Why do we see this instant change? Horses choose a stance that is most comfortable to them, or rather, is least painful for them. In the before-trim photos, the horse unloads the heels by standing under and putting more weight on the toes. Once the hooves are trimmed for comfort, then the horse finds it quite pleasant to load the heels and chooses to stand with vertical cannon bones, which allows it to use it’s stay-apparatus.
These photos show the immediate impact of a physiologically correct trim on a horse’s stance. On the left is how the horse chose to stand when it was “due” for a trim. Here we see how it stands under with the front end and compensates by standing under with the backend. Immediately after a trim, the horse chose to stand “square”, aka vertical canon bones.
This illustrates the meaning when a horse is “due” for a trim. It should not be driven by a trimming interval as we set it in the calendar, but rather should be dictated by the horse’s comfort level, which we can gauge by its way of standing. If it chooses not to stand with vertical canon bones, then the horse is compensating for some discomfort in the body. This can be a number of things, or combinations thereof. However, more often than not, as shown in these cases, the hooves are a major contributor.
Below an update of this horse. At the next trim, 3 weeks later, the horse is standing under again, see blue lines. I also placed the original red lines on it from the first comparison. However, the horse is not standing under quite as much. Immediatly post-trim, the horse stands square again.
This hightlights the point made above. As time progresses between trims, most horses tend to start compensating for uncomfortable feet again. A physiological trim can remove the pain sources and allow the horse to stand correctly. Trimming intervals must be chosen based on when the horse starts to compenstate, rather than an arbitary date in the calendar.
Another aspect to point out, the better the boarding conditions support the horse’s needs, the later the compensation will set in.
We often get requests to assist with hoof boot fitting based on hoof measurements. When those measurements are in such a way that the hoof is longer than wide, aka Length > Width, then this is usually relatively straight forward since the boots are designed to accommodate such a hoof.
Longer than wide
The hoof often gets likened to a slanted, truncated cone. A cone would project a circle to the ground, however, since we are talking a bout a slanted cone that meets with a horizontal surface (the ground), the projection is oblong, it is slightly longer than wide. In most cases also the coronet is slightly longer than wide. These are attributes of a healthy hoofcapsule.
Wider than Long
While we have boots that accommodate a hoof with Width = Length, the problem arises when Width > Length. This would result in the length requiring one size of the boot while the width would need another size, sometimes differing by two boot sizes. Since the boots are usually longer than wide, there would be a gap in the toe and the boot will twist in the best case, or worse, they come off and get damaged.
Here are common scenarios why the hoof presents wider than long:
The length measurement is incorrect. Often as a result of the heels being too long or very underrun and then the heel buttress gets measured at the wrong location. Once measured correctly, the hoof measures longer than wide and the fitting should be relatively easy.
The hoof has quarter-flare present. This is by far the most common scenario. One can see the flare by looking at the hoof from the front and compare the coronet contour with the contour at the bottom. If flare is present, the line along the hoof connecting the coronet and the bottom will appear curved or has a distinct “kink” in it (see red dotted line below). If that line was running straight (yellow dotted line below), the hoof would be less wide and usually would measure longer than wide, or at least as wide than long. For those proportions it is easier again to find a fitting boot.
There are situations where the hoof is indeed wider than long, but that is usually linked with more severe situations that usually involve substantial loss of parts of the pedal bone. Usually, boot modifications are needed to get something that fits well. Please seek the advice of someone who is trained for that type of pathology.
The flare as described above often cannot be completely rasped off in one go as there is simply too much of it present. In those cases, project a line from the coronet to the base where the hoof would finish if there was no flare. Then address the flare to that line in the bottom third of the hoof. Keep repeating this every two weeks until the flare has grown out.
Areas where the coronet is pushed high will need further relief at the hoof wall below the coronet distortion, so that the coronet can “relax”.
It should be the goal of Barefoot Hoofcare to improve the health of the hooves. Hoof boots are a great tool to assist with this, but advise against using boots as a crutch to mask up underlying problems.
When this article was written, it was winter in New Zealand. For most part of the country that means wet and muddy fields where we keep our stock, including horses. But the issue is also present if the horses are kept on other soft substrates (loose sand, bark, saw dust, deep loose gravel, etc) at other times of the year, or worse, all year round.
One thing to remind ourselves is how the equine hoof functions. For the hoof to function, apart from the correct shape that allows this, it needs a certain firmness of the ground to provide enough resistance to expand the hoof capsule and create hoof mechanism. This hoof mechanism will allow for optimal blood flow to the soft tissue inside that is responsible to grow the right amount of horn. The soft ground now reduces this action and as a result reduces horn production and horn quality. We often hear the phrase the hoof grows less in winter.
If the horn quality of the external horn deteriorates, that is kind of obvious – brittle horn, weak frogs and pitted sole. Usually “the wet” gets the blame. However, if the internal horn, the laminar line horn that bonds the pedal bone to the hoof wall, is compromised, then this is not immediately visible. We will see the signs of that weakened bond when the ground hardens out again in spring and the foot gets stimulated more, then, out of a sudden, there is a sore horse. Often the diagnosis then is laminitis.
This does not need to be the case, if the horse has a functioning hoof and is offered firm enough ground so that it needs to spend some time on it to walk about. In reality terms that means the horse shelter and the adjacent areas should be prepared so it does not become a bog. A driveway can work well, too. We then can offer hay in those areas and make the horse spend some time on it. Providing a firm-enough ground now, will safe us (well, and the horse) trouble later on.
6yo with very contracted feet. I cropped the toes off so we can just focus on the heels and bulbs. Note the distorted bulb line, the central sulcus pushed very high and narrow, and the medio-lateral heel angles very shallow. On the right, greatly improved hoof morphology and a horse with a much better loading pattern and muscle tone. Done over 24 trims.
This dissection shows how the collateral groove is distorted upwards into the hoof (yellow line left). In relation to that you can see how long and incorrectly proportioned the bar is. The green line shows how the bar should run and where the bottom of the collateral groove should be. The yellow line is too close to the DDFT and the Navicular Bone and the full bar blocks the horn movement in that area. The result: horse with heel pain. Barefoot trimming should work towards the green line to get the horse comfortable again. This means one has to trim for change, not maintenance in a case like this.
On the left the front hooves of a 3yo pony. Very significantly distorted feet and an uncomfortable pony. On the right, the same fronts about a year later. Much improved hooves and the comfortable pony is now going to pony club. It’s very easy to forget what the starting point was.
By Thorsten Kaiser, Institute for Barefoot Equine Management
On the Barefoot journey with our horse, many of us have asked the question: Are we still Barefoot if we use hoof boots? The answer is not a simple yes or no, however. This article will clarify the different aspects to consider.
When we look around and see the hooves of successful barefoot horses, we see tough hooves that have nice concavity, tough frogs, no white-line issues, and strong hoof walls – they just look great. Those horses seem to be confident and sure-footed over any terrain without any hoof protection. However, in many cases those hooves have not always been so healthy. In order to get where they are now, they had to go through two phases: Transitioning and Conditioning.
In the Transitioning phase the unhealthy hoof, stimulated through movement and a style of trimming that restores hoof function, will change to a healthy situation and grow stronger. The photos show the comparison of a hoof at the beginning and end of transition. At the start the hooves display flare in the hoof wall, underslung heels, bars that are long and pushed forward over the sole, distorted/curved coronet, thin soles, poor concavity, and contracted heels. All these symptoms are the result of incorrect lever forces acting on the hoof, causing distortion and reduced horn quality and quantity. Simply applying a hoof boot to this situation without addressing the underlying problems will not lead to long-term success. While correct trimming aims to remove those lever forces, the horse needs time to heal and grow a healthy hoof. In response, the horse moves carefully and sensitively over slightly rough or lumpy terrain. The horse, in order to control the impact and loading of the sensitive parts of the hoof, often chooses a toe-first landing over the desired heel-first landing of a sound horse. These incorrect impact forces have negative effects, directly, to the hoof suspension and, peripherally, to muscles that get used unnaturally which add to the horse’s discomfort.
Properly fitted hoof boots create a firm but yielding environment with no lumps and bumps that can cause excess pressure to the transitioning hoof. The horse quickly gains confidence in putting the foot down and using it correctly. As a result, you get a happier horse that moves more correctly and therefore transitions to a healthier hoof a lot faster. You also get a happier horse owner who now will ride the horse more often, and the increased movement will also speed up the Transition to Barefoot. At the end of the Transitioning phase we have a horse that has developed healthy hooves and is sound on the terrain it lives on.
In order to get the horse sound over gravel roads, rocky tracks, riverbeds, etc. it now has to go through the Conditioning phase. This means gradual and consistent exposure to these types of grounds so the hooves have a chance to get tougher. Ultimately, the goal is to ride your horse over a variety of terrain without any hoof protection. However, depending on where you live and how much time you have for riding, it may not be possible to truly condition the hooves properly for the rougher terrain. In this case the use of hoof boots will allow you to access more challenging terrain without compromising the important heel-first landing.
Hoof boots, when used in conjunction with trimming that restores proper hoof function, can be a helpful tool to speed along the Transitioning phase and can be essential to keeping healthy hooves moving over rougher terrain when Conditioning is not possible.
Proper boot fit is very important to your success. Feel free to contact us as we can point you in the right direction.