I have covered this topic in a previous post, so this post is adding another example of what difference appropriate hoofcare can make.
The horse shown on the left is 19yo and has been “barefoot” trimmed for years. I have put the word barefoot in quotes to make a point about the difference between no shoes and non-functioning-hoof-style “barefoot”, which I refer to as un-shod, and barefoot that focuses and leads to functioning and comfortable hooves and horse. The latter is what is taught in our courses.
On the right, the same horse 15 months later, with me working on his hooves. Note how much more relaxed the shoulder and whole body has become. Overall, the horse looks a lot less hunched up and the owner reports the horse is very forward going when being ridden.
Before I started on this horse, he was grass-restricted to nearly no grass and kept in smaller paddocks. He now has more grass access and the ability to move more.
While this post is highlighting the stance difference, have a brief look at the hooves. You can notice how the front hooves are less upright now, while the hind hooves are no longer tilted backward, aka no longer have a negative plantar angle.
Many young horses, unfortunately, do not receive the hoofcare they need and deserve. Typically, hoofcare starts “late”, as in the horse may already be a yearling or later, and is only done sporadically.
The reasons can be manifold:
the foal has not been handled enough to actually get its hooves done.
it’s not doing any work, so it doesn’t need its hooves done
what could possibly be wrong? It’s a young horse!
The profit margin in breeding, for many horses, is not that great, so any extra cost is being minimised.
the horse is not lame, so it doesn’t need hoof trimming
let “nature” take care of it
too many foals on the place and it becomes a time issue to get around to do the hooves regularly enough
and so on
The problem with this is, that typically in most domestic environments, the stimuli that promote a poor hoof are greater than those that promote a good hoof. Consequently, the hoof heads in the wrong direction. When the time comes that the horse is supposed to get started under saddle, its hooves struggle to withstand the sudden demand.
It really should go without saying that any biological system needs to adapt to its stresses placed upon it. A young horse to be started under saddle, should be on a programme that gradually increases the workload, prior to being sent to the person starting the horse. This allows the musco-skeletal system to respond accordingly, including the hooves and their connection to the pedal bone.
Sadly, this is often not the reality and the workload is typically increased from 0-100 in a matter of days. The developing and growing horse then may struggle physically with the new demands placed on it, and often, so do the hooves. The common demand, the horse needs to get shoes put on, so it can do the work it is being asked to do.
The person understanding such biological processes, however, implements a developing programme to get the system (horse) sufficiently prepared to be able to safely meet the demands that are place on it.
As far as hoofcare is concerned, this means trimming should start as soon as there are signs that the hooves develop in the wrong direction. Trimming should be sufficiently frequent, so the hooves can develop to a strong and robust hoof.
What if you have a 4-yo that is to be started, that already has hoof problems? This a common reality. A person may have bought a young horse that already has developed hoof problems as a result of the points raised above. In this case, the priority should be to start developing more robust hooves with better integrity as soon as possible. After-all, the hooves are the foundation for anything else to follow. As part of the hoof development, the movement quantity and intensity should gradually be increased. While this helps with the hoof development, it also helps with the development of the rest of the horse, aka connective tissue, bone density, lung and cardio-vascular capacity. Depending on the starting point, it may take a good year before the horse has some good strong hooves. At this point, given the fore mentioned underlying development programme was implemented, your horse should be ready to be started under saddle.
See the examples below:
This 4-yo has significant coronet distortion, see curved coronet line in the photo on the left. From there you can see how the hoof wall at the side of the hoof tries to grow down straight and then is pushed outward. This type of deformation is referred to as flare. A flared hoof wall no longer maintains a tight laminar connection to the internal structures, but rather is a sign of white line problems and poor integrity of the hoof. Those white line problems may or may not be visible at sole level, depending on how the sole horn is distorted. In other words, it is entirely possible to have white line stretching in the hoof that is hidden by a flared sole covering it up. The circle indicates a bottom-up toe-quarter crack at the exact point where the coronet is pushed upwards. The excess tension in the hoof wall, the result of the hoof deformation, causes the horn tubules to separate from each other at the highest stress point and we see it as a crack.
On the right, 18 months later, the hoof wall is a lot more relaxed and the flare has grown out. The horse now has a hoof with much better integrity, aka connection of hoof wall and pedal bone. From a hoof’s point of view, this horse is now ready to be started under saddle.
This 4-yo below (see images on the right), has had “barefoot” hoofcare, but, sadly has very distorted hoof capsules. This horse struggled to stand still on his front hooves when asked to stand on a single front hoof as is needed for trimming. Its gait was “toe heavy” as the horse tried to unload its uncomfortable back half of the hoof.
Again, we see the typical distortion of the coronet (curved upwards) and wall horn tubules that are converging to the toe. The hooves are longitudinally contracted. The collateral grooves of this horse were at least twice as deep as they should be.
Compared to the previous example that showed poor integrity and flare, this one is the opposite and is a very contracted and “tight” hoof.
The images on the left, just over 4 years apart, show a much more relaxed hoof capsule with wall horn tubules that run more parallel to each other. Until this point the regrowth between trims has been disproportional in the mid part of the hoof, which affected its function and ability to further de-contract. Considering the relative young age of this horses, this has been a considerable time frame due to a complex hoof problem and not the most optimal supportive boarding situation.
Even foals at the age of 4 months can show significant hoof deformations. Ideally, they get addressed much sooner than that. Basically, when you notice the hooves heading in the wrong direction, then it is time to work on the hooves. When caught early, the trimming needed is usually quite small, since the internal structures are not yet deformed. By the time the foals is 4 months old, however, the internal structures can already be deformed as well, and it takes a bigger effort to correct the hooves again.
The hoof below clearly shows the first regrowth from when the foal was born. Due to lack of movement, ground stimulation, and wear, the regrowth is very deformed and longitudinally contracted. This is a typical scenario that leads to underrun heels with quarter flares initially, and eventually toe flares.
The hoof of the 4-months old below is setup to become a club foot. Already, the heels are long and the hoof is upright with a short “stubby” toe. Additionally, the foal has already started the grazing pattern with this hoof placed back and the other front hoof out front with most of the weight. Once this habit is for formed, it gets harder and harder to break it, so longer it is present. The hoof at 15 months later shows a less distorted hoofcapsule and the horse is no longer grazing with this foot back all the time. The formation of a club foot could be prevented.
Hooves are a very adaptable system to external influences. Unfortunately, in many domestic situations, those external influences are not necessarily helping the hoof development, and ultimately the horse. When more negative influences/stimuli are present than positive ones, the hooves regress. Unfortunately, this may also include how the hoof is trimmed.
On the flip side, given the right stimuli, and enough of it, hooves can change for the better, even at a later stage in life. The limiting factor, however, are the state of the pedal bone, cartilage distortion, and just how much pathology is present and how long it has been present for.
Above the hind hoof of a 19-yo that has been “barefoot-trimmed” for years. The left image is taken at the start when I took on the horse, the image on the right, one year late. Both images were taken four weeks post the previous trim.
The contour of the hoof on the left is a common sight. Looking at its coronet, we notice how curved and how steep it is. The steepness indicates a negative plantar angle, which has a negative effect on ligament and tendon strain, as well as timing of break-over.
The curved coronet is the result of excessive wall loading and longitudinal contraction. If a hoof bears too much weight on the outer rim, aka hoof wall, rather than distributing it across the whole bottom structure (at full load), then the coronet usually ends up with this upward distortion in the mid-section of the hoof. While some argue this is merely cosmetic, a cross-section of such hoof reveals that the underlying coronary corium is actually compressed.
This is similar to a human’s cuticle being pushed upwards. The other response to the upwards distortion of the coronet is the longitudinal contraction of the hoof. When you look at the blue line marking the wall horn tubule at the toe and then compare that to the horn tubules of the side, you can see how the converge towards each other. This means that the back of the hoof has rotated forward in relation to its toe. The result of this is that there is less space in side the hoof capsule, especially in the back half of the hoof, where we find the digital cushion in the navicular region. Typically, this leads to compromised comfort and the horse tends to compensate for that.
On the right, the hoof is in a much more “relaxed” state. The coronet has straightened out and the wall horn tubules are running nearly parallel to each other. A little bit more to do here to achieve a parallel alignment. The hoof has lengthened in the back half and can happily load the heels without the need to compensate.
The horse is now happily striding out and willing to go forward.
Below is a nice example of a hoof that was “barefoot” but has lots of distortion and flare present. Consequently, it was a weak hoof with poor integrity.
The same hoof some five years later. There is next to no flare present and the horn tubule distortion has improved significantly. This is a hoof with a tight white line and great integrity. This is the hoof you want on a performance horse.
Many horse owners are very good at looking after their equine friend. If you look in a tack and feed shed, there are many items and supplement on offer to make sure the equine friends are well cared for.
But, how well are you looking after yourself?
Anyone who does prolonged exercise, especially if it involves sweating, knows we have to drink water. However, there is also the need to look after your mineral balance in your body – also known as electrolytes.
As a rider, if you spend a couple or more hours in the saddle (especially at a faster pace, or in hot conditions), as a hoofcare professional, if you trim longer than a couple of hours, you need to ensure you replenish your electrolytes lost in that activity. If we keep pushing on like this day after day, you simply start putting your health at risk.
Electrolytes are important for our muscles to function properly, they are needed for the nerves that make the muscles contract. Keeping them balanced in the body will allow you to function for longer, but also leads to a faster recovery, so you can function well again the next day.
Here is an example of an electrolyte product that I use when out trimming horses, but also for other activities like mountain biking. In the past I should have used it when I was endurance riding, but I didn’t. What I like with this drink is that the base is effectively freeze-dried fruit juice that is ground down to powder. Freeze-drying is a process that preserves the original product as much as possible as it extracts the water so rapidly.
Many sports electrolyte drinks, just as this one, are what is called isotonic, this means that the electrolyte and sugar concentration is similar to that of the human body.
On the other hand, be aware of the energy content in such sports drinks. They are formulated to be used while doing physical activity for a prolonged time. If that is not what you do, then you should stick to water and ensure your base diet provides you with what is needed. If you are weight conscious but need to top up your electrolyte levels, then you can use a product that is low in energy but just provides the electrolytes.
Have you ever exercised at high intensity and tried to eat something? That is not an easy task. Many endurance athletes use energy gels as a source of energy for this. This is something an Endurance Rider could consider as well. While their work out is not as intense as that of an runner or cyclist, it is not that easy to eat something solid while cantering your horse. Ripping a gel sachet open and sucking it out could be a real prospect. Also the trekking rider who is out for many hours and is limited with how much space they have, might enjoy a “pick-me up” snack like that.
This horse developed some recurring abscesses in the right hind foot. They abscessed out, both at the bottom and directly above at the coronet. All together there were about four significant abscesses over the course of a year, that came out at the top. After that the horse stopped abscessing.
The hooves looked reasonable to begin with, but had excess concavity (sole contraction) in the hind feet. After the abscessing the sole contraction normalised and the hoof demonstrated normal concavity.
The photos show the difference at sole level 5 years apart. Note how the damage is reflected in the sole contour. The horse now has a much healthier foot. Despite the bone loss, sole production has recovered and a bit of extra laminar horn is filling the gap.
Despite the bone loss, the focus on developing a hoof with integrity, allowed the area to heal over. Only a small amount of widened white line remains in that area. Other than that, the white line appears tight and the horse has not been lame since the last abscess burst.
More than likely, the sole contraction contributed to the tissue and bone damage in that area. The abscessation was the body’s mechanism to remove any foreign body (bone fragments in this case). Once those were out, the area could heal over.
I had this great opportunity to be invited to present at the ESANA CE and the Holistic Hoofcare Foundation Seminar in the USA a couple of weeks ago.
What a great bunch of people. And, as so often happens in these seminars, some great aha-moments were had by the participants. When you see a horse change from tense and tight in the muscles with a toe-first loading stride, to one that relaxes, drops the shoulder blade, and strides out better – just in the one demo trim – that is truely special.
Even more exciting when you get feedback like this:
“… I got the most significant release indicators I’ve seen in ages….craned his neck all the way around, ears up and big licks and chews. Moreover, he moved so much better right away and particularly in the morning when we got a blanket of light snow to usher in a new era. Words are inadequate to express my gratitude. “
“I can not recommend Thorsten Kaiser more! He gave an outstanding seminar this week. I highly recommend him to anyone remotely horsey related. “
Interested in our Seminars or Professional Training? click here.