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.


Andrea said...

So what do you for a barefoot horse with a soft tissue injury if she already had a good strong caudal hoof and a nice heel first landing?

Nic Barker said...

Depends on the injury... ;-) Bailey once twisted a ligament when she fell off a bank out hunting and we kept her in the yard for a few days and then on the track till it completely healed. Angel once sprained a hock in his box at feed time - no idea how he did but we iced it like mad, the vet gave him anti-inflammatories and again he was restricted to the track for a while then started gentle exercise again.

Its a case of working out the range of movement which doesn't stress the injury, really, so it will vary each time.