Monday 30 November 2009

Reading Charlie's mind

Charlie is a very open horse - you can see his moods in his expression very easily, and he is also a great communicator, both with people and with other horses. When we have clinics here, he will be the one who comes over and quietly "works the crowd", and he has a range of endearing mannerisms which nearly always work for getting him attention :-)

His purpose in life, though, is hunting - at least I am fairly sure that's his view. Someone asked me once why I was so convinced that he loved hunting - I think they believed I was just being anthropomorphic, or perhaps that he was getting excited but not necessarily enjoying himself out hunting. However, I reckon his behaviour makes it pretty clear that he does actually love it.

When he realises its a hunting morning, he starts to weave in his box rather than eat his breakfast (obviously I try to make mornings the same so as not to give the game away, but somehow he usually twigs before anything obvious - like hitching up trailers - has happened). That could be a sign of stress, but as soon as you get him out and start plaiting him up he immediately relaxes, I think in relief that he is definitely going and that he isn't being left at home :-)

The other giveaway is that he loves going in the trailer - not in itself a particularly rewarding experience, you would think, on steep, twisty Exmoor roads, but he is nearly always going hunting when he is travelled, and so once he sees the trailer ramp down, he storms up it, sometimes faster than you can get the partitions open for him.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Quote of the week(!)

...About a horse owned by one of our students. It has superb feet and has just passed a 5 stage vetting but the vet's comments about it were priceless :-)

"He puts his feet down heel first, which laminitics often do, but as there is no sign of laminitis it must just be the way he moves".

Well done to him, I suppose for spotting how the hoof landed, but surely it should be a toe first landing which is a red flag in a vetting (as with the horse I blogged about here) , not a heel first landing?!

He then went on to say to the prospective owner:

"He won't need shoeing unless he's going to do a lot of roadwork".

Now in some ways its amusing, but really this vet had no excuse - he is in an area where he will have come into contact with a number of excellent UKNHCP practitioners, including at least one farrier; the horse was on a yard where all the horses are barefoot and working hard; the vet's own practice has at least one client who has evented barefoot horses for several years.

Fortunately there is a fairly concerted education campaign going on up there, but you can only educate people who are willing to learn...

Friday 27 November 2009

Mild frustration...

As you can see from the mileage totals, its been impossible to get Angel out hunting for a couple of weeks. Its a shame because he was doing well, and would have benefitted from lots of short trips out, rather than only going once a fortnight...

I've been foiled partly because the weather has been atrocious - the last time I was aiming for Angel to have an outing the meet was on the most exposed area of the moor, the wind was gusting at 60mph and it was hailing. The moor was saturated and it simply wouldn't have been fair on him. On top of that, I've been busy, and its been a struggle to get out at all, and Andy and Bailey have been unavailable for nannying duties - so thoughtless (!).

However, I really am hoping to get him out a good few times between now and Christmas - he's so nearly at the stage when he has "got" it...

PS: Now REALLY forecast that I heard this morning: "Dry and sunny in most areas, scattered showers in the south west". WHAT?!?!?!?! Its been hailing here since 5.30am, an absolutely continuous downpour, now nearly 11am and no signs of stopping...

Thursday 26 November 2009

Horses hate hail...

...especially when its blown in by wind gusting at 50 mph so it really, really stings when it hits you...

...Hector's face says it all, really - can there be any doubt that he was out exercising under protest...?! If anyone is moving to Spain or the south of France and wants to take a horse with them, Hex is volunteering...

Personally, I am putting in a formal request for at least a day or so of dry weather...

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Effect of wedges

The subject of wedged shoes came up a few days ago. Its a form of remedial shoeing which is a relatively common means of trying to take pressure off the deep digital flexor tendon, so its often suggested for "navicular" horses and horses with DDFT injuries.

These shoes have the effect of raising the horse's heels which mechanically makes sense - in a static horse, raising the heels shortens the DDFT. There is an extreme example shown here.

Once moving, the effect of wedged heels is that the horse is effectively walking "uphill" at every step - and if you watch any normal horse walking on a slope, going uphill will make it land more toe first and going down hill will make it land more heel first.

Of course, horses with DDFT/navicular pathology always prefer to walk up hill than down hill, because the back of the hoof is the area which is painful for them.

So on the face of it, wedged shoes are a good idea because they allow the horse to walk toe first all the time...Except that we know that a toe first landing causes undue strain on soft tissue over time, including on the DDFT itself.

There is also the huge problem that landing toe first does not allow the horse any real ability to shock absorb, as there is simply nothing which can fulfil this function in the toe, so every stride on hard ground will jar the limb.

A wedged heel is therefore a way of alleviating caudal pain for the short term, but it doesn't provide a solution. In fact, as these types of shoes don't allow the DDFT to fully extend, they can be problematic if used for too long.

Interestingly, Denoix and Pailloux recommend stretching the DDFT as an important part of rehabilitation, and this involves lowering the heel, and raising the toe to fully extend the DDFT.

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Hoof changes...

Sole in November 09
Sole in June 09
Hoof in November 09
Hoof in June 09

Here are some fun photos, taken of a lovely young horse who came out of shoes in June. The June photos show of her hoof that day, and by contrast the others show the same horse in November.

Photos like these are interesting because they show how even good hooves on sound horses can sometimes improve, both in biomechanics and in hoof quality. This horse had been well shod, but even so you can see how long her toe was becoming in shoes, and that her heels would probably have under-run if she had stayed shod.

As a bonus, both her owner and I also think her movement is straighter and stronger than it used to be :-)

Monday 23 November 2009

Lovely review!

I was sending someone the link for "Feet first" and saw there are some new reviews of it on Amazon. The latest review had only one star, so I was sure I was going to find someone who was less than impressed by it, but the comments were lovely. The writer talked about rehab for their own horse, and said:

"Before we take her shoes off we are going to lend the book to our farrier, sure that he will not find his life's work criticised...It is an encouraging and pleasant book to read. Essential for anyone considering life without iron shoes."

This is just what we were hoping to achieve in writing the book - thrilled to think we have made a difference :-)

Slightly worried to find that someone else has said:

"I eagerly await the arrival of "More Feet First""

:-0 !!!!!!!

Friday 20 November 2009

Studs and slipping

A question that came up several times at YHL was whether horses need studs to jump. One person told us that she shod her horse part way through the eventing season last year because it was slipping more barefoot than it did in shoes.

The problem for all of us on the stand was that we have never found it problematic to jump horses XC without studs. In fact the general feeling among UKNHCP practitioners and clients is that horses slip less barefoot than in shoes, or at least have fewer problems with slipping, which may not be quite the same thing.

As Mark Johnson described several times over the weekend to interested visitors, the horse's limb needs to be able to slip slightly when it is subject to turning forces, otherwise additional stress is transferred onto ligaments and tendons. Obviously a severe slip, though, can result in a wrench or sprain (as Felix found out on Tuesday, I assume...).

There is no doubt that some riders feel more secure with studs in, but its hard to be sure how much this is a "placebo" effect. A rider of shod horses at one of Mary Bromiley's clinics agreed with Mary, that studs may not be as indispensible as they are supposed to be. She described when she thought she was riding her horse with studs screwed in. She didn't notice any loss of performance (believing the studs were doing their job) and it was only when she came to take them out that she realised she had done an entire intermediate event without them.

We will probably never know how much of the concern about barefoot horses not being able to use studs stems primarily from rider worry.

As for slipping, obviously this week isn't a great time for me to post thoughts about slippingafter Felix, normally surefooted barefoot horse extraordinaire, apparently came a cropper in the field(!). Nevertheless, all horses can slip from time to time, particularly on a steep wet field, whether shod or barefoot - a few weeks ago a shod horse came right down out hunting on a very tight turn on wet grass.

My own view is that the horse's own sense of balance is hugely important, and that as they develop both balance and proprioception, the problems of slipping are reduced.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Just like summer here...

I was going through Sarah's Ride Bare photos and came across this one, of Ghost and I battling along in the teeth of a July.

Since exactly the same thing has happened every time we have been out this week, it seemed only appropriate to post it here...the only difference being that G looked considerably woollier when out on exercise this week. Climatically, no difference at all...

PS: I think we really were on a slope like that - either that or Sarah was falling off her horse...

Update on Felix from Tuesday - all heat and swelling gone, and he is sound on it - hooray :-) Had the barn and small yard today and was fine when I got back tonight, so with luck a minor strain of a minor ligament...Thanks for all the good wishes :-)

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Tale of woe!

We've had wild weather here for days and days, combined with the fact that I was away at the weekend so no hunting for the boys. Their routine hasn't changed, though, and they frequently enjoy a hooley round the field with no ill effects, as they are all great mates, so I have no idea what happened yesterday.

I turned out Felix, Jacko, Charlie and Hector, no big deal, and it was a nice bright morning, and actually a lot calmer and less windy than it had been. I came back a short time later to find skid marks all over the field and around the track, and Felix very sorry for himself with a sprain which he had obviously done just a few minutes earlier. Everyone else was fine, and I would before yesterday have put money on Felix, of all the horses I know, being the least likely to slip or trip in the field, but I suppose even the best can have off days.

He is iced and ant-inflammatoried, and will be confined to quarters for a few days at least - I am just hoping it will settle down as quickly as it came up (!)

Updated to add that he is much better tonight, heat is much reduced and he is weight-bearing on it - fingers crossed ;-)

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Frequently asked questions

We talked a lot between ourselves yesterday about YHL, and as it was our first time at that sort of event, we were focussing on how we would improve our stand and make our information even more accessible to people in future.

Looking back, the majority of the people who visited us came because they had problems that they wanted help with - horses which were already "barefoot" (ie had had their shoes taken off) but which were footy, or horses newly out of shoes where the owners needed guidance about what to do next.

Then there were the lame horses, some with formal diagnoses, others where owners felt they just weren't quite right, navicular horses, laminitic horses and horses with poor foot and limb balance.

A lot of the problems were feed-related - horses out at grass 24/7, many being fed commercial feeds which we know cause problems (that was a tricky one as all the big feed companies had HUGE stands and were doing a roaring trade handing out samples!) and many more who were fed either no minerals or inorganic minerals which weren't providing what the horses needed.

We also had a fair crop of people who wanted to know what horses could actually do barefoot - did they need to shoe for roadwork, did they need studs to event and so on, and we were glad that we had such great footage running all day, demonstrating exactly how well horses shock absorb on the roads barefoot :-)

The final crop of queries was from people who had horses who "couldn't go barefoot" because they had such terrible hooves, and again it was great to have lots of photos showing how dynamic hooves are, strengthening and improving, often over relatively short periods of time.

I think many people also expected to have a barefoot vs shoes debate, and were surprised when we explained that shoes were often the most practical option, and that good diet and environment would improve shod as well as bare hooves.

One of the best quotes of the weekend came from someone who was talking to Harry Johnson about "Feet first" and flicking through the book. She looked at him very quizzically and said "So, let me get this right - your dad is a farrier but now he does this?". "Yup" said Harry, and smiled :-)

Monday 16 November 2009

Your Horse Live

I've spent the last few days at Your Horse Live, with others from the UKNHCP army, and we had a tiring but productive weekend at Stoneleigh answering as many questions as could about barefoot performance, hooves and training.

We had video footage of rock-crunching hooves running all day, and as well as having lots of action photos of performance barefoot horses, had before-and-after rehab photos and dead legs for people to look at :-)

Mark Johnson's son, Harry, was "Feet First" salesman extraordinaire, and our roving barefoot ambassador, plus along with Mark, Sarah and I, had the dull job of packing everything away again at the end of the show, resulting in a late night after a couple of long days! Thank you Harry :-)

Chris Thompson and Caroline Trayes worked tirelessly to respond to visitors' questions, and we couldn't have done it either without the help of Jane Tweedie, who put us up for 2 nights in her amazing house, so thanks again to all of you.

One of the most interesting moments of the weekend was when I briefly met Monty Roberts, who asked for a copy of our book back in the summer, and I discovered that it was recommended to him by an American farrier - small world :-)

While away, I managed to avoid the storms that were battering the west of the country, but of course after leaving the Midlands, which were dry and bright on Sunday, I met rain and gales halfway up the link road, and knew I was back on Exmoor again(!).

Friday 13 November 2009

Navicular - what happens next?

A quick blog today, as we are off to Your Horse Live, but here are some lovely photos of Dexter, one of the navicular rehab horses, which came through yesterday.

Since these were taken he has been show-jumping BSJA Discovery, going clear with ease. Well done Kelly and Dexter :-)

Thursday 12 November 2009

Balance continued! following on from the photos I posted yesterday, I should have known that all those who commented would be too fly to catch out :-)

The answer of course, as they got spot on, was that each of these horses required "odd" feet as a result of either their conformation or a previous injury.

The question of foot balance is one which occupies farriers and trimmers a great deal, and there are multiple different theories out there.

One of the common suggestions is that a T square is right way to set foot balance, on the basis that "a horse's leg is like a table" and works best when the heels are at right angles to the leg. Unfortunately, of course, horse's legs aren't quite that simple, even when they are static, and once they are moving, the table analogy becomes quite useless.

David Gill, a farrier, sums it up nicely in his book "Farriery: the whole horse concept" when he says "So, should the T-square be used to judge hoof balance? Well only if our horses are as wooden and lifeless as tables".

Hoof balance is very, very complicated, particularly if you are going to shoe a horse, because you are imposing your assessment of the correct hoof balance onto the horse's hoof - if you get it wrong, the horse will inevitably suffer from stresses and strains to the limb, and possibly other areas of the body as a consequence. At worst, getting hoof balance wrong will lame a horse.

The beauty about keeping a horse barefoot is that its easier for the horse to demonstrate the hoof balance it needs for soundness, and its interesting to note that "correct" balance for the horse does not necessarily correspond with our ideals of the perfect hoof.

The one thing that all the hooves here and in the photo above have in common is that all of these horses were sound and capable of sustained hard work over even very challenging surfaces provided that their "odd" hoof balance was respected.

All three horses had "good" feet in shoes - the photos above show the same horse, the lower one when he was just out of shoes. His hooves look prettier, but he was very lame. With the other horses, it was a similar story - their hooves in shoes were much more symmetrical and had good quality hoof wall but all three horses were also long-term lame. Out of shoes, their hoof balance changed radically, and as a result they came sound.

A word of warning, though - the problem with this sort of hoof balance is that it can be marred not only by incorrect shoeing but also by trimming. Very many barefoot "schools" require hooves to be trimmed to a model, and trimming to these methods would lame these horses just as surely as shoes would. By trimming their hooves into a more "ideal" shape you actually render horses with hooves like this immediately less sound.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

A question of balance

Here's a brain-teaser for the hoof anoraks out there :-)

What do these three hooves, which belong to 3 different horses, have in common?

If no-one gets the right answer, I will tell you tomorrow ;-)

Monday 9 November 2009

Opening meet

Amazingly, we stayed almost dry on Saturday at the opening meet :-) Sam had my very point-and-squirt camera, but grabbed these, including the one I posted yesterday of Felix making his own views on hunting clear :-) The one immediately above is of Andy on Bailey, she was so happy to be hunting!

Friday 6 November 2009

Thank goodness for the track!

What a shocking week its been, weather-wise. Started last Sunday - literally as November dawned the temperature dropped from about 15 to about 6, the gales started and along with that came torrential rain and hail.

The horses have had access to the barn and the track but have not been on the fields at all, till yesterday, when I chucked Jacko, Ghost, Felix and Charlie out as we had sunny spells for the first time all week.

Interestingly, and very sensibly, they have spent very little time on the track - going for a stomp round to stretch their legs and hightailing it back to the barn as the showers come in - which are sharp, and actually quite unpleasant when they also contain hailstones...

Thank goodness for the track, and barn, as they would otherwise either be turned out regardless on wet fields or shut in - as it is they can choose whether they want to be in and out, and can at least mooch round on well-drained, if not dry, ground outside.

A much nicer day today - wind has dropped and its dry, for now...Not a good forecast for the weekend, but we are due a bit of a respite, I think :-)

Thursday 5 November 2009

"Barefoot horses can't do roadwork!"

This was prompted by an email from a client; she was talking to her friend - whose horses "can't" go barefoot ;-) - and the friend said that my client's barefoot horse couldn't do roadwork. The friend was, obviously, speaking from her extensive experience...(!)

Its still a persistent myth, whereas the truth is that horses hooves benefit from roadwork, as long as they are healthy, as it provides great stimulus to the frog and digital cushion and actually promotes hoof growth.

The big worry for owners is usually "Will my horses' feet wear away?!?!!" Often they will be told that roadwork is the reason shoes were invented - and that without shoes their horses won't cope.

However, during Ride Bare, our long distance trek from North Wales to Exmoor, our horses were covering 18-23 miles per day and the vast majority of that was on stony tracks or roads. Normally, we do less roadwork than this, although several miles per day is commonplace for the horses here.

The reality is that a healthy horse's hoof will grow more than fast enough to cope with this level of wear. Its probably true that if your horse was regularly covering MORE than 25 miles PER DAY on roads then his hooves might not be able to cope - but then again, probably the rest of his body wouldn't either ;-)

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Toe first landing - what happens next

Take a look at the video below - excuse the skeleton painted on the horse - it belongs to a friend and we were revising anatomy at the time this was taken :-)

The interesting element is how he lands in front - slightly, but significantly toe-first*. I filmed this horse for the skeleton(!), not because of his feet, but I noticed at the time that his hoof landing was not, for me, correct.

I've said before that all the horses who come here for hoof rehabilitation arrive landing toe first; the other common denominator is that they have all been lame for many weeks or months before they arrive here.

By contrast, every healthy barefoot horse I've ever filmed lands heel first*, as do the rehab horses once they have become sound again. The photo above is of Andy's mare, Bailey, landing beautifully heel first on a stony track.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to extrapolate from this evidence that its better for horses to land heel first than toe first - and in fact there are lots of biomechanical factors which confirm that horse's muscles, tendons and ligaments are under less strain when they land heel first.

The reason THIS video is interesting is that the horse pictured was "sound" and in work when we filmed him, and should have gone from strength to strength the following year.

In fact, though he competed successfully through the 2009 season, his stride length got shorter and shorter and over the months since this film was taken, his performance has suffered. Some months on, and he has been diagnosed with caudal hoof pain - often called "navicular" by less enlightened vets.

For me, its further confirmation that a toe first landing is a warning sign - something to be acted on sooner rather than later, before it leads to more serious damage.

* Please note that a toe first or heel first landing will often NOT be visible to the naked eye - its only slow motion film footage that shows you what is really happening

Monday 2 November 2009

Mud fever, what mud fever?!

I was talking to a friend about Angel, and telling her that he looks very much like her horse (very dark bay, almost black with a small white star), except that he has 3 white legs.

Her immediate comment was "So he'll get mud fever on all of those!" I replied that he seemed fine, in fact, and then it occurred to me that actually I've not had a problem with mud fever in any winter since the horses went barefoot.

Bear in mind that of the horses here, Felix, Ghost, Angel and Bailey have 3 white legs each and Charlie has 4 white legs. Hector only has 2, but also has the thinnest, most sensitive skin you could hope to find.

It rains all year round, and although they always have the barn to get dry in, there is a LOT of wet ground, both where they live and where we ride. It can't just be that they can get dry in the barn, either, because most shod horses here are stabled at night over the winter, as mine used to be, and we used to have a problem with mud fever even in Hampshire, which was much drier than here.

I realised during our first winter barefoot that mud fever was much less of a problem in barefoot horses than shod horses, and clients reported the same, but because I hardly ever come across it now, I'd forgotten what an absolute pain in the backside it used to be, from this time of year onwards :-)