Friday 27 March 2015

How to amaze a farrier

There was an article in Horse & Hound this week which caused a certain amount of mild irritation among barefoot horse owners.
In it a remedial farrier talks about barefoot - from his vast range of experience (I don't know of any high level barefoot horses for whom he is the farrier - he certainly doesn't mention any) and with the benefit of his many years of expertise in adhering steel and plastic to horses. 

He says:

"I am an advocate of barefoot, where circumstances allow."

What circumstances are these? Sadly he doesn't enlighten us but perhaps its where the owners have no ambition to do dressage  - bad luck Blinged-Up Bullet Dodgers, your days of success must be numbered - or are just too cheap to buy his services.

"Without a shoe the foot works slightly differently - the surface area is reduced to the solar plane whereas a shoe can be made slightly wider."

Erm, if you load a horse's weight onto a shoe you are actually reducing the surface area to much, much less than the solar plane, Haydn. In fact its a fraction of the solar plane. So if you think a greater surface area is better then barefoot beats shoes every single time.

The second farrier quoted in the article is similarly sceptical of a horse's ability to grow decent feet without a lot of help from the steel and alloy industry. His view is that:

"If the horse has a slight conformation problem, the shoe can create the correct platform. You can extend it at the rear to provide support for piaffe, for example, but you can't do that barefoot. "

First off, as Steve Leigh would say, if you look behind the horse (as well as to both sides and in front) you will see that he already has something called the ground which extends for miles in every direction and provides fantastic support. So I am not sure a bit of metal out the back of the foot is that relevant.

Secondly - and you'll love this, farriers - prepare to be AMAZED - the horse can make his own support!
The very thing you were talking about - a horse with a problem (actually a shoulder injury rather than conformation) and look - he has created his own platform to provide the support he needs. 

And here is the cool thing - its in exactly the right place, its a medial extension (which you could never provide with a shoe - all you could do is a lateral extension which would unbalance him further), and if he doesn't need it any more he can get rid of it. 

Fancy that - horses can grow the feet they need and can adapt them perfectly to the load of the limb above and they don't need us to do it for them. A sobering thought. 

"I've yet to see a horse able to do grand prix with bare feet that can support fully loaded limbs."

Now that's just provocative, boys, as well as ill-informed. But just because its Friday, here's a bit of free CPD for you and your colleagues.

Wednesday 25 March 2015

What's your expectation?

I had an interesting conversation with a journalist at the weekend. She is looking in depth at the way vets, farriers and of course owners look at their horses' feet and she has a keen interest in both biomechanics and barefoot horses. 

I'd sent her the 2 pieces of HD hoof footage we took at the RRR (for those who are interested the original Barefoot in Slow Motion film has had nearly 32,000 plays and the Healthy Hooves film nearly 10,000 plays - not bad going, well done team!).

After reviewing both our film and footage of shod horses we got to discussing this fascinating comparison still. Above is a shod horse in trot - landing toe-first as it does in every frame of its video, including when its on hard ground.

Below is Buddy who - like every horse in our films - lands heel first in walk, trot and canter (he is also in trot in this frame). 

The shod horse looks elegant and its not lame in the footage but the way its moving is stressing soft tissue with every step and it appears unable to extend fully. To me, its movement is strikingly similar to the horses who come here for rehab - who invariably have DDFT, collateral ligament and other soft tissue damage.

I should make it clear that of course not all shod horses land this badly but it does highlight for me how many people don't recognise poor movement and poor hoof balance and the consequences this has for the horse's health.

It got me thinking about what our expectations are for our horses. 

I know that for all the owners of our ex-rehab horses, and for me, our goal is long term health and soundness - not just healthy hooves, although that's an essential first step, but correct movement which only makes the horse fitter, stronger and more balanced with time and work. 

One of the main reasons we have our horses barefoot is because of the health benefits not only to the hoof but to the whole horse. We find that horses stay sounder and have fewer injuries and are able to perform to a higher level than they were shod. It may take longer to get there but its a fantastic feeling when you do (look at yesterday's blog if you need proof!). 

As someone once said, with everything you do you are either building your horse up or breaking him down. Which are you doing? 

Tuesday 24 March 2015

The weekends just get busier and busier

Now its officially Spring there just seems to be more and more going on. At Rockley I spent Saturday rolling the fields but other people had a more exciting time...
 Em and Indy went eventing - and yes, that is another rosette - they seem to make a habit of this :-)
Vic and Ruby went hunter trialling - the head-cam video is here and is great fun - I always had a feeling even when she was here that this is what Ruby was born to do and its nice to be proved right!
Claire and Holly were jumping too - these are the first jumping pics I've seen of them since the RRR and aren't they looking great?
Those ultra-consistent Blinged-Up Bullet Dodgers came 2nd in their Team Quest competition...
And at the opposite end of the country the Yorkshire bare footers were also flying the flag - another Team Quest entry and a win for Kate and Rolie's team - well done everyone!

Friday 20 March 2015

Rockley after the eclipse

We had cloudless blue sky for the eclipse - a miracle in itself - but I failed to get any decent photos of it I'm afraid.
Instead I got these once it was over - a gorgeous, warm spring morning and - thank goodness - lovely enough for even the clipped horses to have their rugs off.
I think I'll call this one "three shades of grey"...
...aka Alfie, Merlin and Goofy...

Felix says "play nicely"...
Goofy says "more sunshine please!"

Wednesday 18 March 2015

A couple of happy updates...just to fit in with the spring sunshine!

The first is from Em and Indy - not content with being part of the force of nature that is the Blinged-up Bullet Dodgers they are back eventing as well...
"Indy and I completed our first One Day Event in 3.5 years today. We had a 30.5 dressage and double clear (inside the time XC for the first time ever). Came 7th which is our best ever. He felt amazing and is looking awesome."
And then, staying with the grey theme, an update on lovely Russell who went home last year:

"Just thought I would give you an update on Russell.

He did his first competition yesterday since coming back from you. He qualified for the National Pony Society dressage championships which are at Addington next month in both prelim & novice tests. Got 71%+ in prelim so delighted with him."

Many congratulations to Linda, Russell, Em and Indy - so pleased for you and what a fantastic reward for all your hard work!

Tuesday 17 March 2015

Changing hooves - Alfie's update

Unfortunately I don't have brilliant comparison shots for Alfie but one of the weak aspects of his hooves when he arrived was that he had a very pinched hoof capsule at the quarters.
Its difficult to capture this in a photo - you really need a 3D model of the hoof - but you can see from this angle the difference between the old growth at the bottom and the new capsule in the top half. 
The sole comparisons also give an idea of how the hoof is broadening at the quarters and heel. Alfie still has a less then perfect frog but much better sole depth and a more balanced foot. 

As part of the strengthening of the back of his foot his heels have shortened. The top photo also shows how pinched his hoof capsule was - you can see its nipped in towards the hairline. 

Friday 13 March 2015

Oh the hypocrisy!

I've been sent an interesting article by a friend who is a vet and who knows all too well how effectively taking a horse barefoot can rehabilitate its hooves.

The article was a ding-dong between rival vets about the benefits or otherwise of remedial farriery as a way of improving soundness in horses with DDFT injuries and apparently included the following:

" certainly the cheapest option. 

Providing the horse has good solar depth and hoof quality and is well-balanced this is a valid option. Obtaining these prerequisites in clinical cases is rare. 

As a result horses treated this way tend to remain more lame than when treated with remedial farriery."

This statement is being spouted by someone who purports to be scientifically trained (and who should, in theory at least, recognise the importance of evidence-based treatment over superstition and tradition).

The author might as well have written "the earth is flat", "the moon is made of green cheese" or "horses can't work on roads without shoes". All of the quotes in italics have one thing in common - they are what those of us in the real world call Old Wives' Tales - superstitions and beliefs that have grown up with no basis in fact.

Of course, those of us in the real world know its often risky to try and sound knowledgeable about subjects which you have no experience of. Sadly, this doesn't seem to have troubled the author either.
What would you expect of a statement by a veterinary professional in a scientific journal? At the very least you would expect it to be evidence-based and supported by objective proof of some kind. Unfortunately this one is factually incorrect, cites no evidence whatsoever and is not even based on comparative studies.

Lets look at it in a bit more detail.

"Providing the horse has good solar depth and hoof quality and is well-balanced this is a valid option. Obtaining these prerequisites in clinical cases is rare."

In other words, a horse with good concavity and a healthy, well-balanced foot is unlikely to be lame. Just think about that for a moment - and consider the implications. If the author has realised this, isn't it incumbent on him or her to perhaps follow this astonishing idea up?

Apparently not - its easier to dismiss it (though wouldn't it be interesting to know what proportion of lame horses are presented in shoes or recently trimmed?).

"horses treated this way tend to remain more lame than when treated with remedial farriery"

Really? And the statistics for this are where exactly?

Of course, if the author means that ripping the shoes off an already lame horse doesn't miraculously make it sound then they are right - but even the most cursory glance at the internet reveals that this is very far from what most people mean by taking a horse barefoot.

I am confident that the author has no experience of hoof rehabilitation because most of the horses we see here for rehab - who have frequently had remedial farriery with little or no improvement - have gone back to work at the same level or higher than before they went lame and remain in consistent work over the long term.
No-one expects vets to be infallible but making statements like this is ill-judged and foolish. Worse, assuming that owners turn to barefoot simply as a means of saving money makes the author sound not only patronising but frankly ignorant - and will only erode owners' confidence in a profession which they should be able to trust. Thank goodness that some vets are now educating themselves in a more open-minded way. 

Thursday 12 March 2015

Ennis' first 3 weeks

Ennis arrived here just over 3 weeks ago, already out of shoes and with quite reasonable looking hooves. He was landing toe first, though, and was short-striding all round.
He has just started to land better, as I posted last week, but I couldn't put his photos up at the time as my stills camera (which admittedly has a hard life constantly under horses'  feet) had finally given up the ghost. Armed with my new one I have now got these shots, which show the subtle but important changes in his feet so far.
His frog still has a lot of development to do but he has better concavity and the start of stronger heels. His medio-lateral balance is still off, which is not surprising at this stage, and that will probably be the biggest change going forward. 
Not much to see from the lateral shots - it will be a few more weeks before any angle change is clearly visible. 

From this angle the better frog and digital cushion development are more obvious. 

Although he had fairly healthy frogs when he arrived his foot was under-running, as you can see from the position of the frog in relation to the heels. 
This profile is improving and will allow the back his foot to become stronger and his toe to shorten. 
Lateral shots will be interesting in the next update but don't tell us much at the moment!

This is his less distorted foot and so there are fewer changes but again better frog development which should continue over the next few weeks. 

Wednesday 11 March 2015

Merlin's first fortnight

Merlin will have been here 2 weeks tomorrow so time for his update. He arrived in bar shoes, as you can see, but what is interesting I think is how even in such a short time his stance has improved.
When you see the sole shots its clear how the shoes were actually unloading the back of the hoof rather than supporting it.

By contrast now he is able to begin to use the his frogs and heels properly and I expect to see him develop quite fast over the next few weeks. 
Again the contrast is between a frog which is receiving stimulus and one which is shut down. 
You can see from the position of the nail holes how the toe is shortening on this foot as well. 
Its already loading better than in shoes with less stress on the toe and more engagement in the back of the foot. 

Have a look at the difference in wall height between the lateral and medial walls. This should start to rebalance now that he is centrally loading his foot - it should be easier to see in a couple more weeks. 
Merlin already had quite decent frogs, particularly considering he was in bar shoes, which gives us a great place to start from. 
He's also a very inquisitive personality who is always on the go - a perfect quality in a horse who needs to grow new feet!