Wednesday, 6 April 2016

A foot to freak you out

Firstly, apologies for the long blog hiatus - Easter and a few very busy weeks have been to blame, I am afraid, but as we have had a few horses go home and new horses are arriving, I will be back posting regularly from now on.

I've gone back and forth on this blog post. For a lot of people it will be a step too far. For others it may be reassuring. For many it will be confusing and I am willing to bet a fair few will even be enraged.

Everyone, including me, posts photos of hooves all the time. A picture is worth a thousand words, apparently, and a hoof photo is a great way to illustrate how a foot is changing.

The problem is that there are 2 serious and significant problems with hoof photos - its an occupational hazard of blog posts and social media.

Firstly, it panders to our preoccupation with the appearance, rather than the function of the hoof. Secondly, it tells you nothing about the soundness of the horse (there are many attractive, symmetrical feet found on lame horses). There is sound reasoning behind the phrase "picture perfect".

A case in point: this morning, just as I was about to post this blog, I came across comparison photos from a farrier of a hoof with cracks (unshod) and without cracks (shod). Clearly the implication was that the shod hoof was better - it certainly looked prettier. However, there was no reason at all to suppose that the shod hoof was sounder than the unshod hoof, or loading better, or more robust - it was an assumption that we were expected to leap to based purely on the cosmetics of the external hoof wall.
With that in mind, here is a foot that will freak some people out. Its a foot with cracks and as you can see from the photos they are multiple and on both front feet.
The initial gut reaction of 99 people out of 100 - and that includes me - would be to focus on the cracks and make their removal a priority. I had the same reaction when the horse was in shoes (yes, the  cracks were there in shoes and not only persisted but worsened with 3 different farriers).

To cut a long story short, this horse came out of shoes because the cracks were so deep that the whole foot had become unstable. I naively though that taking her barefoot would get rid of the cracks and it did indeed improve her feet dramatically.

With her whole bodyweight no longer suspended by shoes on the hoof wall, the deep cracks healed, the foot stabilised and she returned to full soundness.
Superficially, though, the cracks are still there. I am including a sole shot because it makes it clear that the cracks are only in the outer wall of the hoof capsule - this is always the best way to check whether a crack is a problem or just an eyesore. 

Do I wish this horse had prettier hooves? Of course. Do I wish the cracks had completely disappeared when the shoes came off? Of course. Am I prepared to rasp away the lower third of the external hoof capsule to make the cracks less obvious? No.

This horse has been sound and in full work  - and in far harder work than she ever was in shoes - since 2004 and has hunted for the last 12 seasons. These "ugly" feet will go over any terrain at any speed and be just as sound  - albeit just as ugly - the next day and, in the end, that - to me - is the most important thing. 


Helen Barnes said...

Our mare has similar shaped front hooves (to a lesser extent than the one pictured) which always have cracks in them but she has always been sound so I have ignored the people who tell me she should be shod. My trimmer says their shape is a result of her action and she needs them to be that shape :-)

Rebecca Noble said...

Put me in the reasured camp 😄

I have a mare who goes in, has wierd shaped hooves and a persistent crack in one. I battled for years correcting the shape, making it 'normal hoof shaped' and trying to get rid of the crack.

The crack is now smaller since I gave up😏

Nic Barker said...

Love those stories Helen and Rebecca :-)

Pat van der Byl said...

Hi Nic, very interesting. I'm also in the reassured camp. But I'm curious as to why the shape etc of the feet and it's constituents parts have not become more normal after 12 years of lots of movement on all terrains. Any ideas?

BruceA said...

Pretty is as pretty does. Love the asymmetry there - obviously doing a job for the horse. I don't believe rasping can fix cracks, it can only take hoof away and make them look more appealing, but the underlying loading pattern will remain the same and the cracks will reappear. I have a cob who is typically slightly cow hocked, he lands with a slight but very clear twist. A trimmer always put deep scoops in the quarters in a bid to prevent the cracks. I leave the whole thing well alone and yes, there are quarter cracks in both hinds in the same place, and yes they come and go with the season, but he's 100% sound on them and the crack has never gotten worse. He had then 14 years ago when we bought him and they were infected, the farrier had been burning out the infection with a red hot rasp tang!!!! Another more enlightened farrier chased ut the whole crack so the infection could be treated but the crack remained a problem. When he went bare they became thinner, the last step in the puzzle has been stopping the trim and the scoops and giving him responsibility for maintaining his own feet. Oh, and they are less symmetrical than they were too :) .

Neets Human said...

Maybe the hoof looks ugly but the frog is a thing of true beauty ;)

ester said...

It wasn't the cracks that drew me but the angle of growth as highlighted by the dark stripe, has that been maintained or is it an older pic?

Nic Barker said...

Pat, I suspect the asymmetry is because of her movement. She has restricted carpal flexion - a congenital abnormality - which has an effect on how her feet load.

Bruce - totally agree, and love the examples :-)

What you can't see in these photos is that she has the most awesome digital cushion - as Neets Human pointed out, its a great frog and her shock absorption is superb which I am sure has helped keep her sound over so many seasons despite less than perfect conformation.

Ester, these feet haven't changed for about 10 years. I agree, it looks as if the top angle will grow down tighter but it doesn't happen. Again, not sure whether this is a genetic quirk (on FB we have been discussing how Irish Draughts tend to be more prone to these sorts of cracks) or due to the way she loads her feet.

cptrayes said...

I've always wondered what happened to Bailey! Her original cracks were absolutely horrific. I much prefer these ones.


Jane said...

I recognise those feet! My instinct, having a similar one here, is that there is something perhaps insurmountable and maybe unfixable still there. Be that genetic, dietary, previous trauma, (not necessarily to feet or even physical - mine's an ex racehorse, he's survived plenty of emotional trauma!)

I have 2 horses with cracks, one had them for years until his feet developed at the back. Now one will occasionally pop up when he 'needs' one - he develops a short crack in lower cm or so of wall if forces mean he needs to remove a chunk of wall. The crack is gone when the hoof wall breaks off and is a better length - by his own methods rather than my intervention. It's literally a way for him to self trim, perhaps because he has tougher hoof walls than most that can't always wear evenly, perhaps due to his interesting upper body confirmation.

The other (the ex-racehorse), has gradually developed a pair of feet rather than two wildly different ones. His cracks have got more and more superficial over the years, yet they go all the way down from coronet to floor. They aren't even cracks any more, as the upright foot has got stronger and 'fatter', the cracks are now very shallow 2-5mm crevices that only go through the outer most layer of hoof. Makes his feet look ugly, have no effect on him whatsoever.

I've just tweaked the mineral intake so it will be interesting to see if we get any changes from it, but I'm not holding my breath. Like Bailey he is super functional, more rock crunching than ever and he's going on 10ish years of barefoot with the second 5yrs of no trim.... He has black walls though, so his stripes of crevice aren't as impressive as hers!

ellerkincato said...

Hurrah for that sole pic! And hurrah for "ugly" and odd-looking feet that give such fab natural support to less-than-perfectly-built horses; like my old mare with similarly wonky fronts, and her pigeontoed son. Sceptics or doubters should take note of this picture...