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.


Clare said...

I can relate totally to this.

When Paulie is in good form and storming around the countryside his foot looks totally different. He has a BIG healthy looking frog and the hoof wall isn't pronounced . . . but when I have problems with lameness etc his frog shrinks and his hoof wall is longer, it's that part which is in contact with the ground!

Once I figure out how to stop this happening, we'll be sorted !!! may take some time:-D

Val said...

A very experienced horseman (50+ years) recently commented that shoes are a "necessary evil" for a navicular horse, because the shoe takes the wear instead of the bone so the bone does not deteriorate further. My understanding is that the bone loses ossification, because the back of the foot is not being used and therefore not being strengthened through weight bearing (which has also weakened the internal structures). I was really grossed out to think about a horse's coffin bone wearing away as he walks. That just does not make sense to me. Thankfully, a friend took the horse barefoot and he is doing wonderfully!

Funder said...

Some horses actually do recover from being shod too early. Dixie is definitely the exception - she was shod in TWH pads from 18 months to 4 years, then another 6 months in flat shoes before I bought her. I boot her for endurance rides but she's never been footsore and never abscessed. Her frogs and caudal hoof will never be picture-perfect but she doesn't seem to care. Yes, most horses shod too early will never recover as well as her, but sometimes they beat the odds!

Dan and Betty said...

I'm new to your blog, but I totally support your post today. Neither of our horses (Icelandic Horse, Rocky Mountain Horse) have been shod and their hooves are rock solid healthy.

Keep up the good work.

Dan Cooksey
Corrales, New Mexico, USA

Nic Barker said...

Clare, I can't wait to see Paul again in September! We will get brain-storming with you :-)

Funder - I agree, they can definitely recover - the rehabs here who've been shod young or for very long periods (15 years or more) never cease to amaze me, and they can go on to great things barefoot :-)

But as you say, they never have quite such robust caudal hoof development as the ones who weren't.

Nic Barker said...

Dan, thank you, glad you enjoyed it :-) I think its important to remember that almost all of us, whether we shoe or don't shoe our horses, are doing it from the very best of intentions!

Andrea said...

This post was AWESOME. Can I link to it?

Nic Barker said...

Andrea - yes of course - glad you liked it :-)

amandap said...

Yes, seriously awesome post.

Nic Barker said...

Thanks, Amanda :-)