Category Archives: Balancing the Hoof

BALANCING THE HOOF MY WAY

david at cincinaWhat does it mean to ‘Balance the Hoof’? Ask any farrier if he balances the hoof and he will say ‘Yes’. Ask him to describe how he does it and he will generally describe very convoluted ways of doing so without having any specific reference points for others to copy.

Is balancing a hoof a matter of trimming and shoeing so that it looks right?

Is there a simple, prescribed method to balance the hoof? Can it be found in textbooks?

What is the method of teaching apprentice farriers to balance the hoof?

Do farrier schools have a standard method to balance the hoof?

The answer is an emphatic NO.

Surely we need to make it simpler for young farriers to learn the simple basics if we hope to encourage them to join the trade.

I have been shoeing horses for 52 years and teaching for six years and I have greatly simplified and developed my method of teaching in that time. In the eyes of the academics and purists my teaching may not be their perfect method of shoeing, but it certainly achieves a very high degree of accuracy in a short amount of time while under the horse, and it enables the student to quickly understand what to look for and to solve the majority of problems.

I have also developed a tool called David Farmilo’s HOOF-LINE to enable the balance of the hoof to be checked quickly and simply while under the horse. For those who deride this as a money-making exercise, you can go and get a strip of timber and make your own or you can buy mine – it’s entirely your choice.

FINDING THE CENTRE

My centre of balance is 19mm behind the active tip of the frog. The measurement from there to the toe and to a line across the buttress of the heels should be equal when the hoof is trimmed in accordance with my prescribed trimming method. The medial/lateral measurement should also be equal, but not necessarily the same as the measurements from frog to toe and to the heel.

So after all, what if:

  • There was a simple and easy to understand method to trim the hoof.
  • The method could be written down in simple language that didn’t need a lawyer to translate it.
  • The method could be verbalised simply.
  • It could be understood and appreciated by farrier and horse owner alike.
  • The method could be easily applied while under a horse.

This simple method eliminates most of the hoof problems seen today.

HOW IT’S DONE

This is the method that I teach. I make a policy of not using technical terms. I also teach this method in conjunction with using my HOOF-LINE.

  1. Observe the hooves and always start with the larger hoof (the dominant hoof) to avoid over-trimming the smaller hoof.
  2. Clean out manure and dirt from the underside of the hoof with hoof pick.
  3. Starting at the tip, clean out the edge of the frog down to the bars, which identifies the natural frog/sole junction.
  4. From there, working out to the hoof wall/live sole junction, remove only dead flaky sole to leave the sole as concave as possible. Remove excess sole ONLY down to the bottom of the fissure cracks, no further.
  5. Lightly trim the frog with knife or nipper to an even V shape. Then trim the tip of the frog to expose the junction at the active sole, thus exposing the active tip.
  6. Trim the bars of excess height and clean out the seat-of-corn area.
  7. Place the HOOF-LINE on the tip of the active frog. The graduations will show the length to the toe compared to the length to the heel (at a straight line 6mm above the critical junction of the widest part of the frog across the heel buttresses). In the finished prepared hoof these two halves must be equal distances from the base of the triangle on the HOOF-LINE.

IF the front half (to the toe) is longer than the back half (to the heel):

  1. Leave the heels untouched and, using a rasp or nippers, trim the front half only to a level surface to suit either barefoot (+4mm) or shoe fitting preparation. DO NOT OVER RASP!
  2. When the front half is trimmed and level, correct any thickening in the hoof capsule at the toe section only. Uneven thickness is caused by flaring of the hoof in the toe area. Bring the hoof forward on your knee or hoof stand and carefully rasp any flare away to copy the ideal or normal shape of the coronary band at the front of the hoof only, rasping no higher than the nail clinch area. Check to ensure that an even thickness of hoof wall capsule around the toe area is maintained.

DON’T RASP EITHER SIDE OF THE HOOF WALL YET!

  1.  Using the HOOF-LINE, measure the length at the finished toe. When the hoof wall capsule is prepared correctly, the measurement in the front half will then be correct; so use a marker pen to mark the same measurement to the heel (at a straight line 6mm above the critical junction of the widest part of the frog across the heel buttresses). If it is already correct – leave it alone. If it is shorter, lower the heels to the marked level NOTE: Lowering the heels increases the length of the measurement to the heel. NEVER trim a heel to less than 6mm heel height above the critical junction at the widest part of the frog.
  2. Taking the hoof forward again, rasp the side walls and heel flares to copy the ideal or normal shape of the coronary band. DO NOT OVER RASP.

  3. If the horse is to be left unshod, bevel the leading edges of the hoof wall slightly. If shod, shoes must finish at the heel buttress to maintain correct hoof balance.

IF the toe is already the correct length, and there are no flares in the toe, the heel buttresses will usually measure too short, so by lowering the heels, which lengthens them, a balanced measurement will be achieved.

When this balanced measurement is achieved in the bottom of the hoof, the front of the hoof wall is parallel with the pastern angle, the hoof shape is a mirror image of the coronary band, there are no flares in the hoof wall, and the hoof is stress free.

Following this method gives you the ability to consistently duplicate an efficient method of achieving a correctly balanced hoof.

In some extreme cases, it may take two or three shoeing periods to achieve balance, but that same horse may have been out of balance and in pain for years.

BENEFITS OF SYSTEM

The HOOF-LINE used in conjunction with my trimming method helps eliminate lameness by correcting long toe/low heel problems, or high heel/ short toe problems; it eliminates flares which are a major cause of instability in the hoof; it helps correct contracted heels, which are the result of minimal frog contact, and also eliminates the need for remedial shoes which often exacerbate the problems.

It even saves further time by allowing the farrier to take the HOOF-LINE measurements to the anvil and shape the shoe according to the measurements of the finished hoof.

The major advantage is that this method takes the guesswork out of hoof preparation.

The process is of course dependent on the user preparing and measuring the hoof correctly, and no responsibility or liability is taken or implied.

 

 

A BALANCE OF OPINION

When I was a young jackeroo, the boss made the comment ‘If you want to find a shortcut way to do a job, give it to a lazy man – he will always take the shortcut, and finish the job with a minimum of energy output. The outcome is usually that it is done wrong or that it does not last and has to be redone.’

This philosophy is especially true when it comes to the shoeing of horses. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it seems apparent that things are getting worse.

I have always stressed the importance of trimming the hoof to achieve a symmetrical shape. This can be and must be done no matter what the size of the hoof. By doing this you will help the horse move in a natural, even and uninhibited way. If the hoof is out of balance in any way, the flight of the leg will be crooked and uneven.

Probably the most common error in hoof preparation is simply not trimming out the sole enough. This leads to what we know as the low heel/long toe type of hoof.

It is not always easy to remove the sometimes rock hard overgrowth of six week old sole, but unless you do, the hoof will end up too long in the toes and his action will change for the worse.

A couple of very predictable things happen because of this shortcut – the shoe has to be lengthened to fit the longer hoof, or the toes get dumped after the shoe is fitted.

The outcome is then predictable – the horse starts to overreach and pull off his front shoes or to scalp his heels or he starts to trip and stumble. The second shortcut remedy is then applied – squaring off the shoes in front to make his hoof take off quicker and to stop pulling off shoes. This is WRONG! Now the horse starts to feel bumble-footed.

If you want to really understand why, try this: just walk along normally until you are comfortable, then scrunch up your toes and break into a trot then a canter. Now perhaps you can see why the horse feels so uncomfortable. You found it impossible to stride out, your steps became higher and much shorter, and I guess you didn’t trot or canter very far, either.

Squared toe or rolled toe shoes have their legitimate place of application in the treatment of some lameness problems, but should not be used as a bandaid to fix over-reaching. The real cause begins back at the hoof preparation and trimming stage of shoeing.

002-1 SQUARE TOED QUARTER CLIPPED SHOESOur ground and weather conditions here in Australia vary to the extreme. When it is dry and hard in the summer, we just have to work harder to get the correct balance in the hoof.

The horse’s hoof is really the same as it always was – do you realise that the shape of the ideal hoof capsule at the coronary band should be the same shape at the ground bearing surface of the hoof wall.

I have never seen a horse that has square shaped coronary bands in front. Even the horses that I have seen with man-made square toes and which had gait problems have been able to be corrected just by using hard work, good hand tools and good standard shaped shoes which are light enough to allow the horse to complete his task.

EVOLUTION OF THE ‘HOOF-LINE’

I have been shoeing horses for 50 years this year, and in the 1990’s I spent eight years as Head Farrier for Lindsay Park Stud (then one of Australia’s most successful racing stables).

Nowadays I specialise in hoof reconstruction and shoeing for performance, and I travel Australia teaching trimming and shoeing to the ringers on outback cattle stations, as well as running courses for horse owners to learn to trim their own horses’ hooves.

After 50 years of shoeing I tell people attending my hoof care courses that I am still learning – and I really do mean it.

Why is it that so much has been written on farriery, over hundreds of years, yet none of them really answer the question ‘How do we correctly balance a hoof.’ While an enormous amount of literature has been published by highly qualified people on horse shoeing technique, horse shoeing beliefs, preferences and trends, and hoof and leg anatomy, a lot of this is too technical for the average horse owner, is open to misinterpretation by farriers and can be ambiguous to the uneducated reader.

Over centuries farriers have invented numerous convoluted and complex horseshoes, complicated gadgets to assist in shoeing horses and complex tools for measuring the alignment and/or balance of the horse’s hoof.

One would have assumed that with the huge number of horses before the age of the motor car, horses in past centuries would have been perfectly trimmed or shod. However, paintings, drawings, models and statues of horses in times gone by often show incorrect hoof/pastern angles, with artists presumably sculpting or painting what they saw. As there were no radiographs and video equipment, the old timers had to rely on anatomy, intuition and results.

The method of achieving a parallel hoof/pastern angle has been the topic of great debate, argument and discourse involving anatomy, biomechanics, physics, physiology and radiography as the sciences have advanced.

Customers ask me if there are simple books to explain horseshoeing, and I have to say ‘No.’ There are veterinary books on shoeing, complex books and articles on anatomy and bio-mechanics, new methods and fads publicised that come and go, new and scientific methods on measuring are developed, but farriers differ vastly on the definitively correct method to balance a hoof.

There are still lots of problems out there – I have a website and I hear from people in every country with the same old problems – lame horses, back pain, long toes and Seedy Toe.

Nowadays, shoeing techniques and resolution of hoof problems vary widely between farriers, between veterinarians, and also between each other, often resulting in confusion for the horse owner. Published reference point measurements are only ever stated as ‘about’ or ‘approximately’.

In the farrier’s working day, theoretical knowledge needs to be able to be easily transposed to working knowledge. In a world where ‘time is money,’ farriers need to be able to shoe a number of horses per day using a reliable method to produce a predictable and satisfactory outcome for both horse and owner. The number of times the hoof is picked up needs to be minimised, the accuracy of achieving a correct hoof/pastern angle needs to be increased and the ability to duplicate a time efficient method of achieving a correct hoof/pastern angle also needs to be increased. With existing systems, all the vast technical knowledge available is often not helping farriers in the field.

In 1954, I was taught to shoe on Angorichina Station by Joe Love who was 80 years old when I was 14; ‘Old Joe’ had been brought up in the days of bullock and horse teams. Even now it is very humbling to realise that he had probably forgotten more than I could ever learn. He taught me all the principles of horseshoeing which I still use to this day, yet he told me none of the reasons as to why those principles were formulated.

It took me probably 35 years to realise that my method of shoeing a horse to achieve a parallel hoof pastern angle was based on a precise method which I found very difficult to teach to others as most of what I did was instinctive. When you think about it, the farrier knows what is a desirable end result, but how does he achieve it? Good evaluation, good judgement, a good eye and the ability to estimate accurately how much hoof to remove are all part of the attributes of being a good farrier.

It took me another 10 years to ponder how I could work backwards from the perfectly balanced hoof to teach students and horse owners how to correctly balance a hoof without them necessarily having all the attributes mentioned. I felt that there had to be an easy way to balance the hoof without necessarily having anatomical or biomechanical knowledge and also to be able to teach my method to others. This meant searching for a method that relied on external guidelines rather than internal knowledge.

My principles of horseshoeing have always been that when the hoof is correctly balanced, the front of the hoof wall is parallel with the pastern angle, the hoof shape is a mirror image of the coronary band, there are no flares in the hoof wall, and the hoof is stress free. (This was Old Joe’s mantra on Angorichina Station nearly 50 years ago, and this has always been my mantra).

The horses of my regular customers didn’t have gait problems, I never used any specialised horseshoes because it wasn’t necessary, and the hooves of the horses that I dealt with regularly didn’t suffer any problems. Why? I assumed that it was because I always correctly balanced the hoof.

Instead of just working instinctively, as I had done for all those years, from then on I analysed and measured every horse and every hoof that I worked on to calculate what I was doing to end up with a correctly balanced hoof. As a result, I pinpointed what I now call ‘David Farmilo’s Centre of Balance’ which is a reference point on the hoof exactly 19mm behind the tip of the active frog and it is exactly the same whether it is on a thoroughbred, a Clydesdale or on a 6 week old foal. When a hoof is correctly prepared and perfectly balanced, the measurements are equal from ‘David Farmilo’s Centre of Balance’ to the toe and from ‘David Farmilo’s Centre of Balance’ to a line across the buttress of the heel.

I finally took the plunge and started teaching my method of trimming along with the 19mm measurement for ‘David Farmilo’s Centre of Balance’ to my course participants and it was a revelation to see how easily they could follow it and achieve a balanced hoof.

Time after time I got the same comment – ‘But it makes it so easy. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?’ From there it was a relatively simple step to evolve a ruler marking ‘David Farmilo’s Centre of Balance’ to first show how much hoof to be removed, and whether to remove it from the heel or from the toe, and then to double check that the hoof had been correctly balanced. I added a hoof pick to one end of the ruler, a stud spanner to the other, then trademarked my ruler David Farmilo’s ‘HOOF-LINE’, and I also patented it; however, I do hope and firmly believe that it will indeed still grow from here.

It is so heartening to hear from owners who tell me that they can never look at a horse now without checking to see if its hooves are balanced. This is the way it should be for anyone who has anything to do with a horse.

My teaching hoof model is a wonderful example of flares on the hoof and the resultant distortion of the coronary band (Photo1). The HOOF-LINE on the hoof shows the hoof is way out of balance because of these flares (Photo 2). Maybe this is why the horse ended up as a model?

Trimming methods vary considerably. Many farriers do not clean the sole or trim the frog when necessary.There is a huge amount of discourse on toe length. In all horses the natural hoof capsule is an even thickness all round. The natural hoof in its wild form is not square toed except in drought conditions as a result of digging for water. The bulk of general horses are not wild horses, they are domestic horses in fenced and stabled areas.

My method of trimming the hoof is part of the ‘HOOF-LINE’ and is as follows:

Clean out all dirt and loose material from the under side of the hoof with the hoof pick then using a good sole paring knife remove only the dead flaky sole working from the frog out to the hoof wall. This will leave the sole concave. Now lightly trim the frog at the point to expose its active tip, place the ‘HOOF-LINE’ flat on the centre of the hoof with arrow mark on the point of the frog – the centimeter graduations will show the length to the tip of the toe capsule compared to the length at the heel in a straight line across the heel buttresses. In the finished prepared hoof these two halves must be equal distances from David Farmilo’s Centre of Balance which is nineteen millimeters back from the active point of the frog.

In most cases this first measurement will show that the front half is much longer than the back half, so in this case leave the heels untouched. Using the rasp or hoof nippers, trim the front half only to a level surface to suit either barefoot or shoe fitting preparation. A variation may be seen in the thickness of the hoof wall capsule at the toe, however this capsule should be an even thickness all round. This thickness is caused by flaring of the hoof in the toe area. If the hoof capsule is already the correct thickness at the toe, there will be no flares to remove, so leave it alone and go straight to the heels.

If the hoof capsule is not of an even thickness, place the foot forward on the knee or a hoof stand and by looking down over the pastern and coronary band to the hoof wall shape the flare will be seen at the bottom of the hoof wall. Carefully rasp the flare away to copy the shape of coronary band at the front of the hoof only, and rasp up no higher than the nail clinch area. When this is completed, check underneath the hoof to maintain an even thickness of hoof wall capsule around the toe area. The ‘HOOF-LINE’ is then placed so that the indicator aligns with the point of the frog. When the hoof wall capsule is prepared correctly, the measurement in the front half will then be correct. From there, to achieve an equal measurement in the back half (to a straight line across the buttresses of the heel) the heels may be either left alone or lowered accordingly. If shoes are to be fitted they must finish at the heel buttress to maintain this correct hoof balance. When this balanced measurement is achieved in a hoof, the front of the hoof wall is parallel with the pastern angle, the hoof shape is a mirror image of the coronary band, there are no flares in the hoof wall and the hoof is stress free.

I estimate that in my career I have shod or trimmed well over 100,000 horses. Sadly, I find that 90% of lameness in horses is hoof related, and this is totally unnecessary. Most gait and back strain problems stem from incorrect trimming and incorrect shoeing that should have been corrected simply by correctly balancing the hoof. But if a horse isn’t trimmed and balanced properly barefoot, then no one has any business putting shoes on it. I believe that every one who trims a horse’s hoof has a duty of care to balance that hoof correctly.

WHAT IS A T-SQUARE IN THE HOOF?

When balancing the hoof, it is imperative to check for a correct T-square down the back of the pastern.

A T-square is actually a ruler used by a draftsman – it has a long ruler attached to a short, sometimes sliding, perpendicular crosspiece at one end, used for establishing and drawing parallel lines, perpendicular lines and right angles. (Pic 1)

My dear old Mum had a dressmaker’s square for measuring the distance of hems from the floor on my sisters’ dresses. A carpenter uses a carpenters square to cut perfect right angled ends on his pieces of timber. He also uses a spirit level to make sure his timbers are parallel and that the cross pieces are at perfect right angles to the uprights before he nails them.

I use the word T-square; you might like to think of it as right angled, perpendicular, or 90 degrees. It all means the same thing.

I was never any good at geometry, and could never make any sense out of my protractor and my set square if I could find them at all. The angles of my triangles always added up to more than 180 degrees, and my right angles were either more or less than 90 degrees, but I did get the general drift of the information, which was that the goal was that a right angle really had to be at 90 degrees if I wasn’t to get the ruler rapped over my knuckles.

So when it comes to balancing the hoof, it is pretty logical that for the hoof (or the cross piece) to land flat or squarely, the pastern (or the ruler) has to be at an angle of 90 degrees to the hoof. (Pic 2)

When teaching how to correctly balance the hoof, I always pick up the leg and tell participants to look for a T-square down the back of the pastern. Three issues have evolved from this. The first issue is that I am the one holding the leg and looking down the back of the pastern, and they are the ones standing at the opposite end and looking back at me and not able to see the T-square unless they actually swap places with me.

The second issue is that a lot of people don’t understand what I mean by a T-square in relation to the hoof. The third issue is that knowing where the T-square should be doesn’t mean that you have a perfect T-square. This became increasingly obvious when I asked people emailing me with queries to check for a correct T-square in the hoof, and received back an amazing array of photos of Nowhere-Near-T-squares.

Next time after your horse is trimmed or shod, here is a simple exercise for you to check on each of the four feet – hold the fetlock joint and view the leg from behind, looking down the back of the pastern and across the heels. In a correctly balanced hoof the pastern should be perpendicular to a line across the heel buttresses – this is what I refer to as a perfect T-square. If you can’t imagine a line across the heel buttresses, then get yourself a ruler or a real T-square and put it on the hoof (Pic3).

I think it is pretty clear once you know what you are looking for to see if your farrier is on the right track. As you can see in Pic 4, it is of no use whatsoever to apply a shoe to a hoof unless that hoof is correctly balanced with a perfect T-square. And 90% of hoof problems can be resolved simply by correctly balancing the hoof and checking for a perfect T-square.

Another observation that becomes evident when looking for that perfect T-square, is that while holding the fetlock in this position, you are looking directly at the critical junctions of the heels.

The definition of the critical junction of the heels is the junction where the widest part of the clean frog meets the hoof wall at the heels. We must never trim a horse down to this critical junction, as it causes the heels to be too low hence overloading the frog.

When the hoof is trimmed to be unshod, there should be 4 mm of hoof wall left above that critical junction after trimming. When the hoof is trimmed for shoe fitting, there should be also 6 mm above the critical junction of both heels. (Pic 5) And most importantly, the critical junctions of both heels should be of equal heights. And looking at the hoof from this position will show you instantly if the heels are even or uneven (or level or unlevel if you prefer that terminology).

Now here is the interesting part – if a horse has a conformation fault, or is club footed, or has offset cannon bones, deviated pasterns or anything else, the foot still has to be a perfect T-square. Why? Because the foot has to land flat in order to take off correctly. With a conformation fault, after leaving the ground the foot will still swing wide or narrow as per the fault in the leg alignment from the knee down, but the hoof must land flat, and it will do so if the heels are level.

THE AFTER EFFECTS OF LEVELLING THE HOOF (part 1)

To even begin to understand HOW and WHY a crooked hoof regrows crooked, we need to look closely at the conformation of the horse.

NOTE: This article is in reference to the front of the horse only. A future article will deal with the hind leg movement.

Viewed from in front (FIG 1) the correct straight legged horse’s leg bones are in line from the forearm to the pedal bone, which is positioned correctly inside the hoof capsule. As a result, the hoof does not distort or develop flares and the flight of the hoof is in a straight line.

The leg bones of the splay footed horse (FIG 2) are out of alignment; the shoulders are narrow, so the forearms slope inwards causing a knock kneed appearance. Lower down in the hoof the pedal bone positions itself under the centre of the knee to maintain the horse’s balance; this creates an imbalance in the hoof capsule, resulting in an outside flare and a dishing gait as the leg moves forwards.

The leg bones of the pigeon toed horse (FIG 3) are also crooked; usually the horse is wide chested and the result of this is that the top of the cannon bone is set to the outside of the knee joint, giving a bowed out appearance. Lower down in the leg, the pastern turns inwards to maintain balance, but in the hoof the pedal bone positions itself under the centre of the knee, causing an imbalance in the hoof which creates a flare to the inside, which results in a paddling action as the hoof moves forwards.

It is so important to really understand the principles of cause and effect when trimming any out of balance hooves. The CAUSE is the less than perfect conformation; the EFFECT is the resulting flare in the hoof capsule. It is important to also understand that the pedal bone is where it is supposed to be and that the frog is always positioned correctly under the pedal bone; so if we clean out the sole and find the outermost junction of the true sole/hoof wall, it is obvious where excess hoof wall needs to be removed.

Regardless of whether the horse’s hoof is turned out or turned in, our aim should always be to maintain a T-square, with the centre line down the back of the pastern and the top of the T at a perfect right angle across the heels of the hoof capsule (these heels must NEVER be lower than 6mm above the clean widest part of the frog). This alignment ensures that the hoof lands correctly and evenly and minimises the dishing or paddling, maintaining soundness for as long as possible until the faulty conformation begins to distort the hoof capsule again.

Now we must look at the cause and effect in relation to correcting the bottom of the hoof (FIG 4). The pedal bone is suspended in the hoof capsule and is attached to it by soft tissue called laminae, and also sits on top of the digital cushion above the sole. In the crooked hoof, the laminae is stretched on the side where the flare is and the coronary band is also pushed up above the flare.

When the flare is removed and the hoof is levelled to achieve a T-square across the heels, it is important to allow a few minutes for the hoof to settle under weight and you will then observe that the flared side has dropped again and needs to be re-corrected; some excessively flared hooves will move out of level three or four times before they stabilise, thus a lot of crooked gait problems are not successfully solved because the shoe has been applied too soon. Whether the hoof is to be shod or left unshod, this recognition of the re-alignment is an important detail for the prevention of hoof related lameness.

Long toe/low heel syndrome (FIG 5) is also conformation related and is usually the result of long sloping pasterns; uncontrolled flares in the front of the hoof cause excessive pressure on the rear of the pedal bone thus crushing the digital cushion and the heels of the hoof, whereas controlling the long toes eliminates heel pressure which allows the pedal bone to be three to five degrees higher at the heel than at the toe, which is anatomically correct in relation to the digital cushion. Once again, take the time to allow the hoof to settle, and then readjust the toe length. It is only a matter of time and those low heels will begin to stand up again.

In summary: the front of the hoof and the pastern must be parallel. P1, P2 and P3 must also be parallel; the hoof wall is meant to be an even thickness from top to bottom and around its ground-bearing perimeter.

The end result of all these parameters is that there will be no flares anywhere in the hoof and when the bottom of the hoof is measured from the toe to a straight line across the buttress of the heels, the half-way point is 19mm behind the active tip of the frog.

Remember- a flare anywhere in the hoof is your greatest enemy.

THE AFTER EFFECTS OF LEVELLING THE HOOF (PART TWO – THE HIND FEET)

My statement that there is no such thing as a naturally cow-hocked horse often raises a few eyebrows, so I feel it is necessary to explain in detail the reasons for that opinion.

When viewed from in front or behind, the cow-hocked horse stands with the hind legs bowed in at the hocks and with the toes of the hoof pointed out. (Pic 1)

PIC 1
PIC 1

The cause of this is flaring. The hoof capsule is flared to the outside heel and the inside hoof wall is upright and the inside heel is low or possibly even under run. The effects are disastrous for the horse. The horse has a less than happy attitude to work because he is sore in the back just forwards of the hips, he is probably developing hock soreness as well and if he is a race horse he will be speedy cutting and or brushing inside his fetlock joints. If he is a camp drafter he will be having trouble turning with the beast which means low scoring or elimination; show jumping or dressage or polo or polocrosse are all affected by the outside flare inhibiting the horse’s ability to turn on the hind quarters.

The golden rule is that a hoof in flight will travel in the direction of its longest point and when it hits the ground it will point in that direction also.

Even when observed at a walk, the cow-hocked horse’s hinds leave the ground and swing inwards, then half way through the stride they swing out, forming an S-bend, then when they land, they land on the outside heel first, then roll to the inside heel then as they load up, going forward they point outwards again. Just imagine the strain and forces that are occurring in the hoof while all this is happening in the blink of an eye. Common sense should tell us that the quickest way from point A to point B is in a straight line, not an S-bend.

The horse’s rear end is its power pack but when viewed from behind, the cow-hocked horse is weak in the hind quarters; from the hip down there is no muscle bulge in the top of the thigh, but when the cow-hocked hoof is corrected, allowing the hoof to stand pointing straight forwards to the front hoof, the thigh muscle begins to bulge and will develop power again and performance.

So the question is why do horses become cow-hocked?

It all starts from foal age when the hoof capsule is soft at birth and the joints are very flexible and the leg has not developed any muscle; the hoof begins to bend and flare to the outside, both front and hind – this should be monitored and corrected at ten days old then checked continually thereafter.

As described in the last article dealing with the effects of levelling the front hooves, the same principle applies to the hinds – the pedal bone centers itself under the knee (but in the hind leg it is called the hock) and it stays in that position, so if the juvenile hoof is not corrected it begins to flare, nearly always to the outside and then they will begin to stand cow-hocked.

A flare anywhere in the hoof is our greatest enemy and must be corrected.

The solution is in understanding the true shape of the hind hoof which is slightly

V-shaped, an even length on both sides, level across the heels and T-squared with the back of the pastern, and with the sole correctly cleaned out to the junction of the hoof wall – this shape is readily obvious in the mature hoof.

To avoid developing an outside flare in foals and most young horses up to the age of two years old, apply the anti-cow-hocked trim (Pic 2). When viewed from the bottom, lower the outside two thirds of the hoof wall, leaving the inside heel slightly higher which will cause the hoof to stand pointing straight; then as the horse develops rear end muscle the hoof can be levelled with no chance of an outside flare occurring.

Sadly, so many people providing hoof care in these modern times have come to accept the cow-hocked stance as being normal, but it is not. An even bigger concern is that the modern horse shoe manufacturers are now producing left and right hind shoes to cater for this belief, and the unwary are using them in the belief that this profile is correct, but it is not. So we must ask ourselves who is leading who, and which came first, the chicken or the egg?

So who is right? It is my belief that nature has always tried to show us the answer to that, but we just haven’t been diligent enough to see it and obey nature’s guidelines which are the pedal bone shape, the coronary band shape and the white line, and the resulting difference in performance when we eventually see and understand what we are looking at.

MY PHILOSOPHY OF THE HOOF-LINE

MY PHILOSOPHY OF THE HOOF-LINE

  • The hoof/pastern angle must be parallel.
  • The front of the pedal bone must be parallel with the front of the hoof wall.
  • The soles must be concave and the bars dressed to be non weight bearing.
  • The active tip/sole junction of the frog must be clearly identified.
  • In the normal hoof, the tip of P3 can be identified and marked at 25mm forward of the active tip of the frog.
  • The frog must be cleaned along its sides in a straight line back to its widest points and junction with the heel of the hoof. My reference is called the Critical Junction of the Heel.
  • The cleaned sole should be concave in profile from the bottom of the sides of the frog, radiating outwards to meet the inside wall of the hoof.
  • This clean sole/hoof wall junction is called the Road Map of the Hoof.
  • This road map in the bottom of the hoof is the mirror image of the pedal bone within the hoof capsule and also the same profile as the normal coronary band.
  • The ground bearing surface of the hoof wall must be of an even thickness outside the white line and from heel to heel.
  • The Centre Point of Balance in the hoof is under the bottom most arc of the coffin joint.
  • In the normal hoof, this Centre Point of Balance bisects the frog in the bottom of the hoof exactly 19mm behind the clean active tip of the frog.
  • The correct hoof will measure equally from that point to the toe, and to a straight line 6mm above the widest points of the frog at the buttresses of the heels (The Critical Heel Junction)
  • My HOOF-LINE Ruler is calibrated so that when it is placed on the active tip of the frog these measurements can be easily identified.