Thursday, 5 December 2013

My take on this less than perfect hoof...

I posted a photo and clip yesterday for you to ponder because I thought it tied in really nicely with the research on collapsed heels which I linked to in the blog last week.
I'll give you the background and my take on what's happening in a minute, but first I'd better make it clear that the feet in this post are NOT ideal. They aren't the feet I would like to see on a horse I had bred or a horse I had bought and they certainly aren't the feet this horse was born with.

However, we need to give him credit for a fantastic recovery - from a DDFT injury from which he was given a 5% chance of recovery by 2 separate vets and later from a shoulder injury which he suffered while eventing. He had been shod at a very young age and this has also undoubtedly had an effect on the strength and integrity of his hooves.

The research I mentioned is all about the effect of collapsed heels on hoof loading and performance. No surprise, collapsed heels adversely affect shock absorption and hoof function. The researchers also suspect that they pre-dispose horses to navicular and DDFT damage and I would agree, as it ties in exactly with what I see here.

So far, nothing terribly new...but then they made a point which really jumped out for me. When the researchers loaded the hooves which had weak, collapsed heels "the medial heels deformed more than the lateral heels".
Here is the palmar shot of this horse when he first came for rehab. This was his lamest foot and it was also flat and under-run. He had a DDFT lesion and was landing toe first and had been lame for some time.
This is the same foot 6 months later. Better depth and strength to the digital cushion so therefore a much healthier palmar hoof - at this point the horse had been sound and back in work for several months. 
The same hoof 4 years later. Notice how the digital cushion is stronger again - deeper, capable of better shock absorption and much tougher. Nevertheless this horse is still - and probably always will be - compromised. 

He has made incredible improvements and its a lesson and an inspiration in how well horses can come back from injury. However its also a lesson that some damage can never be fully overcome.

You can see yourselves even from this view that there is a medial deviation which he has had for many years and which does not disappear. He is sound and working hard but he maintains an asymmetric hoof capsule. 

Why? Well, I think the research casts an interesting light on this. The phrase highlighted above to me is fascinating. This foot has historically had a weak palmar hoof - collapsed heels - but now he is sound and working well after developing some brilliant compensations. 
I've posted before how I thought the medial deviation was vital to his soundness and (though this is an extreme example) how its something I have seen in other rehab horses with similar issues.

This research could be the missing piece of the jigsaw. In collapsed heels the medial wall deforms more severely than the lateral wall so it would make perfect sense if the medial deviation were required to minimise the deformation of the hoof capsule and to provide stability.
For me, this is yet another confirmation of the principle that (even if you don't fully understand the reasons behind it - yet) you should ALWAYS trust the horse and his soundness as the ultimate judge of his own feet and certainly as the ultimate guide to trimming.

It would be lovely if this horse had always lived in a perfect environment, with a perfect diet, had suffered no injuries and (of course) had never been shod. I would bet you any money that his feet would then look a lot different. However, we all have to make the best of what we have, and that is precisely what this horse is doing.
I salute him and I would not dream of interfering with his feet, except to provide him with the best diet and the most movement which I can and working the socks off him on the most varied terrain he is happy on. 


cptrayes said...

There's a thread running on HHO at the moment about how often to trim, which has been answered by a number of New Zealanders saying 'every four weeks, end of.' That country seems to have an obsession with symmetric, pretty looking feet.

I'll go for functional every time, myself.


Nic Barker said...

Yes, there was a thread on an NZ forum too where they were horrified at the appearance of the hooves in the slow mo video. Someone actually said "I wouldn't want my horses feet to look like that EVEN IF HE WERE SOUND" which I thought was gob-smacking really.

No analysis, no thought, no respect for the horse :-(

AmandaB said...

I would totally agree with function over appearances my horses feet don't look as symmetrical and pretty as they used to THANK GOD because she would be as lame as a duck !

amandap said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
amandap said...

Thank you you so much for high lighting this point very interesting.

I have seen photos of horses in Aus and NZ trimmed one way frequently for years and it is clear they are trimmed hard at bars and heels still! I thought there was something called maintenance trim!

Nic Barker said...

PS: For all the farrriers and barefoot trimmers on Facebook who wanted to trim him and had decided that he had body issues which they could fix so they still wanted to trim him...try looking at the horse first ;-)

Unknown said...

Thank you for putting that up Nic, I have an elderly ex polo pony who has a medial lateral imbalance in his off fore. I have tried to 'correct' this in the past but he just keeps growing the same foot back each time. Interestingly, he has an old shoulder injury on that side too and I discovered when I did try to correct the balance he became slightly 'hoppy' in trot, when the foot is left how it needs to be he's sound. I wonder if it is the horses way of growing their own orthotics in response to uncomfortable joints?