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.

1 comment:

Kristen Eleni Shellenbarger said...

Nic-can you point me to where (if you have) talked about correcting an under run heel. My OTTB's RH heel has a tendency to want to grow forward, almost slipper shape, despite bring toe back. His tubules seem to grow more parallel to ground vs more perpendicular, if that makes sense. I can submit photos as well. Thanks in advance.