Thursday, 27 October 2011

High heels, weak frogs, chickens and eggs

Following my post about Paul earlier in the week, Caroline put up a good comment, and one which I suspect voiced what a lot of people are wondering.  I'd posted that Paul had been regularly trimmed and that there had been no changes in his diet or environment.

She said: "But maybe its a lack of correct trimming???"
Caroline went on to say that if a horse is not trimmed so that the frog is in contact with the ground, that in iteself can lead to weakness and atrophy in the caudal foot which, over time, results in a toe first landing and the rest, as you already know, is history.

In her own words:

"My theory is that the frog loses contact with the floor and the back half of the foot starts to weaken. Then one day they do something which tweaks a tendon and/or ligament because the foot is no longer strong enough to cope. From then on, the horse is toe first landing due to pain in the back half of the foot from the tweak, and everything goes downhill from there.

The horse is suddenly lame, but I believe that it is gradual weakening over the previous months that actually caused the lameness.

That's my theory, and I trim to keep my own boys frog in contact with the floor standing on concrete because of it. 

Each of the 3 barefooters who have come to you for rehab has had heels which are preventing the frog from being in contact with the floor (as well as an underdeveloped frog). Paul's photo above is a good example. Irrespective of the quality of the frog, the heels are too high. It really does look to me like a pattern beginning to build ........"

She is correct that about the high heels/weak frogs - that is true of every horse who comes here, whether shod or barefoot. In itself thats not surprising, because all the horses who come here have pain which is located in that area of the hoof.  They take pressure off that area, land toe first and the caudal hoof weakens.
For me, though, the $64,000 question is which is the chicken and which is the egg - does the high heel/weak frog cause the toe first landing OR does the high heel/weak frog occur as a consequence of a toe first landing?

Why is this important?  Because it makes a BIG difference in how you deal with the problem.

This is dear old Ghost, my late lamented eventer who taught me an indecent amount about hooves. There is more about him here, but like most navicular horses he had an incredibly weak caudal hoof immediately out of shoes.
One of the things I learned early on was that - while he was in rehabilitation - I couldn't back Ghost's toe up (or trim his heels) because to do so made him less sound and slowed his recovery.

When I had learned a bit more about anatomy, the reason was clear - the navicular meant he had pain in the back of his hoof (in his case bone changes but almost certainly DDFT damage too) and if I tried  - by trimming - to put more weight onto the frog, digital cushion and the bones and soft tissue of the caudal hoof, he couldn't cope.  The area wasn't yet strong enough to deal with greater stimulus.

The same issue arises with any of the rehab horses here - they have already had injuries and arrive with lameness and weakness in the caudal hoof.

Which brings me back to Caroline's question.  She trims her own horses to ensure that the frog is in contact with the ground, but her horses are already sound, have robust hooves and can obviously cope with the added stimulus.

It would certainly be possible for the sequence to be - as Caroline theorises - high heels > weak caudal hoof > lameness.  If this was the sequence, then very careful trimming might be helpful once the lameness had improved BUT in Paul's case I am fairly certain that the sequence was different and the high heels/weak frogs are effect, not cause.
I can be certain with Paul because - since he came here in September - I saw his hooves only a few weeks ago, and at that stage he didn't have high heels or weak frogs.  He was in work and it was only when Clare was away for a week that he suddenly went lame.

So in his case, at least, my guess is that it was something more sudden which re-aggravated his original injury.  Over the next few weeks, he landed toe first because of the caudal hoof pain, and the result of that (not the cause) was high heels and a weaker frog because of lack of stimulus. 

Its for this reason that I am not happy to lower his heels with a trim - because to do so would increase the load on his caudal hoof and  - in his case, at the moment - would most likely make him lamer not sounder.

Over the next few weeks though I would expect his frog and the whole caudal hoof to become much more robust.  As part of that process his heels will lower and the frog will beef up, but at the moment its not that there is too much of Paul's hoof - its that there isn't enough!

1 comment:

Clare said...

Very interesting . . . all I know is I'm not going holiday again! Barny won't be very happy :-) but it's a hard life being a Barny :-D