Ignorance is bliss

To have pets means to take on the responsibility to look after another living creature’s wellfare and comfort. We have dogs and cats and they are part of the family. We look after their needs, feed them properly, make sure they have a nice place to sleep and we love them. If anything is wrong with them it is usually very obvious. One of our dogs stepped on something sharp and cut the main pad on his front paw in half.  He immediately came to us on three legs, whining loudly and we were able to look after him. Horses are stoic and they hide their pain inside. The responsibility of having horses is huge.

Even though I never liked horse shoes, I never realised how detrimental to a horse’s feet and health they can be, because I didn’t have the knowledge. Qualified, experienced farriers will tell you that horses that do a lot of road work need shoes and that once a horse has been shod, there is no return. The answer to a lot of hoof and lameness problems, like navicular syndrome, is specialised shoeing. I read a lot about going barefoot, but I found it hard to make a decision based on instinct. If you want the best for your horses, but lack indept knowledge, you have to rely on the opinion of vets and farriers.

After last weekend’s barefoot trimming course, I have taken a good look at Cassie and Minnie’s feet. Even though they have both been seen by qualified farriers recently, I found that all is not well.

Here are Cassie’s front feet. You can clearly see that the nails have put strain on her hooves and that the holes are widening.

This is the side view from the left.

And from the right

The toes are too long and I think the whole sole has moved forward. Her feet are in front of her, instead of underneath her.

Here is a view of her hind feet.

This is her right hind. It has a large flare on the inside.

Here is her left hind. There is a bit of flare on the inside, but not as much.

Cassie is only 5, but I can see how if she continued like this, there are real problems ahead. When she walks, she lands toe first. I worry about what the impact on her pedal bone must be like. It is hard to see what the soles are like with the shoes on, but as far I can see, the bars need trimming.

Here are Minnie’s front feet.

She was sore on her right front, which is also the leg with the damaged tendon. I looked at her soles, which are quite flat, and the bars look as if they might have folded over. I wonder now if she was sore because she has bruises underneath the bars. When I tapped the sole of her right foot, she pulled back. There is still pain there. With the shoes on, she is walking straight again, but I now feel that it is masking the problem. I didn’t want Minnie to be in pain, so when the farrier told me she needed shoes, I conceded. I am worried now it may be compounding the problem. The farrier never looked at the bars.

Here is a side view. I was told that the area where the hoof wall has worn down to the white line is what caused the pain. Having seen ponies last weekend that were doing road work on their soles only, with no hoof wall touching the ground, I wonder about that.

Here are Minnie’s hind feet.

Here is a side view. She has a bit of flare on the outside of her right hind, but otherwise they are in good condition.

It is interesting that it’s Minnie’s unshod hind feet that seem the best.

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5 thoughts on “Ignorance is bliss

  1. Sometimes the hooves will start to break off where the nail holes are and people get all freaked out and “mend” the hoof with epoxy or something – whereas in fact the hoof is just breaking off where it should be breaking off, and often the toe is so over-long that the nails are actually placed along a line which should be more-or-less the point of ground contact.

    In the side view photos, you can see the “healing angle” growing in at the top for about an inch, and then the flare after that.

    The heel angle is too shallow – if you draw a line along the heel tubules, you’d like to see it at a more upright angle to the ground.

    A lot of problems (e.g. flaring) will just go away if Cassie’s toes are taken back to where they should be (i.e. breakover in the right position in front of the tip of P3) and if her heels are kept level with the back of the frog. And her heels will start to grow more upright, and she’ll develop a heel-first landing.

    Her feet don’t look too bad. Could you post views of the underside?

    As for Minnie – folder over bars can definitely cause bruising. When you dig them out, you’ll often find a pink area underneath. Shoes can seem to “help” because they can actually numb the foot. But Dermot probably told you that.

    You’re right – it’s absolutely fine to be “worn down to the white line.”

    Minnie also has shallow heel angle in the front, which can go with a flat foot. I can’t see clearly from the photo, but it looks like the “healing angle” coming out of the coronet band is considerably steeper than the rest of the foot. Someone taught me something very useful (not in my barefoot trimming school bag of tricks, but a great trick nonetheless) – namely you can rasp the underside of the front of the toe to change the angle of the hoof, take the pressure off the heel, and allow the heel to grow straighter. Does she tend to stand with her forelegs underneath her, or does she do a more Goat-on-a-Rock stance, with her legs out in front?

    Minnie’s hind feet look nice.

    Looking at Minnie’s front feet, there’s just too much hoof. Most people’s “eye” is accustomed to seeing way too much hoof, and if you let the hoof be as small as it wants to be, it just looks all wrong. In our old barn, there were these giant Friesians, and everybody used to get all bent out of shape cos their hoofs were always chipping and flaring and the white line was stretching. Once the owner let them go barefoot (I also trimmed them sometimes), their hoofs cracked down to being way smaller than you’d think was proportional. But they were finally healthy hoofs.

  2. Thank you June, it is really helpful for me to get your opinion on this. I felt quite depressed after last weekend looking at Cassie’s feet, she’s so young and already shoes have done a good bit of damage! I’ll take pics of the underside of their feet and post them too. I noticed that her heels were too shallow, that would be because farriers looking to shoe just prepare the foot for shoeing, they actually don’t balance the foot the way Dermot and John showed us last weekend. I can’t wait to get the shoes off, and I don’t care how long it takes them to transition to barefoot. Minnie has been out of action since last November, but that never bothered me either. They are just great to be with.

    Minnie has her feet under her body, I’m sure if I had know what I what the problem was I wouldn’t have let the farrier shoe her as she was well on her way to going barefoot. But the farrier never even looked at the bars. I don’t blame him, it’s the way he was trained. I think Minnie’s hind feet show that time is a great healer. Her hind feet were actually self trimming, the hoof between the nail holes broke away and she ended up with the feet she has now. It’s interesting that you think she has too much hoof in front. The farrier told me she had too little, but I agree that people are used to looking at feet with shoes and it clouds the picture. Certainly the barefoot horses I used to ride had small and tidy feet.

    Where did you do your training? I’m dying to learn more!

  3. Don’t be depressed! They’ll be right as rain in no time.

    Another thing to bear in mind about small-seeming feet is that the live sole is always the same depth underneath the base of the coffin bone. And the healthier the foot, the higher up the coffin bone is within the hoof capsule. But no matter how high up the coffin bone is, there’s always going to be the same depth of sole. So if the CB is very high up, there’s not going to be a lot of hoof.

    I misspoke before – “goat on a rock” is when the forelegs are tucked under the body. When the legs are out in front – in the laminitis stance – that’s a sign of toe pain, as the horse is trying to get weight on its heels rather than its toes. You say Minnie has her feet under her body – if they’re rather further under than in an average horse, then that’s the typical “GOAR” stance signifying heel pain. The horse is trying to weight the toes in preference to the heels. If she has impacted bars, then she probably does have heel pain.

    I originally got started trimming 2 and a half years ago from my friend here, who is of the Gene Ovnicek school. I returned to Mississippi and started trimming our own horses as well as some of the barn owner’s and a few others. I was kind of eclectic – taking from Phil Morare, and Jaime Jackson (who I believe is the founder AANHCP), and Pete Ramey, as well as Ovnicek. Then I decided I should pick one and try to get certified. I settled on Gene Ovnicek, who runs Hope for Soundness in Penrose, Colorado. I went for a weekend in May – tried for certification, but although I could do the stuff and aced the written test, I was way too slow! Those Colorado hoofs are like iron, with iron-hard soles that had to be nippered out! It was a great experience though. I’m going back this fall or next spring to try again. I’ve got to really work on my sole-nippering before then!

    Ovnicek does shoe under certain circumstances – he has the Natural Balance shoe, which has a breakover built in. Plus he’s done a lot of thinking and research about the stresses and strains on the joints of performance horses – horses’ legs weren’t really designed for a lot of sharp turning and circle work – it puts a lot of lateral stress on the joints. He’s designed a shoe which reduces the lateral width of the footprint (while leaving hoof itself wide), thereby greatly reducing the lateral leverage forces.

  4. I have come across all the names you mention but haven’t made up my mind as to which book to get yet. Dermot mentioned the balance shoes too, but I’m hoping to be able to do without shoes altogether. It would be great to get certification, would you try to build up your practice more when you get it? Dermot and John said there are horses with hooves so hard it takes both of them to nipper them! Must be like those Colorado horses! I just want to be able to look after my own horses, but it is all very interesting and I’m trying to get as much information now as possible.

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