Wednesday 29 February 2012

Its a cob thing...

Masses going on today, Nico going home and new boy Dom (below) arriving, plus all the usual work with the other horses and a visit from the Exmoor National Park bods to talk about the coming year...Nico's final pics will go up soon, along with updates on Bailey G and Buster, but for now, meet Dom...
New boy Dom is pictured standing on the muck-heap, where he decided he would locate himself once turned out, as there appeared to be lots of haylage there.  The fact that it was old, damp haylage, which had been thrown out and spurned by me and all the other horses didn't deter him.
In fact he spent some time and energy making sure neither Felix, Charlie or Bailey Griffiths could steal it from him - though they preferred the nice, fresh, succulent haylage from the feeders...(!)
Here are Dom's feet, before he was released to commence his search for haylage.  Nothing too scary, but a long toe, contracted frog, slightly under-run heel and some growth rings at the top which hint at uneven loading.
This is corroborated by his MRI, which shows collateral ligament damage on both front feet, along with mild navicular changes and pedal osteitis.
Sometimes Domino stands beautifully square but once I started fiddling around and doing things like taking hind shoes off, he reverted to pointing his RF, which according to his vet and his owner, Nikki, is characteristic.
For the record, here is an on-the-floor caudal shot of his RF. I'd hope that his frog starts to work a lot harder than this over the next few weeks.

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Help in California and some other things

I had a post on Facebook from someone in California who is looking for hoof help for her TB, and I thought the blog would be the best place to get it broadcast :-)
As always, there are dangers in trying to draw conclusions from photos, but my first inclination with this horse would be to look in detail and fast at what he is eating, and stop any sort of trimming until the dietary jigsaw pieces are in place. Flat feet can have a multitude of causes but are generally exacerbated by metabolic or nutritional problems, which can be anything from high sugar levels to inadequate dietary magnesium or copper to toxins like wormers to pollutants in the environment.

For his owner, there is a short form piece of info here and you can find a lot more either in the book Feet First or - with a more US bias - on the ECIR forum (don't let the title put you off - much of what is posted there is more widely applicable).

If any of you regular blog readers is based in CA or can recommend a hoofcare practitioner there, please jump in and say so :-)

Meanwhile, there is a lot on at Rockley this week and I may not get through it all on the blog, but I just had to add this fascinating snippet that was drawn to my attention on Facebook by Liane Rhodes - its a fairly mind-blowing article, and certainly puts my posts on the puzzling hoof into a cocked hat...Here is someone who is certainly listening to the horse in front of him loudly and clearly. 

And while we are on mind-blowing and puzzling things, here is Wiola's latest update on Kingsley - who has gone lame  - initially looked like a fetlock injury and now in true K fashion its just a mystery...But some good news at least, since he was diagnosed on the basis of x-rays and nerve-blocks nearly 18 months ago...(!)

"Hi Nic, just to let you know we re-Xrayed Kingsley's feet and they looked! Vet was impressed with how the navicular bones looked like and to me they looked denser than a year ago. Apart from tiny weeny changes on the right navicular bone (which vet thought would be highly unlikely to cause any lameness) he pretty much had "no navicular changes". Now, that of course doesn't explain lameness but thought you might like to know."  

Monday 27 February 2012

Cracks, shoes and barefoot

This is a post which Caroline asked about last week, following on from my short post on feeding.   These feet belong to Andy's mare, Bailey.  We bought her in 2003 as a 4 year old, in shoes, and she had cracks which got rapidly worse on 3 out of 4 feet.  
I'm afraid that in those days I wasn't quite as obsessive about taking photos as I am today, so these are not only culled from the depths of the Rockley archive but also not terribly good quality.  The top photo is her LF, the lower her RF, shortly after her shoes came off in 2004.  
The cracks look bad, and they were even worse in real life as they were full depth and had de-stabilised her hooves so badly that each side flexed independently, more like a cloven hoof than an equine hoof.
This is a slightly better photo, taken about 3 months after she came out of shoes.  The interesting thing is that the cracks - instead of getting worse out of shoes - are actually improving. Most farriers and vets at the time believed that shoes held cracks together and prevented them getting worse.

In fact, in a shoe the whole bodyweight of the horse loads onto the hoof wall - and therefore onto the cracks.  Once out of shoes, the horse can load the back of the hoof, frog and sole more effectively and this actually takes pressure off the cracks.  As you can see from the later photo, the hoof wall above the medial crack has knitted together with the change of load and is much better quality than the old, shod hoof wall.
The same foot, a few months further on.  As you can see, the original cracks have healed up but the hoof is still far from crack-free.  At this stage, back in 2005, I was only just beginning to get to grips with the idea that nutrition and biomechanics were the most important components of a healthy hoof.
This photo was taken in 2008, when I had got better at getting the essentials right.  So at this point she is getting a good level of minerals and the levels of sugar and starch in her diet are kept low. With this horse, its critical to restrict her grazing during times of high sugar levels, so she is off grass during the day during spring and summer.  On this regime, she is rock-crunching, and although she still has cracks visible nowadays, they go no further than the first fraction of a mm of her outer hoof wall.

She also gets Cortaflex, which is nothing to do with her hooves, but which helps the cracks.  Bonus points for anyone who can guess why - you are disqualified if you've seen her ;-)

Saturday 25 February 2012

The next step for Knightley?

Lots of you will remember Mr Knightley, who arrived from Dubai at the end of October.  He made the epic journey from 40 degree temps in UAE to damp, chilly Exmoor but to my surprise seemed to love the climate, as well as his new found ability to mooch round the tracks rather than being mostly stabled.

When he arrived he had been out of shoes for a long time but had several problems with several legs.  As well as central sulcus infections on 3 out of 4 feet he had poor medio lateral balance on his front feet and had a DDFT tear to his LH, on which he had been 4/10 lame in walk.  He was landing badly as well, of course.

Knightley has done well during his rehab, and despite having the odd setback has made good progress.  However the problem for Debbie, his owner, is that she and her family are now being relocated, and instead of coming back to the UK, they are being sent to South Africa!
Although she considered taking Knightley there, he would have had to spend months in quarantine and she (quite rightly, IMO) felt this wouldn't be fair on him, and would also risk undoing all the rehab which has gone on since he arrived.  So the question was, where would he go next on his travels? The answer may be Shropshire, where a friend of Debbie's lives.  She was interested in taking Knightley on but was wondering how sound he now was.  We spoke on the phone and I promised her (and Debbie of course!) some footage of him on a circle.

I would have liked to film him on a bright, sunny day, when - being dark bay - he looks incredibly sleek and shiny but of course, this being Exmoor, we have been in fog all week.  Nevertheless, with apologies for the "atmospheric"conditions (distinctly reminiscent of Hound of the Baskervilles), here is Knightley's updated footage.

PS: I know the music is cheesy, but - trust me - its so Knightley...!

Friday 24 February 2012

The under-rated (caudal) hoof

I bang on all the time about the caudal hoof - its inevitable I suppose, given that the horses who come here have long term pain and lameness stemming from injuries in that area.

FWIW, "caudal" is just a way of describing anything in the back of the hoof - it simply means "nearer the tail"!

Most horses come to Rockley with a report from their vet, or an MRI, which details all the problems they have in the back of their hooves - tendon damage, navicular bursa inflammation, bone changes, ligament tears.  Add to that other issues, like thin soles, contracted frogs, collapsed and underrun heels and you can understand why traditionally vets have been very pessimistic about the chances of returning these horses to work.  
Remedial farriery - like bar shoes or wedges - aim to prop up the hoof externally but do little to improve its internal strength. The traditional approach is to assume the caudal hoof is weak and requires shoring up from the outside, but I think we have mostly under-estimated its amazing ability to adapt, improve, strengthen and heal, given the right stimulus and the right conditions.   
If you compare these photos of the same foot, taken only a few weeks apart, you can see how much the caudal hoof - frog, digital cushion, heels and lateral cartilages - have developed following rehab.
Here is another rehab horse, this time with more obvious loading issues - a medio-lateral imbalance is shunting this hoof laterally, despite the remedial shoes. Again, the same hoof a few weeks later shows dramatic changes.
A much more robust digital cushion and healthier frog and heel are good signs, and the collapse of the medial hoof (on the right) isn't quite as bad.  By this stage, the horse was back in work and sound, but you can see that there is further improvement to come.

Perhaps more surprisingly, both the horses pictured were shod for "support".  They were horses who "would never cope without shoes" according to their vets and farriers and yet they are in higher levels of work now, following rehab, than they were when shod.

By the way, this post isn't a diatribe against shoeing, but it is a diatribe against preconceptions.

If you have a horse who has lameness which blocks to the caudal hoof and its not improving in shoes - don't simply carry on shoeing it.  Don't just rip the shoes off and leave it hobbling either, but recognise that perhaps the horse needs appropriate rehabilitation to rebuild and strengthen the caudal hoof - which, by the way, horses are stunningly good at, given half a chance.
Its not just shod horses who have problems.  Caudal hoof injuries can also be a problem for a barefoot horse with a weak foot - this horse had never been shod but had soft tissue damage and had been given a gloomy prognosis.  In his case, it only took a few weeks to rebuild his caudal hoof till it was functioning properly.
In a lovely stroke of irony, some of the fastest horses to improve during rehabilitation - and some of the best long term proponents of working without shoes - have been the horses whom everyone said absolutely had to have shoes because their feet were so vulnerable - veterans, TBs, horses with thin soles and horses with multiple problems.

Perhaps they like to surprise us or perhaps its these horses who have the biggest need to develop  - internally - really strong, healthy hooves.

Thursday 23 February 2012

Solar and the side effects of box rest

There was a lovely post from Solar's owner on the Rockley Rehabs' forum yesterday:

A happy post...

Solar saw his physio, Mel, yesterday. She was one of the people to see him when he started to go lame last Summer.

Mel said he is much more even in the muscles around his shoulders now and the off-side has almost caught up totally with the near:)He was really wasted in the off-fore shoulder at one point so it was really great news that the changes in how he stands and loads are evident muscularly too8-)

His off-hind muscle has switched off, she thinks most likely since his box rest, but she has given me exercises to do to wake it back up and is confident that will improve over the next few months.

Incidentally, you guys probably already know this but I didn't! She said for every week of box rest you have to add another 3 to reverse the changes:o

It reminded me of an article I saw a few weeks ago.  Admittedly that was research into the effect of bed rest on humans, not horses, but the results were startling.  It was 2 follow up studies, 30 and 40 years on, into men who had participated in research into bed rest when they were in their twenties.

The study found that those 3 weeks of bed rest had a worse effect on their cardio-vascular system than 30 years of aging.   Makes you wonder, doesn't it, about why box rest is recommended for horses so routinely if this is the sort of damage that results from immobilising humans, who are generally a less active species.

PS: It took another 10 years  - a total of 40 years of aging - to have as damaging an effect as the 3 weeks of bed rest.

Wednesday 22 February 2012

Rehab results...

- or -

"Is this open to any horse or are they going to pick horses with best prospects?"

After I posted the news about the scholarship, a number of kind people helped spread the word via various horsey forums and this comment was apparently made by someone on (I think) the Horse and Hound forum.  

It made me smile because, to be honest, horses with navicular/DDFT or collateral ligament injury diagnoses aren't normally described as having the "best prospects" :-)  The normal phrase used by vets is that they have a "guarded prognosis for a return to athletic function".  Sometimes they go further and say the prognosis is "poor" but I've never seen a horse described as having "good prospects" for resuming a ridden career. 
Dexter (above) was fairly typical - his owner was told he had only a 5% chance of being able to do more than light hacking.

I suppose what the poster meant was: are we going to try and pick the horse that will recover most quickly? But thats next to impossible to assess even with a horse in front of you, let alone via email.  

Mostly, the horses who come here all have a similar "umbrella" diagnosis, showing long term lameness blocking to the caudal hoof but even so, there is enormous variety in how they cope. 

Horses can have feet that look nice but be incredibly lame.  They can have feet that look horrible and be surprisingly sound.  They can have a high pain threshold and love being in work so much that they keep moving no matter what or they can have acute sensitivity to everything that is wrong and react not just to front limb problems but all the related hind limb, back and neck problems as well. 

So really, the first point is that there is no way of working out from an email or even from a vet's diagnosis how long a horse will take to recover, how fast it will progress or how sound it will become. 
The second point is that cherry picking isn't what the scholarship is about. Its purely and simply about giving a chance to a horse and their rider who wouldn't otherwise be able to access it.        

I was updating the Project Dexter results today - long overdue and its over 6 months since I last amended the page.  I've previously included a table of the results here on the blog, but that won't fit any more, because we have too many horses to include - I suppose thats a good thing :-)

The upshot is that anyone who would like a detailed breakdown of the results needs to email me (as always).  The short form of the results is here, and I will try and update that more regularly now its less complex.

For those who'd like a summary, since 2008 there have been 43 horses rehabbed at Rockley (diagnosed with DDFT/collateral ligament injuries on MRI or "navicular" issues via x-ray).  Of those, 35 have completed rehab, 8 are ongoing.

Of the 35 horses who've completed rehab, 30 are in full work (the same level of work or higher than before they went lame) - that's 85% (thanks to Andy for the maths!).

2 horses worked well following rehab but have had recurrent issues since returning home; 2 other horses improved but did not return to full work; 1 horse's rehab was interrupted by colic surgery  - he is in light work but has not yet returned to the same level of work as before he went lame.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Do the twist

I posted last week about Georgia, who has now been here nearly 3 weeks.  This first photo of her LF was taken the day after she came out of shoes.  
The lower photo was a week later...
and this was another week further on. 
The photos show an apparent shift in the orientation of her frog, which is often a good indicator of changing medio-lateral balance. Looking at the photos again, her frog appears to be twisting, with the apex turning inwards (medially) - making her caudal hoof turn outwards (laterally).
Jen asked about why this might be happening, and for me its one of those things which is more obvious when you see her standing in front of you.  At present her toes turn out, but ideally you would want them straighter - with the caudal hoof shifting laterally and the toe turning medially.
...and I think its a good example of why hoof photos can only ever give you one tiny piece of the jigsaw (even though it can be a very interesting piece!).
For fun, here is the same photo with lines drawn from roughly the centre of the top of each limb to the ground.  Its not an exact science, of course, because camera angles distort, but it gives you an idea of why the medio-lateral balance of the LF might be changing more radically than the RF, and why that hoof might be twisting, with the toe moving medially and the caudal hoof laterally - in other words, to put her base of support underneath her limb rather than out to the right.

Monday 20 February 2012

Feeding - essentials

I've posted before about the "essentials" - hoof balance essentials and movement essentials were the posts which started this theme.   Time to talk about feed - like movement and hoof balance, a critical element of hoof health.

Its been really encouraging to see how, over the past few years, awareness of the importance of nutrition has sky-rocketed amongst horse owners.  When I first got interested in hooves, people thought it was all about the trim and it was only with time, trial and error that it became clear that hoof health was more to do with nutrition and biomechanics than anything else.
Bailey was one of the horses who taught me the most, because she couldn't be rock-crunching unless everything was right - she is a perfectionist!

Feeding is a big subject with lots of complexities and a post like this can only scratch the surface.  However, like many aspects of horsecare, there are some basic rules which are always worth keeping in mind:
  • Forage: horses need forage as the basis of their diets, whether thats hay, haylage or grass.  I've previously posted about the pros and cons of hay and haylage here.   
  • Sugars and starch: most horses do better with low levels of these in their diets.  Many commercial feeds include lots of cereals - which means high levels of starch - and sugars.  Do check labels for wheat, barley, maize, soya and sugars like glucose, molasses and syrups.  If you don't want to feed these to your horse, then avoid most commercial feeds!
  • Grazing: sugar levels in grass fluctuate very rapidly especially in spring and summer but also in cold weather.  Its often not the amount of grass which is the problem but the sugar level - and this can be high in short, stressed, over grazed grass - a bare paddock is not necessarily safer than a lush field. Be suspicious of your grazing if your horse becomes footy  - you may need to switch to night-time turnout or restrict grazing in some other way. 
  • Minerals: if its practical, its good to balance minerals to your horse's forage but thats often not possible.  Fortunately, there are a few mineral supplements now available which supply levels of minerals which are commonly lacking in UK forage.  Pro Balance and Pro Hoof are streets ahead of most "balancers" - they may not be perfect for areas with severe imbalances but are a great first step. 
  • Magnesium: most horses need additional magnesium  - magnesium oxide is safe to feed and can be bought either as pure MgO or as calcined magnesite. 
  • Linseed is another safe feed to supplement and will help many horses.  Micronised linseed is widely available, extremely palatable and does not need additional cooking.  
  • Chops and chaffs: though popular are often a source of problems, either because they include molasses or because of preservatives.  Even "low sugar" versions can include problematic levels of sugar and in most cases feeding hay or haylage is a better and cheaper option. 
Resources: feeding is a MASSIVE subject, and for most rules there will be an exception(!).

Good resources include Clare Macleod's book:  "The truth about feeding your horse" and the equine nutrition "bible" the NRC's "Nutrient Requirements of Horses".  The latter is fairly hard core research but remains one of the only sources of fact, rather than guesswork, on feeding.

Online, Eleanor Kellon's nutrition courses, of which the foundation is "NRC Plus" are worth doing for those who want to look in more details at their own horse's diets and how to feed.   

Saturday 18 February 2012

Scholarship update

The response to the scholarship has been incredible, in all sorts of ways, and I am delighted to announce that, thanks to the generosity of Ali Dorward, the transport "pot" is now increased to £100.  In only a few days, the Rockley Scholarship has grown to be a complete package, which is really exciting:
  • 12 weeks rehabilitation livery at Rockley
  • Transport subsidy of £100, thanks to Steven Leigh at Natures Way, Dawn Perkins and Ali Dorward
  • Aspire Equestrian horse and rider assessment session and training plan, worth £270, thanks to Wiola.
The original post, with all the details for those who want to apply, is on this page: and good luck with your applications :-)

Friday 17 February 2012

More on the puzzling hoof

Several of you have been asking for the sole shots on the puzzling hoof.  I first posted about it here, then did a follow-up post here but many of the comments asked - quite rightly - where on earth were the sole shots?!?!?!?
You ask, you get - here is the medial deviation on that LF which looks so mad from the top.  TBH, I hung on with the sole shots because I wanted not just to post the photos but footage as well, and its been so busy that took a few days!

The biggest problem  - for most people - with a hoof that looks like this is reconciling how it looks with how it works.
My ethos over the last few years has been to respect movement above appearance - if a horse is sounder with an odd-looking foot - well, that's fine by me.  And in fact, once I adopted this approach I started to see why horses grew the deviations they did and suddenly the "odd" appearances made sense.

With this horse, you need to be aware that the other 3 hooves are self-trimming and look (relatively!) normal.  For me, that's a red flag that there is something unusual about the limb which has the deviated hoof capsule.   Kudos to those blog readers who had already suspected that the deviation was due to a shoulder injury :-)

Here is the footage of this horse on a circle.  Consistent work is essential for him because, as you can see, he has a weak caudal hoof which requires regular work to maintain its health.  His hoof isn't ideal, his shoulder injury isn't ideal but sometimes we have to work with what we've got.

Thursday 16 February 2012

The scholarship grows!

The Rockley scholarship is growing fast!
Wiola has also got in touch and offered to contribute a full horse and rider assessment session and training plan, through her Aspire Equestrian Academy.

What I love about this training is that it is holistic and focuses on establishing good biomechanics for horse AND rider - no gimmicks, no tricks, just building a kind, correct foundation for all future work.

So now, the Rockley Scholarship comprises:
  • 12 weeks rehabilitation livery at Rockley
  • Transport subsidy of £75, thanks to Steven Leigh at Natures Way, Dawn Perkins and Ali Dorward
  • Aspire Equestrian horse and rider assessment session and training plan, worth £270.

I'll update the Scholarship page shortly :-)

Newsflash! Scholarship addition! Plus Georgia and Bryan updates

I had a brilliant email yesterday, from Steve Leigh who is a barefoot bod from way up in the north east.  He'd seen the Rockley Scholarship post and liked it, but he's gone one step further.  He's made a very generous offer to contribute £50 towards the transport costs for the horse who comes here on the scholarship. 
Its a fabulous addition to the scholarship and may well make the difference between someone being able to bring their horse here or not (for those of you in the US, our petrol and diesel costs are running at about £1.40 per litre or more, so travelling horses round the country is becoming a VERY expensive business).  I had to do a bit of persuading before Steve would let me thank him publicly and announce his offer on the blog, but it had to be done - THANKS STEVE :-)

ETA: I've just received another email from a long time supporter of the blog, Dawn Perkins, who has added another £25 to the transport pot - THANK YOU!

Thanks also to everyone who has helped spread the news of the scholarship.  It looks as if nearly 1,000 people have read that post, so far, and I've now made it a permanent page on the blog: just in case there is anyone who missed it first time round.

Its also time for updates on Georgia and Bryan, who have both been here for 2 weeks.  Ladies first (and Georgia is definitely a lady!)....
 As you know, she arrived in wedges and was pretty uncomfortable in them.
You have to excuse the fact that this update photo was taken in bad light but already you can see the change in her digital cushion which is much less crushed, more evenly loaded and beginning to develop.

You couldn't really see much of her sole at all in her wedges and pads but when I spoke to her vet he described her as having flat feet, collapsed heels and long toes.  On MRI she also has DDFT damage and fibrocartilage erosion.
Out of shoes her feet are pretty weak and definitely flat, but with a good frog and certainly more than enough to work with.
The most interesting thing about this photo is the orientation of the frog - a sign that the hoof is starting to shift medially and load more centrally.
The long hoof wall has already mostly gone but there is no point whacking it off with a rasp and nippers - at the moment its allowing her a more gentle transition from peripheral loading to central loading.

Here is her footage.  She had an exaggerated landing in shoes but has a reasonable landing out of shoes, though I will expect that to improve a whole lot more over the next few weeks.
Bryan is undoubtedly one of the kindest horses you could hope to meet and despite having only one eye he has done a great job of learning the Rockley landscape.  He is now best buddies with Buster, who arrived last week, and if you didn't know that they had only just met you would swear they had been pals for years!
His worst foot was his LF which has only just started changing, of course, but you can see that the overly long hoof wall at his quarters is chipping away and his underrun heel is hinting at improvement.  I would expect him to grow a hoof capsule at a much steeper angle but that won't be visible for another few weeks. a
Bryan's foot doesn't look too bad in the top photo but his heels are further forward than they should be and the widest part of his foot is also too far forward - some of it is long hoof wall but he has also not been loading his foot caudally but landing toe first instead, as you can see on the footage below.
Only a couple of weeks later and the widest part of the foot - and his heels - are shifting more towards the caudal hoof.  Although (like Georgia) he is not yet landing as well as he will be, his landing is also starting to get better.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

New boy from Wales - Bailey G

Today's blog post belongs to the new boy from Wales, Bailey G, or Bailey the Third - he actually arrived a couple of days ago but it was late when he came off the lorry and we all felt it was kinder to let him just spend a night chilling out and getting used to his new surroundings.  This meant we didn't bother him with photos, footage or shoe removal till Tuesday, so his very own blog post is on Wednesday :-)
Its fairly easy to identify Bailey's weakest leg.  He is reluctant to stand square and is pointing his RF consistently.  He has fairly nice-looking feet, though, and even once shoes are off there are no real horrors lurking under his shoes!
You can see that the hairline is pushed up slightly, which is often a sign of an imbalance in hoof loading, and a shot from the front also hints at hoof balance being an issue.  However, you need to remember that this horse was shod 4 weeks ago, so his hoof balance would have been very different then - this is not a farrier's failure, just the effects of a hoof being dynamic, even on box rest!
From the front the same hoof (RF) is looking asymmetric but longer on the lateral side.  Interestingly, the hoof capsules on most rehab horses, once fully grown in, tend to be longer on the medial side.
The same foot (RF) from the caudal view.  Again, it looks longer on the lateral side (the left of this picture) but is that because the medial side (on the right) is collapsing?  His landing is more or less as you'd expect, short-striding and toe first in front and his hinds are only marginally better - lots to do!

Bailey's vet has been very helpful and freely admitted that he and the farrier have tried everything to improve problems diagnosed on MRI.  They've done their best for the last 8 months so now its our turn.

Bailey definitely has some big changes to make to his hooves, so there will be more on him soon.  Meanwhile, as his owners couldn't be here to see him on his first morning without shoes, here is a short piece of footage I took on Tuesday morning - he has a long way to go, but these are his first steps.