoney car park really very well.

1pm – We have quite a long drive to the next client and we use the time to discuss feet, trimming, nutrition, my horses, Lucy’s horse and client horses. You name it and we chat about it as both of us are totally fascinated by our work.

2.30pm – We’re booked to see a new client with one horse to deshoe but it turns out to be two clients and two horses to deshoe! These ladies have clearly done their research which is always a good starting point.

One horse has quite contracted feet that look like they’ve been squished into too small shoes. They feel solid though and I’m sure he’ll find his way to rock crunching fairly easily. I used to hear Lucy say to clients “this foot feels lovely and solid” and not really get it. Somehow I seem to have picked it up though because now I see other people give me the same blank expression I gave Lucy. She’s right though, after handling so many feet you can just feel that some are solid.

Our second new horse is in a bit more of a sorry state. He’s been through all manner of remedial shoeing and is currently in wedge shoes with pads. If his feet weren’t in such a sorry state I would find this almost funny. In order to put the wedges on his heels have been cut very short, so once shod his hooves are at exactly the same angle as they would have been if they hadn’t bothered. I presume his pads are to protect his very thin soles, except I can see knife marks in his sole where someone has tried to carve concavity into them. Now I don’t need any of my training from Lucy to see that cutting material off an already thin sole is, at best, illogical.

To add insult to injury (quite literally) this horse’s frogs are so thrushy they’re almost entirely rotted out. His owner was very upset that no one had told her this was not normal and needed addressing. It was abundantly clear that if she’d known she’d have done something about it so it begs the question of why no previous hoof care professional said anything. It’s a question I can’t answer, but I can tell you it’s not at all uncommon and to me it’s a clear sign that those hoof care professionals were not putting the horse first.

So after much frog cleaning, applying thrush treatment and measuring him for hoof boots we wrapped his feet in nappies to keep him comfortable and his frogs clean until his new boots arrive. This owner has a bit of a mountain to climb, but she’s determined to do what is best for her horse, and now armed with the knowledge of how to deal with his thrush and keep him comfortable I don’t doubt she’ll get there. She’ll have some ups and downs but we’ll always be at the end of the phone and will drop by if she needs more support.

6pm – We’re in the car and on our way home. After a few minutes we both start sniffing around and realise we’re covered in thrushy ick and the car absolutely stinks!

7pm – Arrive home and after a quick hello to my partner and dogs I go out to feed, hay and poo pick for my gang and take a satisfied look at their lovely feet.

Once home I reflect on the fact that Lucy and I do have to have some difficult conversations with clients, usually about their horse’s weight or thrushy feet, or sometimes behaviour. But one reason I decided to train with Lucy was her mantra: “The Horses come First” and they really do.

Note: A week after this blog post we went back to visit our deshoe clients and the lad with the thrushy frogs now has small but lovely firm clean frogs. It’s clear his owner is putting in just as much effort as we hoped she would and her horse is reaping the benefits already.

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Southern England, United Kingdom