Monday 30 June 2014

Buddy 'n' Paddy 'n' Indy 'n' Isla 'n' Lucy

What a weekend for 5 of the ex-rehabs - this post has to be for them as a tribute to them and all the hard work that they and their owners have put in to get this far. 
This lovely photo of Buddy and Krista was taken just before they went XC at their first ever one day event - its the culmination of months and months of hard work but should be only the start of their eventing journey! Buddy's blog tells the whole tale:
Paddy - our famous "double-rehab" who had kissing spine surgery immediately following his rehab time here - was showjumping (there is a stunning video clip here and I honestly never thought I would see him jump so its a fantastic moment!) and came second competing in his first ever novice dressage test.
Em and Indy were competing in their first dressage competition for 3 years and came third with 68.5% -  fantastic!
Isla, who was here at the same time as Indy, last year, and was out eventing. Dressage 36.5 and a double clear SJ and XC - very impressive! There is a fab video of her on Becca's Facebook page - you can watch it here:
Last but certainly not least Lucy, who went jumping with Amanda - their first Discovery class and double clear - well done all of you - I'm very proud of you :-)

Friday 27 June 2014

Belief and doubt and all about learning

I saw a fascinating quote this week which really made me sit up and take notice. The full article is on this website and I've picked out the words which jumped out at me.
"The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because “strength of belief” is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself.

As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you’ve made it a part of your ego...It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what [you] are chasing."
This is something I've been mulling over a lot over the past few years - in fact in some ways the whole experience of working horses barefoot and rehabbing horses has been one of beliefs being turned upside down, preconceptions being challenged and hard lessons in what we do and don't know. 

Of course, we all have beliefs and if we had none we would probably just be floundering around, completely directionless, like a lot of headless chickens. Beliefs (like most things in life) aren't the problem - its what we do with them that counts. 

Do we hold doggedly onto them, rigid and unquestioning, because it makes us feel secure? Or do we test them regularly and see whether we can find ways of learning more and having a deeper understanding even if that means changing or abandoning our beliefs in the face of improved knowledge?
I will freely admit that I need the regular kick-up-the-backside, stop-being-complacent, actually-you-know-nothing, keep-watching-and-learning that the horses here provide to keep me from getting stuck in a rut with what I believe and understand. 

After all, when Andy and I first kept our horses at home, some 20 years ago, we wanted the best for them - we wanted them to live as naturally and heathily as possible (doesn't everyone?) but we truly, honestly believed that horses couldn't work on roads without shoes and that horses with "navicular" needed the "support" of bar shoes.  
Luckily our horses were on hand to educate us, and when the shoes were failing we eventually opened our eyes and started learning. 

Once we had taken the shoes off Felix it became clear that horses with properly healthy feet were incredibly capable barefoot on all surfaces, mile after mile, day after day. Then we realised that horses with "navicular" actually developed stronger hooves without shoes. So our first 2 beliefs went by the wayside.
Clearly though lots of horses, including our other horses, weren't as able as Felix. As all the horses were on the same management regime we then believed that some horses just couldn't cope without shoes

This belief was (inadvertently) reinforced by the barefoot regimes of the time which were all about trimming. There were myriad courses out there and gurus who would teach owners to trim over a weekend. Hooves would be sculpted and rasped and by the end would look absolutely textbook. If that didn't work and the horse was footy the only solutions available were boots, pads or shoes. 

Well, we'd already realised that shoes weren't doing our horses any favours so we tried boots and pads but the endless problems with lethal lack of traction, poor fit, spinning off, rubbing, incorrect breakover, reduction of stimulus to the foot and sheer clumsiness were very off-putting - never mind that on Exmoor even brushing boots never stay on, let alone hoof boots. 
It was only when I started getting really focussed on diet and nutrition that we got over the footy/boots/shoes problem. Initially I experimented with chucking in some minerals, particularly magnesium, which worked well up to a point but didn't solve the footiness of Bailey, our worst problem child. So we were still stuck with "some horses just can't cope without shoes". 

However a friend was experimenting with grass intake and the effect on feet and she suggested I take Bailey off grass and see what happened. It took 2 weeks completely off the grass but then gradually the sensitive princess became a rock-crunching legend*. So then that belief went by the wayside. 
At this point the horses were all regularly trimmed and I still believed that "trimming was an important part of keeping a horse barefoot". It didn't seem to do them any harm but equally it didn't seem to be revolutionising their lives either. 

From about 2007, I started questioning this belief too. Horses would come for rehab with bizarre feet and as I failed to improve them with trimming I gradually learned to look more at the biomechanics of the whole horse and less at the hoof; as the horses taught me more, I discovered that true soundness was less and less about trimming

As regular blog readers will know, I now trim horses extremely rarely, and in most cases not at all. So that belief has gone by the wayside. 
Don't misunderstand me - I have an enormous, probably never-ending amount to learn about horses, hooves, biomechanics and the best way to do things. 

But all my beliefs are up for grabs and will be discarded if I find something better - the guiding principle is horse soundness and horse health, not whether a belief reinforces me or anyone else. The one belief I haven't shed yet, because its stood up to every test so far, is that the horses know best when it comes to their hooves.

*10 years on, Bailey is still sensitive to sugars but can cope turned out on grass overnight, off during the day, all spring and summer and has been sound on all surfaces for season after season. 

Thursday 26 June 2014

Russell's 2 week update

Russell has been here just over 2 weeks so its a good time for an update. He already had pretty good feet when he arrived and he was sounder than the majority of horses who arrive here so the changes to his feet are correspondingly subtle.
His toe is shortening - this is his worse foot - and as that happens and the back of his foot becomes stronger his hoof/pastern axis is improving as well.  
The most noticeable changes from this angle are the increase in the strength of the frog and digital cushion and the shorter hoof wall. This is important as Russell has a merio-lateral imbalance on this foot which is one of the main issues we are trying to solve. 

The same changes are evident from the sole shots. I'd also be looking for his bars to straighten and for the hoof wall to reduce even more over the next few weeks.

His LF is his better foot and does not have the imbalance which the RF suffers from. Still the toe has shortened slightly as he has done more work. 

Again, a slight increase in frog and digital cushion strength plus shorter hoof wall - all good. 

And confirmation of that as well from the sole shots. Notice how this foot is more symmetrical and has straighter bars than the more troublesome RF - signs of better medio-lateral balance. 
More on Russell soon!

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Summer successes

 Just had to post these lovely pics of Isla eventing - could she get that left hind any further underneath her?!...
...and Buddy showjumping, clearing 2ft6 with another foot and a half to spare - what a show-off! As ever Buddy has blogged about his adventures - you can read all about it here:

Wishing you all lots of luck at the weekend with your next comps!

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Belated update - Jennie's progress

After its minor meltdown yesterday my camera seems to be behaving - at least intermittently - so here is Jennie's update. As usual I am concentrating on her front feet because that's the reason she came here but unfortunately as her front feet improved it became clear that she also had a hind limb problem. This has made her progress rather slow as you can see from the photos. 
Better frog development and less heel contraction and the beginnings of better concavity but still lots to do.
One of my concerns about Jennie when she arrived was that her feet were smaller and narrower at ground level than they were at the coronet - something you see in foals but shouldn't in an adult horse. Look how the hoof wall tapers in on the upper photo.  
 Contrast with today and her hooves are de-contracting but its an ongoing issue.
Lateral shots show a better hairline with the heels and quarters more stable and less crushed. She still has an under-run heel but the toe is shorter and the foot more upright. 
More updates on some of the others later this week, camera permitting!

Monday 23 June 2014

Thursday 19 June 2014

3 reasons to trim your horse? Are you sure?

I post a lot about horses self-trimming and in fact this blog has got something of a reputation for that, which I guess is inevitable, but its a fact that many owners, trimmers and farriers find the concept of a self-trimming horse controversial.

So when I put up a post like Tuesday's blog - a cautionary tale similar to many others I have heard before and blogged about before - it can still cause strong feelings for and against.

As ever, the people who are most sceptical about horses self-trimming are those who have little or no experience of it. By contrast most owners who have tried it have been pleasantly surprised by how well it suits their horses and how much sounder they often become - which in itself speaks volumes!
So today's post is an attempt to clarify some of the misconceptions about self-trimming and when its a realistic option.

1. "Without a "balanced" trim horses will suffer injury or lameness".

When I posted Tuesday's blog there was an outraged comment made on FB by someone who, I suspect is a trimmer; it may not have been intended as such but it came across as a classic piece of scaremongering:

"It is dangerous in this domestic world to encourage horse owners to neglect balanced timely trims as very few horses get enough exercise to wear off growth, especially imbalanced heels and overly long breakovers. This puts a huge stress on the entire limb/thus the whole structure, and in upper level movements, over time, can lead to ringbone, side bone, and navicular problems from torque on the inner structures. "

I don't know how many horses this person has rehabbed but I can guarantee that every single horse which comes here for rehab has tendon and ligament damage. Its documented on MRI in most of them and has been demonstrated by scans and nerve blocks in the rest.
Most also have the "imbalanced heels" and "long breakovers" which this trimmer feared. Lets also add in medio-lateral imbalances (very common), under-developled palmar hooves (100%) and conformational issues (very common). Most have also been regularly trimmed or shod - it is certainly not neglect which has led to these injuries.
One of the things which doesn't happen when horses are here is trimming. So what dreadful consequences occur?
  • Even with modest amounts of movement horses self-trim (bear in mind these are lame horses - at least initially - so they are not covering huge mileage). 
  • All horses develop healthier feet - particularly improved dorso-palmar and medio-lateral balance and more robust digital cushions and frogs. 
  • Long breakovers and imbalanced heels correct themselves - at the horse's pace - and in response to stimulus and loading, meaning that internal structures strengthen at the same time.
  • Horses become steadily sounder as tendon and ligament injuries heal and most return to the same level of work or higher than before they went lame
And here's the clincher - most horses then go home from rehab to normal yards (see below!) and continue to improve even when they aren't trimmed and they aren't on our tracks...In fact its far, far more common for problems to arise following a trim than because a horse hasn't been trimmed - there are some interesting statistics in this post

Sure, horses with untrimmed feet may look untidy to our eyes but it rarely causes a problem with soundness unless there is also something else (eg laminitis) going on as well. Over-zealous trimming, on the other hand, is a frequent cause of lameness.
The problem, as always, is that trimming is a one-trick-pony. A trim can only ever take away hoof wall or (heaven forbid) bar, sole or frog. Most horses don't go lame because of having too much of any of these and - given even limited access to harder surfaces than a soft field - are more than capable of dealing with an excess very efficiently. This is why trimming as a tool for improving soundness has big limitations. 

2.  "Most horses can't manage in a domestic environment without trimming".

This is the commonest reason why most owners believe their horses need trimming and why their horses could never self-trim. The phrases I hear and read all the time are "my horse doesn't do high mileage"; "my horse only works once or twice a week" and "I don't have a track for my horses like you do at Rockley".
With that in mind, here are a few facts for you to ponder.
  • Most ex-rehab horses are self-trimming on normal livery yards. No-one has the sorts of tracks at home that we have here. Generally consistent work on varied surfaces is all they need. 
  • Hooves are incredibly dynamic. They grow in response to stimulus, not at a pre-determined rate. Change work levels and growth levels will change too - so self-trimming is possible both for hard-working horses and horses in light work.
  • Even horses in no work can self-trim. Our broodmare and her foal were completely self-trimming despite never going out on the roads and having no access to our tracks, which we needed for the rehab horses. Instead they had turn out in a small concrete yard and the fields - that was all - but on a balanced diet* even this limited mileage and stimulus was enough for healthy hooves which never needed a trim and never chipped or flared.
* And this is VERY important.

3.  "My horse needs trimming every few weeks or the feet become long and flared even though he is in light work".

Well, its certainly a possibility that the feet are over-growing because the trimming is interfering with their ability to match growth levels to the mileage they are being asked to do. 
After all, a trim will replicate many, many miles of wear, which would normally happen over several days or weeks, in just a few moments and the hoof is bound to respond. This can lead to the hoof putting out far more growth than it needs, simply because the trim was too much stimulus in too short a time  (big thanks to Bruce who first put this idea into my head!).

In response to increased mileage (stimulus) the healthy hoof will compensate by increasing growth rates and in response to less stimulus, growth rates will slow down. You can see how growth rates could be confused in a horse who is doing low mileage (so little stimulus on a daily basis) but having regular trims (huge spikes in stimulus for a few minutes every month).
Hooves are evolved to cope with changes in stimulus and can grow very fast, if they are doing high mileage over tough terrain, or very slowly, if they are doing low mileage on easy ground - but they cope best with with steady changes, which a trim doesn't allow.

 If you regularly trim your horse try tapering off the trimming and keeping everything else consistent - you may be surprised how well he adapts. 

And if you are worried about flaring, check and double-check your horse's diet and have a read of this post too:

Finally, there is nothing wrong with trimming* but you may find its not as necessary or as beneficial as you first thought.

*Provided that you follow the golden rule: the horse must  be as sound or sounder (over ALL terrain) after the trim as before and the way he lands and loads his foot must be as good or better after the trim.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

A cautionary tale - all about celery

The weather has just been far too nice not to get lots of photos of the horses hanging out on the tracks. Russell seems to be in almost every one - he really gets about and he can spot a camera from way off, just like Felix.
 However the main point of this post is to tell you a cautionary tale which I received on email yesterday.  Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin....
Once upon a time there was an barefoot dressage horse whose owner was frustrated because her horse was always footy on stones even though she was on a low sugar, low starch diet. She emailed me a year ago and I gave her some feed info which I thought might help.
Nearly a year later, both horse and owner were much happier...

"I had been letting my horse self trim with the work and all was going really well - her feet always looked a bit odd - she keeps her hind toes really short and they are quite round not pointy but she was going better than ever  - we were moving from medium dressage to advance medium even though the changes were sometimes a bit enthusiastic.  

In front she likes to breakover to the outside of centre with both feet and she has "deviation" with both fronts to the inside  - looks a bit like a "stabiliser " a sort of curve to the foot  - not as extreme as some examples on your blog but not a conventional "cone" shape but very sound on all surfaces."  
But now the cautionary tale really begins....

"A trimmer came to the yard to do other horses' feet and as I hadn't had my girl's feet trimmed for months and months I thought a second opinion would be worthwhile.

What a mistake! She took the what I call "stabiliser"  - but she called "flare" - away completely in one fell swoop. 

The hooves looked symmetrical and the trimmer said now she was landing flat as opposed to outside heel first. The problem was my horse didn't agree - to cut a long story short she is now lame with swelling and heat in the leg - scans  reveal a slightly inflamed check ligament but all ok with tendons and suspensory."
Fortunately, there is a happy ending...

"She is already getting better - swelling reducing and hooves growing back  - but why oh why did I allow the trimmer to do this? Do we have it so ingrained that a hoof has to look a certain way? I am so angry with myself for letting this be done to my lovely girl.

The good thing is how quickly my horse has compensated for this - her frogs have become much bigger and the foot is returning to it's usual odd shape the more she goes on the roads. She is now very eager to walk out - she was reluctant to start so I didn't push the issue.

I will never let this happen again! Just another reminder that horses know best what they need - I just wish that I had been stronger in my convictions."
I really sympathise with the owner - we all try to do the best we can for our horses and sometimes even good intentions aren't enough to stop us making mistakes. However the good news is that horses are far cleverer than us, especially when it comes to hooves, and can very quickly correct our errors if we let them.

The even better news is that mistakes are the things we learn most from - though if you can learn from other people's (including mine!) rather than making your own, your horse will be grateful...!

* For more on "celery" - which has a specific meaning on this blog - have a read of these earlier posts:

Monday 16 June 2014

Three weeks of a changing hoof

Betty and Duffy have been here for 3 weeks - they arrived via quarantine from Dubai and Duffy's hooves have already made such impressive changes that he nabbed the first blog spot.

Betty however is equally deserving and I've promised owner Claire that I will get on and post her photos too, so here they are.
Her hooves were also showing the effects of the lack of movement available in quarantine though they weren't quite as dramatic as Duffy's.
Still, 3 weeks on and with no trimming her feet are looking more respectable - a better frog, healthier bars and the damage at the toe is also repairing nicely.

Betty's landing hasn't improved as fast as Duffy's but she is getting there in her own time. On day one her heels were too high and her frog and digital cushion were weak but 3 weeks on things are looking better. 
She is not symmetrical and still has less than perfect medio lateral balance so thats what we will be looking for over the next few weeks. 
 Interesting lateral shots - lots of long hoof wall has self-trimmed and the convex hoof wall is straightening with a stronger angle of new hoof capsule at the top - all good signs.
Good progress Betty - now onwards and upwards!