Thursday, 15 August 2013

Not about tracks, not about trimming...all about soundness

Well, its always interesting to see what catches people's imagination and my post earlier in the week on trimming - or rather not trimming - certainly seems to have done that.  Let's be honest, O'Neil's feet were far more interesting than my text, but that is just how it should be :-)

This will be a more mundane post and the purpose is simply to calm things down. I know most people who read this blog do so because they, too, are interested in learning from their own horses and have, like me, increasingly realised that we know relatively little about our horse's feet and that the best teachers are the horses themselves.
I post on this blog because I find the horses in front of me on a daily basis  - who admittedly have usually had long term lameness and in some cases some pretty extreme problems - endlessly interesting, surprising and educational.  I learn something from each one of them but none of them are the same. 
There are lots of common themes and lessons we can learn but each horse is unique and one thing you will never find - and certainly not on this blog - is a "one-size-fits-all" prescription which you can cut out and apply to every horse. 
I put up photos and video because I think they are more descriptive than any paragraphs I could write (despite the limitations of 2 dimensional photos which can't tell you a fraction about a horse compared to a few seconds watching them walk and move) and because I suspect many of us didn't realise how dynamic a horse's hoof could really be. 
Anything I post is only directly relevant to that one horse but I hope that sometimes I might provoke owners and trimmers to question what they do and  - using their horses as the ultimate reference point - give them the confidence to challenge those whose methods are not making their horses sounder. 
Its always inspirational to hear from other owners and to find that they too have encountered horses with feet which appeared to defy the norm - there are more of them around than you might realise and many of them are remarkably sound!
One thing I don't do - never have and never will - is advise people what to do for the best with a horse I have never seen. I won't do it on email and I won't do it on the blog.
In my experience its grossly irresponsible and totally unprofessional for anyone to prescribe exercise or management, never mind a trim, for a horse on the basis of a photo.
I could post here a dozen pictures of "nice" looking feet which belong to chronically lame horses and I could post a dozen pictures of "ugly" feet which belong to incredibly sound horses - "incredibly" because their "ugly", asymmetric feet have in many cases enabled them to overcome injuries, poor conformation or ill-advised farriery. 
The compensations are apparent in their feet because the hoof capsule is, after all, the most plastic and dynamic part of the limb, able to respond minutely, rapidly and precisely to changes in load and stimulus even when everything above is less than perfect. 
In my experience, looking at the limb, the hoof and above all the movement on a sound, hard-working horse will tell you more about correct biomechanics, symmetrical loading and good hoof balance than any number of text books and experts ever can. 

But even then you need to bear in mind that when you pick up a hoof most of what is affecting it is completely hidden from view and that, whether you can see it or not, the horse needs to respond to or compensate for everything that is affecting his movement.
He may need to adapt for that within his hoof so don't presume you are right to dictate to him; respect what he needs, be inquiring about why he has put the effort into producing it and use his soundness as your ultimate guide. 

Hooves can only build and grow with movement and the effect of nerves, muscles, tendons, blood flow and pressure are by far the most important factors in building a healthy hoof.
This is why movement and exercise are far more important than trimming. This is why I advise owners to keep their rehab horses in consistent work: it means that most horses are self-trimming for most of the time but more importantly its what they need to keep their feet healthy from the inside out. 
You really can't trim a foot to health - for all the reasons I posted about yesterday. If you can't give your horse enough miles then be realistic - trimming is crude compared with genuine movement and will give you few of the benefits apart from a cosmetically enhanced hoof. 
The tracks are essential for horses during rehab as they usually require the conformable surfaces to make them comfortable but once horses go home its not the tracks that keep them sound and self-trimming, its good old-fashioned mileage :-)

There was a lovely post on Facebook yesterday by Mel Isaac, the trimmer who looks after (but rarely trims) Candy, a rehab horse who was here last year. I posted an update about Candy a few weeks ago as her rehab is a great example of the hard work required

"Splendid day! Lovely report from a client who has had a fab astonished response from her vet following barefoot rehab (at Rockley Farm of course)  - he's pleasantly stunned at the continuing progress of the horse which he gave an extremely poor prognosis to after MRI."
The answers coming from the horses may surprise you, should certainly enlighten you and may even amaze you...and you can be utterly sure that none of us have finished learning yet. 


Andrea said...

I keep telling people that hooves are just like the rest of the horse's muscles/bones/ligaments/tendons... you gotta put strength training into all of them in order to make them healthy and capable of doing their job! I don't get why this is a hard concept for people to understand.... you wouldn't ask your unfit horse with weak flabby muscles to go out and gallop with the hounds, so why would you take a weak foot and slap a bandaid over it instead of taking the time to improve and strengthen it? (Maybe because there are no bandaids for flabby horses?)

Nic Barker said...

I am 100% with you Andrea :-) I've said for ages that trimming a hoof to make it stronger is a bit like using plastic surgery to get fitter...Ain't never going to work without strength training as well!