Thursday 30 September 2010

...more about tracks...

One of the things about having tracks is that they need regular TLC!  On a daily basis of course you have to muck out, but because of our high rainfall the pea gravel tends to move about and over time it needs to be topped up. 

So last week, we had a visit from a 16 tonne lorry and a new batch of gravel was dumped on the yard - its hard to recall that all our gravel was that amazing shade of pink once! 
 Its because it comes from south Devon, where the soil is that unmistakeable shade  - the stone is pinkish too, but not quite so shocking once it washes out :-)
Felix and Angel found it most entertaining to fling the gravel here and there...
and of course it is perfect stuff to roll in...

There is no doubt that the horses - even the ones who have no need of it for hoof rehab purposes - absolutely love the stuff, whether for walking on, rolling in or simply standing in while they eat their haylage. 

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Autumn hunting...a recap before it starts raining...

We've been hunting 2 months now...
...and the horses are fit and know what its all about...
 Hazy light across Exmoor, a beautiful morning.
Felix and Richard on a mission through the bracken...
Bailey, the big grey bottom in the middle...with Andy, of course...
[The photos are small, so click on any of them to enlarge :-)]

Tuesday 28 September 2010


Someone asked me about our track system, and I promised a post which didn't appear last week - apologies!  I've pinched an illustration from "Feet First" (I'm allowed to because we have the copyright!) and the tracks are round the outside, forming a border in this picture. 

The tracks are essential to the rehab here, because they encourage movement, keep horses comfortable, and allow them to hang out together, play, groom each other and just watch the world go by.  From an aerial view it looks like this...but on the ground its a bit more interesting...

There are lots of ups and downs, twists and turns...

...and of course lots of haylage. 
Despite that, its not a big area, and its been carved out of waste land which was no good for anything else.  We've spent a lot of time and effort improving drainage and surfaces...

...and over the years we've tried shillet, pea gravel and woodchip...
and they all have their uses, but for the rehab horses, there is no question that pea gravel is the most effective and the most comfortable. 
Our own horses aren't really bothered, of course... long as they can still discuss things amongst themselves.

Although they look idyllic in summer, the tracks can be quite a challenge if we have a heavy snowfall,
but even then the horses seem to prefer being able to move around and find things out for themselves - and of course without shoes, the snow is no problem.

...but the minute the weather is really unpleasant, they all make for the barn, rugs or no rugs!

Hard to believe that a few months later it can change from the Arctic to archetypal English countryside...

The other massive benefit of our tracks is that they give me somewhere to turn out during the day which is much safer than lush green fields during the Spring and Summer.  The horses on the track have ad lib forage, but its haylage not grass.  There are also hedges, which they like to browse. 
Despite them thinking that the grass is greener, I don't think they have it too bad...

Monday 27 September 2010

Puppy dogs 2010...

...or to be precise, Echo, Ermine and Eyelash :-)

Echo, wondering if Ermine has noticed the ambush...

Eyelash with all 4 paws on the floor, unusually...!

Echo winning the "Who has the widest ears" competition

Ermine - at the back, Eyelash contemplating...

...maybe she could be a truck dog...?!
But Charlie says:
"Please can we swap these little ones for some bigger ones that can go hunting now?"

Friday 24 September 2010

Rockley horses do anatomy

One of the areas the students were concentrating on last week was improving their knowledge of whole horse anatomy and biomechanics. Its much more effective to do this on a horse than just with textbooks, not least because there is a vast difference between a 2 dimensional picture and a 3 dimensional horse.  That may be why the ribs have gone a bit random...(!) though the distal limb is fantastic - phew, what a relief...    ;-)

Fortunately, both Charlie and Felix positively enjoy this sort of thing, especially on a lovely sunny day, so they were only too pleased to be models for the day. They were both going hunting the next day, so the only worry was how tricky it would be to get the paint off, but I can endorse Tesco's own brand kid's paints as being very, very washable!

Thursday 23 September 2010

What a difference!

Along with the great photos Cristina sent about Frankie last week, she also sent me some updated hoof pics. Its now 7 months since Frankie came down to Rockley and he has been back home since June.

All credit to Cristina and his farrier that his feet look so absolutely gorgeous now - what a difference from the under-run heels and wizened little frogs he had when he arrived.
What I particularly like is that Frankie is still with his old farrier - so you can see that it certainly wasn't his fault that the feet were so compromised before.

It also goes to show two things about Thoroughbreds...
- firstly their poor feet CAN change - its not just about genetics; and
- secondly of course, they CAN go barefoot - even the ones who started with thin soles, underrun heels, flat feet... :-)

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Out and about!

Bailey W was out and about on Tuesday when his owner came up to take him out again. We had a fun ride in the sunshine, and the weather was so good I took the headcam out with me for the first time in ages. Filming with the headcam is always a bit shaky, so apologies for the poor definition, but you get the idea :-)

Bailey W is still in the throes of growing a much better hoof, so at the moment he still prefers good going, like the fields, but he is improving all the time. Considering that he used to go lame even when turned out, he now makes a pretty good job of tackling our steep hills!
If the footage isn't that clear on the blog, you can also see it here:

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Rose - photos at 6 weeks

Rose has now been here for 7 weeks, and these are photos I took at day one and at 6 weeks, for comparison.
Day one: although Rose's feet have more structure than many horses who come here for rehab, this photo clearly shows that her toe is in fact quite long. The photo angle isn't ideal, I am afraid, but it is possible to see that her hoof pastern axis is weak as well.
At 6 weeks, a good new angle of hoof growth is clearly visible, which over time will bring the toe back.
A big change in frog strength - although it looks untidy in the recent photo, its more substantial. Frog shed in layers and tatty shreds when they are changing radically, so its actually not a bad sign :-)

For completeness, the RF, again showing a new angle change. There will also be a change in Rose's medio-lateral balance once she has grown in a complete new hoof capsule.

Monday 20 September 2010

Shoeing experiment...!

While the UKNHCP students were at Rockley last Thursday, we tried an experiment. Mark Johnson, who is one of our farriers, was teaching a dissection course and I was talking about biomechanics.

Now, both Mark and I are very interested in filming gaits, and in how biomechanics can be affected by what happens to the feet, whether in shoes or barefoot. Flexion and breakover are particularly dynamic, and that got us thinking, as we usually do when we are together.

We didn't feel it was particularly ethical to experiment on the horses so of course that left the students. Luckily, they are all just as obsessed about feet as Mark and I, so they fortunately volunteered...
As I am completely useless at this sort of thing, I begged Mark to "rigidify" my boots. Of course he had a band saw and a stack of tools in his van, and it was a matter of a few moments work for him (it would have taken me days). I though it might be interesting to test long-toe/under-run heel conformation, but to start with we experimented with a "normal" rigid shoe - a boot fixed to a board which prevents flexion and delays breakover.

Just to establish the research parameters(!): both the students who participated (an admittedly small sample for a clinical study of this magnitude and importance, devised as it was over a glass of wine the night before...) were clinically sound, fed an appropriate diet and worked on a variety of surfaces with and without shoes. Each participant was filmed laterally and cranially/caudally at walk:
  1. barefoot;
  2. in a flexible (eg glue-on) shoe; and
  3. in a rigid (eg steel) shoe.
The video footage of the participants was peer-reviewed and gait anomalies were noted (ie: we all looked at it over lunch and made rude comments):

PS: Excuse the hole in the boots - I wasn't about to select a decent pair for the study since they had to be screwed through the sole...

On a fractionally more serious note, it is very interesting how shoes of any kind exaggerate gait deviations, and how - the more rigid the shoe - the greater the effect on proprioception, flexion and breakover.

As Mark said: "Shoeing is so normal from our point of view - but it isn't for the horse".

Friday 17 September 2010

Frankie has wheels

Frankie is a French ex-racehorse who is one of our rehab "old boys" - he went home in June. You can read more about him on the Rehab page and there are clips and photos of his hooves there too.

Like many rehab horses, Frankie hadn't been in work for a long time before he came down, and as they didn't go anywhere apart from the vet's, his owner didn't need transport...but now...
....Frankie has wheels!!

Cristina also sent me a couple of lovely shots of the boy himself, going places - thats what I like to hear :-)...AND his mane is lying perfectly - I never managed to achieve that while he was here ...or... has Cristina plaited it...What do you think?!

Thursday 16 September 2010

Biomechanics - adressing the root of the problem

I am running a course for the UKNHCP students this week, and with her teacher-head on, Sarah sent me this great link to add to my course material, and I thought you guys would find it interesting as well. This is the link to the programme on the BBC's website, and you can hear it by clicking "Listen now". If you are short of time, the highlight (as far as I am concerned) is between 1min20 and 6min50, the latter when an athlete is talking about the difference that working barefoot has made to recovery after a severe ankle injury :-)

Basically, the programme highlights how biomechanics addresses not simply the apparent injury, but looks at the incorrect movement which has led to the injury, and the stresses and strains throughout the body which arise when soft tissue and joints are forced to compensate.

For an athlete, its not enough for the injury to heal if the primary cause is a biomechanical weakness; if you don't address the primary cause, the injury will simply recur once training begins again.

Its exactly the same with horses, who are natural athletes. A horse can present with an injury, for instance to the DDFT. Typically the prescription is rest, hand-walking, controlled exercise - perhaps coupled with remedial farriery and drug therapies. The problem is that with many - possibly the majority - of these injuries, the injury is the culmination of a long term biomechanical problem.

As the doctor in the BBC programme points out, you need to not only have the diagnosis for the injury, you need to know why it happened. If the focus for treatment is only on the recent injury and there is no recognition of the poor biomechanics that have led to it, then the chances are that it will recur.

And as a footnote, this isn't really about barefoot and shoes - a horse can be barefoot and land toe-first; a horse can be shod and land heel-first...
This is something that I hear frequently with the horses who come here - they may have had an initial bout of lameness which was painstakingly treated, only for it to recur once the horse was back in light work - or even once it was turned out in the field. Usually, throughout this time the horse has been landing toe-first and it may also have compromised medio-lateral balance - this is the root cause of the injury and it makes every step a repetitive strain injury.

However, these same horses normally come successfully back into work, and suffer no ill effects from charging about in the field, once they are landing correctly.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

What the horses do best...

The weather was mild last week - enough for the horses to still enjoy being in the woods on a sunny afternoon. In fact they were mostly hanging out there on the day I took these photos :-) Now, a few days further on, they are mostly rugged - there is definitely an autumnal nip in the air....not to mention a little bracing Exmoor dampness....
Charlie and Bailey W
Rose and Angel (she is teaching him the rewards of being well-behaved!)
Felix, keeping an eye on the place
Rose and Felix, having checked out that there is nothing more exciting happening elsewhere.
Baileys - mines a double...