Category Archives: Hoof Problems

hoof problems

MEDIAL LATERAL CHANGES IN THE BOTTOM OF THE HOOF

This is a study of the movement that I have observed which occurs during preparation of the hoof for either shod or unshod purposes.

Many farriers or hoof carers get the blame for having got the levels wrong when trimming the hoof, which then caused the horse to either paddle or dish. The possibility could be that he trimmed the hoof correctly but just put the shoes on too soon. Now if that sounds like a fairytale, then let me explain.

The desired aim in any preparation is to achieve a balanced symmetrical hoof and even heels. Viewed from the rear of the pastern there must be a T-square across the heels and a level plane to the toe.

After trimming, and especially in cases where the hoof wall has been greatly distorted, the horse must be allowed a few minutes to weight bear on the hoof to allow it to settle into its new plane. Assuming you have already achieved the T-square in the back of the hoof, when it is re-examined you may see it is no longer level or the ground bearing surface has moved. This is not a case of your eyes playing tricks with you. The larger and or heavier the horse the more movement there will be; some will actually move out of level three or four times before stabilising.

To explain this movement which occurs in the bottom of the hoof more fully, we need to understand that the pedal bone (or P3 which is the bottom most bone of the horse’s leg) is attached to the hoof capsule by soft tissue or laminae, and when the hoof capsule is allowed to grow or to wear unlevel for any length of time, these flares stretch the laminae on one side and compress it on the other side, while P3 still remains central under the knee joint.

Very few horses have perfectly correct straight legs, but those that do will not develop any distorted re-growth between maintenance periods. For the majority, however, there is a continuing need to restore balance in the hoof. Whenever the cannon bone is offset on the knee joint, there will be a resulting flare in the bottom of the hoof. So often this flare causes the pastern to become turned in or out, as seen in foals. Corrected early enough the majority of deviated pasterns will straighten up.

The prime objective must always be to achieve the T-square at the heels so that they will land evenly; even if the horse is turned in or turned out both heels must land at exactly the same moment.

We understand that in the foundered hoof the pedal bone has a tendency to rotate downwards at the tip, so we must also be aware that in the hoof which has a lateral/outside flare the pedal bone will move to the inside/medial to align itself within a position of balance under the upper leg, and with an inside/medial flare the pedal bone will move to the outside/lateral position within the hoof capsule.

Having corrected the flares and prepared the hoof within balance, leave two or three millimeters height in the hoof wall all around then allow the horse to bear weight for a few minutes. This will give the pedal bone time to settle into the corrected plane of the hoof capsule. Then re-inspect the lateral/medial balance and the T-square of the heels and re-correct any distortion which has occurred because of the pedal bone movement within the hoof capsule.

To reiterate, the greater the correction and the heavier the horse, the more movement will occur and the more delay should be given between dressing the hoof and fitting the shoe if we expect to achieve a correct leg action.

HORSE HEALTH STARTS WITH CORRECT HOOF CARE

Watching the tennis in January illustrated to me how crucial it is for the players to be structurally sound as well as in peak physical form. It is exactly the same for horses – it is hard enough to win at competition level at any time without any physical disadvantages getting in the way.

If you know what to look for, then when looking at a new horse, your eyes should start at ground level and work up. This will save you a lot of time and heartbreak, and ultimately save you a lot of money. Horses are an expensive luxury item, and to own a high maintenance horse is even more expensive.

Eliminate any horse from your consideration if it has any conformation problems.

A conformation problem is one that is bred into the horse and cannot be altered.

These conformation problems often cause lameness and ultimately shorten the competitive working life of the horse. The main conformation problems to look for are:

  • Offset cannon bones

  • Base wide

  • Base narrow

  • Pigeon toes

  • Knock knees

  • Club foot

A trimming problem can look like a conformation problem, but can be resolved. The most common trimming problems are:

  • Cow hocked

  • Splay footed

  • Long toes

  • Low heels

  • Contracted heels

Nearly all of the above mentioned trimming problems are caused by not correctly balancing the hoof. Often a horse that is standing crooked can be bought cheaply and improved dramatically in value and performance simply by correctly balancing the feet. So it is important to recognise the difference between conformation problems and trimming problems.

A combination of conformation problem and trimming problem will exacerbate the problem, and may cause the horse to break down early. To give one example: offset canon bones cause toe out or toe in, and may result in lameness. The effects of this can be minimised by correctly balancing the feet, but conversely can be worsened by incorrect trimming.

The ideal conformation to look for is

  • Straight legs

  • Parallel hoof pastern angle

  • Standing straight behind

If you get into the habit of looking at every horse from the ground up, you will learn to automatically identify conformation problems and trimming problems before they become your problems.

MANAGING DRY HOOVES IN DRY TIMES

Horses’ hooves are a natural barometer in tune with nature, and if we as hoof carers can also tune into nature and be vigilant and observant, it will be noticed that the sole and the hoof wall have reacted differently in this current climate to protect itself from the prolonged dry conditions.

Let us consider the sole first, as this is the first part we should address when preparing any hoof. In a normal year the sole will grow thicker as the hoof wall grows down, then it begins to get crumbly and (with a bit of help from the ground surfaces and encouragement from a sole knife) it will exfoliate to give the sole a concave appearance. The hoof wall is then left longer above the sole to bear weight as it is intended to do, and only needs to be trimmed into shape to control any external flaring.

However because of the long dry period we are experiencing now, Mother Nature has hedged her bets as to when the ground surfaces are ever going to be soft again, and so is not allowing the old sole to come away, giving the hoof more protection from underneath. This has had the resultant effect of also allowing the hoof wall to become longer and in some cases more flared at the toe and the sides and as a result the horse’s mobility becomes very unstable. (Pic 1)

It is at this point where we need to intervene in order to restore the natural flexibility of the hoof. The barefoot trimmers incorrectly maintain that the horse needs heaps of sole callous and they won’t remove it. However, sole callous builds up for the reasons I have explained, and when it has gone too far it results in big ugly hooves and lack of mobility.

As an indication of just how we have messed up the workings of Mother Nature, go and open the stable gate and allow the horse to go wherever it chooses and you will see it head for the nearest dam, to soak its hooves and get some flexibility back in the soles and walls by rehydrating them with water, and in a short space of time all excess sole build up will drop out leaving a free moving concave sole.

However this creates a problem with the hoof wall, as it is long and totally unprotected by the now exfoliated sole and it will either split between the flares or break away and tear unevenly often causing lameness (Pic 2) so it must be trimmed to eliminate this stress. If the hoof is to be left unshod, leave three to four millimetres of wall above the trimmed sole or for shoe preparation one millimetre above the trimmed sole. (Pic 3)

The resolution of the problem of excess sole buildup in these dry times is quite simple. Remove excess sole when it becomes weight bearing especially in the bar area as the bars will bend outwards and crack and become infected. When the sole is too hard and dry to be taken out with a sole knife it must still be removed, so delicately use a sole chisel and hammer (Pic 4) to get under the crusty old sole and bar; it will come away easily if it is ready to, then you can control the hoof wall length and avoid costly flaring problems, and you will still be working within nature’s requirements. (The sole chisel is one of the most effective tools used by farriers in the past, but sadly it is mostly unheard of nowadays.)

If you should dare to trim the hoof wall back into shape for unshod or shod preparation without first preparing the sole you are making the horse bear weight on its sole and it will very soon develop bruising in that area.

I have seen countless horses lately with bumbly action problems where all I have had to do is remove the excess sole and overgrown bars to rectify this. The standard excuse that ‘it is too hard and dry so I will leave it there till next time’ is just not good enough for the horse.

PREDICTABLE HOOF RELATED LAMENESS

There are three main problems in hoof care today

  1. Long toes and low heels

  2. High heels and short toes

  3. The presence of flares

It is this last problem of FLARES that causes most lameness problems associated with the hoof. The guideline is that a flare anywhere in the hoof is your greatest enemy.

For example, the pigeon toed horse develops a flare on the inside toe quarter, resulting in the diagonally opposite heel (or the outside heel) becoming crushed and rolled forward. This can result in a stress crack above that heel and a flare to the inside heel. (Pic 1 and 2) To correct this, we often tend to build up that low outside heel, but in fact we should reduce the flare diagonally opposite which has caused the problem. The resolution may be to completely remove the separated area of hoof capsule and fit a supporting bar shoe to allow the hoof to recover without pressure in the affected area.

Impact related stress cracks appear horizontally below the coronary band; they may either be in the heel area, or in the toe area. Once again they are the result of imbalance in the hoof. High heels cause the concussion in that area due to the hoof landing too early, before the leg is completely straight. Horizontal cracks in the front of the hoof may also be caused by high heels, causing short toes which result in the flight of the hoof breaking over early, travelling too high, and landing very short with high impact. This is often the resultant effect of horses shod with square toed shoes or trimmed with squared toes.

Many quarter cracks are a result of pressure caused by imbalance in the hoof which is usually diagonally opposite the affected area. (Pic 3) Again, the resolution of a quarter crack may be to completely remove the separated area of hoof capsule and fit a supporting bar shoe. Impact related quarter cracks are always the result of flares at the heel.

In Pic 4 we see the distorted heel height caused by a deviated pastern. The flare will always reoccur in the direction of the deviation. Left unattended, these horses are at great risk of the hoof quartering at the heel. The resolution of this is to trim the heels to a level T-square in line with the deviation in the pastern, thus allowing the heels to land level without excessive pressure.

Toe flares cause cracks (Pic 5) resulting in hoof wall separation progressing to an abscess and then to Seedy Toe. (Pic 6) This will be a long term lameness problem requiring a high degree of care and attention.

The resolution of all these problems is to not allow flares to develop in any part of the hoof, even on a crooked legged horse. Pic 7 shows an even hoof wall thickness which is stress free and will eliminate at least 90% of hoof related lameness problems.

It IS possible to achieve an even thickness of hoof wall on ANY horse.

FLARES ARE YOUR GREATEST ENEMY

The failure to understand and address this area in hoof maintenance programmes for many decades has led to a multitude of ongoing lameness problems, and has been the catalyst for so many bad trimming and shoeing outcomes for too many farriers and hoof carers.

Just for the exercise, go and have a look in that pile of old horse shoes behind the shed, you will find some of the most amazing shapes and creations, all man made alterations to cater to the distorted hoof shapes.

Less than one percent of horses’ hooves have genuine hoof deformities and these are the result of accidents causing damage to the coronary band which results in permanent distortion to the new growth area and hoof wall shape.

Lack of understanding of what is the normal hoof shape is the biggest problem. If we can just look at the hair line shape of the coronary band and realise that the bottom or ground surface of the hoof should be the same shape then it will help when trimming to reduce the flaring.

Remember that the hoof wall is actually millions of tiny hair fibres bonded together. While these fibres are straight they are strong, but if they are allowed to grow too long they bend and begin to form into a flare; then they become weak and lose their ability to bear weight correctly.

Often in a white foot you will notice redness (bruising) where the side walls begin to flare; this is not actual bruising, it is sub-surface bleeding caused by the hoof wall tearing away from the sensitive laminae which bonds that hoof wall to the pedal bone. It is also causing great pain in the hoof, yet because we haven’t understood this, we then beat the heck out of a shoe to make it fit this odd shaped hoof, then expect the poor horse to work all sorts of miracles and faithfully carry his rider and endure the pain.

When you consider that the horseshoe manufacturers have spent millions of dollars to create a user-friendly horseshoe that mirrors the image of the coronary band, then surely we should ask ourselves why we need to alter it so radically.

When we look at the mess we have created, it is little wonder that all the alternatives to traditional shoeing have come to the surface in the last decade or so. However these are only inadequate band aids and don’t address the real cause of lameness.

The truly qualified tradesman farrier applying the simple basic principles of hoof balance should not encourage flares in the hoof wall so he should always end up fitting a symmetrical shoe that mirrors the shape of the ideal coronary band.

Every alternative method which seeks to change the ground bearing edges of the hoof contrary to the shape of the coronary band profile has a cost to the horse’s mobility sooner or later.

Failure to keep dressing the hoof to its correct shape leads to distortion which causes flaring which causes hoof wall separation which causes abscesses, hoof wall cracks, seedy toe, inflamed laminae and even rotated pedal bones. This is why it is so vitally important to dress the hoof properly in the beginning.

The good news is that I have yet to find a badly distorted hoof which can’t be improved in the short term or completely restored to normal with a bit of time and understanding. In an extreme example (see Pics 1 & 2) the outside heel had cracked due to a large flare. The heel quarter was removed (Pic 3). The heel flare was taken up as high as possible to reduce all bearing weight off the heel quarter.

A triple clipped shoe tempered on the affected side only, to stop any distortion and to float over the heel, was fitted onto the balanced hoof (Pics 4 & 5). While this was an extreme case, and the shoe did need to be reshaped to fit the distortion, the hoof now has a good chance of ultimately ending up symmetrical and with a symmetrical shoe.

The age old saying that prevention is better than cure is certainly true when dressing the hoof for any preparation, whether shod or unshod. Take the time to asses the hoof correctly and don’t allow flares to take hold – ultimately they will let both you and your horse down.

FLARES IN THE HORSE’S HOOF – NORMAL OR NATURAL?

There is no such thing as a ‘Normal Flare’ or a ‘Natural Flare’ in any horse’s hoof.

Making a statement like that in public in this 21st century will provoke a predictable reaction, which it is meant to do because only then can we begin to examine that statement.

The first step is to understand what a flare is: a flare exists when any part of the ground-contacting edge of the hoof wall becomes long and bends out of shape compared to the normal shape of the correct coronary band shape. The pedal bone shape imitates the white line shape and they both imitate the coronary band shape to give the horse its normal natural hoof shape.

The second thing to understand is what causes a hoof to bend out of shape and become flared: It is directly related to leg alignment and is common to most horses (Pic 1). There are very few horses without some degree of error from the knee down; as a working farrier I might see only one horse with perfect conformation in the space of a whole weeks work. The reality is that very few horse owners will accept the fact that their horse has any alignment issues in the leg bones, and tend to prefer to put any problems down to the inadequacies of bad hoof care providers, often quite incorrectly.

When we look at a normal straight fore leg (Pic 2) the top of the cannon bone is set in the centre under the knee joint, and looking down the leg we see that the pastern is set in the centre of the fetlock joint and is in a straight line with the cannon bone; as a result of all this the hoof will be an equal normal shape around the pedal bone, and so requires very little corrective maintenance to remain balanced.

However if the top of the cannon bone is set to the outside under the knee joint it results in the pedal bone forming a position directly under the forearm above the knee, (which is nature’s way of stabilising the imperfect leg) so this then centres the pedal bone to the outside section of the hoof, and sets up the hoof to begin flaring to the inside or to stand toed-in or pigeon toed, and flared to the inside. It may also cause the pastern to deviate either way; that is, turning in or out depending on the width of the horse’s chest (Pic 1 again)

If the cannon bone is positioned to the inside (or the outside) under the knee joint, the pedal bone will be in line with the centre of the bottom of the forearm (nature’s compensation) causing the hoof to stand toed out or splayed out, and flared to the outside (OR toed in or pigeon toed and flared to the inside). This toed out stance is more common to the narrow chested horse (Pic 3).

Thus the FLARE is the EFFECT of a conformation issue and needs good management to keep it under control. It may seem like splitting hairs, but flares have no place in the horse’s hoof for any reason.

I am not suggesting that horses with offset cannon bones or deviated pasterns are going to be lame or unfit for work or competition, but they will certainly need a higher degree of hoof care and it must be done regularly. Regardless of which way the hoof capsule is flaring towards, the heels must be kept level and form a T-square or be perpendicular with a straight line down the back of the pastern. Then correct the flare to the inside or outside of the hoof to achieve a normal shape.

The flares which occur as a result of leg bone misalignment can be easily controlled, as long as we have an understanding of what they are being caused from, and as long as we realise that they will always be reoccurring.

Early assessment of the foals’ legs is by far most important course of action, as a lot of deviated leg issues can be corrected at that stage.

HOW TO PREVENT PEAK PERFORMANCE

There are six bad habits creeping into hoof preparation and the fitting of shoes.

1. Quarter clipped shoes, rolled toe and square toed shoes.

2. Deliberate spooning of the heels on work shoes and race plates.

3. Leaving bar pressure under the heels.

4. Not achieving a T-square at the heels.

5. Not eliminating flares everywhere in the hoof.

6. Using shoes that are too heavy and with nail holes set too coarse for the white line.

Now let me explain in more detail the detrimental effects of these six main problems for the horse.

  1. The quarter clipped shoe has a clip either side of the central point of the toe, usually situated between the second and third nail hole in the shoe. They are being used in the belief that they help stabilize a shoe on horses which have a tendency to pull shoes. While this may be true in some cases, in all cases they inhibit the expansion of the hoof wall in that area of the toe quarters. To add to the problem these shoes have a tendency to be slightly squared off at the toe which alters the normal profile of the hoof. I have found that the effect of using quarter clipped shoes causes pressure points to the coronary band directly above these clips and to the bottom of the hoof by way of restricted movement. Rolled toe and square toed shoes have their place in helping to treat lower leg injuries and some abnormal gait problems, however they should not be used on every horse as a bandaid instead of taking the extra care to simply balance the hoof to correct any over-reaching or forging faults.

  1. Spooning or arching the heels on ANY shoe is wrong. The horse must be able to bear weight evenly on the complete ground surface of the hoof wall to be comfortable and sound, so if the ground surface of the hoof is level the shoe must be level to fit it. Ask the question as to why people deliberately spoon the heels on shoes and you will be told that its to stop the horse from pulling its shoe by over-reaching or catching it in the fence, or sucking them off in the mud, or that it helps to keep the shoe tight when it is nailed and clenched; some truly believe that by fitting a perfectly flat shoe to the hoof, the process of nailing and clenching buckles the shoe and lifts the heels of the shoe off the heels of the hoof so if they spoon the shoe at the heels then nailing it on will cause the shoe to flatten and be level. My observation has been that whenever an unlevel shoe has been fitted, the horse is eventually lame; when the shoe is removed it is still very bent at the heels, there are always signs of pressure at the buttresses of the heels and these horses are not comfortable working and certainly won’t win in competition. Spooning or bending any shoe at the heels causes extreme pressure in that area and is simply a bad habit that must not be allowed to continue.

  1. Leaving bar pressure at the heels happens if the bars are not trimmed sufficiently when preparing the sole at the time of shoeing. These bars grow 1/3 faster than the hoof wall – nature has designed it that way to support the rear part of the hoof, (which in its native environment was never meant to be fitted with a shoe, thus in that mode the bars were trimmed down naturally). With shoe fitting, these bars must be trimmed so as not to be weight bearing under the heels of the shoe for the period of wearing a shoe. Bruised heels and corns will be the result of bar pressure and the horse will not work correctly. Add to this the spooning of the shoe at the heels and you will have a disaster for the horse and a very frustrated trainer.

  1. Failure to achieve a T-square at the heels. When viewed down the back of the pastern a correctly prepared hoof should be level across the heel buttresses – failure to achieve this causes the hoof to land unevenly and results in excessive pressure to the lateral or medial cartilages. This is evident by a swelling just above the coronary band above the high side of the un-level heel.

  1. Failure to eliminate flares anywhere in the hoof results in pressure in that part of the hoof wall. When viewed from the bottom or sole aspect the hoof wall should be an even thickness all the way around, wherever it is thicker there will be a flare above that area and a bend in the exterior wall of the hoof. If the shoe is shaped to fit out to a flare, the hoof will remain unbalanced and the nails will always be low because they are starting off outside the white line, hence the shoe will always be unstable and move. Remember a flare anywhere in the hoof is your greatest enemy. Flares cause hoof wall separation and cracks and lameness.

    Flares
    5. FLARE
  1. Using shoes that are too heavy. The guideline for correct shoe weight is and always has been that a shoe should be as light as is possible to allow the horse to perform its task. This rule seems to have been lost with the influence of many of the European type shoes readily available in Australia. A shoe is only a protective wear plate so really it only needs to be covering the wearing surface of the hoof; however the prevalent mindset now seems to be that ‘the horse needs plenty of support’ and shoes are being used that are far too heavy and which have a nail pattern that puts the nails not only inside the white line but inside the sensitive laminae. To add to the insult to the hoof they are quarter clipped as well, just to make sure nothing moves anywhere. No wonder these poor horses don’t want to work freely.

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6. SHOE FAR TOO HEAVY


In summary these comments are observations formed after being called to consult on horses which are not working to their owners’ expectations, and all of which have improved dramatically simply by observing and eliminating these six basic problems.

THE HOOF AFTER THE FLOODS

STAGE 1:

Nature really is a fierce adversary. The after effects of horses’ hooves standing in water for long periods is causing much anxiety among horse owners, so we need to know how to deal with it.

To understand try this, go get the dry sponge on your sink and wet it and of course it expands. The hoof wall is made of hair fibres, and while the density of the hoof wall is its strength under normal conditions, when it is subjected to excessive water without relief it swells then becomes soft and warps in all directions, just like the sponge.

It begins to bend about a third of the way up from the bottom; this is flaring outwards. Separation occurs from the laminae (hoof wall separation) and then to add to the problem, the sole also expands in the wet conditions and bulges downwards.

The horse becomes lame from walking on the sole, then abscesses develop under the sole or at the hoof wall separation area and it is not a happy situation.

The first move, if circumstances permit, is to get the horses hooves out of the water or out of the wet ground as soon as possible. The second is to trim the excess sole and then trim the flares back to re-establish strength in the lower hoof wall, where delamination of the outer hoof wall has occurred.

Nailing on shoes may be difficult unless a long slim nail is used to place the clinches higher into solid hoof wall.

You will need to be patient with Mother Nature – wait a while, it will all pass when she is ready.

STAGE 2:

Now that the ground is no longer water logged the sun has hard baked the ground and horses are in trouble again.

Overly wet hooves have flared out in all directions and the soles have dropped, or swelled down, so now the horses are walking on hard ground with, in many cases, full sole/ground contact; this causes sole abscesses, so the soles need to be trimmed back to be as concave as you can get them, along with controlling any flares in the hoof wall.

If an abscess is present in the sole DO NOT go and carve a big hole in the sole to relieve it as this causes a massive after care problem with infection. It is preferable to use a poultice to draw out any infection or inflammation, and to leave the sole unpunctured.

Fitting an underpad may be necessary at a later stage if the horse is in work.

DOES THE HOOF SUIT THE EVENT?

Far too often the hoof does NOT suit the event and the end result is a very mediocre level of performance for the horse and a bewildered rider.

This is as much an owner/rider judgment problem as well as a farrier’s lack of attention in advising the client, but first the farrier needs to know how the client expects the horse to perform in order that he can set up the correct hoof care procedures.

The pleasure horse is about 80% of today’s horse population but probably less than 20% of their owners have grown up with horses and know how important correct hoof care can be. So many others who own and ride their horses haven’t yet seen the need to understand what is below the girth, so this puts a lot of responsibility on the farrier to educate his clients about hoof care which in turn allows them to fulfill their duty of care to the horse and also be a much more involved client for the farrier.

We need only to look at our own footwear needs in selecting a variety of footwear appropriate for us to perform our different tasks and be competitive to understand this problem for equine footwear.

The variable factor with horses of course is that the hoof is constantly growing and can change its shape in doing so. The challenge then, is for the farrier or hoof carer to fully understand the anatomy and function of the horse’s lower leg and to prepare the hoof correctly balanced to enhance its free movement and not to inhibit it, then if shoes are required, to fit the most appropriate type to further enhance performance.

The re-growth in a hoof is fairly predictable; a horse which has long sloping pasterns such as the stock horse or thoroughbred or anglo-arab will always have more toe growth than in the heel, so at the nominal six week re shoeing these horses have already been stumbling/forging/over reaching and the front of the hoof is beginning to show signs of flaring and their action is really suffering.

The correct action should be to restore the balance in the hoof by dressing the toes back and leaving the heels as they are probably already too low then to fit an appropriate shoe.

A horse with short upright pasterns will predictably re-grow a lot of heel and very little toe length, and at the six week re shoeing period these types will be very short in their action and tending to forge, so the balance needs to be restored by lowering the heels and leaving the toes.

Horses with off-set cannon bones will predictably re-grow either an inside or an outside flare because nature is trying to re-grow the hoof capsule back into a weight bearing position below the knee; in these cases the hoof still just needs to be balanced from side to side or the medial/lateral aspect to restore normal action.

All these points will be taken into account already by the true professional farrier or horseman, but in general we are a long way off getting any correct standards for the simple task of trimming and or shoeing; far too many people who are in the industry of hoof care either full time or part time including those bare footing, are still getting it wrong for the horse, and the obvious reason seems to be that they do not understand the simple basic principles which nature has given us to work with to maintain soundness in these superb athletes.

This statement may offend some people, but before you get your knickers in a twist just look behind you; IF after you have trimmed or shod a horse it is unsound for immediate work, then you must have done something wrong and all the subsequent reasons you can come up with are just excuses and are not acceptable – just read the horse’s body language, he is trying to tell you that something is not right.

So now let’s look at a horse lining up for the big three day event. I notice he is shod with heavy flat shoes with rolled toes and each shoe has stud holes in each heel;

I have been asked by the owner or rider to check the horse as she is not comfortable that his action is sound; having been shod three weeks ago he is not lame but he is moving like a heavy carthorse and plodding.

He has long sloping pasterns and low heels so the recurring toe length has always been an issue. Measuring the bottom of the hoof shows that even with the rolled toe shoe (which is intended to speed up breakover) it is 1.5 cm longer in the toe than the heel. This immediately explains the poor action, because the heavy flat shoes, supposedly for support, are not the right shoes for eventing as they have no grip on varying ground conditions; so then studded heels have been requested for grip, which is wrong again. The shoe should be as light as is possible to allow the horse to do the work and it should be a high carbon concave which will stay free of dirt build up thus will be able to grip on any surfaces, and hence doesn’t need to be fitted with studs.

The resolution of the problem was to simply remove the excess sole which allowed the toe of the hoof to be shortened and lowered. This reduced the pressure at the heels, the hoof then had a 50/50 balance with a normal round toe shape and a parallel hoof/pastern angle, then I fitted a light weight concave set of shoes; the owner then worked the horse and found the action was completely restored to better than she ever expected, with the comment that the horse was now very light on the forehand and felt like he was floating in his movement.

The lesson is quite simple: a correctly balanced hoof should have a parallel angle to the pastern, have no flares and the ground bearing edge should be a mirror image of the normal shaped coronary band. Whether the horse is shod or unshod the sole must be concave and the bars trimmed to bear no weight on the ground. If shoes are not required you must leave some hoof wall for the horse to walk on.

There are literally dozens of ways to shoe a horse, but there is only one way to get the best performance for the horse and rider – see what you are looking at and learn to recognise what is normal then keep it simple.

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CLUB FEET – THE BRUTAL TRUTH

After pussy footing around and skirting sensitive issues with delicate statements, there finally comes a time when the only thing to do is to be brutally honest, and this certainly applies to the club footed horse. I have written several articles on how to maintain the club footed horse, and I have always stated categorically that the owner has to realise that a club footed horse is a high maintenance horse for life.

However, I still receive more queries about club footed horses than about any other hoof problem. The queries are generally raised because the owner is about to buy the horse, or has bought the horse, or wants to breed from the horse or the foal has just arrived. The hoof is always ‘a little boxy’ and the query is always ‘but it can be fixed cant it?

The brutal truth is NO a club foot can’t be fixed, and YES it will be a club foot for life.

It is usually impossible to get into a discussion of what has caused the club foot, as the owners of both sire and dam will vigorously deny that any history of club footedness ever existed back along both lines. However, the brutal truth is that most club feet are genetic and while it may have skipped one or two or even three generations, it will eventually resurface.

I have one client with two mares, the mother with sound feet and the daughter with a club foot which the owners had assumed was a non-genetic deformity. Now both mother and daughter have produced foals each with one club foot. I first saw the foals when they were four weeks old, and commented on the club feet which had not been noticed by the owners. On measuring the bottom of the hoof with the HOOF-LINE, it was impossible to achieve balance in the clubbed foot. As the foals have grown older, the hooves have become more clubbed and harder to achieve anything close to a balanced measurement. As mature horses these two foals will be definitely club footed – one is a colt, the other is a filly, and they will probably both be bred from if they are sold, thus perpetuating the problem.

The club foot can range from those that are barely noticeable to the extreme of the foot pointing backwards. But the barely noticeable club foot may come out in a later generation as an extreme club foot.

It is also totally unfair to blame the farrier for the club foot. Many owners are totally unaware that their foal has a club foot until it is pointed out to them, often after 12 months or more. High heels in a normal hoof are very different from the high heels of a club foot, and poor trimming does not result in a club foot. Poor trimming can be corrected, whereas a club foot cannot be corrected.

In the genetic club footed horse, the cannon bone of the clubby foot is slightly shorter and so too is the tendon shorter than the normal leg. Thus the heel will always be taller and the toe will always be shorter than the normal leg. Efforts to lower the heel only ever produce stress in the tendon, and possible lameness until the heel re-grows to contact the ground. If we try and encourage toe length to force the heel down, it immediately flares at the toe and causes hoof wall separation in that area.

However, if we simply balance the club foot, and put it where nature intended it to be, the horse will be sound but will have an uneven gait and will ALWAYS have an uneven gait because the club foot steps slightly shorter. The club footed hoof is a high maintenance hoof and generally this hoof will need to be re-balanced at much shorter intervals than the normal hoof to maintain soundness.

In an ideal world, IF we could view the hooves of both parents AND the four grandparents when purchasing a horse, then it may be possible to avoid buying a club footed horse. But since that is generally not possible, then why would anyone want to part with money for a horse with a hoof that ‘is a little boxy’.

If you want a horse for competition of any sort, for breeding or for showing, then no matter how nice an eye that horse has, or how good its breeding sounds, or how nice its nature is, you MUST start by looking at the hooves. In my mind, it is insanity to buy any horse without seeing it in the flesh, but if you really must do this then ask for photographs of the horse on a hard level surface (not in four inches of grass), ask for a video of the horse working, ask for close-up photos of the hooves, ask for photos of the soles as well, and ask on internet forums for any information on other progeny.

If this all sounds so obvious, then why do so many people ask me whether I can fix their club footed horse so they can use it for dressage, or for breeding or for showing? A club foot is a DEFORMITY and for any horse to win at top level competition it needs every possible advantage and no drawbacks.

The only way to stop continuing problems with club footed horses is not to breed from them. After 11 months of gestation, it is a costly and heart breaking exercise if it results in a club footed foal. If you do have a club footed foal then do the right thing and don’t breed from it. If only everyone had the courage to do this, then the problem of club feet would diminish.

HOOF CARE FOR THE CLUB FOOTED HORSE

With the club footed horse, the first thing to understand is that the horse has a deformity and as such it is always going to need a high degree of hoof maintenance, for the term of its natural life. To identify the club foot we must know what is considered ‘normal’ and then compare the difference. When a normal hoof is in balance, the front of the hoof wall will be in line with the front of the pastern, whereas in the club foot this straight line is broken from the coronet down to the toe, and the heel appears much higher.

There are many reasons why horses are afflicted with one or two club feet; some are born that way through genetics, and most owners will vigorously deny that this trait was ever present in their bloodline, however when historical photos of previous generations are studied it will show up three or four generations back. Another group of these club footed horses is simply the result of hoof or leg injuries, and then there is a small group who have very upright pasterns and are thought to have club feet because of misunderstood trimming in leaving the heels too high.

The foal born with a disposition to display a club foot should be given a few weeks to see if the condition improves to normal; if it fails to develop a correct angle by the age of four weeks you can assume that the deep flexor tendon is still contracted. This will be causing the heels to grow high and the toe to become short or stumpy, thus the heels need to be lowered as much as possible, down to the junction of the widest point of the frog to help get the frog into ground contact and this will need to be repeated every two weeks. Despite all these efforts you will still be likely to end up with a club footed adult who requires high maintenance for life.

It is amazing how horses can adapt their action to get around a handicap such as a club foot. Many of them go on to be top performers with no hint of lameness even though they are stepping slightly short on that leg.

Injuries to the tendon or heel bulbs which cause the horse to point its toe and rest the heel off the ground for any length of time will often cause what looks like a club foot, and if this is not corrected quickly it can develop into that conformity.

The club foot if not correctly balanced will cause problems such as contracted frogs and heels, lameness from the high heels causing concussion from landing too early, which also causes neck and shoulder and back strain. If it is shod it will often forge or over reach and pull shoes off.

To achieve balance in the normal hoof, find the active tip of the frog (which is where the frog meets the live or clean sole), then mark a point 19mm back from that point – this is the centre of balance in the hoof. The sole must be concave from the frog out to the hoof wall. The hoof wall must be of an even thickness (approximately 4mm). The measurement from the outer toe wall to the centre point of balance can now be used to determine exactly where to trim the heels to, for example if the toe length measures 6cm from the centre then measure six centimetres in a straight line down the middle of the hoof back to the heel. When these two halves of the bottom of the hoof are equal the hoof/pastern angle will be parallel and an x-ray will show the front of the pedal bone will be in line with the front of the hoof wall and the bottom of pedal bone will be raised by about five degrees at the rear from being ground parallel.

In the club foot because the deep flexor tendon is contracted, the x-ray will show that the pedal bone angles are quite different, the front is not in line with the hoof wall, the tip is pointing down and the rear part is much greater than five degrees. Put simply, the heels will need to be lowered and any flare corrected at the toe. To achieve this, follow exactly the same procedure as for a normal hoof balance i.e trim the sole, correct the toe thickness and length, then use this measurement to tell you where to lower the heels to; this should also now put the frog into ground contact which is critical to the prevention of contracted heels and correct blood circulation in the hoof.

In the occasional event where the toe of the club foot has been so worn away that it is squared off and thus not measurable, reverse the process, lower the heels to just above the widest points of the frog, then measure from a straight line across the new heel buttresses to the 19mm point of balance. This measurement will show where the actual toe should be; if shoes are to be fitted, that is where the front of the shoe must be and the rear of the shoe must fit exactly at the new heels.

The club foot can be difficult to maintain, because it is usually contracted in the heels and has very little angle to its side walls. It is a mistake to leave the shoes wider so that the hoof will spread, as this only invites the shoe to be pulled off during work or play. The best you can do is to balance the hoof correctly which will keep the frog down on the ground which will prevent heel contraction. Also don’t use a shoe which is too thick and heavy as it will put unnecessary stress on a fragile hoof wall.

The important thing to remember is that in a foal, early recognition and appropriate action are vital, and that a club footed horse is a high maintenance horse but managed properly will still do his very best for you. From a farrier’s perspective, my advice to the breeders and owners is to be very selective and cull out bad conformation.

CREEPING TOES

Creeping Toes sounds like it might be a fungal growth or an alien invasion, however it is my terminology for a problem that is creeping into the world of hoof care.

Creeping Toes answers a lot of questions when related to the long toe/low heel problems, and it would seem that the majority of us just don’t recognise where the actual sole line should be at the front of the hoof.

If you look at the cleaned out sole of the hoof that is due to be trimmed, and if you view it as a saucer held up and nearly full of water, the level there is an even water level line all around the edge. This describes where that junction of the cleaned out sole should meet the laminae/white line at the inside edge of the hoof wall, known as the true road map in the bottom of the hoof.

However in the untrimmed hoof you will see that this line of sole/hoof wall junction appears to be lower along the sides of the sole and rises at the toe section and the heels, so it is giving the distorted impression that the sole has a curved plane towards the toe.

If we attempt to level a hoof using this junction of the sole at the toe (Pic 1) we have left the front of the hoof too high and it will also be too long. When this is repeated at each preparation the toes will creep out longer and longer.

PIC 1. CREEPING TOE CREEPING SOLE
PIC 1. CREEPING TOE CREEPING SOLE

Many people mistakenly believe that the side walls of the hoof are normally weaker or thinner and that the toe wall is thicker; however in the correctly balanced hoof which has been maintained regularly there is an even thickness of the hoof wall from heel to heel and it never breaks away at the sides.

This is how this whole problem of the creeping toes evolves, and it is inherently linked to the long toe/low heel syndrome.

In order to find the correct height of the hoof wall at the toe, that piece of sole callous (Pic 2) must be removed to show that the true line of the hoof/sole junction is level. (Pic 3) The hoof wall may then be trimmed to either unshod or shoe fitting height, then to achieve the correct toe length the hoof must be rasped to an even thickness outside the white line, and the heels should then be adjusted to obtain a level ground bearing surface of the hoof wall.

The Creeping Toe Syndrome is the cause of laminitis in the front section and low or under-run heels; it is also the cause of weak side walls because the long toe pulls forwards and stretches the density of the hoof thickness at the sides; it also creates hoof related back strain as the long toes cause a delayed breakover of the front hooves.

Correcting the toes puts all of these things back to into balance and achieves a correct hoof/pastern angle (Pic 4).

Take the time to identify the true road map in the bottom of the hoof – it is important for the horse, and the shoes will fit better.