When it comes to rehabilitating horses, or for me even just owning horses, I approach it with the whole horse in mind. For me my horses are companion animals, riding animals, and animals that I use to facilitate my business. They are also living, breathing beings with their own thoughts, feelings and needs. They make friends, have family groups and form attachments to certain horses, animals and people. My main area of focus in my business is hoof care, but in order to achieve optimal hoof health there are many other areas that must be working properly in order for the hooves to be healthy.
Let’s start with the diet. There are many conflicting opinions on the optimal diet for our horses. I have taken several equine nutrition courses, been to many seminars and done plenty of research. What I have found is that individual horses needs vary so a one size fits all approach doesn’t work. This post isn’t about nutrition specifically so I will try to keep it short. Up until recently I had a specific combination of feeds and minerals that I fed my herd of 10 on a daily basis. I was feeding each feed or mineral for a specific reason that I had predetermined that the horses needed. I was feeding those minerals because of what I had learned about minerals and hoof health. How did I come up with the theory that they needed them? Well I had read, researched or had been told by a trusted source that they needed them. I had never seen any reason in my horses’ outward appearance, behaviour or apparent health that made me think there was a deficiency, but I assumed like most people do that they should be supplemented with something and therefore I built my list of supplements and off I went to the feed store. I fed these things for years until just this past spring when I heard something that interrupted my thought pattern. I had scheduled an osteopathic treatment for two of my horses with Dr. Laura Taylor and it was while in deep discussion with her about equine diets and nutrition that she said something that has stuck with me ever since. She said “if you are feeding or supplementing your horse with something, you should see some type of result”. Weather those results are physical, such as seeing an improvement in their hair coat or outward appearance, emotional, such as seeing less anxiety or behavioural problems, or internal, such as something affecting the organ systems in the body or the musculoskeletal system causing stiffness or even lameness. The point is you should see some type of result from what you are feeding, or you should see a result of not feeding it... This caused me to rethink my horses diets and cut out everything but pasture and hay for three months. What I found was that there was no change in them. Their hair coats were still beautiful and shiny, their hooves were still brilliant and they were still emotionally sound and happy. The moral of the story for me was to keep it simple. And I’m not saying all horses don’t need supplements, but what horse owners need to do is understand what they are feeding and to make sure it is necessary for your horse before blindly feeding something just because someone else does, someone told you to, or because of some fancy packaging. I have now started to include some new supplementation to the hay and pasture diet of my herd, more about this in an upcoming BLOG that will be dedicated to nutrition
MOVEMENT = LIVING ENVIRONMENT
After looking at the diet I also want to address the horse’s living environment. Does he stand around in a stall all day, a small paddock, or a pasture or larger open area? Is he alone or kept with others? What those things mean to me is does the horse get enough movement to fulfill his physical and mental needs? Does he have herd mates to fulfill his social and emotional needs? Does his paddock have an enough varied terrain to adequately stimulate his hooves? This is maybe the most important part to me. My horses live in a herd, on a track based paddock system. They have access to pasture when needed and are constantly on the move. I can regulate their feed and movement as required. None of my horses get “hot” because they are standing around all day, and they don’t get bored because their social and emotional needs are fulfilled. None of them need a “job” or need to be ridden in order to keep their cool. They live like horses, and yet I can ride and play with them as needed. I have very few instances of cribbing or pacing or any other bad habits. Those are byproducts of emotional stress that doesn’t exist in my herd. Making sure the horse’s living environment is conducive to a happy and healthy horse is important because then they are able to keep physically fit and engaged which will help with the healthy hooves we want to grow
DENTAL HEATH = BALANCE
Another huge factor is teeth. I recently went to Florida to further my knowledge and become a graduate of the Horsemanship Dentistry School. This was so important for me as I have always known there was a connection between what was happening in the mouth and the soundness in the body but I needed more information. What I learned was so mind blowing. An imbalance in the teeth will create an imbalance in the jaw that would translate to an imbalance in the neck, shoulders and feet. An imbalance on the front end will affect the hind end and so on. It becomes a cascade effect, and the best part is when I am able to feel an imbalance in the mouth, correct it and see a direct improvement in how the horse moves or behaves. Horses are so innately in tune with themselves that even just a slight dental problem can have a big effect. The dentistry school I went to teaches manual balancing without the use of sedation so that you can watch the horse respond to the changes you make. I have never quite done anything else as intimate and rewarding with my horses as putting my hand inside their unrestricted mouth. With no speculum to protect me, and no sedation to alter their state of mind, I can remove any sharp points inside their mouths and watch them lick and chew and feel the area with their tongue. That is usually followed by them pressing their head into my chest with thanks. No joke, this just gets my heart pumping.
EXERCISE = MUSCLE
The last thing I will touch on in our whole horse approach to health is riding and the subsequent muscle development. Riding can play a huge part in the health of your horse’s hooves. For instance, a balanced horse that is ridden round (not over bent) will be travelling in balance from the front end to the hind end and engaging their core muscles and therefore loading their hooves optimally. A horse ridden hollow or unbalanced will create unbalanced forces on the hooves and therefore may not wear evenly. A horse ridden very over bent will travel with too much weight on the front or hind end and not travel in a balanced manner. How the horse is conditioned to riding will also affect how he will move in the pasture or paddock. Wild horses are conditioned to move 20-40 miles per day on varied terrain and tend to build well balanced bodies and hooves. When we keep horse in domestication we inhibit their ability to move freely and they don’t always understand how to move properly because of this. We must teach them how to carry the weight of a rider and still move in balance and harmony.
HEALTHY HOOVES = HEALTHY HORSES
There are many things to consider when determining how long to go between trims. In this geographic area the standard trimming/shoeing cycle is approximately 6-8 weeks. My own scheduling is usually based around a 4-6 week cycle, though I have the odd horse or group of horses that go a little longer.
What I want to discuss in this blog is a much shorter trimming cycle that is favoured among some very successful and highly respected farriers/trimmers that I follow. What I am seeing and learning from them is that a shorter cycle is far better for the horse, and the overall health of the hooves and therefore the body and mind (My whole horse approach to health will be featured in an upcoming article) of the horse.
First lets think about the ultimate goal we have in trimming our horses hooves. For me it is to mimic the wear patterns that are demonstrated by the wild horses of the US Great Basin and other dry desert dwelling feral equines. These equines are clinically sounder then our domestic horses and have virtually no instances of founder, navicular disease and many other hoof pathologies we see so commonly in our domestic horses.
So if we can apply that principle to our trimming, our mandate would be to trim in order to mimic natural wear over varied terrain. So then the correct trim schedule would have to be based on each horse’s individual hoof wear. Because the hoof is in a perpetual state of growth, this means that immediately after trimming the hoof is already replacing that (worn) material that was removed. The goal then should be to allow the hoof to grow to the optimal length and thickness required for that individual horse. It should then be trimmed again just before it grows past optimal to a leveraging state. If it is allowed to grow too long the forces during impact and movement will start to distort the hoof. When trimming we will then have to perform what is called a rehab trim as opposed to a maintenance trim. A maintenance trim means we are just trimming excess length, and that excess has not caused the start of any breakdown or distortion of the hoof. A rehab trim means that we are correcting pathologies or distortion usually caused by excess length.
The hoof on the left shows a hoof that has grown excess length but is still balanced and not distorted. The overall length needs to come down and the break-over needs a new mustang roll, but otherwise this hoof is balanced, a maintenance trim. The hoof on the right is much longer, and has grown out of balance. The heels have moved forward and the toe is stretching forward. The frog is small and narrow and appears diseased in the central sulcus. Not an extremely distorted hoof but a rehab trim, not a maintenance trim.
The shorter trim cycle will prevent distortion and instead more closely mimic natural wear. For most horses the trimming cycle that these farriers/trimmers are finding works best is 2-4 weeks, 3 weeks being the average correct cycle for most horses. It is important to understand that because these trims are closer together there will be less material to remove. On a 3 week trim cycle there would be little need for nippers, it would really just be a rasp to maintain balance and remove the excess and possibly some knife work if the bars or frog needed addressing.
Where this interests me is with a select few horses I trim that are sensitive on hard or rocky ground immediately after a trim for about 3-5 days. Not sensitive in their paddocks or living environments, but sensitive being ridden on unforgiving ground where they otherwise would have been fine. What those horses need is for me to leave a little more material at the trim, but because I won’t be trimming them again for 4-6 weeks if I leave that extra material we are at a point of distortion before the next trim and then we are back to rehab trims as opposed to maintenance trims. However if I could trim less, and then trim the horse again in 3 weeks there would be less instances of sensitivity after the trim and less instances where the hoof gets to that distortion point before the next trim..
This is easy for me to process, however it becomes a challenge when trying to help horse owners to understand that trimming less more often is in the best interest of their horse. For the horse owner it means they are paying for trims twice as often, seeing much less of a difference in the before and after of the trims, and they are having to schedule me twice as often, taking up their valuable time.
My goal is to make this process easy and beneficial for everyone. I have started a pilot project with a few clients where I am trimming their horses every 3 weeks, and evaluating the horses’s comfort levels before the trim, immediately after and at the end of the 3 week cycle. I am also looking for any hoof distortion (if present) in order to determine the optimal length of cycle for each specific horse. I am working on a price structure that includes a reduced cost for horses that are on a maintenance trim schedule vs those that are in a constant cycle of rehab trims. This would make trimming at these shorter intervals more cost effective and because there is less material to be removed the trims would take less time. Ultimately the biggest advantage of the shorter cycle is for the horse. The closer we can mimic the natural wear pattern of the wild horse, the closer we can come to achieving the soundness seen in those wild herds and the virtually non existent hoof pathology that we so commonly see in our domestic horses.
Expectations – Having realistic expectations is very important when transitioning your horse from shod to barefoot. Expecting your horse to perform the same way barefoot as they have in shoes is unrealistic. It takes time to strengthen and built hoof health and often times the shoeing process over many years has caused much damage within hoof. It is very much the same as asking a seasoned marathon runner to compete without their running shoes. It would be uncomfortable for them to feel the hard or rocky ground under their sensitive feet for the first few times. However, given enough time the marathon runner could build adequate callous so that he could perform barefoot. Taking horses barefoot should be about the long term health of the horse, not the rider’s short term performance goals. This being said, we must still make sure that our horses are comfortable when transitioning by providing them with hoof boots when needed and correct and frequent natural trims.
Time - A hoof that has been in shoes for extended periods will take time to heal internally as well as externally. Perpetual shoeing cycles can cause contraction and atrophy of the internal energy dispersing structures of the hoof. A horse that is shod is peripherally loading the hoof, which means that only the outside rim of the hoof is impacting the ground. This causes the frog and digital cushion (a structure paramount to a healthy barefoot hoof) to atrophy and weaken. However the good news is that the digital cushion has tissue similar to stem cells within it, and given the right opportunity (ie a balanced natural trim with proper stimulation) it can regenerate. The other problem with shoes is the lack of flexibility within the hoof. A metal horse shoe cannot expand and contract like a natural hoof does so there is less flexion and movement within the hoof. Less flexion and movement results in decreased blood flow and energy dissipation leading to further tissue damage. Upon pulling the shoes and providing a natural trim circulation and flexion are immediately restored, often resulting in temporary minor discomfort for the horse as circulation is increased and blood flow is restored back to a normal state.
Environment – A barefoot horse’s living environment plays a large role in strengthening their hooves. A horse that lives on soft pasture will have a hard time building the callous needed to ride on a rocky trail without some form of hoof protection. Whereas a horse that lives on hard rocky ground will have no trouble travelling on a rocky trail as his hooves would have already been conditioned to it. Even if all you have for your horse is soft pasture or dirt, adding some river rock around water troughs or in shelters or a favorite hangout spot can be a big help. Exposure to varying surfaces is important in conditioning the hoof and building strength.
Deciding to take your horse barefoot can be a complex decision. While it is greatly beneficial to them to restore natural hoof function, you must make sure you are ready to face the challenges involved with the transition. I suggest you speak with your hoof care provider about the factors mentioned above as well as discuss the overall health of your horses’ hooves and the expected length of the transition period.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine September 2015
Most horse owners cringe at hearing the words Navicular Syndrome. In the past it has often meant expensive corrective shoeing and just trying to keep your horse sound for one more season, inevitably resulting in putting them down. Unfortunately Navicular Syndrome is one of the hardest subjects for a farrier/trimmer to research. It seems that every old text contradicts the next, and every person you talk to has a different understanding of the condition. The good news is that tons of new research is being done, and hopefully the equine world will soon have a better understanding that the best way to treat Navicular Syndrome is to prevent it in the first place, and that it is easy to do so.
One of the doctors at the forefront of Navicular research is Dr. Robert Bowker of Michigan State University. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Bowker at the 2015 Equine Education Summit hosted by Horse Council BC this past spring. Dr. Bowker states that he has identified a heel first landing as the most important element of hoof function and more importantly hoof development. He has determined that as the hoof impacts the ground heel first, the hoof expands both laterally and from the back to the front, and the concave sole descends lower to the ground, thus dramatically increasing the volume of the hoof capsule. This sudden increase in volume creates a vacuum, which pulls blood into the hoof capsule. This pull of blood not only nourishes the living tissues in the hoof, but acts as a very important hydraulic shock absorber.
It has been documented over the years that some horses with navicular bone changes are perfectly sound, while others without bone damage can show severe lameness in the rear of the hoof. This is confusing though as it has long been taught in the veterinary and farrier communities that the bone damage happened first and the pain associated with Navicular Syndrome was caused by the deep digital flexor tendon sliding over the rough surface of the damaged navicular bone.
Dr. James R. Rooney of the American College of Veterinarian Pathologists specializes in post mortem studies of horses. In thousands of dead horses he has examined, Dr. Rooney found that the fibrocartilages surrounding the flexor tendon and navicular bone were always damaged if bone deterioration was present. He has not found one single case where the bone was damaged and the fibrocartilage was not. He has however found cases where the bone was not yet deteriorated and yet the fibrocartilage had started to break down. He has learned that the order in which damage occurs is: first the fibrocartilages surrounding the navicular bone, second the fibrocartilages surrounding the deep digital flexor tendon, third the flexor tendon itself, and finally the navicular bone itself is damaged by the rough surface of the damaged flexor tendon. Simulating a toe first landing with cadaver horse legs in test machines, Dr. Rooney was able to simulate this exact process of deterioration, proving the order in which tissues were damaged leading to Navicular Syndrome.
The main structure in the front half of the hoof is the coffin bone. The sole and hoof wall are attached to it via the lamina. The digital cushion and the lateral cartilages form the rear half of the hoof. It is the rear half of the hoof that is responsible for dissipating the impact energy of movement. The front of the hoof has no impact absorbing structures, they are all fairly rigid. The digital cushion at birth is made up of primarily fat and is filled with nerves. As the foal moves the pressure and release of the frog causes fibrocartilage to grow from the front of the digital cushion and spread toward the back. By the time the horse has grown to an adult the digital cushion should have transformed into a mass of fibrocartilage. This fibrocartilage is responsible for protecting and cushioning the nerves as well as dissipating the energy of a heel first landing. The lateral cartilages at birth are tiny, less than 1/16th of an inch thick, and don’t extend to the underside of the frog and digital cushion yet. As the foal grows, with movement, flexion, and the expansion and contraction of the hoof mechanism the lateral cartilages grow. They should eventually extend to create a floor underneath the frog and digital cushion and should have developed to about an inch thick.
So why are most horse’s uncomfortable landing heel first? Because in domestication we tend to keep our foals on soft ground. Deeply bedding the stalls that restricts their movement, and keeping them on soft terrain when they are turned out. The soft ground inhibits the flexion, expansion and contract and negates the hoof mechanism as it was designed to work. This results in very commonly, adult horses with lateral cartilages as thin as 1/8th of an inch thick instead of the inch they should be, and with digital cushions that are underdeveloped, thin and weak.
Dr. Bowker has also found that bone loss associated with Navicular Syndrome can also be attributed to a lack of natural pressure in the navicular region of the hoof. He specifically blames peripheral loading i.e. shoeing the hoof to remove sole pressure or allowing the hoof wall to grow too long so that the sole, frog, and bars of the hoof cannot share in the weight baring pressures of movement as they were designed.
When we learn the science behind Navicular Syndrome, and when this information becomes mainstream, only then can we start to prevent these changes from happening. While we cannot heal the bone deterioration once it has happened, we can bring strength back to the digital cushion and lateral cartilages. We must first bring them back into work, by removing the peripheral loading devices, keeping a low heel and allowing the digital cushion to strengthen again. The digital cushion is filled with myoxoid tissue which is similar to stem cell tissue and Dr. Deborah Taylor of Auburn University has published that the digital cushion can regenerate if given the opportunity. And as discussed previously, horses with bone deterioration to the navicular bone can be made comfortable if the rest of the hoof is allowed to strengthen to support it.
If your horse is suffering from Navicular Syndrome or you want to learn more I would direct you to study the research of Dr. Robert Bowker, Dr. James R. Rooney and Dr. Deborah Taylor. They are leading the research right now, and are coming up with amazing information that is helping horses that would have previously been put down.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine August 2015
In last month’s article I discussed the difference between Laminitis and Founder. I explained that laminitis by definition is inflammation of the lamina in the hoof. The lamina affected are the sensitive lamina (surrounding the front and sides of the coffin bone) as well as the solar corium (the underside of the coffin bone). I also discussed that low grade laminitis left untreated, or during acute laminitis, the coffin bone can rotate within the hoof capsule becoming foundered. Founder is simply the rotation of the coffin bone. There is no almost or partly foundered. Either the bone is rotated or it is not. However, the severity of the rotation can vary. This is dependent of the overall health of the hoof prior to the laminitis, the length and severity of the laminitic episode as well as the current trimming/shoeing protocol. In this issue I want to show you what a foundered hoof looks like both inside and out.
In order to demonstrate a foundered hoof, I will first show you a healthy one. The hoof wall is well connected all the way from the coronary band to the ground, it is not flared, pulled forward, or separated.
In a foundered hoof the wall at the coronary band will start out at a healthy angle, even if it’s just for a 1/4 of an inch. As it descends it will abruptly change angle and flare forward. The lamina will be stretched or separated and the hoof wall will be flared. There are occasions where a wall can simply flare and not be foundered, in these cases the angle change is less abrupt and usually there will be more than one deviation.
While it is extremely important to seek veterinary attention in the event of a laminitic event, it is also important to have your veterinarian x-ray your foundered horse and work closely with your farrier/trimmer in order to determine the severity of the rotation and how to correctly trim the hoof to alleviate pain and allow a healthy hoof to grow in. Founder is very serious but often times can be repaired. You must first understand how and why your horse developed the laminitis that lead to the founder, and remove all future triggers. This usually means working closely with your veterinarian to determine blood glucose levels, hormone levels and ruling out other various disease that can facilitate laminitis. Second you must have a competent trimmer/farrier that understands the condition of the hoof and can trim to alleviate the rotation and grow in a healthy well connected hoof wall from the coronary band down. This rehabilitation process can take 6-12 months depending on the severity and how fast the individual horse’s hoof grows. Often the horse can return to light work well before rehab is complete, but it is dependent on the individual case and I would strongly recommend to consult your veterinarian and farrier/trimmer first.
Laminitis or Founder, Two terms that are often used interchangeably, but do you know the difference?
Published in Saddle Up Magazine July 2015
The terms Laminitis and Founder are often used interchangeably by vets, farriers, trimmers and horse owners alike, however in my opinion they have two very different meanings. Laminitis is the inflammation of the sensitive lamina surrounding the coffin bone. This includes the sensitive lamina, found along the front and sides of the coffin bone, as well as the solar corium which is found on the bottom of the coffin bone. The sensitive lamina is the vasculature covering the coffin bone and it has nerves and a blood supply. The insensitive lamina is located on the inside of the hoof wall and has no blood supply or nerves and is semi-rigid in structure. The sensitive and insensitive lamina interlock like Velcro. This connection of the lamina supports the coffin bone’s position within the hoof.
There are two kinds of Laminitis, Acute and Chronic (Founder). Acute Laminitis is when the sensitive lamina becomes inflamed and the blood vessels swell. This causes pain because they are interlocked between the leaflets of the insensitive lamina that are semi-rigid and this connection doesn’t leave room for swelling. The solar corium can also become inflamed during the acute phase and cause bruising and eventually abscessing. A horse with acute laminitis will be extremely tender in their hooves, reluctant to move forward and often adopts a rocked back stance. Acute laminitis will usually last 2-5 days, and must be diagnosed by your veterinarian, who will also likely provide short term anti-inflammatories and care instructions. They should also work in conjunction with your farrier/trimmer to try and alleviate hoof pain and prevent further damaging the hoof. You must figure out what triggered the laminitic attack in the first place in order to prevent it from happening again. There are many causes for acute laminitis, some of the common ones are: carbohydrate overload (excess grain, green grass), hormonal changes (mares cycling in the spring), excess concussive forces (increased work on hard ground), over trimming, adverse reaction to medications, systemic infections, and stress.
Chronic Laminitis or Founder as it is typically called, is the rotation and or sinking of the coffin bone within the hoof capsule. A horse can have acute laminitis and not founder if the triggers are removed quickly enough and the lamina heals. However, if the cause for the laminitis is not removed and the hooves are not properly trimmed and protected the horse can continue to suffer damage to the sensitive lamina which eventually lets go of the connection with the insensitive lamina, allowing the coffin bone to rotate and sink within the capsule. Whether it rotates one degree or ten, any rotation or sinking at all is classified as founder. Once the lamina separate they cannot be immediately reattached, but the connection can be regrown down from the coronary band as new hoof wall grows in. You will have to work closely with your farrier/trimmer in order to allow the hoof wall to grow in well-connected again, and often a shortened trimming cycle is necessary. It is a long process to rehabilitate a foundered hoof but it is possible.
Founder is very common, and many horses live and even compete on foundered hooves without their owners knowing it. It’s not until these “timebomb” hooves eventually cause lameness that owners become aware. This is why education and knowledge become so important to the horse owner. Learn to understand what you are looking at when examining your horse’s hooves and how to evaluate their hoof health to prevent and avoid these types of problems in the long run.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine June 2015
Time is precious and a healthy relationship with your hoofcare provider is crucial to your horse’s wellbeing. Here are a few tips of what you should expect from your provider and what he/she is hoping to see from you.
Be on time. This works both ways as everyone’s time is valuable. If your appointment is scheduled for 1pm, arrive early to prepare your horse and his surroundings for the visit. Do not arrive at 12:59pm just ahead of the trimmer and rush to halter the horse and scramble to get him ready. Instead have your horse haltered and waiting calmly, perhaps lunged if they are in a particularly anxious mood or have trouble standing still. A trimmers schedule can change throughout the day, so please allow them a little bit of leeway. Perhaps a 15 minute window surrounding the appointment time. Anything more than that and they should call to touch base and see if your schedule is flexible. If you or your trimmer are unable to make the appointment at least 24 hours notice is necessary, 48-36 hours is better, but the situation might not always allow.
Be prepared. Having the feet picked out is a nice treat and even having the horse lightly groomed should impress your trimmer. I am not stating that your horse be groomed as if they were to beshown immediately following the trim, simply if the legs and hooves are muddy, perhaps curry them off. Your provider likely has several other horses to see after you and would like to stay as presentable as possible. Have your horse on a clean, flat dry surface if possible. A barn isle way, a stall mat, or even just a flat packed dirt area or driveway. Being able to assess the hoof while on the ground is a key component formulating a trimming plan and will make your provider’s job easier. Trying to see hooves in tall grass or mud can be difficult. Your trimmer should also arrive prepared with all of the tools required, and ready to work.
Stay in the moment. Be aware of your horses’ behaviour while being trimmed. Being firm and fair with your horse is important in keeping your trimmer safe while they are doing their job. Do talk to your trimmer, but also pay attention while holding your horse so that you can alert the trimmer to a potential spooking hazard or you can let them know if your horse is uncomfortable in a specific position. A horse that is moving around and distracted can be hard to trim, so keeping them focussed on the task at hand is important. If you are unsure how to handle the horse in a given situation, ask your trimmer how they would like you to handle the horse while they are working underneath him.
Communication is key. Expressing any concerns or questions you have regarding the trim is very important. An open line of communication will ensure you are both working in the best interests of the horse. Your trimmer should be open to answer your questions, and also explain how or why they are doing things the way they are if you ask them to. The answer of “because that’s how it’s done”, is not acceptable.
Payment is due when services are rendered. If you are hoping to pay at a later date or with a postdated check, please consider asking your trimmer if this is appropriate prior to the appointment. With technology today a lot of mobile services are set up to take credit or debit on the spot. However not all have these devices so please check at the time you book your appointment if that is how you intend to pay. Your trimmer should also be prepared to write you a receipt should you require one, and the amount owing should not be more than quoted to you when the appointment was booked unless it was discussed before or during the trim. This occasionally happens if the condition of the hooves require something extra that the trimmer couldn’t anticipate prior to the appointment.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine in two parts, April 2015 and May 2015
Nature seems to have a way when it comes to getting things right. The mathematical simplicity that exists when you break a hoof down into sections is quite amazing. At the Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care we teach a trimming method called the Hoof Print Trim. This method was created by Cheryl Henderson, founder of the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care. The Oregon School was the first of its kind in North America. A center devoted to the practice of Natural Hoof Care and a better life for our equines. Cheryl Henderson has spent many decades developing and researching her method and has proven it again and again with thousands of dissections and case studies. Our program teaches this method and also relies on the ability to “read” the hoof and each horse’s specific conformation to adapt the trim to their needs. This system allows us to teach the fundamentals of trimming in a short time frame.
The formula of a healthy hoof is as follows: the width at the fulcrum (widest point on the bottom of the hoof) equals the length heel to toe. This means that the hoof should be a perfect circle, hind hooves abide by this measurement also but the hoof tends to be more spade shaped. The frog should equal 2/3 of the solar view of the hoof from the back to the front, the remaining sole to the dorsal (front) hoof wall is the other 1/3. The hairline should be at a relaxed 30 degree angle to the ground. All hooved animals have a naturally occurring 30 degree hairline that only becomes distorted through genetic defect, altered living environments and lack of movement, or human trimming error. These formulas have been proven again and again through the study of wild horses’ hooves and as well through countless dissections and case studies. Even the most distorted hoof shapes follow these parameters and can often be brought back into balance in just a few trims depending on the severity of the distortion. This does not mean however that we just measure and cut. These guidelines must be paired with our “reading” of the hooves’ clues to help us determine each horses’ needs. For instance some horses have club feet, therefore this physical deformity will impact the heel height and the angle of the hairline. This is where reading the hoof and determining the best approach for each specific horse is extremely important. A deformity like club foot can sometimes be corrected or improved, but many times is just something you have to work with and adapt your trim around.
The Hoof Print Trim is a great starting point for those learning to trim because you can measure and draw where the healthy hoof should be and then train your eyes to “read” the hoof and evaluate using both sets of clues where you should trim. This method starts with evaluating the baseline. The baseline is the rearmost part of the hoof, where we will trim our heel height down to as well as where we take our measurement from heel to toe after establishing the width at the fulcrum. To find our baseline we measure from the back of the heel bulbs at the hairline to the collateral groove exit. On most average sized horses this measurement equals 1 ¼ inches. It varies for ponies or smaller horses and the taller horses and drafts but this is just an average, and again not a measurement we would simply just cut without “reading” into the rest of the hoof first and accounting for and deformities or pathologies etc. After establishing the correct baseline by evaluating the frog health, the periople wear marks, the heel surface, and sole thickness in switchback at the rear of the hoof, we can measure our fulcrum to establish our toe length.
The fulcrum is simply the widest part on the bottom of the hoof. It is almost always about ¾ inch behind the apex of the frog occurring at the mid-point of where the coffin bone sits inside the hoof and is not usually distorted by flaring or stretched lamina. We measure the fulcrum from the golden line on one side to the golden line on the other side, not from wall to wall. If the measurement was 4 ½ inches, we would then measure from our baseline forward 4 ½ inches and mark where our golden line should be at the toe. In a balanced hoof that has been trimmed regularly and correctly, this mark will line up with the golden line at the toe. I just want to reiterate that this is also not a cut line, we still have to add our wall thickness to determine where the cut line will be. We also must “read” the hooves’ wear patterns and toe callous before deciding where to cut. Now that we have determined the circumference of the hoof we can establish the 2/3 to 1/3 balance. The baseline to the apex of the frog should be 2/3 of the overall hoof length. Frogs can get stretched forward into the sole’s 1/3 and occasionally need to be trimmed back. This measurement will determine if the frog has migrated forward. However all of our measurements to this point would be inaccurate if we had measured our baseline wrong, so caution must be taken to measure correctly and confirm we are right by reading” the clues and wear marks in the hoof.
After establishing the baseline and the heel height we must determine the length of the toe. We do not use the white line as a determining factor as it can stretch and migrate forward giving a false location for the toe length. In order to determine the proper length we measure the fulcrum width from white line to white line on either side of the hoof. A front hoof should be the same width as length. So if the fulcrum is 4 ½ inches from white line to white line then our measurement from the baseline at the rear of the hoof to the toe would be 4 ½ inches. This is not a cut line though, we still have to add the thickness of the hoof wall to this measurement. A lot of times in a run forward hoof the white line can stretch forward and this measurement can seem extreme. However even though the wall flares forward and the white line stretches, the internal structures do not move or migrate. The coffin bone can rotate and sink lower in the hoof capsule in a laminitic or foundered horse, but even in those cases the geometrical mapping will establish the location of the coffin bone before we start to trim and we can work to bring balance back to the hoof.
Another factor we have to consider when aligning the bones of the hoof and lower limb is the hairline angle. All hooved animals in nature have a 30 degree hairline in their natural environment (barring rare genetic defects) and the horse is only an exception when trimmed and managed ineffectively. Studies of wild horses in the US Great Basin have shown that when allowed to naturally wear their hooves in their wild environment they almost always have a 30 degree hairline. The few horses with this exception have a genetic defect of a club foot. A club foot is a coffin bone with a steeper dorsal angle and therefore creates a hoof with a steeper dorsal hoof wall angle and a higher heel. Both of these pathologies will affect the hairline angle.
After evaluating the baseline, the fulcrum, the toe length and the hairline angle, we finish our trim by defining and trimming the bars and putting the mustang roll on the front of the hoof. The bars function is for support in the rear of the hoof and it is important that they are not over trimmed, however they must also not be left to grow over the sole as they can cause bruising and abscessing. A mustang roll is a rounding of the hoof wall at the toe to remove any leveraging forces on the hoof wall and to create a smoother breakover. The mustang roll is one of the defining differences between a barefoot trim and a traditional farrier trim.
published in Saddle Up Magazine March 2015
Frequent trimming is the most important step in building and maintaining healthy hooves. The average horse should be trimmed on a 6 to 8 week schedule. This can be varied slightly depending on the time of year and how fast the hooves are growing. It also depends on the amount of movement and exercise the horse is getting over varied terrain. Anything more than an 8 week cycle is just damage control and will not facilitate the growth of a healthy strong barefoot hoof. During rehabilitation trimming of damaged and sensitive hooves, the frequency of trims can vary anywhere from once per week to every 4 weeks depending on the situation.
Even with frequent trimming practice, a horse will not develop strong hooves without movement. Wild horses in the US Great Basin have been documented to travel up to 40 miles per day in search of food, water and shelter. In contrast our domestic horses usually live in paddocks where they are fed next to their water and do not have to travel far for shelter. One of the best things we can do for our horse’s hooves and wellbeing is to keep them in a herd on a track based paddock system. A track based system where horses are fed throughout the track encourages horses to move on average 7 times father then they would in an open paddock. For more information on this type of horse keeping I would urge you to read Jaime Jackson’s book, Paddock Paradise.
Movement is key, but movement on varied terrain is plays an important role in hoof strength. A horse that lives in a soft grass paddock and only works in a sand arena will not be able to callous his hooves to be comfortable on hard packed ground or rocks. The best way to condition your horses’ hooves is to bring the surface you want them comfortable to ride on into their paddock. That means you can bring in river rock, pea gravel, and road crush gravel. Putting these materials around areas your horse frequents is key. You don’t have to do your entire paddock in them. Placing them around the water trough, or in their shelters is a good way to ensure exposure to those surfaces. At first the horse might be uncomfortable, but over time their hooves will start to callous and strengthen and they will become able to traverse those surfaces without discomfort.
A low carbohydrate and high fibre diet is essential for hoof health. It is also important to make sure your horse’s diet is balanced in vitamins and minerals. A diet rich in carbohydrates can cause sensitivity in the hooves, poor horn growth and laminitis. Horses are designed to forage 14-16 hours per day. The best way to feed our domestic horses is by slow feeding. There are many great feeders and nets on the market to simulate natural grazing.
Patience is key in rehabilitating damaged hooves as well as forging strong healthy barefoot hooves. It takes time to build callous, and to condition the hoof to the environment. Rehabilitation also takes time as you cannot always achieve your trimming goals for a specific horse in one trim. Soundness is key when trying to build healthy hooves and the horse’s comfort must always be a priority.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine February 2015
For many horse owners, evaluating and trimming their horse’s hooves is a task left up to their farrier/trimmer. But how do you know that the person that you have hired is doing a good job? You have to be able to evaluate your horse’s hooves beyond the scope of how sound the horse moves. While soundness in the present is important, the horse’s long term hoof health is also a major factor owners must consider. I see many cases where long term incorrect hoof shape or function has lead to irreversible damage while the horse appeared sound until it was too late to correct. However I also see a lot of horses that I am able to rehabilitate and return to use after a deformed hoof has broken down.
There are 5 key points horse owners can use to evaluate their horses’ hooves:
Heel Placement – The heels should be positioned at what we call the baseline. The baseline is an invisible line that runs across the back of the frog and collateral grooves, and in a well-trimmed hoof also aligns with the heels rearmost surface. When heels are allowed to overgrow or migrate forward from this line, the balance of the hoof is distorted and excess stress and tension is placed on the horse’s joints, tendons and ligaments. Long or forward heels can also shorten stride length.
Frog Integrity – When a horse moves forward, their natural stride should allow them to land heel first. If the heels are in the correct position as mentioned above, the heels and frog will contact the ground simultaneously. The frog’s primary function is to protect the digital cushion. The digital cushion lies underneath the hard calloused frog and is a large pad of fatty tissue. The digital cushion absorbs impact and dissipates energy. If the frog is infected with thrush or bacteria, or underdeveloped from long heels keeping it elevated and not touching the ground, this portion of the hoof’s function cannot be performed. Without the energy dissipation of a healthy frog and digital cushion excess stress is placed on the horse’s joints.
Wall Connection – A well connected hoof wall supports the coffin bone and allows the hoof to function as intended. The hoof wall grows downward from the coronet to the ground and should not flare or deviate in angle as it descends. A hoof wall that changes its angle part way down the hoof will have a poor connection and decreased concavity in the sole. A disconnected wall can lead to the coffin bone sinking down into the hoof capsule causing inflammation in the sole resulting in sensitive hooves.
Sole Thickness – Sole thickness is key to soundness and comfort. A thick sole protects the coffin bone and pads the hoof. The sole should be firm and calloused, you should not be able to flex it when pressing with your fingers. It should have a smooth appearance, and it should have a slight concavity. Concavity varies for each individual horse dependant on their coffin bone shape but the bottom of the hoof should not be flat. A flat hoof signals a balance issue, perhaps in the wall connection or a problem with overgrown bars.
Bar Definition – The purpose of the bars are to support the back of the hoof upon impact. The bar is an extension of the hoof wall as it wraps around from the heel surface. The bars should run at a downward slope from the heel to the mid-point of the frog. The bar should also be upright and defined, not laid over or blended into the sole. When bars invade the sole it can cause many different issues, the most common are: sensitivity on hard ground and reoccurring abscessing. In rare cases embedded bar can also cause navicular like symptoms.
Horse owners must learn to recognise what a healthy hoof looks and functions like. Hoof care is a fundamental component of horse ownership and you must know how to recognise a problem before it causes long term damage.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine December 2014
Maintaining frog health through the winter can be a challenging task in our climate. A healthy robust frog is one of the main supporting structures in the back of the hoof. As the horse strides out the heels and frog impact the ground first, absorbing the impact energy and dissipating the forces on the horses’ joints. A weak or infected frog will cause the horse to alter its stride and can cause the horse to land toe first. This is detrimental to the functionality of the limb and can wreak havoc on hoof health as well as cause a myriad of body issues.
A healthy frog is calloused and firm to the touch with no snags, flaps or crevices for debris and manure to get trapped inside. The central sulcus (small “V” shaped crevice at the rear of frog) should be shallow and wide. The collateral grooves (indented area on each side of frog) should be open and be easy to slip a hoof pick in for cleaning. If they are too tight your trimmer might open them up to allow you better access for cleaning during the wetter months.
An unhealthy frog is one with flaps and tags of material that appears ratty and loose. In many instances thrush and other fungus and bacteria can get trapped in deep grooves and fissures creating further infection inside the sensitive. Once the frog and its underlying structures become infected it can be very hard treat and heal. A balance of cleaning with topical anti-fungal and anti-bacterial solutions as well as keeping the hooves clean and dry is the best remedy. In the winter with the mud and snow manure management can be difficult, but keeping your horses’ heavier trafficked areas clean and dry is a priority as well as picking their feet regularly.
A great strategy is to treat the horse preventively twice a week as the ground becomes wet with a mild anti-fungal like apple cider vinegar. The vinegar kills the bacteria and fungus but will not harm the healthy tissues. There are many products on the market for treating thrush, but whenever possible I prefer to recommend something natural when using it as a preventative measure. If you are dealing with an active surface infection the apple cider vinegar is still effective, but more frequent treatment is needed. My preferred method of application is to put the vinegar in a spray bottle or a bottle with a pointed tip to apply it only to the infected area. After applying I use an old toothbrush to massage the vinegar into any small cracks or crevices. Too much vinegar on the skin or heel bulbs could cause irritation or sensitivity and should be avoided. The aim is to apply only to the infected areas of the frog or hoof.
For deep central sulcus thrush causing toe first landings or altered stride serious effort must be put into healing the hoof before lasting damage is done to the horse’s hoof, joints and body. In this instance I recommend a soaking boot and a solution called White Lightning. White Lightning is a liquid that when mixed with equal parts white vinegar creates a Chlorine Dioxide Gas. This gas kills the fungus and bacteria on contact without irritating the sensitive tissues that could be sensitive from the underlying infection. Soaking is recommended daily for 20 minutes until the infection is starting to dry up and the cracks can start to close. As the infection starts to clear treatment can be gradually reduced until the crack is healed. A word of caution: During soaking keeping the solution low on the hoof so that is does not irritate the skin is of great importance. The liquid can discolor the hair and can irritate the skin if left saturated for too long. A little solution goes a long way, on average I use 2 tablespoons of WL mixed with equal parts vinegar. It is also important to note that this solution must be mixed up on an as needed basis and will not be effective if mixed ahead of time. It is the chemical reaction that causes the gas and so the soaking boot should also be wrapped to trap the gas inside while soaking. An old polo wrap or vet wrap works well for this. With any medical treatment, consult your veterinarian or hoof care practitioner if you have any questions or concerns or if the infection persists.
More Ideas for treating thrush
Another product that I recommend for thrush is No Thrush powder. It is the only thrush product on the market (that I know of) that is a dry treatment for thrush. The powder comes in a bottle with a pointed tip so that you can insert the tip into the crevices and expel the powder. This needs to be done daily, or in some cases multiple times per day in order to treat severe infections. I like to use this powder on an infected hoof and then as a base in a hoof boot in wet or muddy conditions in order to keep the hoof clean and dry.
For central sulcas thrush with deep cracks I also use a cream made up of equal parts clotrimazole and triple antibiotic ointment. The clotrimazole is used for athletes foot infections and can be found at most pharmacies. I mix both creams together and put the mixture into a large syringe with a pointed tip. The syringe allows me to inject the cream deep into the crack in the frog and the cream kills the fungus and bacteria. This treatment is effective long term, but needs to be done daily and the hooves kept clean and dry.
A liquid thrush product I use regularly to treat thrush and as a preventative is No Thrush. It is a deep purple color and works very well for surface thrush and as a preventative. I apply it to a clean, dry frog with a toothbrush so that I can scrub it into the frog and any cracks and crevices. Be sure to wear gloves and don't get it on your clothes as it stains everything it touches!
Published in Saddle Up Magazine November 2014
There are a lot of interpretations of natural trimming, and every clinician seems to have their own method. What each of these methods have in common is their connection to the wild horse model. The wild horse model is simply a style of trimming based on the wear patterns on the hooves of the wild mustangs in the US Great Basin.
Even though they don’t live the same untamed lifestyle, our horses’ genetics are the same as their wild relatives. Hundreds of years of selective breeding has not changed the genetic makeup of our horses. Science has proven that it takes between 5000 and 10000 years for evolution to change the base genetics of any species. While we do select specific traits to carry forward through our breeding practices, the genetic makeup of our horses is the same.
Is it fair to compare our domestic horses’ hooves to their wild counterparts? This is a question I get asked often, and my answer is yes. “Domestic horses are really nothing more than wild horses in captivity” -Joe Camp
In May of 2014 I traveled to the Steen Mountains of Oregon to study and observe the wild mustangs that live there. What I saw was amazing. Horses with strong, hard hooves, traversing extremely rocky and uneven terrain. They galloped over it as if they were floating. The mustangs were in peak health, muscled and toned and moving with impulsion and vigour. In the approximately 500 horses we encountered, fewer than 5 showed signs of lameness. These horses could traverse terrain that our domestic horses would stumble and trip over even with strongest of hooves and hoof protection. It gave me a great appreciation for how much more our horses could be capable of if only they were not held back by our ideals.
The benefits of natural trimming with the wild horse as a model are many. The most important being that the hoof can expand and contract upon impact with each step. This the primary way the hoof dissipates the energy of impact, it also increases the circulation of blood through the limbs, reducing the stress on the heart. The horse will also have much fewer chiropractic, muscle and joint problems. It reduces the risk of tendon and ligament strain and damage significantly. Many horses started barefoot from a young age will never have to deal with arthritis, navicular syndrome or many of the other hoof pathologies that develop from improper hoof mechanics and function. Rarely are any of these pathologies seen in the wild.
Domestic horses should move functionally the same as a wild horse. They should strike the ground heel first and allow the shock absorbing functions in the hoof to dissipate the energy. Wild horses wear their hooves constantly because of the abrasive terrain that they live on and because they move 20-40 miles every day. Our domestic horses generally don’t get worked enough on varied terrain to wear their own hooves effectively. It is up to us to keep them trimmed and balanced to allow the hoof to function mechanically how it is intended. Because they are anatomically the same, I believe the wild horse makes a great model for trimming our domestic horses.
We must have realistic expectations however in comparing our domestic horses to the wild horse in terms of their capabilities. In the right circumstance they are one and the same, but to take a domestic horse that lives in a soft dirt paddock and ask him to traverse the rocky terrain of the wild horse would be unfair. We must condition our horses to the environment we want them to perform in. That means that if we want our horse to be comfortable on rocky ground we need to allow him to live on rocky ground. With proper trimming and care his hooves will callous and strengthen and he will be able. In cases where it is not possible to condition the horse hoof protection is needed.
Many horses develop hoof pathologies as a result of improper hoof care, living conditions or ill health and these hooves need extensive time for rehabilitation. In most cases the horses’ comfort level can be improved, it is only in severe cases that pain management becomes the primary focus. You would never see these horses in the wild as they would not survive on their own, it is only with our help that they can be rehabilitated or managed. Ironically if they had been born wild instead of into domestication, it is unlikely they would have been afflicted with these pathologies in the first place.
Published in Saddle Up Magazine October 2014
“Natural is always barefoot, but barefoot is not always natural.”
When I started my journey as a hoof care professional, I strived to learn all that I could, and to always keep the horses' best interest at heart. I called myself a barefoot trimmer, because I was adamantly opposed to the use of shoes on horses. The benefits of barefoot are many, but the most important are: increased circulation and flexion of the hoof and increased dissipation of impact forces during movement. As I started to trim professionally and see a variety of horses, I was very concerned with the unhealthy hooves I was finding. It wasn't that the shoes were ruining the hooves, but rather it was the distorted hooves under the shoes that was the problem. If the hooves were healthy to begin with, perhaps they wouldn't need a shoe for comfort. The shoe was simply a tool used to keep the horse comfortable while his hoof was perpetually distorted. I began to specialize in horses with distorted feet that relied on shoes for soundness. I pulled their shoes and rehabilitated their hooves so that they could be barefoot. This worked well for many of the horses I saw, but still a few went back to shoes as they could not cope barefoot. I was doing what I could to rehabilitate their hooves, but it left them with no hoof protection, weak hooves, and unsound for riding. Horses that were able to be used before were now sitting in their paddocks. Surely there was a better way to transition them to healthier hooves without the discomfort? I began to look at alternative hoof protection in the form of hoof boots. There are some very good boots on the market built for all kinds of riding and comfort. And while boots work great for many horses that need added protection, they don't work for them all, and not all owners have the time or desire to use them. This is where shoes become a useful tool. However, there are drawbacks to the metal horseshoe. It is too rigid, taking away the flexibility of the hoof, and without the expansion and contraction during movement circulation is reduced. The shock absorbing properties of the hoof are minimised and added stress is put on the joints and muscles. It does not seem natural to me given these drawbacks to put a metal shoe onto a hoof. But there is a product on the market that is the best of both worlds. It is a flexible plastic shoe that provides the needed protection for some horses, while still allowing the natural movement of the hoof. These shoes are a great tool to use while transitioning horses bare, or for horses that cannot adapt to being barefoot in their environment or circumstance. I can no longer say that I am a barefoot trimmer as I routinely put these shoes and boots on horses that need added protection. They are not barefoot, but they do have a natural hoof working for them with all the advantages. It truly is working for the horse when you can go outside of your comfort zone to seek what is in their best interest. Hoof care professionals need to work together to educate and learn from each other. Regardless of what we call ourselves: natural trimmers, farriers or barefoot advocates, we all have the same goal; comfort and soundness for the horse.
Kristi Luehr is a Natural Trimmer, and founder of the Okanagan School of Natural Hoof Care. She holds certification with the Canadian Farrier School as well as the Oregon School of Natural Hoof Care and is also trained in Equine Massage Therapy and Equine Dentistry without sedation. Her focus is to educate owners about hoof anatomy, natural hoof mechanism, and the importance of a natural trim, based on the wild horse model and tailored to each horse's individual needs.