Category Archives: Hoof Problems

hoof problems

OVER-REACHING AND FORGING: CAUSE AND CORRECTION

Over-reaching is when the toe of the back foot hits the heel bulbs of the front foot.

Forging is when the toe of the back foot hits the bottom of the front foot.

Both cause an interruption to the horse’s cadence and cause shoes to be pulled during work, and also causes injury and pain to the horse.

Both are caused by imbalance in the bottom of the hoof.

OK that is all pretty easy to determine, but why is it so common?

The answer lies in one or more of a variety of reasons. Often we don’t pare out enough sole in front of the hoof to find the true junction of the clean sole and the hoof wall at the toe, so we don’t trim the toe down short enough or reduce the flaring in the hoof wall after preparing it at the appropriate level for shoe fitting. This causes an imbalance in the front half of the hoof which delays the break over and causes forging and over-reaching.

The level of the bearing surface of the hoof wall for shoe preparation should be one to two millimetres above the clean sole white line hoof wall junction. If you allow the horse to stand on that trimmed hoof for a matter of minutes, you will notice when you lift it again that it has very often moved out of level, or as I refer to this movement, that it has settled into its new position. So before fitting the shoe, we must re-check both the level and the balance in the hoof, and adjust according to this movement to achieve a level balanced hoof.

In most cases, the natural shape of the coronary band will be a guide as to the ground surface of the correctly prepared hoof. Front feet should be round or slightly oval, hind feet should be diamond shaped with no heel flares.

When the sole of the hoof is prepared correctly, 99% of the time the white line will copy the shape of the coronary band, and yet too often we still allow the toe capsule to be thicker and cause an elongated shape in the bottom of the hoof. This will be recognised as long toe causing low heel syndrome and a pointed shape to the front hoof. This should always be corrected.

Often we simply fit rolled or squared toed shoes to correct the problem, however the real resolution may well have been to simply balance the hoof correctly.

We can often overlook the geometric angle of the front of the hoof. It is the front of the hoof which causes so many problems in the heel, because the long toe will cause excessive pressure at the heel.

Think about this – If a hoof wall grows DOWN one millimetre at the toe, it increases two millimetres OUT at the front, so multiplying this, two millimetres excess toe means four millimetres distortion in the hoof, and three millimetres means a massive six millimetre toe distortion. (Pic 1) In some horses this ratio doubles and trebles much quicker, depending on the strength of the hoof wall and the angle of the pastern – a chestnut with soft feet will have a much greater and quicker distortion.

Most horses’ soles can be taken down to the clean waxy surface at the junction of the hoof wall and sole. It is OK to go down to the bottom of the fissure cracks, but no further (Pic 2). But this has to begin at the junction of the live sole and the clean frog to achieve the necessary concavity in the sole. We must understand that as the hoof loads up and expands through frog or ground pressure, the concave sole also moves downwards, hence the need for sole concavity.

If we trim the outer hoof wall low in an attempt to achieve levelness without first concaving the sole, we will end up with a flat footed horse, and a bruised sole.

Too often the sole is not concaved because it is ‘too hard’. This is no excuse.

The resolution for hard soles is to use home made water boots (Pics 3 & 4) – slip a two foot length of car inner tube over the hoof half way up the fetlock, double it under the sole and up the rear of the pastern, fill with two cups of water, then tape around the fetlock with duct tape and leave preferable overnight, or even for two hours will make a huge difference. Also, use a sole chisel and composite hammer to remove the excess sole.

One final point to note – when using blunt tools it is too easy to push too hard and make mistakes. Using a sharp rasp and getting into the habit of always using it lightly will minimise unnecessary mistakes.

(from Australian Stock Horse Journal 2008)

By David Farmilo (Accredited Master Farrier) South Australia

PH 0418 835 186 david@horsefarrier.com.au www.horsefarrier.com.au

Over-reaching is when the toe of the back foot hits the heel bulbs of the front foot.

Forging is when the toe of the back foot hits the bottom of the front foot.

Both cause an interruption to the horse’s cadence and cause shoes to be pulled during work, and also causes injury and pain to the horse.

Both are caused by imbalance in the bottom of the hoof.

OK that is all pretty easy to determine, but why is it so common?

The answer lies in one or more of a variety of reasons. Often we don’t pare out enough sole in front of the hoof to find the true junction of the clean sole and the hoof wall at the toe, so we don’t trim the toe down short enough or reduce the flaring in the hoof wall after preparing it at the appropriate level for shoe fitting. This causes an imbalance in the front half of the hoof which delays the break over and causes forging and over-reaching.

The level of the bearing surface of the hoof wall for shoe preparation should be one to two millimetres above the clean sole white line hoof wall junction. If you allow the horse to stand on that trimmed hoof for a matter of minutes, you will notice when you lift it again that it has very often moved out of level, or as I refer to this movement, that it has settled into its new position. So before fitting the shoe, we must re-check both the level and the balance in the hoof, and adjust according to this movement to achieve a level balanced hoof.

In most cases, the natural shape of the coronary band will be a guide as to the ground surface of the correctly prepared hoof. Front feet should be round or slightly oval, hind feet should be diamond shaped with no heel flares.

When the sole of the hoof is prepared correctly, 99% of the time the white line will copy the shape of the coronary band, and yet too often we still allow the toe capsule to be thicker and cause an elongated shape in the bottom of the hoof. This will be recognised as long toe causing low heel syndrome and a pointed shape to the front hoof. This should always be corrected.

Often we simply fit rolled or squared toed shoes to correct the problem, however the real resolution may well have been to simply balance the hoof correctly.

We can often overlook the geometric angle of the front of the hoof. It is the front of the hoof which causes so many problems in the heel, because the long toe will cause excessive pressure at the heel.

Think about this – If a hoof wall grows DOWN one millimetre at the toe, it increases two millimetres OUT at the front, so multiplying this, two millimetres excess toe means four millimetres distortion in the hoof, and three millimetres means a massive six millimetre toe distortion. (Pic 1) In some horses this ratio doubles and trebles much quicker, depending on the strength of the hoof wall and the angle of the pastern – a chestnut with soft feet will have a much greater and quicker distortion.

Most horses’ soles can be taken down to the clean waxy surface at the junction of the hoof wall and sole. It is OK to go down to the bottom of the fissure cracks, but no further (Pic 2). But this has to begin at the junction of the live sole and the clean frog to achieve the necessary concavity in the sole. We must understand that as the hoof loads up and expands through frog or ground pressure, the concave sole also moves downwards, hence the need for sole concavity.

If we trim the outer hoof wall low in an attempt to achieve levelness without first concaving the sole, we will end up with a flat footed horse, and a bruised sole.

Too often the sole is not concaved because it is ‘too hard’. This is no excuse.

The resolution for hard soles is to use home made water boots (Pics 3 & 4) – slip a two foot length of car inner tube over the hoof half way up the fetlock, double it under the sole and up the rear of the pastern, fill with two cups of water, then tape around the fetlock with duct tape and leave preferable overnight, or even for two hours will make a huge difference. Also, use a sole chisel and composite hammer to remove the excess sole.

One final point to note – when using blunt tools it is too easy to push too hard and make mistakes. Using a sharp rasp and getting into the habit of always using it lightly will minimise unnecessary mistakes.

THE NATURAL HOOF SHAPE and ‘RIGHT HANDED DISEASE’.

To quote Dr Doug Butler in his book The Principles of Horseshoeing, ‘The hardest thing a farrier has to deal with is making his hands do exactly what his mind and eyes are telling them to do.’ And indeed it seems that as soon as some farriers pick up the sole knife or the nippers or the rasp, from there on the hoof takes on a completely different shape from that which was first intended.

IF we use the rasp too heavily when dressing the front of the hoof and IF, instead of just correcting the thickness at the toe, we allow the rasp to continue the stroke to go past the toe section and along the side walls, the hoof will have a correct toe but narrow sides and the wrong shape hoof.

When rasping the toe it is important to do just that, and not allow the rasp to travel around the side of the hoof. It may help to mark the outer limits of the toe with a black marker pen to stop that rasp heading around the sides of the hoof.

We should always work towards maintaining a parallel hoof/pastern angle and controlling any flares; to achieve this we need to develop an almost surgically light hand with the rasp.

Use a good sharp rasp and use it very lightly – don’t grip the rasp, just hold it between thumb and forefinger, alternating the strokes from right handed to left handed equally, and this will avoid any tendency to leave the bottom of the hoof windswept (see Diag 1).

Tom Stovall, renowned CJF from Texas, refers to this as RHD or Right Handed Disease and says in his colourful way:

RHD is usually the result of a sharp rasp and fatigue. It’s most often manifest on the right hind when an operator gets a little tired, especially at the end of a long day, and most especially when some ill-broke puke is the last horse of the day and makes the hoof a moving target. It’s the result of an operator’s pushing the rasp down on the lateral edge of the hoof instead of across the hoof and will gut the quarters quicker than Bob can get the news. Occasionally, both hinds may be involved in the presentation, but that presentation presumes a new rasp and a very tired/inept mechanic” (from http://www.horseshoes.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6597).

The rasp isn’t the only culprit, as the other tools all play a part in poor hoof preparation.

I stated in a recent article I wrote entitled ‘Creeping Toe Syndrome’ that the majority of horses front hooves at re-shoeing time will have stretched forwards at the toes, which causes the hoof to slow down at the point of its break over and also puts excessive stress on the supporting tendons, and puts excessive wear at the toe of the shoe – all that is the effect of those long toes.

Viewed from the bottom, the ideal hoof capsule should be an even thickness outside the white line all around (Diag 2) and that is also the same shape as the normal coronary band.

Correct preparation of the sole is the first step and it is somewhat of an art to use the sole knife to do this, taking out the excess flakey sole and excess bars to achieve the right concavity and to then identify where the true junction of the hoof wall/sole is. Too often our hands and the sole knife will do either too much or not enough at this point, so it is important to get it just right.

Picking up the nippers we all know that the hoof wall must be level and flat for shoe fit preparation. If the owner has requested that the horse is to go without shoes for a while, we have to make those hands and nippers leave enough height of hoof wall for the horse to walk on; it may not be all that easy to get an even cut four millimetres above the sole junction all around, but that is where the horse will be comfortable without shoes, so that is where we have to stop.

To finish off the job, too often the rasp flies into action with far too much enthusiasm, and it is too easy to take off far too much with that rasp and undo all that hard work. Again, hold the rasp between thumb and forefinger only.

There are only three basic shapes of the horse’s front hoof and they apply to most breeds: they are either (1) round, (2) oval or (3) egg shaped, and most factory-made front shoes are round in the front half with provision for the heel section to be modified to fit correctly. With oval shaped and egg shaped front foot shapes, you will notice that the coronary band above is usually round, indicating that this is the desired shape of the hoof so you just need to control the flares in the distorted walls. Yes they are flares, and need to be controlled. There is no such thing as a natural flare in the hoof.

The natural shape of the hind hoof has a narrow toe with slightly curved sides back to the heels, and the white line in the bottom of the hoof also confirms this, as does the normal shape of the coronary band of the hinds.

Careful use of the rasp to control this shape is essential to enable the horse to stand straight behind with no outside flare, because that flare will cause the horse to point out cow-hocked (see Diag 3) and to also develop back strain.

Sadly some factory produced hind shoes are now being made with left and right profiles and it is my belief that if we follow their trend, it does not help us to prepare the hoof correctly for the horse. The horse’s hoof is the same as it always has been, but opportunistic marketing will always offer us a bandaid to use instead of doing the job properly in the first place.

In conclusion I stress the need to be fully aware of the expectations of the horse owner and the horse’s mobility before starting the job: use good sharp tools and use them lovingly, don’t use them as weapons of mass destruction.

SHORT FROGS, LONG FROGS AND BENT FROGS

It is often difficult to see what is ‘normal’ in the bottom of the hoof. There are three main problems to consider when we address hoof care issues; they are:

  • The presence of long toes/low heels
  • The presence of high heels/short toes
  • The presence of uncontrolled flares anywhere in the hoof wall.

To begin to understand all this we must first know what is normal when we lift the leg and look at the bottom of the hoof. There should be a symmetrical balance in it- the fronts should be round or slightly oval shape, the hinds should be an even and slightly v- shaped and the hoof wall should be an even thickness outside the white line all around. (Pic 1)

The centre of the hoof is a point exactly 19mm behind the clean tip of the frog and after achieving the correct balance there should be an equal measurement from that point to the toe and from that point to a straight line across the buttress of the heels, plus correct height must be 6mm above the widest part of the frog. (Pic 2)

Also from that same centre point there should be an equal measurement sideways (laterally) to the inside and the outside of the hoof. When all these measurements are equal, the result is that you will have a correct parallel hoof/pastern angle and level and equal heel heights. (Pic 3)

When this normal hoof is x-rayed we can see that the front of the pedal bone is in line with the front of the hoof wall and the tip of the pedal bone is one inch or 25millimetres in front of the active tip of the frog, so when we look at the bottom of the hoof, we can accurately map out where things are because this relative relationship, i.e. the relationship between the tip of frog and the tip of pedal bone never changes. (Pic 4)

So looking at the hoof with a short frog, it is usually the result of an upright pastern or clubby type conformation, where the heels are higher than normal and the heels are contracted and it is inclined to be flared at the toe. This toe flare usually results from trying to make this hoof look like the normal hoof/pastern parallel angle; in reality the short frog means that the tip of the pedal bone is further back from the toe and to achieve a balanced hoof this toe must be shortened, then the heels lowered to suit the 50/50 measurement in the bottom of the hoof. This correctly balanced hoof will not have a parallel hoof/pastern angle but will be clubby.

Short frogs also occur from the effect of founder, because as the pedal bone rotates down and moves back from the toe the sole begins to drop and has the appearance of being convex instead of the normal concave.

The exact opposite is the long frog and these are associated with the long sloping pastern conformation; often the active tip of the frog is not distinct and appears to be welded into the sole at the point. This type of hoof tends to collapse at the heels and become under-run. Soundness requires that the toe be shortened to relieve pressure at the heels or requires the fitting of a graduated shoe to lift the heels; this in turn alters the angle of the pedal bone alignment in relation to the pastern which in turn causes the tip of the pedal bone to move back and so too the tip of the long frog will move back and shorten, maintaining that 1 inch or 25mm relationship.

It seems that as soon as these long frogs begin to shorten, the heel buttresses begin to stand back up to the normal heel profile and the long toes stop reoccurring; x-rays will show that the short pastern bone/ long pastern bone/ pedal bones are now in a correct line.

Looking at what appears to be a crooked frog, it needs to be understood that there is no such thing, and we are simply looking at a distorted hoof capsule which needs to be corrected and balanced laterally/sideways; or to put it simply, it is necessary to trim the hoof to achieve a T-square at the heels and to control the flares anywhere in the hoof capsule. (Pic 5) This out of balance hoof capsule is usually caused from a crooked leg conformation which results in distorted hoof wall – either toed out or toed in, splay footed or pigeon toed. When looking at a dissected hoof capsule, the frog positions itself in the centre of the underside of the pedal bone, which in turn positions itself under the ‘average’ centre of the leg bones; so in reality the frog is always where it is meant to be, and it is the hoof capsule that distorts, nor the frog. For example, if you put your size six foot into my size ten boot and stand on a slope, your foot will slide to the lowest point of my boot, and you will in effect have a flare left over in my boot. So using the external points of the visual frog, this medial/lateral imbalance can be corrected.

Left misunderstood and uncorrected, long frogs, short frogs and crooked frogs will lead on to lameness which should have been corrected immediately if we as hoof carers are truly educated in our profession.

PEDAL OSTEITIS – CAUSE AND EFFECT

Pedal Osteitis is deterioration of the pedal bone (or coffin bone).

Interestingly, I have found the condition is most prevalent in geldings; it seems that after they are gelded their system generates more calcium in the bones of the lower leg, in particular the pedal bone or P3. Lack of frog pressure resulting in reduced blood circulation allows the porous P3 to become calcified, restricting the nerves and causing the horse to become concussion sensitive, particularly when nailing. I have noticed that geldings with Pedal Osteitis gain an erection during the nailing process of shoeing. When the hammering stops the erection disappears. This is a good guide to early detection of Pedal Osteitis.

Of special interest are the horses which show intermittent lameness, have good healthy hoof walls, show no reaction to hoof testers, work OK on soft ground but appear to jar up on solid surfaces, are unsound at the trot but canter and gallop freely.

These horses fit into a category of ‘Predictable Hoof Related Lameness’ – the age does not seem consistent as I have noted the condition in horses from two year olds upwards. They are identified as having quite upright pasterns or over long sloping pasterns, either of which can be considered to be slightly outside normal conformation and because of this, will cause the hoof to react in predictable ways.

In the normal correct leg, it is easy to maintain a balanced symmetrical hoof with a sole concavity, strong walls and frog contact with the ground; these hooves have good blood circulation and good weight bearing factors, so the horse remains sound whether shod or unshod.

By comparison the legs with a short upright pastern will consistently grow high heels which deprive the frog of the important ground contact and blood circulation in the hoof; the high heels will usually cause either a shortening of the toe or a flared toe (as in the club foot). Eventually the pedal bone will begin to deteriorate – this is Pedal Osteitis. It happens for two main reasons – no frog contact resulting in poor blood circulation, and also excessive concussion caused from the high heels which force the hoof to lift higher and drop shorter (very rough trot).

To guard against the early onset of Pedal Osteitis these hooves need to be lowered in the heels to six millimetres above the critical junction of the widest part of the frog to maintain correct frog function and circulation in the hoof, at around four weekly intervals depending on the growth rate.

The opposite conformation is the hoof with over long sloping pasterns – these hooves will always grow quickly at the toes and the heels run forwards and under. The long toes will flare causing the laminae to stretch (laminitis). This in turn puts stress on the front section of the pedal bone, resulting in inflammation and deterioration and fragmentation of the pedal bone, which again is Pedal Osteitis.

This is once again a high maintenance hoof which needs to be corrected at the toes (perhaps every four weeks maximum). A side benefit of controlling the toes is that the low heel will begin to form a normal angle which helps to control the angle of the pedal bone and slow down the rapid toe distortion and stress pressure in the front part of the hoof.

Many horse owners become confused when searching for the answers on treating Pedal Osteitis, as there are many opinions and options readily available, mostly regarding suitable types of shoes such as rolled toes, egg bars, heart bars, cushioned shoes and therapeutic underpads; if they offer some relief then that is great, but don’t lose sight of the primary cause of the problem which is long toes/low heel or high heels/short toes which stress the front of the hoof or deprive frog contact respectively.

A plan of action which has worked for a lot of critical cases is to first trim the hoof correctly to establish frog contact, then to eliminate all flaring at the toe, taking care to maintain a concave sole. Then fit a low profile shoe short at the toe for easy break over, and feed a high calcium supplement for three months. Follow up x-rays have shown that the pedal bone has in many cases returned to normal and the lameness is gone.

It is also important to stick to a regular hoof maintenance schedule with these types of conformation related hoof distortions, to avoid the cause before it starts to have any effect again.

Apple cider vinegar is also a good and reliable supplement to keep the horse’s lower leg joints and pedal bones healthy. So many horse owners feel exasperated after having spent huge amounts of money following a diagnosis of Pedal Osteitis along with complicated shoeing procedures only to find that the horse is still not sound, because the primary cause of the problem has simply not been corrected.

XRAY SHOWING PEDAL OSTEITIS (DETERIORATION OF P3)
XRAY SHOWING PEDAL OSTEITIS (DETERIORATION OF P3)

BRUISING IN THE HOOF

Bruising in the hoof wall is often unwittingly excused as self-inflicted injury. ‘Oh he must have stepped on a rock or something’ and ‘He was probably kicking the fence’. Yes these things do happen, but too often bruising is an indicator of hoof related problems leading to lameness.

We are all aware of the pain when we bend a fingernail back, plus it creates a visible blood line in the nail bed. If it hasn’t happened to you, try pressing your fingernail hard against the edge of the table (Pic 1). The same results happen when the toe of the hoof is too long, or if the heels are allowed to flare.

Bruising is not just in white hooved horses – the bruising is not visible in a black hoof (Pic 2) however you can rest assured it is there. Bruising is almost always associated with the presence of flares, which cause the hoof wall to bend outwards and become distorted; this in turn stretches the laminae/white line area and results in a bend in the wall about half way up, so now the blood vessels feeding the sensitive laminae begin to rupture and it is this we are seeing as blood colour or bruising on the outer hoof wall.

Lameness occurs not so much because of this visual colour in the hoof wall but because of the flaring which caused it, so to correct this lameness we must first eliminate the flares. I know I sound like a record on replay sometimes, but we have to realize that the three main causes of lameness are: long toes/low heels, high heels/short toes, and the main one is the presence of flares anywhere in the hoof.

I have so often heard the comment that it is impossible to get correct height clinches on these flared hooves as they’re always low (in fact you can even buy clinching tongs especially for low nails) but if we really look at these hooves we will see that the only problem is the flaring in the bottom of the hoof wall, and by controlling these flares we can now get correct height nail clinches as well as eliminating the lameness.

So lets not ignore the visible bruises in those hoof wall – they are simply an indication that there is something going wrong with the current hoof maintenance (Pic 3). The true art of farriery is to provide preventative maintenance, and to do that we must see and understand what we are looking at in the hoof. The hoof is the blueprint to the behaviour and performance of the horse.

Does this ring any bells? The horse with bruised hooves hates the farrier who generally only adds to its pain instead of resolving it. When I arrive for my consultation, the horse is being worked hard in the arena, complete with saddle and owner on its back. Then after it is washed down and is standing there exhausted and sad, I begin to explain to the owner about the flares and bruising present in all four hooves. It’s a really great horse as it turns out, it’s just in a lot of pain from poor hoof care, so then the horrified owner (in tears) gets defensive and blames the last farrier. She has a point but she and the farrier both have a duty of care to the horse to know what is correct, so lets get it right, for the sake of the horse.

CORNS – CAUSES AND CORRECTIONS

The discovery that your horse has developed corns, or indeed has corns that will not go away, must be recognised as a warning sign that something is not right somewhere in the hoof. This information will help rectify the problem and should enable you to start on a programme of preventative maintenance.

Corns occur back in the heel area at the junction where the bars meet the hoof wall – this is called the buttress of the heel. That v-shaped pocket is called the seat of the corn area and if the horse has corns there will be a reddening of the sole tissue that looks like bruising.

Often there will be no reaction to the hoof testers when they are applied to this area, often there will be no increase in the digital pulse to indicate hoof trauma but the horse just looks uncomfortable when working.

Corns are the direct result of an unbalanced hoof and poorly executed trimming methods. Put simply, in the correct and normal flight of the hoof, the heels land first at the bottom of the stride then the hoof flattens and the weight is transferred onto the toe, then the hoof leaves the ground in a forward motion. This will happen assuming that the hoof is balanced, has no flares, the heels are level and that the front of the hoof wall is in line with the front of the pastern.

However if the toe is too long it will cause the leg to land too far forward and the horse’s weight is then transferred back onto the heels, which then begin to fold in and under, which causes corns. To remedy this the long toes need to be shortened and any flaring of the hoof wall should be reduced at the toes; then the rolled under heels should be trimmed to be straight and strong and the bars trimmed short so that they are not weight bearing. If there are corns, the red tissue should be pared away slightly and disinfectant applied to stop any risk of infection.

The opposite scenario which results in corns is when the heels are too high and land prematurely while the leg is still in the downward motion, causing concussion and bruising to the heel buttresses and often resulting in the formation of corns. To correct this, the heels must be lowered. As a guide, look at the point where the widest part of the frog meets the hoof wall and lower the heels to a point just above it, then continue that level through to the toe on an even plane, trimming the bars down to near sole level. Trauma bruising to the heel buttresses will be noticed as the bars and the heels are lowered. However with the heels now lower there will be the correct frog pressure at ground level to help the hoof work properly and softly, thus eliminating concussion.

CORNS
SEAT OF CORN AREA

Some points to remember – when viewing the hoof for levelness, hold the lower leg at the fetlock joint and allow the foot to fall free, then sight an imaginary T-square down the back of the pastern and across the heel buttresses, which must be equal. This level must continue through the entire hoof wall ground surface to the toe. The walls should be an even thickness also from heel to toe. Then taking the hoof forward, view the shape of the coronary band and rasp away any flares at the bottom of the hoof wall to mirror image this shape.

Hoof preparation for shoeing must show a concave sole, with neatly trimmed bars, level hoof wall of even thickness and at sole height. For the unshod hoof, the wall should be left about four millimetres above the sole for comfort and clearance of the sole.

Remember – a correctly balanced hoof will remain free of problems.

STRINGHALT

Stringhalt is one problem that I rarely come across. This is a nervous reaction of the hind legs – the horse involuntarily snaps them up, almost to the belly, when the leg is lifted. Stringhalt is triggered by a neurological disorder in the brain which acts on the nervous system, seeming to act only on the back legs. It is suggested that Stringhalt is the result of toxicity from eating certain weeds, possibly Capeweed.

To all appearances, when picking up the back leg you get kicked. Unfortunately farriers often admonish the horse and belt the heck out of it because it has kicked them. As it is involuntary, the horse has absolutely no control over Stringhalt. However, once realising that the horse has Stringhalt, it is still a major problem to shoe these horses, as they pull the leg up so high it can’t be worked on.

To get the horse to stretch its leg backwards is very difficult as the minute you ease on it, the leg snaps forward and kicks you again. It can be a very dangerous situation but there is absolutely no point getting upset with the horse. The more nervous the horse is, the more it exacerbates the problem.

It is quite an exciting thing to work with a horse with bad Stringhalt. One in particular was a very good Group One winning racehorse. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how he could ever gallop with a problem like this, but in watching him on the race track there was absolutely nothing wrong with his galloping action, obviously, because he was a winner. There was not a problem with him walking, he trotted a little high behind but the only problem was in shoeing him – it was the farrier’s problem, no one else was interested in it because it never affected anyone except the poor old farrier.

065 stringhalt

ATTITUDE PROBLEMS RELATED TO HOOF CARE

In considering attitude, we must consider both man and beast because in so many ways our feelings and reactions are similar.

If we have a sore foot we immediately begin to walk crookedly and in no time we feel pain in our lower back, shoulders or neck, and we become distressed and grumpy.

So by understanding the human reaction we can assume that the horse’s bad attitude and distress could also be the result of trauma in the hoof.

The first course of action should be to check for an accelerated digital pulse in the lower leg. To do this place thumb and fore finger either side of the area just above and behind the fetlock joint, note the pulse, then compare it with the opposite leg. Also feel for heat in the hoof wall area, any increase in temperature or pulse usually indicates impending trauma in the hoof well before it becomes visually obvious. A slight unevenness in stride may be the only clue to begin with.

Bucking may also be the result of hoof problems.

Scrambling in the horse float often begins through out-of-balance feet causing a feeling of instability at floor level and destroying the horse’s confidence.

Disunited transitions and high head carriage is most often caused by unbalanced feet.

Low heels and long toes, or high heels and short toes cause problems in the shoulders and back, making it difficult for the horse to move freely. When this is misunderstood it creates an attitude problem.

The majority of horses used for pleasure riding or pony club or casual competitions are re shod on a six to eight week cycle, however the horse’s hoof growth rate speeds up or slows down with seasonal conditions. If you are not vigilant with your hoof inspections the feet may be well overdue long before the due date. Long feet severely inhibit the horse’s action and stability as well as altering his temperament.

Tight nails, clinches too high or too low, nails too large or too small, shoes too heavy for the conformation of the horse, incorrect trimming, poor farrier attitude, mistreatment, over feeding and neglect can all result in hoof problems which will ultimately affect attitude.

Be aware of your horse’s natural athletic ability and its comfort; it will help you tune in to any change or to any impending unsoundness.

A person with a negative attitude will not help your horse; remember action provokes reaction and causes disaster.

067

HOOF-RELATED BACK STRAIN

Hoof-related back strain is a syndrome that is affecting both horses and riders in all forms of equine pursuits. It has always existed to a lesser degree; however it now seems to be showing up more frequently and is a problem that must be eliminated.

One cause of this hoof-related back strain in horses is incorrect hoof/pastern angle in the front feet, resulting from either long toes/low heels, or from high heels/short toes. This drastically alters the natural normal gait of the horse, so many riders then accept the fact that their horse is rough to ride and assume that the saddle must be the problem, or that perhaps they should have tuition with a riding instructor because the horse seems to be erratic in his movements or disunited.

Often this course of action leads to the discovery that the horse has muscle soreness in his upper body, anywhere in the neck and shoulders or along his back or over the hindquarters, and then the owner enlists the aid of a vet or the chiropractor. This is really only a bandaid cure because the real cause of the problem is quite simply in the feet.

Often these horses will also present with an attitude problem such as ears back, teeth bared, lowered head, sad eyes etc. but as soon as the hoof/pastern angle is corrected their action returns to normal, their whole demeanor changes and I have seen them actually smile with relief.

Let us look firstly at the long toe/low heel problem to see how it happens, and how to correct it. Regardless of whether the hoof is to be shod or unshod, it must be trimmed to be balanced. As a quick guide to measuring what needs to be trimmed before cutting, an imaginary line is taken from the coronary band above the toe to the ground, transposed across the sole of the hoof, and the result should be equidistant from front to back. With long toes and low heels (Pic 1) there is much more hoof in front of the line than behind it.

Long toes creep into the system because of the failure to pare away the excess sole in the front half of the hoof. Follow this principle and it will show you exactly how much toe is to be removed. Do not touch the heels, do not use wedges to build up the heels either, as they are only a temporary bandaid and in fact they crush the heels even further. Heel cogs do the same (Pic 2). This poor horse was in so much pain he was unable to stand on one leg long enough to have the other one inspected, and both rider and horse were having extensive chiropractic treatment!

The best and most permanent way to correct long toe/low heel syndrome, is to concentrate on trimming the overgrowth at the toes, then the heels will begin to grow normally, and the result will be the correct parallel hoof/pastern angle.

The opposite hoof problem which relates to back strain is high heel/short toes. While these are not so prevalent, they do cause action problems which in turn cause back strain. The major cause of high heels and short toes is conformation related upright pasterns. These horses are choppy in their action because the high heel dictates that the flight of the hoof is high and drops short, causing excessive jarring up through the shoulders, and ending up in the rider’s back. This type of horse usually prefers to canter rather than trot as it is easier for him to use his hindquarters than to suffer the jarring in the front end caused by trotting, and his useful working life expectancy will be short, developing joint problems early due to concussion. The best way to avoid this hoof problem is not to breed it.

However, we do have the problem, so let’s do the best we can, by paring away the excess sole and observing the high heel growth that needs to be cut away to allow the frog to contact the ground. Then, using the same measurement as before, trim the toe area lightly to a neat shape. Trimming needs to be done at closer intervals with this type of hoof; you will probably never fully correct the fault, but you will certainly stop it from getting worse.

My earlier comment, that these hoof related back strain problems seem to be getting more frequent, is no doubt due to the fact that competition is ever on the increase, plus riders are becoming more finely tuned; they are calling more frequently on support services like veterinarians and chiropractors and farriers, but sadly there is still far too much lack of consideration by all concerned when it comes to the basic understanding of the horse’s hoof, and the old saying ‘no hoof no horse’ never goes away.

THE HOOF ABSCESS

Many horse owners and riders are unable to recognise the symptoms that indicate the beginnings of an abscess.

If detected early, most abscesses can be treated in a simple fashion and the horse can be returned to work within hours. However, if an abscess is missed for a day, it will build up pressure within the hoof and can cause more serious associated problems and take weeks to fix.

There are four types of abscesses that can occur in the hoof and long before they become visible, you will have noticed a change in your horse’s attitude or a slight change in the regular gait, or unevenness; often they will rest one leg and point the hoof. You must be aware enough to notice these changes – it is your duty of care.

If you suspect an abscess, look for a digital pulse in the suspect leg (this is an early indication of trauma within the hoof). To do this place thumb and forefinger either side of and above the fetlock joint just behind the tendon. Note the pulse then compare it with the opposite leg. If the pulse appears to be accelerated or stronger you can be fairly sure there is an abscess forming somewhere in that hoof.

In the event that no strong pulse can be found in the suspect hoof, try testing the diagonally opposite one; this sometimes solves a phantom head bobbing lameness.

At this point the decision needs to be made whether you are capable of carrying out further treatment or if you should call an experienced farrier or the vet. As with any treatment of hoof abscesses, prescribed antibiotics should be given.

If shod, the shoe should be removed at this point as it will restrict your mission of discovery. The hoof testers should be used to gently pressure test around the outer edge of the hoof wall beginning at one heel and moving at intervals to the other heel to see exactly where it is sensitive.

The four types of hoof abscesses are Toe, Sole, Bar and Heel which each have a cause, an effect and a treatment.

TOE ABSCESS

THE CAUSE.

The toe abscess will be found at the junction of the sole and the hoof wall between the white line and the sensitive laminae.

It usually starts from the hoof wall being too long, causing it to flare out and separate from the laminae. Often the hoof wall cracks vertically, allowing dirt and grit to build up inside against the sensitive tissue which when aggravated becomes inflamed then infected.

THE EFFECTS

The horse will stand with the leg pointed forward to relieve the pressure at the toe, and will show a head bobbing action at the trot.

THE TREATMENT

The separated or cracked area must be thoroughly cleaned out to remove all dirt and grit. This can be done by flushing or by using a narrow blade sole knife or similar and can be achieved without causing blood flow. The flares at the toe must also be reduced back to an even hoof wall thickness at this time to prevent stress. If the abscess is not yet visible, a poultice should be applied to the complete sole, (use as directed) to try drawing out the intrusion; this may need to be repeated until lameness is eased.

Some toe abscesses will travel up through the hoof wall and blow out at the coronary band – these need to be poulticed in that area. The long term effects of these top releasing abscesses will be seen about two months later, when a small horizontal crack appear in the hoof wall directly above where the original abscess was, and just below the coronet. It will grow down as the hoof grows, and will need to be opened up to prevent it from holding dirt and causing another abscess. There will be a capillary track from this horizontal crack down to the tip of the hoof which must be opened and cleaned, and if necessary refilled with synthetic material (used as directed)

SOLE ABSCESS

THE CAUSE

The cause is either from bruising to the sole (which is common to wide flat footed horses) and usually results from the sole not being concave enough to allow free movement downwards when the hoof is under load), or from a stone bruise which may also puncture the sole; these usually occur in the front half of the sole.

THE EFFECT

Accelerated digital pulse, pointing the toe, hoof feels warm to touch, often swelling in the lower leg and obvious lameness.

TREATMENT

For a blind sole bruise/abscess there is sub-surface bleeding and this can be treated first with an ice boot or similar until any heat or swelling has subsided, then protected with an under-pad fitted between the shoe and hoof and left in place for a week or two as protection for the affected area. It is not advisable to try to drain this type of abscess by opening up the sole; it increases the risk of infection and delays the soundness. As soon as the bruise has subsided, any excess thick or crusty sole should be pared away to achieve a concave profile which will help in the rehabilitation of the hoof and the prevention of another bruise.

In the event that the sole has been punctured by a stone, there will already be bleeding from that point so it needs to be cleaned and disinfected and a poultice applied to draw out any dirt etc. The punctured area needs to be protected with a pad or boot for a few weeks to allow the sole to heal over, and the horse must be given antibiotics.

HEEL ABSCESS

THE CAUSE

These occur in the corn area at the junction where the bars meet the heel buttresses.

The cause is from excess pressure from the bar under the heel of the shoe, or from high impact to the heels as a result of the heels of the hoof capsule being too high; this starts off as bruising and progresses to inflammation and finally becomes abscessed.

THE EFFECTS

Acute lameness, strong digital pulse, horse will rest the leg toe first with the heel off the ground. There will be visible swelling in the lower leg and hoof feels warmer to touch.

THE TREATMENT

Trim the bars down to sole level and lower the heels to expose the bruised area. Apply a poultice and repeat until soreness has eased, trim the hoof to achieve a straight line from the front of the pastern down to the tip of the hoof and remove all flares in the hoof from toe to heel. Sometimes a heart bar shoe will be necessary to help the hoof return to normal by easing further pressure at those heels during rehabilitation.

BAR ABSCESS

THE CAUSE

Occurs about half way back along the bar where a crack develops when the bars have not been maintained to a short strong profile.

THE EFFECTS

When the bar cracks there is almost always an infection, extreme lameness, swelling, and pulse, and then progresses to an under run sole abscess.

TREATMENT

Carefully clean the affected area of all dirt and excess flaky sole, disinfect and apply a poultice for about three days, repeating the cleaning process each time. When the soreness decreases, a straight bar shoe and an under pad should be fitted as protection.

About six weeks after the initial infection from a cracked bar, if there has been an under run infection, the sole will feel hollow in that area and occasionally at least half of the sole will be affected. Care should be taken not to pare away this separated sole too soon as nature is using it as a buffer until the new sub-sole is strong enough to protect the pedal bone. Be patient as it will remove easily when it is ready and not before.

CONCLUSION

Hoof abscesses are unnecessary and prevention is far better than cure. Avoid allowing flares to develop in the hoof wall – this will eliminate cracks and laminae separation which invite the abscess. Balance the hoof to the correct pastern angle to eliminate heel damage, trim the sole to its natural concavity and trim the bars to be strong. This will solve most potential hoof related lameness problems.

UNDER-RUN HEELS

Under-run heels are identified by their appearance as being extremely low and acutely sloping forward, to the point where they have no weight bearing ability. (Pic 1).

The low-heeled hoof is usually accompanied by a long and concaved hoof capsule at the toe due to the tubules bending under the pressure of their excessive length.

A percentage of under-run heels is caused by bad conformation i.e. long sloping pasterns which encourage pressure at the heels, causing them to collapse and roll under. Others are related to the lack of proper hoof maintenance, such as not trimming these hooves before they grow too long or then not trimming them to the required correct hoof/pastern angle, which reduces the pressure at the heels.

The long-toe low-heeled horse becomes unsteady in its gait or stumbles and will tend to over-reach with the hinds coming through and hitting the heels of the front hooves, because the long toes slow down the movement of the front hooves. The initial treatment should be to shorten the toes as much as possible and re-trim every three weeks for about three successive periods after which time the heels may have started to grow down.

The old method was to use wedges under the heels of the shoe to gain the correct hoof-pastern angle, however studies have shown that this method only crushes the already deficient heels further. So if corrective trimming has not achieved the required heel growth, the next option is to fit graduated shoes which are thicker at the heels and reducing to the toe; these will improve the horse’s mobility but are only a quick fix, as they still put too much pressure on the weak heel area and will inhibit their recovery.

Sunplus Corp.
Sunplus Corp.

CONTRACTED HEELS

Contracted heels can be the end result of many different factors. They are not typical of any particular breed or conformation and may occur anywhere. Sometimes it begins from birth when the foal has very upright pasterns; this condition then allows the heels to grow longer than the toes causing a very upright appearance.

The result then, if it is not corrected, is that the frog loses its pressure contact with the ground, then it also begins to contract or shrink and this causes the hoof capsule to become even narrower across the heel. This whole shrinking process may have only taken a few months to get to what now looks like ‘donkey footed’ in appearance, but will take a lot longer to return to normal, with the aid of careful trimming.

Sometimes as a result of hoof or leg injury, the horse will begin to step short with one leg. This will cause the toe to wear excessively and allows the heel to grow long. Left uncorrected for any length of time the hoof soon becomes contracted because of lack of frog pressure on the ground. Probably the most common cause of contracted heels in horses of all ages and breeds is from the effects of shoeing and trimming, the reason being that not nearly enough care and attention is exercised when preparing the hoof.

If we don’t strive to achieve the correct balance at this stage, we end up with long toes, putting excessive pressure on the heels and they collapse and roll in. Or we end up with the opposite problem, short toes and high heels, which lifts the frog off the ground and the heels begin to contract or become narrow. Both of these problems are completely avoidable just by being careful when preparing the hoof at the trimming stage. The ‘near enough is good enough’ attitude will eventually result in collapsed or contracted heels and a crippled horse.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

If you find that nothing seems to work, here is one method I have been using to correct contracted heels on a two year old colt; apparently his heels began to contract after some tendon damage. The usual tactics of lowering the heels to get frog pressure or ground pressure didn’t work, while fitting a half shoe to allow his toes to grow while still trimming away the heel improved things a bit, but too slowly, and it seemed that the area the colt lived in was quite soft and damp and was having no impact on his frog. All this really got the brain cells working and I remembered the anchor bar shoe. I have only ever used this type of shoe once before, ages ago, and it certainly had a positive result then.

To avoid lameness it is best to fit the first anchor bar shoe with minimal frog pressure, as this is a radically different weight bearing shoe, and then after two weeks to increase the thickness of the bar to apply constant but comfortable pressure on the frog. The result is that no matter what the ground conditions are, the hoof capsule will expand at the heels.

In the photos you can see how and why this shoe works, by controlling the wear factor at the toe while leaving the rear of the hoof wall unsupported to move freely under the influence of controlled frog pressure.

After a short time the frog will become strong enough to allow you to go back to a normal style of shoe, but you will probably always have to keep trimming this hoof strongly at the heel. At the time of this report the colt is about two shoeings away from wearing a normal shoe, so it is on track.