Tuesday 13 September 2011

The application of celery and how to tell if your horse "needs" a trim

Soli, my celery poster boy, with Lucie at speed
It also gave rise to some really fantastic comments, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to do a proper post in response at the time but the RRR weekend was behaving rather like a tidal wave and carrying all before it. 

One of the very interesting and fair questions was what owners should do with horses whose hoof wall is getting long and who simply aren't able to give them enough work, or on tough enough surfaces, for self-trimming to be possible.  Trimming - when to trim, how to assess whether a trim was necessary, and whether celery was really relevant - were also hot topics at the RRR over the weekend.

One of the comments from Wiola on the blog encapsulates what lots of people were asking: 

"We would happily leave K self-trimming as it seems he copes badly with any intervention but his feet are growing too fast."

As always, achieving optimim hoof health is a based on correct nutrition and biomechanics, so lets look at 3 common situations (with the important proviso that the horse is landing heel first) and how trimming usually affects them:
  • Horse A: has long, overgrown hoof wall (feet are growing too fast or are too long) and is on a good diet. This  horse  - if correctly trimmed - will be as sound after the trim as it was before.   That's an acceptable trim, but the same effect could be achieved with a modicum of road work (and we are talking about a few short miles per week) and has the added advantage that there is little danger of the horse being worse afterwards. If roadwork isn't possible, a trim may make hooves look prettier but if the horse is not in work you may not be able to assess whether the horse's soundness is better or worse after the trim.  
  • Horse B: has long, overgrown hoof wall (feet are growing too fast or are too long) and is on a poor diet. This horse may well be footy after a trim due to increased sole sensitivity.  This isn't a trimming problem, strictly speaking, but advising on improving nutrition should be within the remit of any competent hoofcare professional.  Either way, making the horse sore doesn't help the situation so a trim isn't the answer. Enhanced nutrition and correct exercise are more likely to benefit the horse.  [FWIW, as with Horse A, there is no need to trim a horse like this as a precondition to work.  Once nutrition and exercise are correct, excess hoof wall will chip away but this won't trouble the horse at all.] 
  • Horse C: does not have long hoof wall, is in regular work, is on a good diet and appears to have a flared or asymmetric hoof which "needs to be balanced". This horse may well be less capable on hard, uneven surfaces if that "flare" is removed.  It will then normally take at least 2-3 weeks before the horse is as comfortable as it was on those surfaces.  In my opinion, no good is achieved by trimming in this situation as it compromises the horse's biomechanics and impairs soundness. 
[Of course with some horses you can have a combination of both the problems in the last 2 examples, and if a horse is trimmed and is less capable you won't know for a few weeks whether the trim or poor diet is the main culprit].

Some trimmers and farriers have got pretty hot under the collar at the mention of "celery" but I don't really understand this.  Why would you want to trim a horse if you are likely to make it sore or less capable of performance on tough surfaces?  Isn't it common sense NOT to trim in these circumstances?

I have no problem with trimming  - sometimes I even do it myself - PROVIDED that the trim does not break the golden rule: the horse MUST go as well or better AFTER the trim.  For me, there are no ifs and buts allowed as part of this rule. If a horse does not go better following a trim, then there was no point in doing the trim and it should not be repeated. 
The reason I started advocating "celery" is simply because I was seeing - and hearing about - too many horses who were worse following a trim.

I had calls and emails about horses who were lying down for days after trimming, horses who went from being rock-crunching to being footy on stones, horses who were just not as capable but bounced back a few weeks later.

I was also hearing that owners were being told that their horses "needed a trim to balance their feet" or because they were "too long" but then the horses were worse off after being trimmed.  It was sometimes subtle - they may have been fine on tarmac, for example, but were less comfortable on uneven ground.  But to me a drop in performance means that whatever else the horse needed, it wasn't trimming.

To my mind, its the hoofcare professional's job, not the owner's, to assess whether a trim is going to help the horse, but as owners, please don't worry simply because hooves look "too long" or "unbalanced".  Before you call out a trimmer or farrier, take your horse out, do some roadwork then re-assess whether a trim is a good idea.

"Celery", like anything else, is not a panacea and there may be occasions when a trim is a useful tool (although they are less common than you might think!).

However, if as an owner you decide to have your horse trimmed there is a way to work out whether your horse "needed" a trim - and its really pretty simple:
  • If the horse is moving better, more capably, more confidently, with a better stride length, over tougher surfaces after a trim, then it was the right thing to do.  
  • If the horse is moving better, more confidently, with a better stride length, over tougher surfaces when its left well alone, then stick to celery
But for me, there is NO reason to trim unless to make the horse sounder, and if the best way to make the horse sounder is NOT to trim, well then, embrace your celery.
This post is already quite long enough, and I have masses of RRR stuff which needs to be blogged as well, so I am going to defer the answer to another brilliant question, from Caroline, till another day.  Here is the question, for you to ponder:

"I can't help worrying, though, about those owners who just can't do the work and how they get it right, particularly with rehabs. 

The barefoot horses with caudal hoof lameness that you've had seem to suggest that peripheral loading is to blame. If you can't get the work into the horse because of dark nights and work or school, then there's no option but to trim to stop the peripheral loading ..... or am I missing something?


Val said...

Excellent post.

I am tempted to let my horse answer the question. It might mean more time in the saddle to help him self-trim. Oh dear. How will I cope? ;)

Clare said...

This is a chicken and egg problem isn't it and one which has been playing on my mind this summer!

I knew that Paul was loading through the hoof wall and the caudal hoof was weakening but I didn't know which came first. Is the caudal hoof weak and causing the change in loading or is it beacause he hasn't done enough work and is loading differently causing a weak caudal hoof?

Happily I can say he wasn't worse after his trim (though I agree his feet do look very symetrical!) and two weeks later he's on the up.

Whether that's because of the trim, his new diet kicking in or softer surfaces from the rain I don't know, but I suspect a combination probably starting with diet!

jenj said...

What about Horse D: In A-C, the horse is sound to begin with. The thing I think most of us are struggling with is horses that are on a good diet but are NOT sound and therefore cannot be given enough work, over tough enough surfaces, to keep the feet trimmed. My horse Saga is self-trimming behind, but on the front his soles are still working toward concavity, and the ground we ride on is typically more rocky than his track. Therefore, he wears front boots for working, and he is 100% stomping sound with a heel-first landing in them. His fronts are essentially "protected" from self-trimming, so we must give him a bit of a trim on the front.

Anyone else in that situation?

Nic Barker said...

He certainly looked on the up this weekend Clare, and long may that continue :-)

Jen, of the horses in my example, horse B would not be sound on a number of surfaces - unlikely to be sound on stony ground though might be ok on smooth tarmac, probably rather like Saga.

Hope that clarifies :-)

jenj said...

Nic, ah, my understanding was that Horse B would be sound BEFORE the trim but not after. My mistake.

Jacqui said...

Love it, chicken and egg yes but we will only know the answer if we try both and work out which is best for our own individual horses. Great! :)

smazourek said...

As someone who has made trimming mistakes in the past, that I have learned and improved from, I'd love to have my horses self trimming and I plan to set up a track with abrasive footing as soon as I own my own property to facilitate that.

Unfortunately right now they can't get enough movement on abrasive surfaces or roads (surrounded by soft grass fields and roads with 50+ mile/hour traffic) to do the self trimming. So I have to help them. Once I learned how to get the trim right they do move better after a trim than before.

I also think you need to add horse E: Good hooves and good diet but much too green to do enough riding to facilitate self trimming. That's my mare- who has always had rock crunching hooves.

Lucie said...

Great post Nic ;)
Having experienced first hand the problems and after effects trimming can cause, I am definitely all for lots of celery wherever possible!!

Gina said...

I am torn - I have just taken my very flat footed medially imbalanced horse barefoot 3 months ago. He has remained happy to be turned out on grass with no boots and works happily on grass with. Gravel and sand are right out - I only boot his flat front feet but even his rears do not yet like gravel or sand. After our last trim we are REALLY footy. However - I do most of my 'work' in boots and after each trim my horse is landing more heal first in stead of unevenly loading his feet. On happy surfaces I can see his swing and comfort changing for the better each time - however on turnout he walks so gingerly. I cannot change the footings he is on as I board.

I really struggle with this and think I am moving to a half way program... I want the trimmer to do half as much each time he comes out. Your blog always gives me so much to think about!

cptrayes said...

Seeing my own, I'm fully in agreement that horses are best not trimmed at all and taken out on rough surfaces to "rasp" their feet. I'm also coming to the conclusion that those that can't have that work due to the owner being unable to provide it (work/school/dark nights, nowhere to hack etc) might be best trimmed a very tiny amount on the same frequency that you would hack a self trimmer out to get its feet shorter. Unfortunately that model would be near impossible to achieve with a paid trimmer unless you were married to them, perhaps :-) ??

I am so glad that I am able to trim my own. It's been a huge responsibility in the early years but its a godsend now.

I had a celery moment with Ace this morning. His front feet are still decontracting after being allowed to grow stilts in shoes up to January this year, and his frogs are not in contact with the floor on concrete. I'm dying to grab my rasp, but there is no height at the seat of corn to suggest he has any heel to come off, and he is stonkingly sound ...... I resisted, just.


ps hound coming up on the right!

Liz said...

"Unfortunately that model would be near impossible to achieve with a paid trimmer unless you were married to them, perhaps :-) ??"

My husband's TB seems to have to do comparatively little road work to self-trim but I'm just not able to put in the miles my shire x cob seems to require to self-trim, so at the moment I put in as much work as I can with her and then my husband is just rasping a little every week or so and this regime seem to be working well ....