As I posted earlier in the week, rehab is all about growing a healthier foot. I also posted last week about how important the back of the foot is in maintaining soundness - its a very, very common place for injuries to occur.
Most of the horses who come here for rehab have a lameness which blocks to this area and on MRI have tendon and ligament damage within the hoof capsule. Externally these horses have weak frogs, under-run heels, collapsed digital cushions and unbalanced feet and as a result they typically land toe first rather than heel first on a flat, hard surface.
Step forward Alfie, who had most of these issues although his feet had already started improving in the few weeks he was out of shoes before he came to Rockley. Nevertheless, they weren't attractive feet as you can see from his original photos.
Rehab of feet like these has to start at the back of the foot because this where the injuries have occurred and its the source of pain for the horse. Improve the health of the back of the foot and the horse can start move more comfortably, allowing injured tissue to heal and strengthening a previously weak foot.
Alfie's foot today looks a lot different. This is due to a combination of factors but essentially a healthier frog has allowed him to rebuild the back of his foot resulting in a better landing, longer stride and improved soundness.
One of the biggest problems with improving frog health occurs when you have (as Alfie did) a deep central sulcus split in his frog (sometimes known as a sheared heel). You can just about see the line in this photo as it extends from his frog and divides his digital cushion.
Splits like this are painful and can be enough to stop a horse landing heel first. They are also a source of infection and are very, very persistent.
Generally a combination of a topical treatment (at the moment I favour manuka honey) and a better landing improve splits sufficiently for the horse to change to a heel first landing but I have known horses where the damage to the digital cushion was so deep-rooted that they never fully healed.
These photos show the progression fairly clearly - when he arrived Alfie had a thick pad of frog which quickly shed as he started doing more mileage on his bare feet.
A few weeks in the frog is rebuilding and his heels are also becoming less contracted.
Today he has the outline of a much stronger frog which still has some development to go. You can also see from these shots the much greater depth at the back of his foot (indicated by the deeper collateral grooves either side of the frog) which are a clear sign of a foot becoming stronger.
This foot also had a central sulcus split which, with hindsight, is visible on day 1 but which was concealed by the thick pad of frog which overlay it when he arrived. Now we are getting on top of it but we are lagging a little behind with this foot, although not for much longer I hope!
Its always interesting looking at feet from this angle because the changes in wall height and digital cushion depth are much more obvious this way. Compare the distances from hairline to hoof wall, for example, and then the distance from the top of the hoof wall to ground level, bearing in mind that this foot is only about halfway through growing a stronger hoof capsule and there will be an equal amount of improvement still to come.