Hooves – ups and downs

The journey of a thousand leagues begins from beneath your feet – Lao Tse

This weekend was all about feet. I had the vet out on Saturday, because Cassie suddenly turned extremely lame. She was barely able to hobble and the first thing I thought was “Oh please let it not be her tendon”. I anxiously felt her leg, but the tendon looked normal with no sign of heat or swelling. I checked her for cuts and puncture wounds, but there was nothing. I lifted her foot and found she was very sore between the inside heel and the frog. I couldn’t find anything that looked like a puncture wound, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t any and Cassie was due an anti-tetanus shot, so I called the vet.

The vet arrived and diagnosed a suspected abcess. I watched in horror as he took out his knife and with a couple of strokes removed Cassie’s heel. He found a spot where he thought the infection might be and started excavating the site. No pus came up, so the vet told me he couldn’t get at it with the knife and to poultice it. He then asked me if I was riding her. I said I was and he said “You’ve gone barefoot so, how is that going for you”. I told him Cassie’s shoes had come off in September and that she was doing really well. He looked at me and said, “Well, horses were never meant to have shoes. If they were, they would have been born with them”.

My vet is an elderly, country vet. He is over 70 and one of the most respected horse vets around. I have known him for years and he is an excellent vet. He comes across as laconic and he usually doesn’t say much. His visits tend to be short. This time, as we started discussing horses’ feet, it was obvious that this was something he felt deeply about. He became animated and told me that 90% of all lameness in horses is due to a problem in the foot, and that in his experience an overwhelming percentage of that was due to bad or faulty shoeing. He told me some harrowing stories of cases he had seen in his practice. We talked about transitioning and how horses cope with the roads. I showed him the Renegade hoof-boots I got for Minnie. I had to put them on her and he walked around Minnie, asking many questions and then this elderly vet went down on his knees to take photographs of Minnie’s feet in the Renegades. Ah, if only I had thought to bring my own camera!

On Sunday we had a visit from Dermot McCourt and his son John. It’s six months now since the shoes came off, and Maìre and I had asked them to come down, partly to evaluate our trimming, but also because we had many questions. The past six months have been an interesting journey. When we went to do the Barefoot workshop with Dermot and John on Clare Island, we learned a lot about how horses’ feet function, the effect shoes have on a horse and we were introduced to the basic trim. When Dermot and John came to us in September to take our horses’ shoes off and set us on the road to barefoot, we had a lot of questions that pertained to how to maintain our horses’ feet with the basic trim ourselves. Now that we have been trimming for six months, and gained confidence both in trimming and in handling the tools, we had different questions. Questions that are more specific to our own horses. How to trim Minnie’s right hind, which always looks flared, but isn’t, because it has a little dish above the quarter that makes it look flared. How to judge heel height. How much to trim off when the frog is shedding

I was slightly nervous before Dermot and John arrived. Maìre and I have been doing the best we can with our horses, but we are of course rank amateurs and now the professionals were coming to look at our work. But Dermot and John had nothing but good news and kind words. All the horses are transitioning really well, and now have nice hard feet. It was wonderful to watch Dermot and John in action again, and a treat not to bend our backs into it ourselves for a change.

Dermot had a good look at Cassie’s sore foot. The poultice hadn’t drawn anything out and even further investigation with a small probe didn’t bring anything up. It is possible that Cassie just hit her foot hard on something and got badly bruised, and after hearing how hard her soles are it seemed unlike a mere thorn could have pierced her! Meanwhile, her heel was gone, and Dermot decided to build an artificial heel so that Cassie will walk evenly until the horn has grown back. She’s a brave girl when it comes to a lot of noice, because when the angle grinder came out to smooth the surface, she tolerated it and after a while she even picked at some hay.

 The heel was built up with a special, fast-setting epoxy gel that can be rasped afterwards. Dermot left the hole open, so that if there is an abcess underneath it can drain. Here is a picture of the finished heel.

Here is a view from the side.

It was an enjoyable and informative afternoon in good company.  

I love this moment between Rosie and Cassie! Rosie is receiving her trim at this time, and it just shows how relaxed they were during trimming.

And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play with your hair – Kahlil Gibran

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9 thoughts on “Hooves – ups and downs

  1. I just have to ask: were you okay with the vet cutting off Cassie’s heel, I mean did you understand and accept his intention, or no? I was so startled by that, and I wonder also what your farrier thought about it, other than feeling it needed to be replaced with a temporary patch, obviously. I’ve not had any experience with hoof abcesses, is all.

  2. Muddy, I had no idea the vet was going to pare off her heel and if he had gone any further I would have stopped him. I’ve had horses with abcesses before and it is normal for the vet or farrier to use a knife to open it up and drain the abcess, giving the horse instant relief from pain. Of course, most horses here are shod and I suppose once the shoe goes back on, the horse will walk regardless of wether the heels are balanced or not and that’s the end of it. If the vet had taken off a bit less, Cassie would actually have been fine. Dermot told me that the hoof will grow faster to make up the lost tissue, but he felt it was better to keep Cassie balanced with the artificial heel.

  3. Gosh, I’m glad Dermot was able to give her a temporary heel. I’m surprised the vet didn’t ask before cutting, but it sounds like he’s a good guy.

    • June, I think it is just that so few people ride their horses barefoot here, it’s quite possible the vet didn’t realise Cassie goes barefoot until we started talking about it. In hindsight, I should have asked him to come on the Sunday and watch Dermot and John in action. He would have enjoyed that.

  4. I have really been considering going to a week long trimming course this summer with hopes of being able to trim my own. I am interested to know your feelings and recommendations on doing it yourself. There are no barefoot trimmers in my area so there would be noone really to consult with when I had questions, I would truly be on my own once I got home.

    • RaR, I know how you feel, there are no barefoot trimmers here either, Dermot and John come down from Northern Ireland, and have a 4 or 5 hour journey to get here. With them so far away, the prospect of starting to trim myself was daunting. Doing the course with a friend helps. I went to the course with my friend Maìre and we’ve been trimming our horses together. It has been very helpful to look at their feet together and discuss what needs to done.
      If you look back over my blog, you’ll find a lot of hoof pictures. I posted these so that Dermot could look at them and he would email me then with comments on the trim I’d given my horses and advice. That was a great way of getting feedback, and you might be able to arrange that with the trimmer from the course you’d like to go to.

      On the whole, I am really glad I’ve gone this way. I’ve learned so much about my horses’ feet and it’s great to see how much they have improved over the past few months. Now that I have more confidence, I really enjoy trimming them and I like not having to depend on when the farrier can come. Maìre and I bought a hoof-stand, rasp and nippers and it was a great investment.

      Before I went to the course, I had done quite a bit of research on the internet on barefoot trimming and I found it very confusing. All those different techniques and terminology. But if your horse has normal feet, all you need to be able to do is a basic trim and the basic trim is really quite easy and logical.

      I hope this helps? That course you want to go to looks good.

  5. I learned to trim over the summer three years ago from a friend who is a barefoot trimmer, and then I returned home – 1,000 miles away at the time – and had to manage on my own. I phoned her a lot, and asked a lot of questions to people online, and I gradually learned. I only went to a class later. I think a two-week class should really set you up and give you the confidence to get started on your own – like Sandra says, you can always send photos to ask for advice.

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