Friday 31 August 2012

Rehab Reunion - update

Just had a chat to Lea who is organising the rehab reunion and it sounds as if it will be a GREAT weekend - can't wait!
There are still a few spaces so if any of you haven't booked up yet get in touch with me or Lea ASAP and book yourself in. There is more info and news on the RRR Facebook page for all of you who are coming...

We already have plans for going hunting, having some fun jumping sessions, quiet pootles and of course the obligatory vast amounts of cake, tea, good food and wine at regular intervals.

I'm already charging up the camera and video - only 3 short weeks to go!

Thursday 30 August 2012

Owners' week continued: the vet visit

Continuing the theme of posts from owners, this is the other side of the coin - an email from Debbie about Paddy (who was here a year ago).  Paddy had been diagnosed in 2011 as having bilateral DDFT damage which was worse on his LF and despite having his stay here interrupted with colic surgery has made a great recovery.
"Pads had his annual vaccinations and check up yesterday. It was such a shame that the vet was not more interested in him being barefoot!

Conversation went: 

Vet: so how is he getting on barefoot? 

Me: Really well thanks - very happy not lame, just a little footy with all the grass. 

Vet: Oh, lightly kicked his foot left hoof, like you might a tyre, picked it up, looked underneath made a slight noise, put it down and that was that!

Oh well at least Paddy and I are happy!"

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Hoof pastern angles, shoes and the back of the foot

One conventional way of assessing hooves which most owners have heard of is to check whether a horse has the "correct" hoof/pastern angle.

This is the line drawn from a lateral view between the hoof capsule and the limb; to be "correct" it should be straight. Commonly once a horse has a long term lameness it will have either a broken forward or broken back angle.

But you already knew this, so why the blog? Well, once again there were 2 owners who prompted this blog.  The first was this piece of research: Thanks to Annette, who owns Pocholo (from yesterday's blog) for this link.

Its interesting because finally this research confirms what we already suspected: that shoeing (alone, in the absence of other factors including diet and exercise) will cause the hoof capsule to deteriorate - within 4 months (which was the term of the study). Significantly, one of the changes measured was a decrease in hoof angle  - in other words more like the "broken back" hoof in the picture.

Observing rehab horses, I've long suspected that we use hoof pastern angles the wrong way. A broken back angle, for instance, is certainly a symptom of a problem - its no coincidence that the 1st and 3rd hooves in the illustration look similar to many "before and after" shots of rehab horses - but to sort out the problem you need to address the cause, not just the symptom.

Wedges are often used to create a hoof pastern angle which appears better - these photos of Ted, one of the rehabs, are a classic example. However the real problem is not the angle, but what has caused it - not just the shoes (as we now know from the research above) but the weakening of the frog and digital cushion.

Over time, this leads to pain in the palmar hoof and as well all know, the consequences of that are all too often a toe first landing and DDFT damage. The solution is not to try and wedge the foot into an appearance of having a better hoof pastern angle but to strengthen the internal structures so that the foot is no longer collapsing behind.
This shows you what I mean - 2 photos of the same hoof, contrasting (above) the hoof pastern angle when it was propped up with wedges versus (below) once he had been allowed to develop a strong, healthy palmar hoof. The angle in the lower photo is correct because the palmar hoof is so much stronger.
The second person to prompt this blog was Amy, whose email I put up here on Monday. I'll let her carry on in her own words.

"My vet was convinced (before we did the MRI) that Eva's lameness was conformational. He said that her feet were 'broken backed' - i.e. ideally the angle of the hoof wall and pastern should be the same,  but the front of Eva's hoof wall was at a much shallower angle than the front of her pastern. He also took xrays which confirmed that her pedal bone was at a negative angle. His suggestion to fix this was bar shoes and wedges, to raise her heel and effectively realign the hoof/pastern axis. 

We did this for 6 months and she got worse rather than better - she went from about 1-2/10ths lame to 3-4/10ths lame. When we identified the DDFT problem the veterinary advice was to continue with the same shoeing I had been using for 6 months (as raising the heel takes pressure of the DDFT), but I knew by then that it wasn't helping, and these posts on the RF blog got me thinking about why...

Since going barefoot, Eva's heels have come much further back (i.e the end of the hoof wall is now parallel with the frog rather than in front of it), and she has grown a much beefier and more supportive frog. Her hoof wall angle has also changed, and as I was reading your comment about conformation and writing this I though I would compare the hoof pastern axis to see if it is closer to the 'parallel' angles that my vet kept banging on about trying to achieve with the bar shoes/wedges ... and blow me, it is!

Here is her right fore 3 weeks into rehab... the line clearly shows that the pastern angle is much steeper than the hoof wall angle [ie a broken back angle].

And attached is a photo of the same foot I snapped on my phone the other day (a bit rubbish sorry! I need more practise at it!) - and the same line shows that she has done a perfect job of achieving what my vet said needed to be corrected with shoeing. So her 'poor conformation' has actually changed as a result of going barefoot (or rather, it is now what it should be, and had previously been compromised by the shoes we were trying to use to 'fix' it!).

Anyway - don't be too put off by concerns your vet may have about conformation. Both vets who saw Eva felt that she needed shoes to support the back of her foot - I think that she has done a pretty good job of proving them wrong ;-) ... and more importantly than scrutinizing pictures of her feet, she is very comfortable marching around on them!"

Tuesday 28 August 2012

No rain in Spain - a Pocholo update

Lots of you will remember Pocholo, a smart Andalusian who was here last year for rehab following a palmar hoof pain diagnosis. He subsequently moved back to Spain, as his owner Annette moved for work to Hong Kong but she still visits him regularly. This is her latest update (and LOOK - its SUNNY, its not muddy and people are riding in t-shirts!!!!!).
"I've just got back from seeing Pocholo in Spain and thought I'd drop you a mail with an update, as a year ago he was halfway through his stint at Rockley!  In short, he is doing brilliantly and I had an amazing couple of weeks with him.  He is fitter, straighter, more powerful and happier than I've ever seen him.  I used to be paranoid about his shoulders when I rode, as the first sign of things going wrong was him getting quite tight when walking, but he walked out beautifully and was so loose.

He had had two weeks off when we arrived (along with all the other horses) but was still very fit as they use him 2 or 3 times a week on the day rides, which are around 4 hours at all paces through the sand-dune forest and local beaches.  On our first ride on the Monday, he coped with most surfaces well but was a little 'ouch-y' at times on firm tracks with small stones.  He did a second day with my boyfriend, plus a short pub ride mid-week, then I took him again on the Friday.  By then, he was 100% on all surfaces, which just goes to show how important work is to maintain the condition of the feet through regular work.
His feet look quite different to when he was in the UK, I suspect this is because most work is on sand, which is very deep at this time of year (they've had no rain since May!!!!).  His hooves are very concave and the frogs are even smaller than in April, however he's coping so well on all surfaces that I don't want to worry too much about how they look.

[This is absolutely true. Horses kept and worked predominantly on deep soft surfaces like sand have very different needs to horses working on flat hard surfaces and their hooves will look totally different].

The digital cushion looks good despite the frogs and they seem to be wearing evenly.  He's on hay (which is actually a type of straw), coarse mix (nondescript, comes in big white sacks with no label!), pink powder and magox, plus oil for a week a month. So I just wanted to say thank you again for turning him around!  
I hope all is well on Exmoor and not too wet...Annette"[Think she is being ironic - chance would be a fine thing!]

Monday 27 August 2012

The story from the owners' side

I'm bowing out of the blog today, because 2 owners have said everything I want to say, far better than I could ever say it. Over to them...
First this post from Clare, on Facebook:

"Let me say before this post that I'm not completely against shoeing your horse, each to their own. My personal choice is not to, but today is a classic example of why not! 

Talking to a young girl at my stable she was told her horse needed to be shod. 5 year old, with no lameness issues. Within 2 weeks of being shod the horse is lame, 5 weeks after I can see the hairline isn't straight and the frog points diagonally at the opposite rear foot. 

To me if you are going to shoe a horse don't upset it's natural balance otherwise there will be problems . . . simples! Lot of loading being placed down the outside of the leg. The feet tell the story :-)"

Then an email from Amy. Like many owners, she has generously agreed to answer questions from someone who is in the same difficult position with their horse that she was in only a few months ago.
There is an amazing chain of support from owner to owner which goes way back and there are too many of them to mention. Amy's email is lovely because it gives you a sense of how owners are there for each other even when they've never met and have only their horses in common.  Thank you to all of you :-)

"Hi Laura,

I hope that you find an option that you are happy with for your boy.

My mare has been home from Rockley for about 6 weeks and I am hacking about 4 times a week for around an hour in walk trot and canter. Something I would never have envisaged when we went for the MRI in February.

Her MRI showed a really big tear in the DDFT - for most of the length of the pastern and right into the foot. The vet told me it was 'bad news' and suggested extended box rest and remedial shoeing with a 20-30% chance that she would ever return to ridden work. She becomes extremely stressed on box rest as she really panics if ever left on her own, so this was not something I really felt I could do. And I had already been remedial shoeing and resting in a small paddock for 6 months, with her lameness progressively worsening rather than improving in that time. 

I explained to the vet that paddock rest was not helping and that box rest was not really feasible. We talked a little about neurectomies but my vet advised against it. I asked about Rockley (and she had heard of it) and she warned fairly strongly that going barefoot was unlikely to help the horse and my only real chance of riding her again was to box rest. 

I knew straight away that I was not going to put her through 6-12 months of stress when she was clearly in pain and the probability (70-80%) was that she would still be lame at the end of it. Retirement was not really an option due to finances, lack of my own land, and the fact that she cannot live alone but equally can be an absolute monster with other horses, and is far more difficult when she is not in regular work!

I realised I had to consider putting her to sleep, but talked to Nic again, and my own vet, who was fairly supportive and understood that I was not going to box rest. Nic made no promises, but talked sense and I felt that going to Rockley would not be an unpleasant or stressful experience for my mare, so it was worth a try before I faced the prospect of euthanasia. 

Obviously her rehab has been a great success :-)

Nic suspects that her DDFT tear was a chronic issue caused by many years of landing toe first in shoes, with perhaps further injury occurring to the already compromised DDFT as a result of a particular event. This is consistent with the MRI which showed the tear as looking like it had some scar tissue for much of its length and so not a new injury, with one patch where the tear was widest looking more recent.

If she were MRI'd again now, the tear would almost certainly still be visible - but she is landing heel first and so it is not continually being stressed and causing her discomfort. In addition, the gentle exercise and greatly improved circulation that unshod feet get from increased stimulation should be promoting gradual healing.

Good luck with your horse. It is only 6 months since I was in your position and looking into what felt like a black hole in terms of my horse's future, so I know how awful it feels. 

There is no guarantee of success whatever option you go for, but the priority for me was that I was not going to subject her to anything she would find stressful unless there was a very good prognosis at the end of it - which ruled out box rest and surgery for my girl. 

For my own state of mind as well I felt that I could not spend 6 months 'coping' with a stressed horse on box rest everyday and constantly having that sick feeling that the probability was that she would still need to be put to sleep. I know now that I made the right decision, but I didn't know that at the time I made it or for several months afterwards.

I hope you find a way forwards that you are happy with - fingers crossed for him!


Friday 24 August 2012

Going from shoes to barefoot

"The habitually shod foot is a pampered, emaciated thing ill-prepared for real work"

I stumbled across this excellent quote today - and before any irate members of the Worshipful Company of Farriers start chuntering, the author is talking not about equine but human feet ;-)
The quote comes from this great blog entry all about going from shod to barefoot - and although it focuses on those who have 2 legs, rather than 4 there are lots of sound principles which apply equally to horses coming out of shoes:

Its full of common sense recommendations though I suppose the obvious equine equivalent of a lacrosse ball is a pea gravel yard! Anyway, I enjoyed it and I hope you do too. Now all I need is for Vibram to invent the FiveFingers Wellie Boot :-)

Thursday 23 August 2012

Really quite interesting...

Since I put up Eliza's 3 week update yesterday I suddenly realised that I ought to do Baloo's as well, especially since he arrived a day before Eliza(!). As is often the case, I didn't think his feet had changed that much so I was really interested when I started to compare the photos.
Already his foot is starting to look less like a stilt and more as if he could start to use it properly. When we filmed him on arrival he was already landing heel first, which surprised me, but clearly he is engaging the back of foot more.
This is his worst foot and his medio-lateral balance is poor as you can see from the sole and palmar hoof shots.
The points to compare are the heels and frog which are de-contracting nicely and beginning to load more evenly and the sole which is now heading in the right direction - becoming more symmetrical.
Don't freak out when you look at his palmar shots (well no more than you normally would at any of my hoof pics!). 
Although everything looks off-kilter, look at the digital cushion and you can see that the lateral side is actually less crushed now than it was, so we are heading in the right direction. 

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Eliza does a lot

Eliza will has been here nearly 3 weeks so of course its time for an update. I'm sorry its so late today but our internet is taking roughly 1,000 years to upload each photo and will remain on a complete go-slow til tomorrow(!) after which I am assured it will be back to normal.
Here are her inital comparison shots. In the original photo her hoof is almost like an inverted cone with a terribly under-run heel and long toe but its already starting to improve and as a result she is more comfortable.
The sole shot confirms how weak the palmar hoof had become. Although she had strong hoof wall this had been over-loaded at the expense of the development of the frog and digital cushion. You can also see from this angle that although her toe looked long from the lateral view there is actually nothing to trim, so an attempt to "back up her toe" would have been disastrous.
Not even 3 weeks and already a much improved foot - hoof wall too long on the medial side but that resolving in its own time. You can see from the lower photo too how much more symmetrical her foot is becoming. Its a result of this better medio-lateral balance that the ridge of sole (which in the first photo extends rightround her frog) is starting to recede. She still needs extra support on the medial side which is why I am in no rush to trim the long medial wall. 
Finally the shot of the frog/heels/DC originally quite contracted and pinched in. 
Starting to become healthier but now that the heels are less under-run you can see how far the frog still has to improve. Whats interesting is that if you look at the length of the hoof wall its also becoming shorter as the foot starts to move back to its rightful place. Just goes to show that judging hooves from one angle alone doesn't give you enough information...

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Handsome, kind and looking for a fabulous loan home...

For many of you, Mr Knightley needs no introduction. He came here in October last year as a rehab and once recovered and back in work he was due to rejoin his family when they returned to the UK from Dubai earlier this year. 
However, they were then relocated to South Africa and although they would have loved to take Knightley with them, they sensibly decided that the long trip and extensive time in quarantine would be unfair on him. 
Knightley came back to Rockley in July for a "working holiday" and is now looking for a loan home while his family are abroad. He is very handsome and is a charming horse to have around - he lives happily with the gang here, has excellent manners and is everyone's friend.
Knightley is now 14 yrs old and is a Selle Francais; he is a tall chap, between 16.3-17hh. He has good feet now and loves going out and about so his ideal home would be somewhere where he can have plenty of hacking on varied terrain. He can be ridden bitless or in a snaffle and seems to be equally happy either way.

If you are interested or have questions, please contact me and I will answer what I can or pass you onto his owner.

Monday 20 August 2012

What if...?

If you're like the rest of us you've had a wet, miserable summer. The fields have been saturated, the grass has been growing insanely for months. There are horses and ponies going down with laminitis left, right and centre, according to our vets, and this seems to be happening across large parts of the country.
Up on Exmoor we've had 4 or 5 wet summers in a row so at least we are used to it but what if these long, wet, growing summers are a sign of things to come? Quite apart from the fact that we will all need extra sets of waterproofs, it may help kickstart a rethink in how we keep our horses.
Till now, one of the big differences between those who keep their horses on livery yards and those who keep them at home has been that - at home - you can be more creative about how you manage your horse. For instance, if you want to restrict grazing you can use tracks whereas many yards currently only offer the choice of stable or turnout.
However, with sodden, waterlogged fields liable to poaching even in summer and dangerously lush grass becoming ever more common then finding an alternative (which keeps horses from damaging fields AND protects them from high grass sugars) could become a much more attractive option for livery yard owners. 
If you're a yard owner it could be the time to look seriously at using tracks. Consider the benefits, not just for your business but for your land and your clients' horses. 
  • Tracks preserve and protect valuable pasture. Because horses can be turned out on tracks even in the wettest weather, there is no risk of them poaching fields. Pasture can then be used to take a forage crop and hay or haylage fed on the tracks in bad weather or when grass is risky for horses.
  • A relatively small acreage with a track system can support many more horses than the same area simply used as fields. In addition, tracks can utilise marginal land - old yards, areas of hardcore, woodland and other areas which would not normally be useful for turnout. 
  • Horses love tracks! Tracks allow sociable interaction, increase movement, minimise stable vices and reduce the risk of laminitis and other grass-related conditions (which are all the more likely on intensively managed modern pasture). Tracks also mean that horses don't have to slosh around in mud when they are turned out.  
Initially of course there is an outlay in setting up a track, but it doesn't need to be exorbitant. If you are a horse owner, let your yard owner know that you would value track turnout - demand creates supply, after all! Twenty years ago few yards had arenas but now they are regarded as essential to a well run yard. In a few more years, perhaps we will be able to say the same about tracks.

For more information, have a look at these links:

Friday 17 August 2012

"He can't go barefoot because..."

"...he's got thin soles/flat feet/crumbling hoof wall..."

"...he needs support/overloads his foot/has poor medio-lateral balance..."

"he's footy when he loses a shoe/can't cope without shoes..."

etc etc...[delete conditions which do not apply]...

Most of us will have lost count of the number of times we have heard comments like these but there are 2 things that anyone saying this hasn't done - whether they are a vet, farrier or owner.
The first is: They haven't understood what has caused the feet to be so weak (though admittedly there is often an assumption that its "because its a TB/warmblood/[insert breed of choice]"). Its not natural or healthy for horses to be unable to walk comfortably on their own feet!

The second is: They haven't realised that feet can change radically - they can improve and they can deteriorate and both can happen within a surprisingly short time.

Thin soles, footiness and flat feet are commonly caused by mineral deficiencies or too much sugar and starch in the diet - change the diet and the feet improve.

A foot which lands or loads badly will usually get better and more dynamic "support" once the weak areas of the foot are strengthened and the limb can load evenly than it would ever get from a shoe.

None of this is rocket science but although its simple its not always easy to achieve.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that hoof problems are inevitably going to be improved by shoes. Equally, don't make the mistake of thinking that just taking the shoes off will solve them!

Thursday 16 August 2012

Candy's 6 week update

I posted initial photos of Candy after about 3 weeks so another 3 weeks further on there is not an enormous difference but there are some small improvements to see none the less. 
Slightly better frog below (today) than on arrival, and much better heels, which will be the key to her developing a healthier palmar hoof.

A better angle of new growth and a beefier digital cushion - this makes her foot look more under-run at the moment but as you can see from the photos above, her heels are actually more supportive. 
Slooooooow internet connection at the moment, so I won't post more just now but will update on her again soon!

Wednesday 15 August 2012

M - landing

I've got behind on filming but as I have my nephew Sam helping me all week I am planning to catch up over the next few days!
M arrived on 9th June with a very toe first landing (above) and very thin soles - along with a few other foot and limb issues. He has started to grow a much better hoof capsule and his soles have developed well over the last couple of months.
As a result his landing has begun to improve too.

There is such a big difference between the old and new angles of growth that his toes now look very long but - as with Legend - he doesn't yet have a good enough palmar hoof to support that being trimmed. It does mean that the footage isn't as clear as I would like but I hope you can still see the changes.

Tuesday 14 August 2012

Dali - delayed

This is an update delayed from last week - sorry Rachael! Apologies also for the angle of the second pic which isn't quite as it should be but you get the idea. These photos were taken 9 weeks apart. 

Lots of growth but still a long way to go!

Big changes here too - look especially at the heels and bars. Still a flat foot but slowly improving.
The most significant thing here is the hoof balance - compare the length from hairline to sole between the 2 photos. Much more even in the lower photo, even though he only has part of his new hoof capsule grown in. 

Monday 13 August 2012

The 2 biggest dangers for barefoot horses...

The first one I am sure you already know about - our lovely, lush, lethal green grass: beautiful, tempting and the sort of high sugar junk food that most horses just can't get enough of.

I've posted about grazing risk factors before but our summer has been so warm and wet that many people are still struggling with spring-type grass conditions despite the fact that its now August.

The good news is that there are lots of things you can do - limit grazing during high risk periods, use a muzzle, treat any metabolic issues and if all else fails use hoof boots for work on tougher terrain.
The second biggest danger for barefoot horses is - believe it or not - trimming.
Again, I've posted about this before on many occasions but its a problem that is just not going away. There are still trimmers and farriers who are making the mistake of over-trimming horses and all too often they repeat the mistake, leaving horses sore time after time.

Here are some facts for you:

  • A trim does not have to be aggressive to cause lameness. If a horse has a compromised foot then simply backing up the toe or removing a small amount of apparent "flare" can damage the horse's foot balance and leave it lame or less capable on uneven ground for weeks.
  • No horse should be sore after a trim. Some horse's feet are hard to read but if a farrier or trimmer makes a mistake they at least shouldn't repeat it - so let them know if your horse is sore. If they insist on doing the same again, its time to change to someone who will listen to you and the horse. 
  • It isn't safer to use a farrier; it isn't safer to use a trimmer. All you can do is be guided by your horse and his soundness but I can guarantee you that there are few, if any, horses made sounder by trimming - there are still many who are less capable after being trimmed, so be careful!
  • Appearance isn't everything. How the hoof is loading and how it is landing IS everything. A trim which compromises the latter to achieve the former will cause the horse problems. 
PS: Someone said to me the other day "I know you are anti-trimming..." - no, I'm not anti-trimming. I'm just anti lame horses...

Sunday 12 August 2012

Rehab Reunion - reminder!

A quick reminder...Can any of you who are planning to come to the Rockley Rehab Reunion on September 22nd/23rd please get in touch with Lea ASAP?
The full details plus booking form and her email contact details are on this post.

If you are an owner with a Rockley rehab horse and you want to come, please let either me or Lea know in the next few days because if we have spare spaces we are going to open it up to non-Rockley owners later this week.

Saturday 11 August 2012

New season underway!

Some pics for you from our first few days of the new season...
Charlie, very happy to be back on the moor...
...and he's not the only one!

Well worth getting up at 4am :-)

...and home in time for breakfast...