Earlier this week when I went out to feed the horses in the morning, I noticed to my horror that Cassie’s knee was swollen. I put her bucket down in front of her and as she happily started on her breakfast, I ran my hand over her knee. It was hot and puffy and I felt like screaming. I left Cassie to eat in peace, gave Minnie her bucket and then sat down to think about it. It was her left knee, just above the bony growth caused by her injury. For a moment I wondered if she could have had a reaction to the Comfrey ointment. But Comfrey is not as aggressive as some plant extracts, it is safe to use on wounds, it is anti-inflammatory and I hadn’t used it on her knee. The chance that she had somehow managed to knock her knee just above an existing injury while out in the field seemed negligible. The only logical explanation I could think of was that it was related to the existing injury.
When something hurts, the last thing you want to do is put pressure on it. I only have to look at Minnie to see what happens when a horse has a long term injury. Minnie has had a succession of injuries to her right fore leg and she has learned to avoid putting her weight on that leg. That has had consequences elsewhere in her body. To begin with, her front hooves started to look uneven. Her right hoof got bigger than the left and the bars seemed to be growing at a fearful rate. No matter what I did, I didn’t seem to be able to get those hooves to stay even. The reason the right hoof got bigger was because she wasn’t putting her weight on it, so she wasn’t wearing it down. Toe, quarters and bars were all growing longer, while the left hoof was bearing all the weight and probably had more than its share of wear and tear. It has also had an effect on her heel bulbs; strong and wide on the left hoof, much smaller on the right hoof. The biggest impact of her long term lameness has been on the opposing diagonal. Over the past months Minnie has lost movement in her left hind leg, leading to muscle atrophy and stiffness. So stiff, that the last time I trimmed Minnie’s feet I couldn’t bring her leg forward to put on the hoof-stand. Even just lifting her hoof to pick it out became a serious effort; Minnie was unsteady and the whole leg would be trembling. I realised that even when I managed to get her leg off the ground, she was still refusing to put weight on her right fore, so I was in fact putting Minnie on two legs. No wonder she didn’t like it.
Cassie’s left leg was injured in July, and already I could see changes occurring in her hoof. The tubules on the inside of her hoof were bending forward and a little dish appeared in her hoof wall. I have been trimming Minnie and Cassie’s hooves for a year now, and although I am gaining confidence doing a basic maintenance trim, I am of course a rank amateur and I had absolutely no idea what to do about these changes. Now there was the knee as well. I contacted Dermot and John and explained I had two lame horses and that I was very unhappy about some unwelcome changes I had noticed in their hooves. Fortunately they were able to come and fit us in the following day.
“Well are you telling me they are lame because of bad trimming?” Dermot joked when they arrived, and I said the lameness was causing problems and that I hoped the trimming was ok. It only took them a few moments to see what was wrong with Cassie. To alleviate the pain of the bone spur on the cannon bone she was walking on the outside of her foot. As a result her hoof had become unbalanced and that of course was putting extra strain on her knee. Cassie got a good, professional trim and her left hoof certainly looked much better after it.
Then they had a look at Minnie. I told them that I hadn’t been able to trim her left hind for a while and that I thought the muscle had seized up. Trimming her front feet and right hind was no problem, but it took the two of them to do her left hind. Dermot had to practically carry her weight to keep her from falling.
Here is a picture of Minnie’s right fore after trimming. The hole in the hoofwall is where the abscess she had in April burst out through the coronary band. She has several stress lines in that area, the result of the abscess and treatment with bute for the suspensory ligament injury.
Overall, they said both my horses have good, strong and healthy feet with no signs of disease anywhere and that I had done a good job on trimming, but that I should try and be a bit less conservative. They also advised me on how to look after Cassie’s left fore, and to make sure I kept her heels balanced. As always, it was great to see them and even greater to watch them trim my horses. Now that their feet are properly balanced and trimmed again, it will hopefully have a positive effect on the healing of their leg injuries.