Monday, 12 December 2011

The whole horse

This is a post which will be obvious to many of you, but since you know that the horses here all come with foot problems, I thought it might be interesting for me to highlighting some of the related problem areas within the body which are inevitable consequences of lameness in front.  

When horses come here its because they have a long standing problem, usually a lameness which has its source within the hoof - often the caudal (back) of the hoof, although other structures can be involved in the veterinary diagnosis.  

However, it will come as no surprise to any of you that problems in the hoof are never insulated or self-contained and in any animal, especially a four-legged one, inability to use one leg properly affects the rest of the body.   

There are inevitable knock on effects when a horse is unable to load its feet comfortably and correctly.  These aren't sudden, catastrophic injuries but small, niggling discomforts which step by step, day by day, can accumulate and increase.  
The arrows point to the sites of the most common problems:
  • The big muscles surrounding the shoulders are almost inevitably sore when horses are lame in front.  It may seem obvious, but this can lead to horses being "sharp" when saddled or mounted.  The problem will usually be worse on one side than the other which will be particularly apparent to equine chiropractors, osteopaths and masseurs.
  • Horses can suffer from restricted neck flexion as they brace to take weight off the worst leg.  They will be one-sided on turns, of course, and again the problem will usually be obvious to a bodyworker. 
  • Lumbar and sacro-iliac problems are common because most horses are lamer on one front leg than the other.  Inevitably, front limb problems affect hind limbs and restricted movement in - for example - the left front will lead to a shorter stride on the right hind.  Over time, an unequal thrust in the hind limbs will lead to discomfort as one hind leg pushes harder than the other, resulting in a twist in this area. 
  • Hooves with a medio-lateral imbalance can strain check ligaments, particularly in faster work or on uneven ground. 
  • If front limbs aren't loading correctly, there are often knock-on problems behind - the most common are hock spavins or hind suspensory problems.
What I tend to see in the horses here is that as the front limbs become stronger and sounder the related problems also improve - as you'd expect.  But of course, where body issues are secondary to the front limb problem, then if you haven't sorted out the limb first, the other issues will keep recurring, no matter how many times a vet or bodyworker attempts to "fix" them.  


Lainey said...

Yes, Bailey had ongoing back problems for years before he actually went lame. His diagonal hind foot was also not landing as it should either, he was sliding it underneath himself. Poor boy he must have been so uncomfortable no wonder i hit the deck so many times, and we could never pinpoint the problem until he went lame :-( a happy ending though, he is going really well and his osteopath has said it is the best she has ever seen him. Long may it continue.

New Trader said...

Could not agree with your more Nick. I really wish people would look at the whole picture MUCH more. I would also throw in the mix correct riding. So basically you need to be good enough and balanced enough rider to school your horse correctly for long lasting results.

I also agree with those areas you pointed out and have certainly seen exactly that.


Nic Barker said...

Absolutely, Susanna - straightness and suppleness are the next steps and the ongoing tasks...

Martine said...

Very interesting post. We've recently gone barefoot with three horses, one of which has had lumbar/sacro-iliac and shoulder issues on and off for years. We have always accepted that he needs to see the osteopath/chirpractor/massage person regularly. At the moment he is a bit tender on his newly bare feet but your post makes me optimistic that given time, we will see a much sounder horse overall.

Andrea said...

What about this situation:
My Gogo had a club foot on her LF. It wasn't massively clubbed, but came from her standing splay legged as a foal and no one bothering to do anything about it. She grazed like that for her entire life - RF forward, LF back. As a result, the RF always wanted to run under, and the LF always wanted to be higher in the heel. She landed and loaded evenly on both fronts, and was barefoot and actively competing for years. There was no taking that heel away from her... she has beautiful calloused sole underneath it, and cutting into that (as one farrier tried to do) made her very sore. It never changed, no matter how correct the work was.
However, her RH was the one that ultimately killed it. It was the one with the arthritic hock that we watched so closely. It was also the one that just would not heal - both hind legs were injured during her accident, but the RH was the one that reinjured three times, never the left.
Now that everything is over and done with, I have to wonder whether or not the clubbiness on the LF had anything to do with the issues on the RH. Probably, is my guess. Asymmetry leads to other asymmetry.

Nic Barker said...

Andrea, I am sure you are right, though what is cause and what is effect is sometimes impossible to work out.

For sure the RH would be at risk if taking extra load which should have been shared by the LF but couldn't be. There may also have been hidden, conformational reasons for the LF becoming clubby which you could never have done anything about.

Martine, I would hope that as your horse's feet become more healthy things will improve in his body too. Obviously its very important to keep him comfortable for now, either by keeping him on good surfaces or by using boots.

jenj said...

I wonder how many "saddle fit issues" are actually foot discomfort issues. I've had this epiphany, and a friend I know another blogger who had this happen with her mare too. When the feet don't hurt, the shoulders/withers aren't sore, and the saddle doesn't cause issues. Amazing, really!

I wonder if, 10 years from now, equine professionals of all types will look to foot health and nutrition FIRST as the root cause for a multitude of issues. Wouldn't that be amazing!

Nic Barker said...

Jen, that's a really good point - with bad feet even the best fitting saddle isn't going to help sore shoulders. Its one of the areas where its essential for the "team" to work together - saddlers, vets, farriers/trimmers, bodyworkers and most importantly owners - to get a holistic view of the horse and its issues.

I think we could well be amazed at where we are in 10 years, given how much people have learned in the last 10 :-)