Friday 30 April 2010

Last day...

The last day of the season, and Angel, Bailey and Felix were out for their last frolic before the holidays :-) So here is Felix, thinking today he might get to gallop about at the front...
Bailey - after a 24 hr cleaning frenzy from Andy...
Peter - somehow managed to crop up in shot...
Angel, pretending he is a hunter not a Dutch warmblood...

Seasonal Exmoor spring weather - rain and hail, for the end of April (!)
A great day, and the final mileage totals for the horses are on the right!

Thursday 29 April 2010

Bobby's footage

Last time Bob's owners came down it was a gloriously sunny day but I failed utterly to take any footage of him, which was stupid of me.

We filmed him the other day, but managed to pick a gloomy, foggy morning, which makes it look as if we have gone back to winter(!).

Still, it shows Bobby's movement, which is the important thing. I've put the footage up here: rather than just on the blog, to make it easier to see.

Wednesday 28 April 2010


I was talking to a vet last night who was interested in the rehab we do here. She told me that she recommends barefoot for the "horses who can cope" but that lots of horses can't - particularly thoroughbreds, with flat feet and poor hooves, which she said was due to genetics - they haven't been bred to have good feet.

I told her about Frankie, an ex racing TB, with flat feet. From the photo, you can see that he has a radically changing hoof, which will be a rather nice, concave hoof once it has grown down... Since we haven't changed his genetics, perhaps there is something else going on :-)

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Get out of the way!

Frankie's owner and I were discussing his hooves (of course!) at the weekend, and she was telling me that the improvements to his hooves are precisely the improvements that his vet and farrier had been trying to make for the 18 months or so that he was lame before he came here.

All of us wanted him to have a more supportive hoof capsule, without underrun heels and with a strong, functioning frog.

Funnily enough, thats exactly what Frankie wanted as well...and he is now growing exactly that sort of hoof.

We need to radically change our way of thinking about hooves - we don't need to apply external "supports" or special trims for them to become healthier, we just need to get out of the horse's way.

If we remove the obstacles - like poor nutrition and lack of stimulus - which have caused hooves to deteriorate, we miraculously enable the horse to grow the healthy hooves he has been trying to grow all along...

Monday 26 April 2010

Lexus update

Time for some comparative footage of Lexus, who has now been here just over a month. The original footage was taken on 19th March and the second section on 21st April.

Of course he has a long way to go, but when he arrived he had extremely poor heels and frogs, which had contracted and atrophied - as these photos show: - and so it was always going to be a challenge to get him comfortable enough to start engaging the back of his hoof.

We are just getting to the stage of being able to increase his work level so I am hoping he will improve again over the next month or so.

Sunday 25 April 2010

All go...

A busy few days down here, first with the St George's Day meet, which I posted about on Friday, then Frankie's owner came to visit him yesterday and we had a new rehab horse arriving as well.

Frankie was on top form and ready to show off his new improved hooves - he was only too ready to go cantering off and would have liked a much longer ride than the hour or so we had time for. He has a lovely length of stride now, and even though he still has relatively poor digital cushions, he is more than happy to trot on the road, especially on a perfect Spring day in the sunshine!

The new horse is a pretty little mare, who arrived in season and is enjoying having Frankie, Ghost and Felix make a fuss of her(!)...She was referred here by her vet, Jeremy Hyde of Eqwest, who was one of the original driving forces behind Project Dexter, so its great to have another of his horses up here again. She has been MRI-ed, and there will be lots more on her as she progresses.

Friday 23 April 2010

St George's Day

St George's Day today, and one of the last days of the hunting season on Exmoor. A beautiful day, in every sense of the word, and extra special because the Rector blessed the Exmoor Foxhounds.

We had Bailey, Angel and Felix out - they did just over 21 miles each, to the amazement of the visitors who aren't used to barefoot horses ;-) It was one of those days when you wouldn't wish to be anywhere else...

Thursday 22 April 2010

Front limb problems=hind limb problems



Three photos, which aren't perfect comparisons by any means, so they aren't intended to be a direct contrast. However, they illustrate something which we see regularly with horses which come here - although they always arrive with front limb lameness, very many of them have related hind limb problems.

It can be very complex, or as simple as the fact that if the front limbs are uncomfortable, horses will be reluctant to move, and loss of muscle in itself can lead to hind limb weakness.

Once we see front limb improvement, then its often possible to strengthen the hind limbs as well - you can never change a horses's conformation, but these photos do show that once front limbs are more capable, then hind limb strength improves in the same way, or even more so.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Not bad feet for a thoroughbred


All the current rehab horses are making really good progress and I am sure the last 2 weeks of sun on their backs has also helped to cheer them up! After posting about Big Charlie yesterday, today its Frankie's turn.

As he now has some really good growth in his hooves, I thought it would be interesting to look at his photos from February up to now. From this angle, the biggest change is in the dorsal hoof wall, which in the lower photo is growing at a much steeper angle.

He has a corresponding improvement in the caudal hoof, particularly the frogs, which are less crushed and contracted than they were when he arrived. I'll post frog shots another day ;-)

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Charlie's progress

One of our current rehab horses is (confusingly) called Charlie, so as we also have our own Charlie, and the lovely rehab boy is about 17hh and a totally in proportion, we call him "Big Charlie" - not very original but it suits him ;-)

When he came he was landing and walking fairly well on the straight but was very uncomfortable on turns, particularly on a hard surface, and he had also become slightly short-striding. His turns have improved significantly over the last month and it was very encouraging that his owner, when she came down to see him this weekend, felt he had made progress too.

Interestingly, Big Charlie was one of those horses who initially improved once his farrier shod him in heart-bar shoes. They improved his landing and stride length, probably because they enabled him to load more centrally and reduced his toe-first landing, so all credit to his farrier for stopping the usual decline in soundness.

His owner reckons that he is now even better, and he is certainly moving more confidently every day, which is great news for his long term prospects.

Monday 19 April 2010

Racehorse footage

Here is some interesting footage, taken of racehorses in the parade ring. Because they are walking on a circle, and the film was not taken at ground level, its hard to get an idea of how they are landing as they are walking towards you.

As they walk away, however, a toe first landing is often clear. They are walking on a rubberised track, so the landing could be partly a function of that, but its certainly not something I would want to see in a horse of mine. Of course, racehorses are notorious for having foot and soundness problems, so we probably shouldn't be surprised by this footage.

Sunday 18 April 2010

A really good use for horseshoes!

Saw this today - what a great idea and very beautiful :-)

The artist has lots more on his website,

Friday 16 April 2010

An anorak day...and one vet's view of box-rest

I had a very interesting time yesterday - a chance to hear Prof Jean-Marie Denoix - probably THE leading authority on the equine distal limb - discussing functional anatomy and the diagnosis and treatment of the myriad bone and soft tissue injuries that the limb and hoof are prone to.

He covered an enormous amount of ground - I was left feeling deeply grateful that he was lecturing in English, because while his English is excellent, teaching in a second language slowed him down fractionally, and the rest of us were almost able to keep up with his thought processes(!).

I am sure I will come back to what he said time and time again, but here is a lovely pearl of wisdom for today. He was talking about the rehabilitation of tendon lesions, and the fact that you need to rest the injury without resting the horse. Of course that is precisely what we try to do here - movement within comfort zones is an essential part of our rehabilitation programme.

A traditionalist asked him when he recommended box rest. He thought about it for a moment, and said he would of course immobilise a horse which had a fractured limb(!) but other than that, he preferred to keep horses moving. As he said: "French horses don't like being kept in boxes." ;-)

Thursday 15 April 2010

A blast from the past!

I had a lovely email yesterday from the owner of one of the earliest horses (other than our own) that we ever rehabbed - a hunter mare from south Wales who was diagnosed with navicular some years ago.

She came here well before the days of Project Dexter, and so although I have paper records of her, I don't have video footage, but that doesn't stop us remembering her with great affection as she was a cracking little mare and adored by her whole family. She wasn't in the first flush of youth when she arrived, either, but went home and is clearly still going strong and stomping over rocks to this day :-)

When I hear about the progress of horses like her and then look at Ghost (another navicular horse, who is now 25 and who today let himself out of the barn and jumped up a 4 foot bank to stuff his face with grass then down it again onto the concrete when I came out and shouted at him...!), I wonder how much we have under-estimated these horses.

Most of the rehabs we see are 10 yrs old or younger, but to be honest the older horse are even more fun - they just seem to seize the day once they have comfortable hooves and its pretty tough keeping up with them from then on....

Wednesday 14 April 2010

They still think its about trimming(!)...

I had an interesting day today - on the one hand I went to trim dear Dexter, the TB who is the name and the horse behind Project Dexter, and on the other hand I had a conversation about potential future research proposals.

Although I got out the nippers and rasp to deal with Dexter, of course his success is only a tiny part about how he is trimmed, and it is much more about how he is ridden, managed and fed by his owner. He is off jumping BSJA at the weekend (as he has most weekends over the winter) and will be eventing next month. He has previously been competing on a ticket because it was too expensive to affiliate but he is winning in British Novice and British Discovery so he will have to affiliate from now on!

Conversations about future research are even more interesting, because instinctively the tendency from exeternal observers is, as always, to focus on the trim(?!). We were talking about framing future research proposals and yet again the assumption was that it was the trim that would need to be the focus of the research. Once again, the trap that people fall into is to look at that tip of the iceberg - the 10% - and overlook that the massive, 90% of environmental and holistic aspects of hoofcare which are so much more influential.

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Bobby's footage

This is Bobby's footage - the initial clip is from day one, the middle clip from weeks later and the last from Sunday - apologies for the lack of labelling, but the days are fairly clearly separated.

You can see that both his landing and stride length have improved - from a toe-first/flat landing on arrival to a heel first landing now. His stride has improved from the short, choppy stride in the middle clip to a much freer stride today.

Monday 12 April 2010

Great day!

...on Sunday with Bobby and his owners. The sun shone, and we took Bobby, Ghost and Felix out for a stroll round the farm. It was the first time Bobby had been ridden since December - although I've exercised him in hand and ride and lead, he hasn't had a saddle on for a long time!

He was an absolute gentleman, and he was very satisfied to have his old job back :-) He really marched out across the fields, and in fact it was a job to stop him trotting. His owners felt he was more forward-going, and had a better stride, as well as being much more sure footed, even on our steep hills. We had a very happy day, but stupidly I didn't take the camera with me - DOH!

After our ride, we took some comparative footage of him in the barn, which I will upload over the next few days.

Sunday 11 April 2010

No blog yesterday...

...because I had to go to Birmingham to interview applicants for the 2010 UKNHCP training programme, with 3 of the other instructors.

We've changed the way we interview potential new students from previous years, because at our last AGM we all agreed that it was important to meet them face to face, rather than just doing phone interviews. Unfortunately, this means that both we and the candidates have to travel quite a way, but it provides a valuable chance for us to get some UKNHCP business done, and its also a great test of whether candidates have enough commitment to last the course.

The only problem yesterday was that (as often seems to happen to me) the rare day that I have to be inside at meetings all day turned out to be absolutely glorious... Mind you, the interviews were originally scheduled for January and we had to postpone because most of us were snowed in, so perhaps I should just be thankful for small mercies!

As a quid pro quo, today is lovely as well, and Bobby's owners are coming to see him, so I am hoping to be able to post some new footage of him tomorrow.

Thursday 8 April 2010

How to find a good "trimmer"

The title of this post is misleading for a start, because the one of the most important attributes of a "good trimmer" is that they will recognise that trimming is one of the least successful ways of improving a hoof - although a bad trim is a very successful way of laming a horse.

Unfortunately, though, the "trimmer" label seems to be one we are stuck with - all over the internet you will see people recommending trimmers and contrasting trimmers (favourably or unfavourably) with farriers.

Here are some home truths.

Anyone, no matter how little experience or training they have, can call themselves a trimmer, can advertise, and can take payment for their services. They don't need to be insured (although all UKNHCP practitioners, and many equine podiatrists, are insured).

There IS now a National Occupational Standard setting training requirements for trimmers, but at the moment there are no accredited courses. The UKNHCP course trains at or above this standard, but UKNHCP only takes very small numbers of students per year.

There are still lots of "learn to trim in a weekend", "learn to trim on dead hooves" and "learn to trim over the internet" courses out there. As a result, there are lots of people out there who have a small experience of trimming but very little experience of barefoot performance. If you are employing a trimmer, make sure they are NOT one of these people.

You will also find farriers commenting that they are equally, or better, able to trim a hoof than a "trimmer". Thats probably true in many instances, and its certainly the case that all UK farriers receive a minimum of 4 years training, and are taught to trim as part of this training.

The problem again is that only a tiny part of hoof health is to do with trimming.

You can trim the most "balanced" hoof in the world, but if the horse doesn't agree with your ideas of balance, and you haven't addressed its nutritional, environmental and metabolic needs, then its hooves will still not function properly, whether shod or bare.

Farriers are not currently trained in enabling horses to perform barefoot, and nutrition and environmental factors don't really feature as part of their training, so although many will be good trimmers, they may or may not be able to help your horse work hard barefoot.

So what to do? Firstly, anyone who is looking after your horse's hooves should be able to advise you on the current health of its hooves, how they can be improved and what practical steps you as an owner should be taking.

Anyone who is calling themselves a barefoot specialist should be aware that trimming is the last, and least influential, of the tools available to them.

Anyone who is taking money for services should carry professional indemnity insurance, and should be able to give you references from satisfied customers with hard-working horses.

Finally, anyone who leaves a horse less sound after a trim should, at the very least, be asked to explain exactly why that has happened, and it is not something which should happen more than once.

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Hoof boots, shoes and proprioception

I had an email recently from someone whose horse had been diagnosed with arthritis and they were thinking of using hoof boots to provide extra protection against concussion.

Thinking about it, I wasn't sure this was such a good idea. In human runners, cushioned trainers have been shown NOT to protect against concussion - in fact they tend to fool the body into thinking it is running on a soft surface (and so increasing stride length) but they don't reduce impact forces, so they can actually mean that joints suffer more concussion, not less.

If the same happens with hoof boots for horses - which is a reasonable assumption - then boots (or worse, boots with pads) could actually put more stress on joints.

I almost never use hoof boots here, even on the rehab horses, for lots of reasons but I know some people find them invaluable.

I suspect that if you need to provide sole protection then they can be useful, at least in the short term. For instance, a horse with thin soles might benefit until it has grown a thicker sole, or a horse with metabolic problems like insulin resistance would benefit if boots enabled it to be exercised in comfort.

On the whole, though, I think they should be used with caution - especially if they produce a magically longer stride, because that might just be a result of lack of proprioception.

Of course, the same is also true of metal shoes - in fact even more so, because they don't protect the sole as much as hoof boots do. Indeed, in his book "No foot, no horse" farrier Martin Deacon confirms:

"Metal shoes increase the concussive forces transmitted from the hoof to the bones inside the hoof. They are also known to decrease the hoof's natural shock absorption."

Despite this, we tend to uncritically assume that a long stride as a good thing, no matter what surface the horse is on. Perhaps we should be a bit more critical - a long stride on tarmac (for instance) IS great if the horse has a healthy hoof which has excellent shock-absorbing properties.

Its possibly not such a great sign if the horse is shod or in boots, because he will have little or no perception that he is on a concussive surface, and the long stride that results may be causing increased concussion for his joints.

Tuesday 6 April 2010

The grass is growing!

Well finally, after snow, hail and rain (and that was just last week), the thaw seems well and truly under way and the grass is growing. Even up here. Which means that nearly everyone who has barefoot horses needs to start being a bit careful of the grass.

Its a pain, of course, but think of all the lovely hay or haylage that you are growing by keeping your ponies off the green stuff :-) You have a much bigger margin for error if you let you horses out at night, rather than during the day, at this time of year, but I know that can be tricky for those on yards.

Its always worth investigating whether there are any areas of a yard which can be used as a dry lot, and in my experience this plus hay is preferable for most horses to a grazing muzzle. Better still if you can fence off a track, as its more interesting for them and encourages more movement than just being penned in.

Most importantly, if you are on a yard, try and educate your yard owner as positively as you can about the benefits of tracks - they save the grass and the fields, and keep horses fitter, without a huge increase in workload. Commercially as well, livery yards with tracks are few and far between and so putting in a track should give a marketing advantage, at least till other places catch on.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Rockley Farm DVD

I've now managed to finish this, although its taken a few months(!). Its a short (5 minute) introduction to the rehabilitation we do down here, with some examples of the horses we've helped. Most of the footage has already been seen on the blog or elsewhere, so it will be familiar to most of you, but the DVD is aimed primarily at vets, or owners, who are considering sending horses down here and want to find out more.

If you are a vet and would like a copy, or you are an owner who'd like a copy sent to your vet, please email me.

Huge thanks,as always, to Sam Beckett, who helped me get much of the footage :-)

Friday 2 April 2010

Loading and sole depth

These are photos of another rehab horse, this time Bobby, who arrived with very thin soles but is growing much better depth of foot.

If you look at the distance between the nail holes and the coronet when he was shod, and compare that now, you can see how much hoof has grown and how much more protection he now has between himself and the ground.

Unfortunately, when Bobby arrived he'd just had an abscess caused by a nail, and although he seemed to have recovered from it, the problem resurfaced again, and he has just had another abscess in the same area - just to the lateral side of the red bruise you can see on his toe.

All this means he has done relatively little mileage here - which makes his reasonably fast hoof growth all the more impressive - but I am hoping Easter will be the start of much better things for Bobby!

You can already see, from the middle photo, how his hooves are loading differently than they were in shoes. What you can't see from these photos is that the biceps brachii muscles on the lateral side of both front limbs are very over-developed, probably as a result of trying to stop himself from collapsing medially. It will be interesting to see whether these also change as his hoof loading improves.

Thursday 1 April 2010

Latest hoof photos

Day one
After 2 weeks
Day one
After 2 weeks

These are of Lexus, the newest arrival among the rehab horses.

He is a 19 year old TB cross who arrived with a diagnosis of navicular based on nerve blocks, with X-rays showing only minor changes.

As is typical with these horses, he has a weak caudal hoof and has particularly weak frogs, with a poor central sulcus - what is commonly called a sheared heel.

In the top 2 photos you can see sole shots, with the frog visible: the photo immediately after his shoes were taken off is slightly blurred, unfortunately, but even after only 2 weeks out of shoes some improvement is visible.

Edited to add: Yes, his frogs really have changed as fast as that - its not an April Fool :-)