Tuesday, 15 December 2009

"Feeling his feet"

It strikes me as odd that we use the term "feeling his feet" to describe foot pain in a horse.

In people, loss of sensation in hands and feet is a cause for concern, so why do we traditionally prefer horses NOT to feel their feet? For me, one of the huge benefits of riding barefoot horses is their tremendous proprioception compared with shod horses, but there is no doubt that for some horses regaining sensation in their hooves can be an comfortable process.

I described in this blog how horses with unhealthy hooves have cold feet in shoes and talked in yesterday's blog how these types of horses often seem fine when their shoes first come off but gradually become less comfortable on challenging surfaces over the next few days.

I don't think anyone has definitively explained why this happens, but there could be several reasons.

The fact that shod feet are colder could be the reason - after all, if heat is constantly drawn out of shod feet, you would expect them to be more numb, rather as our hands become when we get very cold. Of course, once your hands warm up again, the returning sensation is very painful. Perhaps this is also happening with horses just out of shoes.

Another possibility is that, because shoes restrict neural feedback, shod feet have some form of neuropathy, and once neural input is available again then this causes temporary foot pain.

Another common cause of foot pain in shod horses is thin soles or weak frogs, and once out of shoes these can cause increased discomfort until they heal. Some farriers routinely trim soles and frogs when shoeing, which is one of the reasons we tend not to take shoes off horses until a few weeks after they have last been shod.

If there was no way to alleviate this discomfort, then removing shoes might be a much more difficult decision. Fortunately, this type of foot pain can usually be eliminated by allowing the horse access to conformable surfaces until they are able to cope with tougher surfaces.


cptrayes said...

I saw it with both Tetley and Scooby and always thought of it as "numb feet coming alive".


Nic Barker said...

Absolutely - yet you can take shoes off horses with healthy feet and it doesn't happen, so its probably more than just temperature changes.

On the other hand, if it was primarily nerve damage wouldn't you expect it to take longer than a few days to show up?

Yet another area where we need more research!

Serendipity Dressage said...

I am just reading through your archive posts as my horse has just had his shoes off, and he's currently in this stage.

My old horse didn't go through this - he had healthy feet, but he was only 4 and had only been shod a handful of times.

My horse's feet are also really warm, much warmer than normal barefoot hooves. I think it must be where the blood is rushing back in and the repair and regeneration which is starting to happen? I wonder whether that is also connected with the discomfort.

It has taken 2 days to show up.