Friday 31 May 2013

Four fun Friday updates for the price of one...

With so much to blog this week its only now that I can post updates on four former rehab horses which came in this week and which all made me smile!

First up Big Dave, who went home earlier this year; the biggest horse I have ever seen, let alone our biggest rehab horse at over 19hh. When I lunged him one fine sunny winter's day he memorably made me look like a hobbit!
In fact he is a gentle giant and this was just a display of joie de vivre and I am delighted to say that he has carried on going from strength to strength at home. 

His owner texted me this week to say "Dave is feeling better and better. Just checking its ok to do quite a lot of trot work on the road as he really wants to! I think his hooves are also getting better and better."

Bless him - I imagine the sight of Dave zooming down the road will clear traffic fairly effectively!

Update number 2 is for Storm who was here 3 years ago and whose owner, Kate, has just posted his annual update for her vets and any other interested parties (click on it to see a larger version).
The third update is from Kate and Rolie, who did so well when they started going out competing again last month. They have continued their fantastic run of form.

"Last weekend we went out affiliated and did our Novice Freestyle to Music routine. The judge seemed impressed and gave us 71% and first place which qualified us for the BD regional championships. This weekend we went to a different venue and did the same class and got 71% and 2nd place but a close 2nd to a horse that has been to the BD National Championships so I was thrilled!"

Let us know when the Champs are, Kate, and we will come and cheer you on!

Last but not least an update on Remi from Pip, who has created a blog for him which now also contains their first lesson report

"Lesson was fab, he exceeded all my expectations. Walk, trot, canter. Canter nowhere near as bad as I expected. Needs lots of straightening and suppling work. But was a good start. Starting to feel like a normal horse in school. Loads to work on but a big step forwards today...

It felt very strange to be “riding him properly”. And actually the more I asked of him the better he went, so is a good sign...

I didn’t take a lot of the lesson in, as I was so happy to be actually riding him, and that he was happy and not feeling too bad. :-)

Instructor encouraging and v helpful. And Remi happy, which is great. Remi was very pleased with himself. "
Well done all of you - I am very proud of you and your horses!

Thursday 30 May 2013

Beanie's final update

Beanie went home at the weekend and I'm late putting his final pics up but hope Julie and Beanie will forgive me! First things first, I am pleased to say his landing has improved dramatically from the toe first landing with a short stride which he arrived with.
Comparing the two stills from his footage you can see that he is now landing heel first and has much better extension. This will improve still further as his improved hoof capsule continues to grow down.
Another thing that immediately caught my eye when Beanie arrived was his uncomfortable stance - pointing his RF and twisting both feet out. 
On the day he left he was much happier to load both limbs and was also standing straighter. He is a good example of a horse who needs to compensate through his feet and be allowed to develop asymmetries if he requires them, as otherwise his limbs take the strain. 

Here is Beanie's LF the day he arrived. The 2 biggest changes are in the heel, which is now much less under-run and has much better development, and the toe. The red line projects the angle of new growth (which is currently roughly halfway down the hoof capsule) and once this has fully grown down it will not only make his toe shorter but bring back his breakover. 

 The sole view confirms what we can see laterally. There is a much healthier frog and he is also developing better concavity although this will not be fully evident until his hoof capsule has completely grown down. 
The sole view today shows much better depth at the back of the foot through the collateral grooves and a clear line where his "new" breakover will be. Of course at the moment the hoof capsule at ground level (ie on this view) is still the old, stretched hoof. 
The red line shows where his breakover will be - as on the lateral photo - and the red shading is old, stretched growth that is likely to wear away as his new growth reaches the ground. For the usual reasons I would personally not be trimming this off now. Its doing no harm and removing it all now is likely to destabilise the foot and result in too sudden a shift in load. 
The same new growth can be seen through his RF and again Beanie now has better development at the back of the foot. 

Not the best photos but you can at least see that the frog is much healthier and the heels less under-run. As with his LF, this foot will be a tighter, neater shape and have better concavity once the new hoof capsule is fully grown in. 
Finally, Beanie's footage over the 15 weeks that he was here. Lets hope he continues to go from strength to strength.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Thomas the Third

Thomas arrived on Friday but with such a busy weekend there has been no time to get his photos uploaded till today. He will be known as Thomas the Third on this blog, to save confusion, as there have been 2 other Thomases here before. 
Thomas has had a recurrent lameness which blocks to the palmar hoof and his coffin joint and has been assessed by his vet as being 1-2/10 lame on a circle in trot. On the day he arrived I couldn't get a photo of him standing square and his medio-lateral balance was poor, particularly on his RF, as you can see. 
Surprisingly, he was managing to land heel first despite long toes and under-run heels which is an encouraging start.
From the solar view there is a lot to like about his hooves - decent frogs and a reasonable digital cushion so lets hope Thomas the Third makes progress very quickly over the next few weeks. 

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Bridge-building weekend

A blog break this weekend as we had a lot of fencing and bridge-building to get on with. Luckily the weather was fantastic and we had extra help from SB and Alan. We wanted to extend the track but to do so we had to cross a stream which - though it isn't very wide - has carved a 10 foot deep gorge. 
So a proper bridge was definitely required...These timbers don't look much from this angle but they are 15 feet long and 6 inches square and they weigh a TON!
Getting them in place and trued up was by far the hardest bit, but once that was done it all started falling into place...
...and with Al in charge of design and construction how could we go wrong?!...
A feat of engineering - and solid enough for anything!
The finished bridge and new fencing, all ready to go. 

I haven't forgotten the horses, of course, and they have also been enjoying the sunshine. We have a new arrival, Thomas the Third, whose photos will be up tomorrow, and updates on Itsy and Freddie are due this week too. More soon!

Friday 24 May 2013

Friday fun

I love this photo - pinched from a video clip of ex-rehab Buster. Jenny sent it to me recently with a great email: 

"Kirsty took him to the Plumpton College Show today and they had a fantastic time. Things are just getting better and better. He is moving better than ever and his feet are doing him proud as he was sure footed and never slipped once on the quite damp grass. 

Here is some footage of his jumping class and they both look so happy. The jumps are small but it was a great start and it gave a huge boost of confidence to both of them.This time last year we were treading on egg shells, worried about everything as he had only been home for three months but look at him now. 
This is the pony that we were told would probably never trot or canter again. We went through such a heart breaking time, something I would never want to experience again but now things are so different. He is happy, relaxed and loving life and we are so proud of him. 

He is doing really well and he came third and fourth in the Working Hunter and the Ridden Cob out of twelve in each class and got a clear round. 

His feet look great and his hinds are changing shape as he gets fitter as there were a bit of a weird shape for a while but he is sound as a bell and loving life so we are going to have a great summer and are looking forward to the RRR."

Gotta love Buster :-) I can't wait to see him again and the reunion between him and his best buddy Bryan should be something to behold at the RRR!

Thursday 23 May 2013

The last of the twist - Ruby's 12 week update

One of the interesting things about hooves is how they adapt to support the limb in the best possible way - given the chance. Once a horse is an adult the hoof capsule is by far the most plastic - the most dynamic - element of the limb.

It is logical that for a prey species, like the horse, efficient movement is one of THE fundamentals of survival so having hooves which can adapt to facilitate the best possible movement is a great evolutionary advantage.

Equally, if feet become unbalanced and horses aren't able to balance through their hooves then in some cases they change their limb flight in order to try and compensate.
I've blogged before about Ruby, who has now been here nearly 12 weeks. I posted an early update on how her landing was changing here - - and she was already straightening up but after another 6 weeks the further improvement is clear to see. 
The full footage is below but her movement is both straighter and has a more pronounced heel first landing.
I hope you can see from these photos nearly 12 weeks apart that her frog has re-orientated slightly - its a subtle shift but its been enough to allow her straighter movement. Ignore the asymmetric hoof shape - she is growing out old hoof wall and has "old" hoof capsule at ground level which looks odd. It should look much better in a few more weeks!

Ruby's feather makes it hard to see the angle changes clearly but there is a band of new growth which is better connected and no longer has the rings which she had in the old capsule.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Hooves from the veterinary perspective

This article was published a couple of days ago and is doing the rounds of the internet:

Rather like the Horse and Hound article earlier in the month, it seems that vets are finally beginning to wonder if there might be something in this barefoot malarkey after all.

This latest article summarises a presentation by US vet Debra Taylor. One encouraging aspect is that she is obviously more familiar with a hard-working bare hoof than the author of the H&H article:

"In transitioning horses from shod to barefoot...she's observed that as the heel's structure improves and adapts to the stimuli from the ground, other hoof characteristics—such as solar thickness and solar concavity, both of which increase the coffin bone's distance above the ground—appear to follow suit and fall into place."

Good for her - and even better she cites the importance of correct movement and nutrition - a real step forward. Its great news for both horses and owners that vets are starting to become more interested in bare hooves but there is something really very strange about all this as well.
The article outlines the many problems commonly found as a cause of lameness in horses, particularly in the palmar hoof - underrun, low, crushed, sheared or contracted heels. The vet goes on to say that "additional research is needed to evaluate the barefoot concept as a potential method by which to rehabilitate horses with weak or diseased feet, as the improved heel structure that often accompanies a barefoot lifestyle could prove beneficial."

Is it me? Surely it would be more appropriate to stand that idea on its head and say that we need research to asses why so many of our horses are developing "weak or diseased feet" in the first place?
Here is the mad thing - this vet's starting point (which is not her fault, as its overwhelmingly the case with all the vets I've spoken to as well) is generally that shoes are normal and barefoot is not (this article refers to barefoot as a "bandwagon" - its a new, internet-led trend, apparently).

This is something I've blogged about before - when I noticed that in a leading veterinary anatomy book the shoe was labelled as part of the limb in a dissection illustration.
As I said in that post: "Its as if a medical text book listed the parts of the human body and then went on: gloves, hat, shirt, trousers - but of course that would be unthinkable(!)..."

And yet, as in this article, the routine veterinary assumption seems to be that horses come as standard, complete with a set of metal shoes...If you are taught this way, its not surprising it will stick with you once you are practising - and of course its not just vets, there are many owners (including me!) who never questioned shoes being put on their horses' feet every few weeks. 
The nearest equivalent I can think of would be medical students being taught how patients breathe on a ventilator without being taught about normal lung function.
The point is, when did veterinary education become so limited that it starts with a shod foot and has no knowledge of how a foot functions BEFORE it is shod?
This is even more important since - as I posted a couple of weeks ago - a shoe fundamentally changes the way a hoof loads and has an enormous impact on the strength and development of the palmar hoof - heels, digital cushion and frog.

Dr Debra Taylor goes on to state "At present time, there is very little science to support the hypothesis of the barefoot hoof care professionals. There is an enormous amount of scientific investigation that needs to be done to test the hypothesis that the equine foot can undergo structural change in response to mechanical usage."

Hang on, back up there a second...Do you REALLY mean that the focus of research should be on whether a hoof can function without a shoe? Even though your own work indicates that hooves tend to get stronger when working out of shoes?
Let's be logical (humour me, since you are a scientist...). The horse has been walking, trotting and cantering on a single-toed hoof over all sorts of terrain for 10 million years (I've blogged about this before as well!).

Instead of researching something that has been functioning perfectly well for 10 million years, perhaps we should be looking at the far more interesting question of why it stops functioning and is developing all these problems today. 

And by the way, its not an answer to say "its because they didn't evolve to be ridden" or "its because we ride on roads" - that's not scientific (and anyway we both know that those aren't the causes of palmar hoof pain and collapsed heels!).
Don't get me wrong - as someone who has spent the last 9 years and more trying to interest vets in barefoot rehab (yet another thing I've blogged about before in last year's "Dear Vet" post) I would be the first to jump up and down with excitement if a huge research grant came along (though, if I am honest, its a waste of money to spend it on seeing whether working a horse barefoot results in healthier heels. That's a complete no-brainer).

It would be far more interesting to have research into how horses feet deteriorate and weaken and why this happens. But that of course would require an understanding of what a healthy foot is like  - and an appreciation that weak palmar hooves are made, not born. The irony is that looking at barefoot horses in work will already give you some of the answers to that question, so maybe it cuts both ways!
This is not a dig at vets, by the way. There are some fantastic vets out there - just as there are some fantastic farriers - but it seems we need attitudes and education to shift faster - or perhaps to start looking at hooves and shoes from another perspective...

If we are being logical and scientific (and yes, I've blogged this before too) then the more invasively and aggressively you want to intervene in a hoof the more research you should need to justify it. So if you want to resect it, use a remedial shoe or perform a neurectomy you'd better have some pretty convincing clinical trials to back you up.
But barefoot? Research is always nice to have - and there has been little enough done - but make no mistake: a hoof without a shoe is the default position, not the other way around, so its not barefoot that should have to prove itself with research.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Lazing on a sunny afternoon...

Apologies to those of you who didn't have great weather over the weekend, but hey - we get our fair share of torrential rain and gales up here, so its not as if we don't sympathise! 

By contrast (and boy it makes a nice change!), we have had beautiful weather for the last few days and the horses have been loving it...
Freddie, demonstrating his film star good looks...
....not to be outdone Wally tries for the wistful, gaze-into-middle-distance pose...
Ruby wants a drink...
Charlie wants to eat ash shoots...
Paddy wants his tea and Itsy's not sure what she wants...

The next day...
The morning after the night before - Bryher, Felix and Bailey just want a longer lie-in...

Monday 20 May 2013

Paddy's 8 week update (or sometimes feet can change despite backs)

Paddy has now been here 8 weeks and Emma came to visit him this weekend. Now that we have an explanation about his back its helped enormously as we can work on his feet and help him get stronger within his comfort zone. 
These photos show his feet changing over 8 weeks.
His bars and heels are particularly interesting - still a work in progress but less contracted and pinched and beginning to work properly. 

You can clearly see the new angle of hoof growth, of course. The straighter hairline and more robust digital cushion are also encouraging. 

Here is his LF - again the better frog and heels are obvious.

The LF shots confirm rapid growth over 8 weeks  - the band of growth in the top photo developed in the first 6 weeks he was out of shoes but work on surfaces has helped it speed up even more. 
Caudal shots finally...
...and again over 8 weeks we see the start of a better digital cushion.
Comparison shots from Paddy's footage show the difference in his landing
 This is day one...
...and after 8 weeks. 
Interestingly, there is nearly as big a change in his hind feet as his front feet - for the hoof anoraks, Paddy's complete footage is here: