Monday, 14 December 2015

One vet's view of the self-trimming horse

Today I want to post a guest blog - an email from vet Chris Tufnell MRCVS of Coach House Vets which he has allowed me to post here. Chris has sent a number of horses here over the years and he is one of a handful of UK vets who is extremely well-versed in how a healthy bare hoof functions.

"I'm fascinated that we have ignored the back part of the foot for so long.  

Again and again I see narrow contracted frogs and heels in shod horses with long toes and short shoes.  I also see a few horses and ponies that have, delightfully, been left unshod and they have a lovely wide, equilateral triangle shaped frog with strong bars and heels.  Their frog clefts are much shallower than the shod horses and they are clearly engaging a large portion of the back of their foot when bearing weight.  This is not the case with shod horses and it is somewhat inevitable that, when faced by side on xrays showing poor hoof balance, vets and farriers tend to want to extend the shoes out backwards but still disregard the frog and bars.  
When observing all the 'self-trimmed' horses that have been through Rockley it is refreshing to see that they sort themselves out and don't necessarily deal in symmetry or correct angles but with good function.  

In a shod horse it is easy to obsess about the hoof/pastern axis when, if they are bare foot, I think it is probably irrelevant.  So many barefoot horses have a broken back HPA (although I accept some of these may have developed them when shod) and yet it is what the bottom of the foot is doing that is so much more important.

It is worth mentioning though that we all need to go gently on the vets and farriers that espouse shoeing all horses.  It is very difficult and goes against human nature to reject long-held belief systems, particularly if they form the basis of your life's work.  

To those of us who've been enlightened it seems like common sense and we can't understand why they can't see it but the more understanding we are, the more people we are likely to convert.  
One major missing piece in the puzzle at the moment is scientific evidence.  Many people who have seen the benefits of 'self-trimming' (so much better than 'barefoot' which is saddled with negative connotations for so many vets and farriers!) with their own eyes will struggle to appreciate why anecdotal evidence is not acceptable to scientifically minded people.  

For those that want to understand it better I can recommend 'Bad Science' by Ben Goldacre which explains the scientific method and interpretation of evidence very well.  For others I'd suggest that far from being obstructive those that insist on scientific evidence are the most likely to sweep away the old dogma and bring about the paradigm shift that we would all like to see.  

For me it is crucial that not only do we look at horses that have had injuries and are recovering but we look at healthy horses that are either shod or unshod and compare them.  I'd be fascinated to know the difference in forces up through the foot and leg, tendons, bones and ligaments between shod and un-shod horses.  

My hypothesis is that these are very different and that the problems that shoeing causes extend right through the horse.  However we need to do the science to know this.  The huge explosion in mobile technology is bringing us very close to being able to do some brilliant science here and we are in exciting times.
Apart from the conformation of the hoof capsule, the two other areas that need exploration are weight and traction.  

I'm convinced that shoes, particularly metal corrective ones (bar or heart bars) change the flight of the foot due to the weight they add.  This will alter landing and put forces up the leg during flight.  

Also, just as I think that it is probably 'unnatural' for our legs to be stopped dead when running on the road in trainers, I'm not convinced that the jarring grip that shoes/road nails/studs provide horses doesn't do damage to the structures in the foot and leg and possibly beyond.  

Again, studying videos of hoof flight and landing in shod and unshod horses over different surfaces would start to tell us if there was a difference.  However that is just scratching the surface and we must be careful not to extrapolate.  The work will still need to be done to see if these differences contribute to the problems that we see all too commonly.  
As you know I'm an convert and do my small bit to try and improve the welfare of the small number of horses and ponies that I see by discussing these things with their owners.  But to improve the lot of millions of horses around the world we need to take vets and farriers with us.  We need to convert horse shoeing professionals into hoof care professionals."

3 comments:

BruceA said...

"Also, just as I think that it is probably 'unnatural' for our legs to be stopped dead when running on the road in trainers, I'm not convinced that the jarring grip that shoes/road nails/studs provide horses doesn't do damage to the structures in the foot and leg and possibly beyond. "

I'm glad to read this about nails and studs. One of my long term convictions is that the correct amount of slip is important. Slip dissipates forces. As a one time competitive fencer I know how awful and jarring some grippy soled trainers can be when they "stick" to the floor and a morning spent fencing on the wrong trainers means an afternoon of throbbing knees and hips. Some slip is essential, too much slip is dangerous too.

ellerkincato said...

heavens how exciting this chap is! How I agree with his views, on slip, on loading, on the whole limb; but I am not a professional and my view is only based on my own common sense and very limited knowledge, albeit couple with practical experience. So it is LOVELY to hear this from a vet. Rock on!

Tim said...

To keep up the positive note I have recently met two farriers who shoe horses on the yard we have our horses on who have come to a similar view. One older guy and also a younger one. They both said that they only really shoe horses because the client wants it done. One told me he was slowly working towards getting the horse he was shoeing to the point it could go barefoot, and all his personal horses were barefoot.
Now there's a turnaround. The idea of using shoes as a remedial tool to get horses to the point they can go barefoot again ! Maybe not the ethos of most of us Roclkleyites but a million miles from the attitudes of many farriers and a major step in the right direction :).

And of course there will be horses that do need remedial shoeing. Such as when Filly split her hoof to the point you could move each half independently and blood was coming out of the split. Without a good farrier I doubt she would have survived that incident.

I get the feeling that just maybe the barefoot idea has reached a tipping point and we'll see exponential growth in the practice and science in the near future. Largely thanks to dogged determination of the likes of Nic and other barefoot exponents of course.

p.s The older chap actually did a quick check on Fillys' feet for me. He seemed genuinely interested in seeing them after I had described what we had been through (navicular). He said that though they still had a little way to go they were doing very nicely. He thought the heels needed to come back "another couple of mm".