Saturday 31 March 2012

Ted's updated footage

Ted the QH arrived here back in November and has been here over 4 months now. He was due to go home at the beginning of March but logistics have meant he has stayed a bit longer.  The nice thing about that is that I can post photos of his feet at a more advanced stage of rehab - so here he is. 
Day one, in his remedial shoes, with a long toe and under-run heel.
In this photo you can see the new angle of growth...
...and here is the hoof capsule today, with a good two-thirds of the capsule grown in at the new angle.  Its shortening his toe as well as bringing his heels back.
Same story from this angle - but compare how long the hoof wall is in the shod photo compared to...
...the same hoof today.

Finally, his sole shot - not much to see in the shoe...
 the typical weak frog and long toe just out of shoes...
...and today a frog which is in much better proportion - I'm sorry for the dirt, but you can see his breakover (the green line) which is where the dorsal wall will end when the new hoof capsule is fully grown in.  
Finally, here is his recent footage on a circle.  Unfortunately I don't have earlier footage, when he was quite clearly unlevel on the left rein but he will continue to improve as his new hoof grows in completely.
Ted on a circle from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

Friday 30 March 2012


We've had the most incredible weather this week - summer in March - and its been nigh on perfect for the horses.  Not too cold, not too hot, no nasty flies; grass in the fields (which they are now on at night) and sprouting leaves in the hedgerows - plus of course haylage on the tracks during the day!
Obviously, all but the newest arrival, Eva, have to do their fair share of work in the mornings, and that leaves them pretty exhausted(!) and in need of serious relaxation by the time the sun is high in the sky.  They have therefore spent most afternoons this week doing the equine version of laying by the pool - aka loafing...

I have lots of hoof updates to post, but its been so beautiful that I've had my camera in my pocket all week and couldn't resist a Friday feel good film. I had to seize the day, because we may not see sunshine like this again for several months - I hope you enjoy it :-)

Wednesday 28 March 2012

One example of a healthy hoof

I grabbed some photos the other day of what I would describe as a truly healthy hoof.  This horse covers hundreds of miles over the toughest terrain and I honestly can't remember the last time he was trimmed, so I thought it might make for an interesting blog post.

For sure, the last time anyone took a rasp to this horse's hoof with the intention of doing more than rounding the edges was in 2004 - and that didn't last long as he was clearly even then more than capable of sorting out his own feet without human intervention!
His dorsal hoof wall has no deviations, ridges or angle changes but has not had a rasp anywhere near it for years.  Its not me that has rolled his toe - he does that himself.  I've never trimmed his heels, frog, sole or bars.  I actually don't touch his feet at all except to pick them out, and former students will vouch for the fact that all they've ever been allowed to do to his feet is the mildest possible mustang roll.  The last one of those was over 12 months ago :-)
More important than how his feet look is the fact that they perform incredibly well and have done for more than the last 8 years over steep, flinty, boggy, trappy, stony, harsh terrain.
He is obviously self-trimming, but are his feet self-trimming because he lives on the tracks here? No - even horses who live on tough surfaces don't (in my experience) do enough to self-trim and just mooching on our tracks, even though they have abrasive surfaces, isn't enough to generate a self-trimming foot.  Equally, this means that you don't need tracks to have a self-trimming horse yourself!

What makes the difference is mileage - and that includes roadwork. This horse does hundreds of miles in each 9 month season's hunting (he had done 50 fast and stony miles across Exmoor in the 4 days before these photos were taken) and generally is in lighter work - covering 15-20 miles of roads per week - during May, June and July as well.

Here is the most important shot of all, and a demonstration of why you can't simply trim a foot to become truly healthy - how would you "trim" frogs or heels to become as strong as that?!
The key to this horse's mileage, soundness and toughness is in the enormous strength of his frog and digital cushion which gives him great shock absorption, correct medio-lateral balance and stability for the whole limb above.  This is what allows him to go over surfaces like this at a canter, week after week. You just don't get a palmar hoof as good as this in shoes (or at least I've certainly never seen one), and you don't get it from trimming either.  
Its a nice irony that when this horse first came out of shoes I was told by one well-meaning but uninformed trimmer that I should stop working him because "his frog needed to be lower than his heels in order to be healthy".  I was also told time after time by other equally well-meaning people that I couldn't do roadwork, that his feet would wear away, etc etc(!). 

In those days his frog was nowhere near as robust as it is now, but fortunately I listened to the horse and ignored everyone else!

A hoof as healthy as this isn't genetic - it derives from work, stimulus and fitness and is achievable in many horses.  We are back to the holy grail of good nutrition, correct biomechanics and masses of movement!

Footnote: This horse has a fairly symmetrical foot without deviations because he has good, straight limb conformation and no injuries - if he were a horse recovering from long term lameness his foot might look (and need to look) different  - nothing wrong with that :-)

Tuesday 27 March 2012

Wedges are definitely "in" this year...

We had a new arrival at the weekend - Eva, a 15 year old IDxTB mare who had been diagnosed at Leahurst with a DDFT tear.
Her vet and farrier have worked hard to try and improve her lameness over the past few months and she arrived in wedge shoes and pads.
She has an interesting hoof/pastern axis, particularly on her RF, and although the wedges have shored up the back of her foot its clearly very weak.  Her toe is also very long, especially if you envisage her foot minus the wedges.
Not a lot to see at the moment! In fact the gel had done a reasonably good job and out of shoes her frog was not half as bad as it would have been in the bar shoe alone.
 Nevertheless, that's a frog and digital cushion that desperately need better stimulus.  It also looks as if her medio-lateral balance isn't quite right - it may just be the camera angle but the foot does seem to be tending to collapse medially.

Eva is now out of shoes and enjoying the new experience of living in a mixed herd - she is rather like the girl from a select seminary for young ladies who has suddenly started a new term at Grange Hill(!).  Though she thought they were a bit of an odd crowd she is now well on the way to finding her feet - in every sense.

Monday 26 March 2012

Domino - 4 week update

Domino has now been here for 4 weeks - I can't believe how the time has flown - and its time for his 4 week update pics. As usual, I've posted photos of the same hoof at the same angle to get as close a comparison as possible. 
Here is his RF on day one - notice the position of the nail holes, because it gives you an idea of his growth rate in 4 weeks (below).  Its typical for most horses here that the nail holes have grown out completely within 6 weeks. 
Below is his heel shot - to my mind its always one of the most interesting angles to photograph a hoof from - particularly when the horse in question has a diagnosed problem which blocks to the palmar/caudal hoof.  Dom in shoes had basically nice feet with a reasonably healthy frog but even with extremely sympathetic shoeing the frog is not getting sufficient stimulus and is way off the ground.
This effectively means the hoof loads round the edge (peripherally) on hard ground; see what a contrast there is in the same frog 4 weeks later - more robust because it has been put back into ground contact, on surfaces which are supportive enough to ensure Dom is comfortable. 
Another comparison, this time of stance.  One of the tests that Dom's vet and owner decided they would use to check whether he was improving during rehab here was to assess whether his pointing had improved.   When he arrived, he could stand square in front for short periods but fidgeted, and once you asked him to pick up a back foot he shifted to stand like this.
Now, although he does still point he naturally stands square for much of the time. Its not yet 100% but he certainly seems to be heading in the right direction.
 Here is the sister shot to the caudal photo above - confirmation that even when the foot is on the ground, the frog is not in contact on a level surface.  In fact there is considerable clearance between the frog and the floor.
The same foot today - and I would be risking my fingers if I tried to get them under his frog now! 
Finally, his sole shot.  The proportions of his feet are also changing as his frog, heels and digital cushion become more robust. 
His heels are still out of balance, as you can see, but that will improve with time and work. Domino has a great attitude and really enjoys being back in work so putting the mileage on these hooves is no hardship for him.
He's already made great progress and I hope that when his owners come and see him next week there will be lots to show them.

Domino from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

Saturday 24 March 2012

Spring is here!

Sunshine, blue skies and the horses are loving it - and so are we!
Buster can't resist sticking his nose in...
Georgia in the shade of the trees - it really was that warm!
Bryan comes third in the "Who has the biggest tail?" competition
"So what? The contract says ad lib haylage."

Friday 23 March 2012

Horse seeks rider...

I had an email earlier in the week, and after checking with the sender, it seemed like the most useful thing I could do was to share her post here.
"I am trying to find a barefoot home for my horse, photo attached. I have owned him since he was two, he is now nine, and he has never worn shoes - he is 15.1hh (he rides bigger) and is an American standard-bred.

For the last two years we have been doing NCRs with EGB South East group, plus all local sponsored rides. He will go at speed all day over any terrain without boots and never puts a foot wrong.

The problem is I have constant back problems and can no longer ride as much as I would like, which does not suit Merlin. He is a very active horse and needs regular work to keep him sane, although he has always been a responsive (but fast) ride with excellent brakes, he becomes very ADHD if he is not kept occupied! 

If he has plenty to do he is a dream horse that you can take anywhere and do anything with.

He is being advertised on the EGB website, but I think it would be such a shame if he went to someone who promptly put shoes on, which is why I was hoping you might know of someone looking for a horse to do endurance with, or at least very long hacks!

Finding him a home where he will be kept barefoot, used and enjoyed, is much more important than price."

I am sure you agree, he sounds like a little cracker, so if any of you can help and are seeking a barefoot endurance horse or fun all rounder, do get in touch with his owner, Antonia, directly:

I'd be tempted myself if I didn't already have a rock-crunching 15.1hh pocket rocket with a huge work ethic...I highly recommend them, by the way :-)

Thursday 22 March 2012

Trimming - essentials

I've put up a new blog page, called Hoofcare Essentials.  Its a collection of previous posts on feeding, hoof balance and movement.  Obviously each of these is a huge topic so the posts are just reminders of key points.
The one topic I haven't covered yet is trimming, so that's today's post - I am only covering bullet points but, as many of you know, I posted lots last year on the blog about trimming; you can find more detail on the "Key blog posts" page under the section called "Trimming and celery".  Here then are what, for me, should be the golden rules.
  • Every horse should be treated as the ultimate expert on his own hooves.  There are lots of different theories about hooves and trimming and any number of professionals who will give you their opinion on how a hoof should be trimmed.  That's absolutely fine, as long as whoever is trimming listens to the horse first, last, and everywhere in between and modifies what they do according to the feedback they get from the horse (and owner).  
  • No horse should be less comfortable after a trim than he was before. See rule 1 - improved soundness must be the objective so if a horse is less comfortable, something went wrong.  Listen to the horse - that trim should not be repeated. I must say that awareness of this seems to have improved a lot over the last year, both among trimmers and owners, which has to be a good thing. 
  • Many horses who are in regular, consistent work on varied surfaces (including roadwork) will develop hooves which are self-maintaining and will rarely, if ever, need trimming. A good farrier or trimmer should recognise and encourage this. Horses - perhaps surprisingly - can manage their feet perfectly well without us, given the right workload, environment and nutrition :-)
  • If you have a horse who is regularly trimmed and has never quite got to the stage of being perfectly happy on rough, uneven ground despite being on a good diet then it may be worth holding off trimming for a few cycles and seeing how that affects his performance.  Some sensitive horses seem to benefit from being allowed to grow asymmetric hooves and removing these  apparent "flares" at every trim can make them less capable on tough surfaces.  
  • Finally, don't forget that trimming is only beneficial where there is excess which needs to be removed from a hoof - for instance where a horse has excessive hoof wall growth  due to lack of work.  If structures of the hoof are weak and need to be strengthened or developed, trimming is unlikely to be the best means of achieving this.  

Wednesday 21 March 2012

In praise of Nancy Astor

There was an incredible programme on BBC Four last night - a collection of interviews dating back from the 50s to the 70s - it's a fascinating collection, and you can see it on the iPlayer here:

The piece that most interested me was this bit, where Nancy Astor is being interviewed about women in politics - she was the first female MP.  The interviewer's questions are incredibly dated but this was only filmed a few decades ago - it makes you realise how far we have moved on.

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Buster does it better than bar shoes

Time for a Buster update - he has been here 5 weeks and its high time for new hoof photos.  When he arrived he was in bar shoes, which were intended to stabilise the weak back of his foot.
Bar shoes have their uses, perhaps, but if a foot is weak, it can only become stronger by developing internally.  Bar shoes stabilise, but they also effectively prevent frog function and any sort of shock absorption by the back of the hoof - both of which are essential for good hoof function. 
Proper rehabilitation does allow the foot to improve - starting with the frog, heels and bars.  This is the change over just 5 weeks...
Buester's toe is still too long and the back of his hoof will continue to improve, as will the wall separation - that's just the result of the nail holes and isn't really a worry. 
Look at his hoof from the palmar/caudal view...
...out of the bar shoe, critical frog and digital cushion development can now happen. 

From the lateral view, a shorter toe and lower heels are the key - again, lots more improvement to come.  Its not trimming which has done this, but developing and strengthening the hoof.

Monday 19 March 2012

How feet affect the body

I took some new footage of Bailey Griffiths on a circle last week and its interesting to compare it to his footage from 4 weeks ago.

These are a couple of stills from the footage and its pretty clear that the changes in his feet have made bigger differences in his body.
Its common for horses with foot pain to have related pain in the shoulders and neck.  For Bailey, as you can see, this made him brace through his neck and hollow through his back.  Of course, correct ridden work while he is holding himself like this is also pretty impossible.
Although he is still at an early stage, better feet have allowed him better movement: he is now just beginning to relax and can stretch his neck and lift his back for short periods.

The nice thing about rehab is that horses "default" to correct movement once they are comfortable. In behavioural terms, it is self-reinforcing because horses find it easier and less stressful to move this way.  As a result, horses will usually naturally develop a better way of going once they have healthier hooves.

Its not comfortable for horses to continuously brace themselves and its usually a protection mechanism. If you have a horse (as I used to) who constantly goes hollow, head in the air and rushing, then (as well as looking at backs and saddles) its worth considering whether he is comfortable in his feet.