Wednesday 30 June 2010

Frankie update

Frankie goes home this week - he is a French TB ex-racer who arrived following MRI with a diagnosis of DDFT, DSIL and collateral sesamoidean ligament damage.

Although he is only a young horse, he is a completely laid-back TB with perfect manners :-) Unfortunately he does have an under-developed digital cushion, probably originating from the fact that he would have been shod at 2 yrs old. His feet have improved a lot, but aren't as good as they would have been if they had been allowed to fully strengthen before they were shod.

His video footage is up here:

RF June 2010
RF Feb 2010 1 week out of shoes - long toe, split frog
LF (the weaker foot) June 2010
LF Feb 2010 - contracted with weak, split frog
Frankie on arrival in Feb 2010
Frankie June 2010 - note the improved hoof pastern axis as a result of a stronger caudal hoof

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Boys will be boys...

Andy wanted the grass round the school eaten down by the horses before we put the sheep on it, and Felix, Angel and Jacko volunteered... Of course they couldn't do it quietly....

The footage is up in HD here as its too big to put straight on the blog, unfortunately. They were right next to the house, so very easy to pick up the camera when you hear the thunder of hooves ;-) I should point out that Angel is so named ironically...

Monday 28 June 2010

Am I being provocative?!

I came across a classic quote over the weekend on a well known internet forum. Someone was asking about their horse, whose feet were apparently so crumbly that they couldn't hold a shoe. The horse's heels had also collapsed and not surprisingly the owner was at their wit's end and had turned to their farrier for help and advice.

In all honesty, under-run heels and poor hoof quality aren't the farrier's fault, but he should at least have some idea of the causes and possible ways to improve them - taking shoes off and boosting the horse's nutrition would be a good start on any basis. However, the owner said:

"My farrier is a AWFC remedial farrier and he is really not a fan of barefoot and thinks it generally damages horses"

Now is it me, or am I right in suspecting that there is a man who really needs to broaden his horizons and undertake some serious continuing professional development...?! Of course, he may have actually meant "When I take shoes off horses most of them are footy and can't do the work their owners want them to"...which is a completely different thing ;-)

Sunday 27 June 2010

Lazybones, sleeping in the sun...

Our dogs aren't daft - its a beautiful day, the sun is shining, they've had their breakfast so what next?

You want to lie in the sun, but certainly not on the hard concrete. The grass would be OK, but maybe its still wet. What's the solution to this tricky problem? Go and find your dog bed and instead of lying down inside, turn it into a deckchair by dragging it out into the sunshine...

Great minds think alike...

Friday 25 June 2010

Bar shoes and such...

Back to what I was thinking about on Monday - in other words the problem of weakness in the caudal hoof.

Every rehab horse that comes to Rockley comes with a caudal hoof pain diagnosis. What happens after that depends on the facilities and funds available to the vet and the owner, but what we see time and time again are horse which are reluctant to load the caudal hoof (ie the back of the hoof) for a variety of widely differing reasons.

Traditionally, many of these horses would have been diagnosed with navicular, but we now know that intially at least these conditions involve soft tissue - tendons and ligaments - which can only be seen clearly on MRI.

The normal range of therapies and treatments for these horses sometimes includes drug therapies but one thing that has almost always been tried is remedial farriery. The most common shoeing options are bar shoes or wedges. The problem with these shoes, though, is that they don't really solve the problem. Some horses improve over the short term in these shoes, because bar shoes stabilise a weak caudal hoof and wedge shoes allow the horse to walk perpetually toe first.

There was some interesting New Zealand research ( published, which evaluated the loading of the hoof in bar shoes and recommended them for these types of horses because:

"In comparison to the plain shoe, the eggbar shoe had less peak pressure at the heel"

That sounds like a great idea - as does the idea of allowing horse to walk toe first to relieve pressure on the DDFT...the only problem is that you still have a horse with a weak caudal hoof and soft tissue damage, and now there is no possibility of it becoming stronger. Wedges shorten the DDFT 24hrs a day, and can prevent the horse from being able to properly extend the coffin joint. Bar shoes may take the pressure off the heel, but without stimulus the heels have a terrible tendency to contract with corresponding damage to the frog.

Rather than just trying to take the caudal hoof out of the equation with bar shoes and wedges, shouldn't we be trying to restore it to healthy function?

Thursday 24 June 2010

Rehab horses on a roll!

Lexus LF: Still a work in progress, but better heels and functioning frog, 23rd June 2010
Lexus LF: Contracted heel and wizened frog, 19th March 2010
Lexus 23rd June 2010
Lexus 19th March 2010
Two pieces of good news for a Thursday - its turning into a wonderful week ;-)

Firstly, Lexus went home yesterday, and I've uploaded his footage which is here:
There aren't many horses who would be given a second chance barefoot by their owners having gone lame at 19, but Lexus is one of the lucky ones, and I have to say he deserves it - he is an absolute gent.

We don't have a magic wand at Rockley, so we can't turn the clock back and get rid of 19 years of wear and tear, but we can help horses improve their feet, and boy was Lex keen to improve his! Its lovely to see his footage now, and watch a short-striding, toe first landing horse transformed into a heel first landing, big-striding horse :-) Lex still finds hard uneven ground a struggle, but he picks his way and copes admirably. Across the fields and on good ground he looks half his age.

Now for the second bit of good news :-)

Some of you may remember Paul, who was with us for rehab over last winter. There is more info about him and links to his film footage in the "Rehab horses" tab at the top of the page (scroll down to the bottom to see him) and on here:

He went home in February and yesterday was the day his vet came to see him for the first time since he was lame at the end of last year.

Paul is one of the horses in "Project Dexter", and as part of that, we ask that the horse's own vet assesses its lameness before coming down here and again following rehab so that we have an objective record (often from a sceptical vet) of whether the horse has improved. Sometimes horses are re-vetted down here, or immediately after they go home; on other occasions the vet visits the horse once its been home a few months.

When I went to see Paul last month he was looking magnificent, and he is working 6 days per week, but its always a slightly nerve-wracking wait to see if the vet (in this case Ollie Crowe at Willesley Equine Clinic) agrees. The fantastic news though is that Paul trotted up completely sound and passed with flying colours.

Before he came here, he was 3/10 lame LF on a straight line and 4/10 on a circle, so thats quite an improvement :-)

Wednesday 23 June 2010

More pages, more horse info

I am a bit slow on the uptake with the old technology, though swapping to a Mac has helped no end, but its taken me till now to work out that you can have extra info on yer blog...I only realised because I saw some other blogs which had nifty additional pages across the top, but it took a couple of days before I mastered how you put them there.... :-0

So now, there are some handy little tabs at the top of the blog where I've put info about our own horses and the rehab horses, so that if you come across a name you can check out the horse's potted history, plus pics and links to film clips. I've only put up details about a selected few past rehabs at the moment, but will add to the list as we go along - I hope you find it interesting!

Tuesday 22 June 2010

Its summer...and a Lexus update

For the first time in 2 years we are having a real summer - blue skies and warm weather day after day - its hard to believe but its happening (!)...I would start worrying about water shortages normally, as the ground is now so dry, but with Wimbledon and Glastonbury both running over the next 2 weeks, surely we are guaranteed some rain?

Today was Lexus' day, however, and after a very busy weekend, with owners here both days and Lady going home, we decided that Monday morning was a good time for him to have a special trip out.

Lex not only came here with a lameness problem but was also a reluctant traveller. True to his gentlemanly nature, he would load willingly, only to start crashing about and being generally very unhappy once in motion. Luckily, this was easily solved by travelling him in our big trailer with no partitions, so he could spread his weight and shift about if he felt unsteady.

Today definitely a grand day out for Lex, as we and Chris, his owner, decided to box him, Jacko and Felix to a different part of Exmoor for a ride Andy and I had never done. Lex travelled perfectly, and so we set off on a spectacular ride which took us out along the cliffs near Lynton. The sea was flat calm and Caribbean blue, and although Jacko once or twice thought about spooking on the narrow paths, his sense of self-preservation fortunately stopped him from throwing himself down a sheer 300ft cliff (!). Felix and Lex of course behaved as if it was a walk in the park...

Lex finished the 2 hr ride in fine form, despite having had to deal with some very stony tracks, and boxed just as calmly back here, so all in all an extremely successful day.

Monday 21 June 2010

Storm update - the photos

Storm's left front after 4 weeks
Storm's left front on arrival a month ago

I posted Storm's footage here on Friday: and both his owner and I think he has made progress over the last month.

Over the weekend, I took photos of his hooves, and it became much clearer just why he is landing better - his caudal hoof has beefed up (technical term ;-) considerably, particularly the frog.

What you can't see from this photo is that his frog is now actively weightbearing; when he arrived, when you laid a rasp across his hoof the frog was well below his heel buttress but now heel buttress and frog are almost level.

Its very ironic that some of the typical treatments for his type of condition (a serious DDFT lesion) try to relieve the caudal hoof, whereas in fact with these injuries the caudal hoof is always weak, under-utilised and desperately needs to strengthen...More on that tomorrow!

Friday 18 June 2010

Storm update

Storm's owner came up today, so that we could film him and see whether he had made progress over the 4 weeks that he has been here.

I've updated his footage and its below, and I've uploaded it here in high definition as well. We think he has improved - see if you agree...(!)

Thursday 17 June 2010

Horsefly heaven...

Its happened, we have the most fabulous weather here at the moment (I am enjoying it now, but will start to get twitchy about running out of water if it goes on for more than another week or so...perverse I know!), and the horseflies have arrived.

Poor Felix was absolutely mobbed by them last night and the little blighters have obviously hatched out in huge numbers - the more you kill the more there seem to be, and to add insult to injury they've added humans to their "to eat" list already...

As always, I've been taken by surprise, even though I know this happens every June, and so am off to search the UKNHCP forum for the most effective horsefly repellent, and then stocking up in large quantities...

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Artists' impression...

As part of their course, the UKNHCP students were revising their anatomy today, and how better to test it than by drawing it onto a horse...

There was a certain amount of artistic licence, and revision was eventually halted by us running out of paint..Still, if I ever need a horse to be an extra in the next Dances With Wolves film - or to go trick-or-treating on at Halloween - at least I know who to use ;-)

Monday 14 June 2010

The anatomy of a barefoot horse...!

I'm running a course for UKNHCP students this week and as part of that I was updating the course material. I was going through THE anatomy book on the horse's hoof - "The Equine Distal Limb" by Jean-Marie Denoix, for the hoof anoraks amongst you - when I realised there was something odd about some of the photos.

The book is incredibly well illustrated with photos of hooves and limbs at every possible stage of dissection and with reference images from MRI and ultrasound , with every anatomical structure clearly labelled.

The odd thing comes in the initial photos of the hoof, in the basic cross-sections. The hoof is shown half dissected, so that you can see the inner and outer structures, but along with the outer hoof capsule, the shoe has also been carefully cut in half (left on the hoof of course). Even more bizarrely, the shoe is numbered and labelled as another part of the hoof(!).

Initially I thought this was a one-off, then I realised it crops up routinely, and that where the outer hoof wall is shown, there is a shoe attached. The numbering for each illustration states: 1, Distal phalanx, 2, Ungular cartilage, 3, Corium limbi...9, Hoof wall, 10, Sole, 11, Skin, 12, Shoe - and don't forget this isn't a shoeing book, its a reference manual for functional anatomy...

Its as if a medical text book listed the parts of the human body and then went on: gloves, hat, shirt, trousers - but of course that would be unthinkable(!)...

Its a great illustration of something that Sarah and I wrote in Feet First, bemoaning the dearth of research on barefoot - that vets and academics "concentrate on looking at how hooves function with metal shoes, almost as if it would be unthinkable to assess bare hooves".

It also illustrates the massive mental block built into the teaching system which vets, more than most of us, have to overcome.

Friday 11 June 2010

More from Horse & Hound!

Well, here's an astonishing bit of news for a Friday - and its not even April 1st! This week's Horse & Hound have published the letter I wrote in response to their "Do horses slip barefoot?" query, and you could have knocked me down with a feather - in fact I told people on the UKNHCP forum that I would eat my rasp (Sarah's expression!) if it was there are now plans to find me a toffee rasp... :-)

I was surprised and pleased in equal measure, and all credit to them for publishing. I had to smile though, because accompanying the letter is the editor's comment that (of course!) not all horses can cope barefoot, and that it must be lovely to save £70 per set on shoes(!)...I haven't the heart to break the news that there is a little bit more to having barefoot horses which are capable of season after season and hundreds of miles over Exmoor than simply not bothering to book a farrier ;-)

In my original letter I also offered to lend their showing commentator a horse for a days' hunting, if she was interested in finding out what horses can cope with out of shoes. It was edited out of the magazine, understandably, but I still hope she might take me up on the offer. The only problem is that according to her column, again in this week's H&H, she wouldn't be confident on an unshod horse over any but the most perfect going, so I suspect Exmoor, with its selection of rocks, bogs, 1 in 3 gradients and granite wouldn't really appeal... She might also be a bit shocked if she saw the footage on this post(!):

Thursday 10 June 2010

Lady's progress

Lady hasn't had many updates so far, mostly because she has progressed so quickly! She is a great little mare who was diagnosed with lesions to the DDFT following MRI and I've put details up about her before here and here

To my great delight, she has been a second Paul - one of those horses who makes very rapid progress, to the joy of me and her owners!

She is also a very pretty mare, and definitely plays Ginger Rogers to Felix's Fred Astaire - he adores her(!)... These lovely photos were taken by her family when they came up to visit and show her at her best, on a very happy day.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

What we do, and what we don't do...

I'm not entirely sure whether its a good thing or not, but Rockley is being mentioned a fair bit on T'internet at the moment. I keep half an eye on it, and although I obviously can't monitor everything, generally it seems to be interest in, or positive comments about, the research programme or people wondering whether we can help their horses or owners giving updates about horses who have been here - all of which are great.

Now and again, however, I see people making statements about what we do or don't do, or about our facilities, or about horses who have been here. I'll make it plain, that unless statements are coming from me or from the horse's owner, then they should be taken with a pinch of salt as they are quite likely to be untrue ;-) So, to set things straight:

  • If you have a horse who has been diagnosed with navicular, DDFT or collateral ligament damage or other soft tissue damage within the hoof, then the best option (if you are after more info about rehabilitation) is to email me via If you send X-rays/MRIs/photos that can be helpful too.
  • For rehabilitation, we take horses with the problems listed above or who have hoof issues such as poor medio-lateral balance. Usually these horses have been diagnosed on the basis of nerve-blocks to the caudal hoof or pedal bone. Typically (but of course there are no guarantees) we can improve soundness over about 3 months - some horses are quicker and some are slower, thats just a very rough guide.
  • I will not normally take horses for rehabilitation if their problem is primarily a metabolic disorder, such as chronic laminitis, insulin resistance, Cushings etc. Its not because you can't help horses like this - far from it, as dietary changes can make huge improvements. However, it wouldn't be appropriate, or professional, for me to have those sorts of horses here because even if they do well at Rockley, they will be back to square one at home. Far more effective for the owner to keep the horse at home and make the necessary changes there.
  • By contrast, "navicular" horses and those with the types of injuries listed above respond extremely well to a short period of rehab over the surfaces we have at Rockley. We aim to kick-start improvements to the hoof, and get the horse to the point where it is back in its normal level of work and happy on the terrain it will encounter at home (whether that is roads, tracks etc). From then on, owners can usually carry on successfully without needing the sorts of conformable surfaces we have here. Thats because, once the correct biomechanics are solidly in place, the horse tends to stay on a "virtuous circle" of improvement.
  • The only people who train at Rockley are UKNHCP students and practitioners. Anyone else who says they have "trained" here is being a bit naughty, to say the least - they may well have visited but unless they are listed on they are not one of our practitioners and may have little or no training. I don't run courses here other than for UKNHCP members and never have ;-)
  • Finally, horses coming here for rehab need to come on vet referral. I don't mind in the least if a vet is sceptical - the best ones usually are, initially! In those cases I normally speak to them and explain what we do and we agree a timescale by which we need to see improvement in the horse.
Hope thats helped to clear things up! Normal service will resume tomorrow ;-)

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Some horses don't need studs...

One of the common questions about barefoot is how you cope without studs. In fact (ironically!) in the same edition of Horse and Hound which I talked about here: there was a comment by a showing judge who was worried about unshod horses being more prone to slipping on grass than shod horses.

Lots of us (including me) wrote to H&H confirming that we've not found barefoot horses more prone to slipping - in fact often the opposite - but for anyone who still isn't sure despite all the evidence from sound barefoot horses, here is Felix's video from last week - of course all the horses who went round shod had studs in, but despite that he beat all but 2 of them ;-)

Monday 7 June 2010

Ghost's video

I've uploaded the video footage Sam took of Ghost on Friday here, because its too big to post directly onto the blog:

Hope it does the job for a grey Monday morning!

Friday 4 June 2010

What do you do with a 25 yr old "navicular" horse?

...take him XC, of course ;-)

We had a belter of a day at the EFH hunter trial today - gorgeous weather, horses on top form, and Ghost back being the centre of attention, with everyone marvelling at him - just as he likes it :-)

Sam took some fun footage of him and Felix which I will upload next week, but for now, the photo says it all!

Mooching on the track...!

Eight o'clock last night...the equine equivalent of taking some beers down to the beach with the boys? ;-)

Thursday 3 June 2010

Funding more MRIs

One of the things I've been wanting to incorporate into Project Dexter is follow-up MRIs on horses who've been rehabbed here. Up to now, its been both practically difficult, because the few practices who have MRI scanners are a very long way away, and prohibitively expensive.

We have had several horses through Project Dexter who have been MRI-ed as part of their original diagnoses and its usually paid for by the insurance. Of course, once a horse is sound and back in work, there is no question of getting a second MRI done, so we've not been able to fully document what has happened with these horses.

However, on my trip to see Bobby and Paul on Tuesday, I also went to see Ollie Crowe, Paul's vet, who works at Willesley Equine Clinic. They will next year have the facilities to offer MRIs, and are only a couple of hours from Rockley.

Even more excitingly, they have agreed in principle to help us apply for funding to provide MRIs both before and after rehab for a limited number of horses. Of course, its a long way off and we may not even get the funding, but its another potential step in the right direction...

Wednesday 2 June 2010

Paul and Bobby update

I went to see both Bobby and Paul yesterday, which was lovely use for a miserable day - all the horses here had the day off, so it worked really well!

Bobby has settled back into his old yard and all his equine and human friends were evidently delighted to see him back on Sunday. His vet kindly agreed to be there as well, so we could have a really good chat about his feet and make a plan with his owners about how to take him forward over the next 3-4 months. Although he is finding stony ground tricky at the moment (because of sole damage on his LF caused by old nail damage - long story!), his vet was pleased with how well he was moving and as well as his front limb lameness being much improved, his RH lameness has come right as well, a combination of her previous treatment and the work we were able to do with him here once he was more comfortable in front.

I then went off to see Paul, whom I hadn't seen since he left in February. He has changed from his hairy winter woolly self into a sleek and extremely smart bright bay - almost unrecognisable (!).

Although he and Clare haven't had an entirely straightforward Spring, with very rich grass and a nasty accident causing them some problems, he is looking superb at the moment and moving absolutely beautifully - in fact I have a suspicion he was showing off... It was fantastic to see them both so happy, and long may that continue :-)

Tuesday 1 June 2010

Horses that "can't go barefoot"

I've noticed an interesting change in tack on the internet over the last few years. Previously, when people on equine forums discussed barefoot, the hardline traditionalists and farriers would sternly tell people that horses had to be shod because otherwise they were unable to work. Often this was said with the caveat: "of course its better not to shoe, but...".

This line was a favourite for a long time, but over the last 2 or 3 years even the most die hard sceptics have been unable to ignore the fact that those pesky barefoot horses are cropping up everywhere, competing in every discipline and often doing rather well.

So there is a new line now on equine forums, which is along the lines of "Well, of course its ideal for horses to go barefoot, but some just can't". Entertainingly, the people making these statements often go so far as to say that they have some of their own horses barefoot but some "just have to be" shod, because they are so uncomfortable out of shoes.

When its suggested to these people that perhaps they should look at the horse's diet, its environment and its work levels, they wave that aside as complete nonsense. Its after all much easier to blame the horse's genetics (which they aren't responsible for and can't change) and to believe that bad hooves can't change - that involves no extra expenditure of mental or physical effort :-)

Of course, as is always the case with an initially revolutionary idea, it has quietly started seeping into and polluting the mainstream, but mostly, the mainstream doesn't really want to acknowledge this. I am sure, however, that in another year or so there will be another, subtly different, mainstream statement about barefoot horses. Any bets as to what it will be?!