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.