Wednesday 31 August 2011

Hoof development and shifts in balance

Here is an interesting sequence of hoof shots, all of Taz's left front foot.  Along with his right hind this is his weak diagonal and the left front is the foot which has historically been the lamest. 
Here he is on day one - a well shod foot with pretty good medio-lateral balance; the frog is centred and in good health.
Ten days later with the shoe off you get a better view of how the foot is starting to rebalance.  It was about this time that Taz began to develop a heel first landing and you can see the effect that is having on his frog.  
After nearly 4 weeks the caudal hoof is much stronger and the foot is showing signs of better overall balance - still with a centred frog but now the frog is much more robust, there is beginning to be more depth in the foot and the toe is much shorter.   As you all know by now, this has happened without the aid of a rasp or nippers ;-)

A side shot, but this time of the right front, confirms what we are seeing from the solar view.  Long toe and under-run heel on day one...
After 10 days, the start of a new hoof capsule and better profile but still looking weak caudally...
 At nearly 4 weeks, a much more business-like foot with a respectable band of new growth.

PS: The other perennial change is that rehab horses arrive with immaculate hooves and get steadily muddier and hairier...sigh....

Tuesday 30 August 2011

New blog feature - "Horse of the Week"!

I always seem to be posting on the blog about how much the horses here amaze me with their incredible powers of recovery, toughness and bravery, and I've decided its about time there was a new feature on this blog: "Horse of the Week"!  
I will award it each week to the horse who has been the most astonishing, made the most progress or wow-ed me in some other way(!), and this week, the award goes to Paddy (seen above with Zan, George and Dillon as co-stars).
Paddy gets the award because he came here only 10 days ago in bar shoes and he has already made the most incredible changes to his feet.  Admittedly, he had long hooves overdue for shoeing when he arrived but if you compare the photos above and below, you can hardly even see the nail holes today - and thats nearly all down to Paddy's determination to grow better feet extremely fast.
There is lots to like about Paddy's new hooves, even just looking at photos, though they are more impressive in real life. 
Out of shoes his frogs have leapt at the chance to start doing their job and are blossoming into really tough, hard-working frogs.
Paddy's feet looked rather as if they belonged to a space alien on day one...
...but now they are looking truly fantastic, particularly for only 10 days out of shoes - clever boy!

Monday 29 August 2011

What the boys did next

Felix watches hounds and huntsman going towards Rockley - including Ermine and Eyelash, 2 of last year's puppies who are now all grown up!
The reason the Exmoor hunters are fit - we went 3 times up and down this (and you can only see a bit of the hill in this photo) in one short morning, just for starters before we really got going!
Andy on foot in hi-viz - he didn't wake up early enough to get on his horse...Kudos to our friend Mark, though, who was up at 4.30am and had individually wrapped bacon butties, buck's fizz and sweets ready for a 6.30am meet in the middle of the moor  - a great start to the day!
The weather normalises, and Charlie proves why he is such a good hunter, trucking on with Edward through the rain, wind and mud after a good gallop and trying never to let hounds out if his sight. 

Sunday 28 August 2011

Update on Nicky

Time for an update on Nicky, the little Quarter Horse mare. 
Nicky has been here 4 weeks now and after being lame on and off for 2 years, her hooves are starting to change.   Here are her feet on day one, and below 4 weeks later. 
Nicky was landing very toe first when she arrived and although she has improved on conformable surfaces her landing on concrete is still not correct.  
Nicky on a circle from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

On a  circle though you can see the beginnings of an improvement so I hope it won't be long before she can land correctly on all surfaces. 

I'm always impatient for horses to recover as quickly as possible but they all have their own time-lines and its impossible to predict exactly how long each one will take.  Importantly, Nicky's owners are pleased with how well she is doing and are able to give her the time she needs:

"I have been wanting to contact you for a while to see how shes doing but I kind of thought there wasnt much point as she would be unlikely to have improved very much yet - but wow! what a difference ! She looks so much more comfortable and relaxed through her whole body. It seems hard to believe that her lameness has improved so much."

Friday 26 August 2011

Onwards and upwards!

A lovely email came in from Matt, who took Flynn home on Monday, and it makes a perfect happy Friday post.  Like most rehab horses, Flynn has gone home part way through his rehab; we made a good start down here and he's come a long way since he arrived, but over the next 3 or 4 months its up to Matt and Flynn to take his hooves to the next level!
As Matt says, its early days, but its often nerve-wracking for owners when they first get their horses back home, so it was great to hear that Matt is refusing to be negative.  I'll let him say things in his own words and I hope they bring as big a smile to your face as they did to mine :-)

"Although I don't believe in tempting fate, neither do I want to be too confident about Flynn's future at this stage as it remains to see how well his feet progress without the ideal surfaces etc. Nevertheless, I can at least say one thing with certainty. Taking his shoes off has been, without doubt, the way to go. I have 2 years of experimenting with other methods of treating his lameness to base that statement on! 

I thought it worth giving you a 'Day 1 at home' progress report because it's at home that the difference is really clear. Although my brain leaves a lot to be desired at times, it does seem to have stored a memory of every Flynn footstep over the last 18 months or so. Even before he became unrideable there was something just not quite right with him. After taking him out on familiar routes yesterday it was  clear (at least for that day!) that he was the horse he hasn't been for a long time. 

We went for a 75 minute hack on the lanes. Although we don't have quite the length of inclines as you do on Exmoor, we do have some pretty steep short hills. I thought the downhill stretches would be a challenge for him still but he didn't flinch. In fact there was no lameness apparent at all, and I was really looking/waiting for it! He felt level and balanced and there were only a handful of minor mis-steps (and probably less than he used to have before his foot issues really kicked in). Maybe there was a small adrenaline element with being back home, but there's no  denying, there's been a vast improvement. 

Lameness aside, what really pleased me was his demeanour. Ear's pricked, happy looking expression, responsive to the slightest squeeze of leg, it was like riding the 'old Flynn' again. I don't  want to get too carried away, so to be a bit critical, I'd say his stride length is still a bit choppier than it used to be and he would still prefer to trot on grass but saying that feels churlish. After all, it's only been 3 1/2 months since he hobbled off the horsebox at yours. Only time will tell if he continues to improve without the track system (and with the way I have to manage his keep here) but now I have a really good benchmark to base things on. Today, at least, I refuse to be negative. I am even imagining taking him on a cross-country course again. Nowt wrong with dreaming!"

Thursday 25 August 2011

The shoeing irony

A friend reminded me recently that I included a section in Feet First about what factors weaken hooves.  Her comment was made while George's owners were here last week and it got me thinking about the irony of why - with the best of intentions - horses are shod (pun not intended but inevitable, I suppose).

"Irony is a rhetorical device or situation in which there is a sharp incongruity or discordance that goes beyond the simple and evident intention of words or actions. 

A situation is often said to be ironic if the actions taken have an effect exactly opposite from what was intended."

George, who has been one of the fastest rehab horses to take from lameness back into work, has only been shod once in his life, for a very short time and has been in hard work without shoes for a number of years.
His feet are robust and have a particularly well-developed caudal hoof.  Ironically, he went lame once his hooves had started loading as if he was shod (ie peripherally, with a non-weight-bearing frog and restricted caudal hoof and heels).
All the rehab horses who have been slower or more difficult to bring back into work have - conversely - had hooves which are caudally very weak - often either due to being shod for many years or (like Dexter) shod so young that the development of the back third of the hoof was permanently restricted.

(Incidentally, my experience is that horses shod regularly from aged 2 (lots of TBs) may never develop as good an ability to absorb concussion and dissipate shock  - even once out of shoes - as horses who are left unshod till 4 or later (or even better are worked correctly unshod).
So here's the irony - if shoes are as good for horses as we always used to think and as we are still often told by equine professionals and the equine media, why is it faster to rehab a horse like George (who has never had the "support" of shoes) than a horse like Dexter (who should, if they are right, have had "better" feet because of being shod younger and for longer)?

Surely if shoes really did provide limb support - if they really did enhance performance - if they really did strengthen hooves - if they really did improve soundness - then we would see the opposite?
It would be the racing TBs who had magnificent feet and enviable long term soundness, and the Exmoor ponies and mustangs whose feet would be weak and plagued by innumerable structural lamenesses (btw, the "genetics" argument doesn't wash - see below!)
To compound the irony,  time after time, for horse after horse, I've got photos of hooves (like these - the same TB hoof a few weeks apart) which start developing caudally the minute shoes are removed...
...and I know from talking to a farrier who spent  a day with me a couple of months ago that he has seen hooves doing exactly the opposite - withering caudally within the first few shoeing cycles.
Shoes do something, of course - they have a  tremendous ability to allow unhealthy hooves to perform nearly as well as healthy hooves - until the horse loses a shoe.  But there is a price to be paid.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Over 100,000! and lots of news

Wow! - yesterday the blog's visitors topped 100,000 - thank you all for stopping by so regularly :-)   Lots of other news too...

The Rockley Rehabs Reunion is coming up soon, and I've emailed all you rehab  owners.  You need to let me know by 31st August if you are coming - even if you've already let me know you are coming,  I also need some other details from you too so get replying :-)

I've copied the email on a new RRR page, so have a  look there if the email has gone astray.  It could be like a mini barefoot Glastonbury, hopefully without the mud(!)  Sorry to everyone else, its only for rehab horses and owners...

Onto horse news - Cristina has posted on Facebook about her and Frankie's latest SJ outing at Patchetts - no new photos unfortunately but she said:

"He jumped the best he has. Course was right up to height and nearly everything was a spread and lots of combinations and related distances but it seemed to suit us"

Frankie is obviously getting in some sneaky practice before the RRR(!)...
I've also heard from Tiff and Oscar, who have had a rough few weeks with grass problems, trim problems and things generally being thrown at them.  As you may remember, Oscar is a brilliant example of unique hoof balance and symmetry so it was lovely to hear from Tiff yesterday that everything is now on the mend - wonderful, wonderful news!

"Oscar is doing REALLY WELL!!! He seems to have grown back a flare to the inside of his front left and his soles and frogs have suddenly (seemingly overnight) gone rock hard, with, I dare to hope, some concavity. He is walking across big stones much, much better, is happy as larry on tarmac and is going well in the school - I'll send a video soon so you can see him in action! His stride length is coming back - that famous strutting walk he had is all but there, so much so that someone who had not seen him for a couple of years commented how fantastic he looked and how he seemed so much more balanced in himself.
 I'm so scared to jinx anything, but it really seems we are heading upwards; he is taking canter left no problem (which was the big issue before the navic diagnosis) and I may even look to take him to a comp in the next couple of months, all being well. He's having limited grass during the day - only a few hours, as I'm so paranoid about it, but fingers crossed he seems to be OK with this.  Thank you so much for everything, Nic, I feel like I have my horse of a lifetime back."
Kate and Storm have also just passed their one-year-since-leaving-Rockley anniversary, and celebrated with a 3 and a half hour ride out with a couple of friends!
They've also sent a long letter to their vets describing their exploits over the past year, despite those vets giving Storm a "poor" prognosis after MRI :-)  Onwards and upwards, and well done both of you!
Also on vet's news, I had a lovely email from George's vet, who saw his footage last week and is thrilled with his progress so far - as she said, long may that continue!

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Long hooves, bar shoes and slightly more than celery

These are Paddy's feet - he arrived last Thursday in bar shoes and because he was overdue for shoeing his feet were very long; I had asked his owner to leave his shoes on a bit longer as that was preferable to having him shod a couple of weeks before he came here.
As is my current practice, I didn't trim his feet at all once his shoes were off, even though his hoof wall was long, as I wanted him to have a bit of time to get used to loading his hooves in a completely different way.   By Sunday however he had already chipped off lots of the long hoof wall from his quarters, so I got out my nippers and tidied up, taking no more than he had already removed and leaving toe and heels well alone. 
This is his hoof on Monday.  Of course he is covered in mud, despite my attempts to brush most of it off (this is Exmoor, after all, and although we have had a beautiful day, the ground is not exactly parched).  Nevertheless, you can just about see that his hairline is less distorted and his heels are less underrun.  Don't forget, I haven't trimmed his toes or heels at all
From the caudal view you get a good sense of how the bar shoe was functioning - although Paddy's landing is actually pretty good, considering, his caudal hoof is in desperate need of development - which means frog stimulus.   On MRI he has lesions to his DDFT but thats not going to improve unless his caudal hoof strengthens.
The same foot today - muddier of course (!)...  His frog is still comparatively weak and his heels are high  - but at the moment he needs the latter to protect the former.  However, even after this short time, his frog is less contracted as the removal of the shoes takes effect.

Importantly, Paddy is very happy without his shoes and is stomping around on his newly discovered feet, which is lovely to see :-)  Footage of him soon...

Monday 22 August 2011

Who'd have thought it?

New week, new updates - there is also a new horse - Paddy, a sociable Irish draught from Essex, but he will get a blog post of his own later this week!

I've been keeping a close eye on Taz as I had a suspicion that his landing had improved.  I filmed him over the weekend and I'm glad to say my suspicions were confirmed.  

Taz - updated footage from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

Taz  - who is 17.2hh - is now bestest buddies with Nicky - who is a smidgeon under 14hh.  They make an odd couple...(!).  Nicky's landing was actually worse than Taz's when she arrived, but although she hasn't progressed quite as quickly as he has, she has developed considerably over the last 3 weeks and hers will be the next new footage to be posted here.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Meet the new Rockley team members!

Last week was an insanely busy one up here, but luckily for me I had fantastic help from the 2 newest members of the Rockley team.  The first needs no introduction - my nephew Sam who has been helping out since he was big enough to hold a yard broom!  
He was here all week and added bringing horses in, bedding up boxes and changing rugs up to his extensive skill set (which already includes strimming, grooming ponies, cleaning up after puppy dogs, sweeping the yard and helping skip out).  He is a very useful chap to have around especially as he is always cheerful and doesn't even mind getting up at stupid o'clock in the mornings!
Unfortunately he has gone on holiday to France this week and after that is going back home, but I have first dibs on him when he leaves school...
The second new team member has also been a Rockley regular for a while, albeit in an unofficial capacity!  Edward, our friend and nearly-neighbour has been helping out - and taking our horses hunting - for the last 2 or 3 seasons and is another person who is invaluable to have around.
Things always seem to run more smoothly when he is here, so when he said he had some spare capacity and offered to become a fully paid up member of the Rockley team it was a dream come true for me!
He has lifelong experience of working with horses and if we carry on being as busy as we have been so far this year, his help will be even more essential.  He has only been working here for the last couple of weeks but I don't think I could have got through them without him, and suddenly this winter looks a bit more manageable :-)

Saturday 20 August 2011

Being a humming-bird in Chicago

I told you Matt - who owns Flynn - was off being  a humming-bird in Chicago (surely this has to be the title of his autobiography?) but I really wasn't sure what that involved...
However, here is the scoop: 

Still not convinced I am any the wiser...

Friday 19 August 2011

The Friday film: Rockley does "Black Beauty"!

George's owners were down this week and were very pleased, as I am, with his good progress so far.
He has only been here 4 weeks so there is lots still to do but he had a huge head start over many rehab horses - he already had hooves which had excellent internal development and, despite his lameness and the damage visible on MRI, his feet are extremely robust compared to many horses who come here.
As a result, his hoof landing and loading improved rapidly and I've been able to get him back into work - which he loves - remarkably quickly.  
With Maddy, his owner, back on board he was really up for it, and Jacqui took this fun footage which I've edited and added the soundtrack to ;-)
George, Zan and Pocholo acquitted themselves admirably and all enjoyed the chance to show off for the cameras!
Here's hoping for a "Happy ever after" ending for George and Maddy.