Friday 30 July 2010

Rehab...what next?

One of the questions I am most often asked is how long horses need to stay here for rehab, and what happens when they go home. The answer, as with most questions about horses and hooves, is "it depends"...but I always recommend to owners who are interested in sending a horse to us that they must commit to the horse being here for 3-4 months.

My aim with every rehab horse is the same - to send it back home when its hooves are capable of a consistent level of exercise and able to work on a variety of surfaces, including 10-15 miles of roadwork per week. Usually this takes 3-4 months - some horses take less time, some take more - but no two horses respond in quite the same way.

When horses go home, its essential that they are kept in consistent work because after 3-4 months they will have grown at least half a new hoof capsule, but not a full one, so the following few months must be treated as a continuation of their rehabilitation. Its definitely the case though that once horses have grown half a good, well-connected hoof capsule and have established correct patterns of movement and landing, its relatively easy to carry on the good work.

Horses go home with a final report, for the owner and their vet, and detailed nutrition and exercise guidelines. Owners often have to make some changes to their management routine, but although they mostly find it nerve-wracking (at first) to take full responsibility for their horses' hooves at home, there is always help and support available and the satisfaction of seeing their horse's hooves improve seems to make up for all the hard work.

Thursday 29 July 2010

We interrupt this blog... bring you a Red Ruby update...The handsome chap in the foreground is our new Devon bull - as far as the cows are concerned, its as if Tom Jones had arrived in person...

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Project Dexter - eventing update!

Project Dexter is of course named after this horse, a now 11 year old TB called Dexter.

He was the first horse whom we included in the project, and this is him competing recently :-) He and Kelly are doing another one day event in a week or so!

Tuesday 27 July 2010

Fantastic photo...

of Charlie, taken by Sam on a late summer evening a week or so ago...

Monday 26 July 2010

Rehab - more than just taking the shoes off

One of the interesting things about the Project Dexter results is the range of therapies that have been tried out on the horses before they come to us. There are examples of most sorts of remedial farriery (wedges, imprints, bar shoes, pads, Natural Balance) and a whole panoply of drug therapies and supplements.

If you look at the results you'll notice that 2 of the horses (Dexter and Storm) had also been subjected to that new-fangled, ultra-wafty alternative therapy "barefoot" :-)

Now its true that very often just taking the shoes off a navicular horse will help its foot balance and allow for better engagement and stimulus for the caudal hoof, but its also true that simply taking the shoes off some horses like this will very often leave you with a sore horse who is unwilling to even walk around or has got himself into habitually bad patterns of movement. These are the sorts of horses where people say "I tried barefoot and it didn't work for my horse."

Turning an unhealthy hoof into a healthy hoof requires more than just taking the shoes off - it requires a holistic approach involving diet, environment and last but not least a sympathetic trim.

Friday 23 July 2010

Wonderful Friday clip

Here is the short clip of Bailey, the newest arrival, filmed the day he arrived and then in the later clips exactly 2 weeks later. He already had a good, robust digital cushion when he arrived but was landing toe first and short-striding.

Apart from to film him, we don't ask him to go over hard surfaces much as he finds them a struggle, but its exciting to see him so ready to improve his footfall.

Just a quick update on technology, as well, to say that it all appears to be working finally so feel free to use the rockleyfarm email address again!

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Double trouble

Normally the horses who come here for rehab are in shoes, and have been for some time. Its been very interesting by comparison to monitor Storm's progress, as he had been out of shoes for many months before he came to us.

Of course all the rehab horses (including Storm) are here because of specific injuries or pathology, and rehabilitating that is our primary aim. The problem is that we don't just have to do that, we have to do that as well as taking the horses out of shoes, and that adds in a whole new area of rehabilitation.

I'm aware that the effect that shoes have on horses feet is a deeply controversial area, and to be honest its not a discussion I want to get involved in here, not least because I don't think we really know, at the moment, the full details of the physiological effect shoes have on horses' feet. We can see that there is a tendency for heels to contract in shoes, but not always; I have a suspicion that stress shielding may be a problem for some horses or that nerve damage may sometimes happen, but there is a dearth of systematic research out there.

Its an interesting comparison, though - Storm had a severe DDFT injury and a pronounced toe-first landing when he arrived BUT his hooves were not reliant on shoes and he was comfortable, although not landing correctly, on tough surfaces from day one. By contrast, most horses very much rely on the pea gravel and other conformable surfaces to keep them comfortable for the first couple of weeks out of shoes. This doesn't stop them from making rapid progress and improving their landing equally quickly, but you feel that they are having to tackle 2 types of rehabilitation - their original injury plus re-adjusting to being out of shoes - rather than just one.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

Tremendous response despite techno-disasters!

New note: email is now back on intermittently but is not reliable. If you sent anything to me at rockleyfarm since Sunday it has vanished into the ether...Please resend it to and I will get back to you as soon as I can :-)

The last couple of days have been very trying on the technology front - first the company that used to host the Rockley Farm website was taken over last year and their security deteriorated to the point that I couldn't use them any more...But they also refused to enable you to transfer domain names away from them, so I had to go to Nominet to get the transfer sorted out...

Thought I had done that on Sunday and that all would be well only to find that the new company had servers down and were unable to host the site - as well as losing all my RockleyFarm email into the bargain....Of course they'd also charged me for hosting the site in the meantime, even though they didn't actually provide any service at all... so I am now having a fight with them about that.

Finally I transferred AGAIN to a third company, only to find that their server doesn't like Macs, or that Apple in their wisdom have "upgraded" their software and it has become glitchy since the last time the site was hosted (seems unlikely as it was working ok on Sunday...)...Anyway, I in my plodding, non-techno way am trying to get it sorted out and up and running, with the help of the new service provider, and email is now getting through to me but I know the website isn't right at the moment, so please bear with me...(!)

On a happier note, there has been a fantastic response from vets and owners to the research results that I posted on Friday (, which is far more important :-)

Monday 19 July 2010

Bailey's 9 day hoof comparison

New note: email is now back on intermittently but is not reliable. If you sent anything to me at rockleyfarm since Sunday it has vanished into the ether...Please resend it to and I will get back to you as soon as I can :-)

Its very early days for Bailey, whose shoes had been off less than 2 weeks in the lower photo, but its an interesting comparison nonetheless.

In Bailey's case, his heels are non-existent at the moment, as well as being under-run, but already he is using the caudal hoof more effectively, and landing better, than he was in shoes and this is reflected in the photos. He finds hard uneven surfaces a challenge of course, but being on the tracks has enabled him to start improving his feet.

Friday 16 July 2010

Project Dexter results so far

Project Dexter is our research project into rehabilitation of horses with "navicular", caudal hoof pain, DDFT/collateral liagment injuries.

Every horse who comes to Rockley with these diagnoses is included in the project, which runs entirely due to the help, goodwill and support of Prof. Peter Clegg at Liverpool and numerous horse-owners and their vets, to whom I am eternally grateful! Horses are assessed by their own vets, and 10 different (and sceptical!) vets have been involved so far.

The preliminary results for Project Dexter are shown below. The research project started in February 2008, with Dexter and horses are listed chronologically.

As at June 2010, 13 horses are included - 10 have completed their rehab, 3 are ongoing. 8 out of 10 horses are in full work, including jumping and hunting; 1 horse returned to light work; 1 horse (which had severe bone damage) improved but did not return to full work. 7 out of 10 horses have been re-assessed by their referring vet, confirming the improvement or return to soundness.

I have had to shrink the table to fit it onto the blog - if anyone is interested in the full details, please email me: and I will send you a copy.

Horse name

Vet assessment before rehab

Other treatments used previously

Vet assessment after rehab




3/10 lame LF

Remedial farriery, barefoot, Cartrophen, joint supplements


In full work




1-2/10 lame bilaterally


Level, shorter stride in trot on 5m circle on gravel

In full work




3/10 lame LF

1/10 lame RF

MRI: DDFT damage bilaterally, worse LF

Remedial farriery (raised heel bar shoes), IRAP

Sound LF

1/10 lame RF




2/10 lame bilaterally

Remedial farriery

[Not yet re-vetted]

In full work




3/10 lame LF


[Not yet re-vetted]

In full work




3-4/10 lame LF

Remedial farriery (wedges)


In full work




4-5/10 lame

X-ray: Severe bone damage

Remedial farriery (glue on, heartbars)

2/10 lame




3/10 lame LF

2/10 lame RF

Remedial farriery (heartbars)

[Not yet re-vetted]

In full work




1-4/10 lame bilaterally

MRI: bilateral DDFT, DSIL, collateral ses. lig damage

Remedial farriery, Cartrophen, joint supplement (MSM, glucosamine)


In full work



Welsh x

2/10 lame LF (straight line)

MRI: DDFT damage, worse RF

Remedial farriery (NB)

Sound (straight line)

In full work




1-2/10 lame LF

Remedial farriery (heartbars), biotin

In full work




3/10 lame LF

MRI: DDFT damage, worse LF





2/10 lame LF

MRI: Collateral ligament damage

Remedial farriery (wedges, Centrefit, PLR), Tildren, IRAP

Thursday 15 July 2010

A different sort of storm!

This was the scene as I came back towards Exmoor on Tuesday afternoon - a pretty dramatic sky by English standards! I just happened to have the camera with me and the wheatfield looked so bright by contrast that I had to grab a photo.

A couple of seconds later the cloud had come right chance of getting haylage done this week, for sure - the forecast for the next few days is very unsettled. The grass has grown, though, so it was worth waiting out the last dry spell. Fingers crossed for next week...

The good news is that the streams which run through Rockley, which had mostly been dry since May, very unusually, are all well and truly flowing again this morning(!)

Wednesday 14 July 2010

In praise of Felix

Felix is one of those horses who is so good that (although he could never be taken for granted) you can, very occasionally, overlook him, simply because he does everything with no fuss, absolutely competently and perfectly calmly.
I decided that the least I could do was give him a blog of his very own...
Although he is only just over 15.1hh, he is the unquestioned team leader as far as the other horses are concerned; if you ever need to move horses, just lead Felix and everyone else will follow. He doesn't throw his weight around, but then again he doesn't need to...

He worked hard hunting last season, clocking up the highest mileage of all our horses, and was ridden by at least 5 different people, all of whom had a fabulous day with him.
Equally, when Lady's owners came up to ride, he was a perfect gentleman for a small 10 yr old rider, going in front or behind at whatever pace she asked, and doing his utmost to enable her to open and close tricky gates.

Then last Sunday we had a cattle break out, and the quickest way to get them back was to go on horseback. I grabbed Felix, chucked a saddle on him and literally went flat-out up for a mile and a half along the road. Bringing them back, we had to herd them onto the lane and then (on a single-track road) get past them. Felix rose to the occasion yet again and went at full speed up the verge and through them - no mean achievement when the mooks are galloping as well(!). He had to do this twice, as Bailey was so over-excited about the whole thing (she adores moving cows but, like a collie, takes it all a bit too seriously) that Andy had no brakes at all...

As I've said time and again over the last 6 years, thank goodness for Felix.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Dissection day and saddlery day

I am hoping in the autumn to run a couple of one-day clinics which will be open to everyone, not just UKNHCP students. Mark Johnson, who teaches the UKNHCP dissection and anatomy modules has agreed to do a special one-off day here, in September, and Lavinia Mitchell has also agree to do a day on saddlery in October.

The full details are on the new Events page above: so if you are interested, please get in touch!

Monday 12 July 2010

Rest the injury, not the horse

For me, one of the key aspects in rehabilitating horses with "navicular"/caudal hoof pain/DDFT or soft tissue injuries is movement.

That may sound perverse, but its absolutely vital. All of the horses who come here have a compromised caudal hoof, though the specific injuries vary enormously. Most have also had lots of treatment to try and shore up the weakness, which (for the reasons I talked about last week and earlier tend to address the symptoms, not the cause.

The fact is that these structures only become stronger when they are stimulated by work and unfortunately there is nothing so effective as a horseshoe for taking these structures out of work. Its also the case that usually horses will try to keep moving at all costs - if they can't move correctly because of caudal hoof pain, they will move incorrectly, landing toe-first and putting yet more stress on the DDFT and, eventually, the navicular bone.

If you want to deal with the cause, the critical thing is to start to strengthen the caudal hoof - which means the fibrocartilage within the digital cushion, the frog and all the myriad tendons and ligaments which surround and support the navicular and pedal bones. This will only happen with work, but its counter-productive for the horse to work incorrectly, of course.

Realising this, many vets advise that horses with this type of injury are put on box-rest, but that only solves half the problem - it puts a stop to the incorrect movement, but doesn't build the caudal hoof. Instead, the answer seems to be to allow and encourage movement, but only within the zone in which the horse can move correctly.

Initially, this may be extremely limited - perhaps only free movement on a deep pea gravel track. What we find time and again, though, is that by sticking to this principle we are able to rest the injury while helping the horse to build up the caudal hoof, and that over time correct movement can be re-established.

Saturday 10 July 2010

My long-standing soft spot for dun horses...

...began with the first pony I ever sat on, who was a dun called Porridge, and was followed by this, possibly the second pony I ever sat on, who was called Rupert - I remember nothing about the people (!)...I was hooked :-)

This footage is courtesy of my brother, who salvaged my Mum's super 8 cine footage and played this and many other embarrassing moments on my birthday earlier this year...

Friday 9 July 2010

Storm update

Another Storm update, following his owner's visit this week. He has made tremendous progress, particularly since on MRI the damage to his DDFT was severe. Here's a brief comparison of his landing from arrival till now.

The footage is here in high definition:

Thursday 8 July 2010

The new boy... confusingly called Bailey ;-) He is the latest, terribly handsome, rehab horse (I have a very long-standing soft spot for dun horses!) and is landing classically toe first at the moment. He has been shod in Natural Balance shoes up til now.

There will of course be lots more about him as he progresses but for now here are a couple of photos and his "day one" footage, above or in high definition at:

Wednesday 7 July 2010

"Horses hooves need support"

There are lots of phrases and ideas which are bandied about in connection with hooves, and in the past I, like many people, have often accepted them at face value without really thinking through whether they actually make sense or not.

The use of bar shoes and wedges, which I talked about last week, is one example. Seems a good idea superficially, but when you think about it more carefully, there are problems.

The idea that horses' hooves need "support" is another classic. I vividly remember a friend of mine, who is an equine bodyworker, telling me that she would never take her horses' shoes off "because I believe their hooves need support".

Support is an emotive word - it implies protection, care and cossetting, and suggests that by providing it we are doing the horse an enormous favour - perhaps even preventing him from harm. Surely only a monster would seek to deprive the horse of "support"?

"Support" is a word which is also frequently used in conjunction with remedial shoeing - low, under-run heels need "support" from a shoe. Again, it sounds like the best thing for a weak hoof.

Unfortunately, this type of external "support" has one huge drawback - it reduces stimulus to the frog and also tends to mean that the hoof loads heavily on the hoof wall; over time the internal support structures - particularly the digital cushion - weaken.

Its a terrible dilemma for the horse owner, especially if the horse is lame and it nerve-blocks to the caudal hoof. I recently saw a comment from an owner about exactly this type of horse; she had even considered taking it barefoot but had decided that her horse had such weak hooves that this would be disastrous - he needed the "support" of shoes because, without them, his heels would be "on the ground". The irony is that without stimulus from "the ground", his heels are likely never to improve.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Storm contrast

Here is an interesting set of photos - interesting if you are a hoof anorak, that is.... The top photo is of Storm's LF a while before he came here. You can see the heel buttress and that there is a lot of heel above the frog - if you laid a rasp across the back of the foot there would be a considerable gap between heel and frog.

The hoof is otherwise healthy-looking; it might look as if the heels are too high, though but in fact its the frog which is under-developed. You can imagine that this type of foot would have a tendency to land toe first because of the weak caudal hoof.
By comparison the 2 lower photos show Storm as he is at the moment. The frog has changed texture and is much more substantial - its a virtuous circle - the frog and caudal hoof are stronger so he is much more able to land heel first, making the frog and caudal hoof stronger so he is much more able to land heel first, making the frog and caudal hoof stronger...You get the general idea...!

Monday 5 July 2010

A WHAT?!?!?!

The hunters are back in work for real now - you can tell because all 5 of them went out on exercise yesterday(!)...Sam, Edward and Richard (aka the Rockley Pony Clubbers) were all roped in to help put the miles on the hooves, and did a great job. Edward only spoiled it slightly by taking one look at Charlie and saying we should enter him in a ploughing match...

However, Charlie and I pay no attention to this gross aspersion - we prefer the opinion of our Master, who says that Charlie looks "MAGNIFICENT"! Its a good thing Charlie has never asked "Does my bum look big in this?" because the answer would invariably be yes, but how else is he supposed to gallop up the hills for the next 9 months....???

Sunday 4 July 2010

Quote of the week...

...from Frankie's new farrier (who is pro-barefoot, has a very handsome truck dog and sounds like a gem!):

"Sometimes I think a lot of farriers don't realise how much damage shoes do..."

Friday 2 July 2010

There are only 2 ways to train a horse...

I've been thinking recently about the myriad "training methods" for horses which are out there at the moment, each with their own guru (as often as not) and each presenting itself as THE way to train.

When you look more closely, there are numerous similarities and overlapping themes which link them (even if they try to deny it!) but the individual trainers are understandably more interested in emphasising why they are different - which in such a crowded marketplace is only to be expected.

From the horse's point of view, though, its much simpler - there are only 2 ways to train a horse to do something (lets call it Plan A). You either (the "Carrot") make Plan A intrinsically attractive so that the horse is happy to do it or (the "Stick") you make Plan B so unattractive that Plan A becomes the lesser of 2 evils.

In the real world, of course, there can be occasions when both techniques are used at once, and often neither is right or wrong. For instance, you can get a horse in from the field and away from his friends by putting a headcollar on and leading him, or (if he loves his breakfast!) you can simply let him know that breakfast is served and watch him gallop in of his own accord.

Still, I find the "Carrot" and "Stick" a useful way to demystify training techniques and look at horse's behaviour. Here, for example, we often have rehab horses who have "behavioural" issues - sharp, lazy, bad to load or travel or whatever. I am not a "trainer" - my job is not primarily to solve these behaviours but to improve hoof health, and therefore soundness, and get each horse moving as well as possible.

What is fascinating, though, is the number of times that "behavioural" problems simply go away once horses are sounder and have better feet. Its not because we used a "Stick" to make the horse behave differently, but because of the "Carrot": the horse now finds easy and comfortable something which was previously painful or difficult - end of training problem.

Admittedly, once a horse is feeling really well, you can have a whole new set of challenges to deal with ;-)

Thursday 1 July 2010

Frankie - vet's assessment

An exciting follow up to yesterday's blog update on Frankie...He is now back home and his owner kindly arranged for him to go back to his original vet, Jason Tupper at the Royal Veterinary College, for re-assessment.

Frankie has quite a complicated history, being intermittently lame on both left and right front legs over an 18 month period. He would come sound for a short time but the lameness would recur when he came back into work. The left front was (and remains) his weaker foot, and his original veterinary assessment was that he was up to 5/10 lame, at his worst, on the left and up to 2/10 lame on the right.

The great news is that he has now been re-assessed and passed, sound :-)

His vet was not only pleased with his improvement but is really interested to see how Frankie gets on over the next 6-12 months.

I've put a short clip comparing his trot up here on arrival with how he was when he left: