Quartered heels come in many different variations, and always seem to happen to your best horse.
Necessity is the mother of invention when attempting to repair these. I have never found any two the same but the basic principles of repair are always similar.
The old method was usually to make a shoe which stayed away from the area of hoof which was affected by the injury. Because the broken wall behind the injury was not able to take any weight bearing pressure, the injury hopefully would then grow out.
This method is seldom successful, it takes too long and the horse’s work has to be altered because of the lack of hoof stability and lameness.
Trial and experiment over the years together with the use of a bit of modern technology has proven there are some more positive ways to achieve a better result.
Basically there are two reasons for any kind of cracks occurring in the hoof wall; the first one is because the hoof wall has been allowed to develop flares or wings anywhere from the toe to the heel – this causes stress to that part of the hoof capsule and the result is a crack which begins to form from the bottom up. Left unattended, the crack begins to open even further and can creep right up to the coronary band, causing lameness.
Treatment of this first kind of quarter crack should be to immediately trim the hoof wall back to an even shape and thereby get rid of any flares to reduce the hoof wall pressure in front of and behind the cracked area. Do not put a file cut across the top of the crack as this only serves to weaken the hoof wall even further as it grows down. It may also need the support of a triple-clipped shoe (Pic 1) to aid the stability of the hoof while the crack grows out.
The second type of quarter crack is the one caused from injury to the coronary band, with the most serious being back near the heels (Pic 2), because the new growth line at the coronary band has been scarred permanently; as it grows down it separates, so this needs to be treated by paring away the affected area and reinforcing it with synthetic material then backed up by using a side clip in front of and behind the cracked area (Pic 3). These cracks will never grow out completely but with good management you can maintain perfect soundness in this hoof. In extremely bad cases sometimes the whole heel quarter has been torn away – these injuries take ages to heal and when they do there is usually no heel regrowth.
In the past it was normal practice to bridge the gap using a bar shoe, however now with the use of modern synthetic products such as Bond-N-Flex it is possible to rebuild a new complete heel quarter successfully, then to use a triple-clipped bar shoe to achieve maximum stability to the hoof. Note also the importance of the single clip on the inside of this shoe; it helps to stabilise the weakened outside hoof wall. Because this shoe eliminates any movement in the hoof wall, the crack has every chance to grow out and sometimes a new heel will even grow again, and you can eventually go back to using a normal shoe.
This triple clipped shoe is made from a standard factory shoe heated in a forge or using an oxy torch; the clip is then drawn out of the hot metal using the edge of the hammer over the square edge of the anvil or similar. These clips can be put anywhere on the shoe to suit any hoof problem.
It is important to remember that this method of side-clipping a shoe to stop any movement back at the heels should only be used until the injury has grown out then it is important to revert to using a normal shoe; continued use of any method which restricts normal heel expansion will be likely to eventually cause contracted heels.
Seedy Toe is NOT a mysterious and unknown ailment. It never fails to amaze me how Seedy Toe can be seen so consistently by horse owners as the symbol of impending doom and disaster when it can be cured so easily.
It also never fails to amaze me that so many farriers just ignore Seedy Toe. Invariably the horse owner will say ‘the farrier said not to worry about it, but it is getting worse’. I am consistently contacted at least four to six months after the problem should first have been identified.
Seedy Toe, sometimes called White Line Disease, is a microscopic bug infection which enters this area of the hoof via cracks, injuries or separation of the hoof wall and regenerates very quickly in a non-oxygenated environment.
Seedy Toe is a problem that is common to all areas of Australia and common to most breeds of horses. Detecting it is often a difficult task, as sometimes there will be no external signs visible on the hoof wall. A horse owner may only be aware that the horse has short periods of unexplained lameness during work. As your veterinarian or farrier will confirm, these symptoms can mean almost anything. However, statistics show us that the majority of these types of lameness are hoof related so we need to look more closely and not ignore it.
If you suspect Seedy Toe, then by using a small hammer and by tapping the hoof wall in several places, you may hear a different or hollow sound near the toe. Removal of the shoe and inspection of the white line will then often reveal a separation between the hoof wall and the laminae – it may only be slight, but needs further investigation immediately.
The problem of low heels and long can also result in Seedy Toe. The result of this problem can be illustrated by looking at a white footed horse where you often will see red bruising or marks halfway up the hoof wall. Owners say ‘Oh that is just where the horse kicked a wall or kicked a rock or it was kicked by another horse etc’ The marks are the hoof capsule tearing away from the laminae underneath and it is actually bleeding. If you push your thumbnail down on a hard surface you will see a red spot about halfway down, and it hurts. That is because you have applied pressure to a long thumb nail and it causes pressure in exactly the same way underneath that horse’s hoof capsule.
The way to control Seedy Toe is simply to reduce the flares. And with a properly balanced hoof, you will get rid of those flares and end up with a correct hoof/pastern angle, with considered frog pressure most of the time, and that will also rehabilitate the hoof. It all goes back to the simple basic principles of balancing the hoof properly and trimming it properly before you even think of putting shoes on it. If a horse is not trimmed and balanced properly barefoot, then no one has any business to put shoes on it of any kind.
Treatment of Seedy Toe requires the hoof wall to be pared away to expose the affected areas to the air, thus causing the infection to die. Care should be taken to remove all the unhealthy material back to good, clean hoof wall laminae.
Do not be fooled by that little crack on the surface. Explore it and you may be surprised at what lies behind it. Keep exposing until you can identify the extent of the Seedy Toe. If the bug is still active, this is the area that needs to be left open to the air to kill the bug causing the problem. I have found it is unnecessary to use disinfectant or iodine as simply exposing it to the air is very effective.
If appropriate, reconstruct the rest of the hoof using a synthetic hoof reconstruction material. I use Bond-N-Flex which I have found to be the most stable and reliable of the products available. It has the advantage of most closely resembling the hoof wall, and once in place can be treated just like the rest of the hoof, and will flex and grow down with the hoof without cracking or letting go. After application, the horse is shod in the normal manner.
During reconstruction, leave an opening around any area affected by Seedy Toe and leave it open until any visible redness has totally disappeared (usually seven to ten days) then fill that area also.
Keep the horse in a dry area while the hoof is open; if necessary move to a higher paddock or even to another property. Don’t be tempted to use any dressings of any sort on the hoof.
Use Biotin to encourage hoof growth at this stage.
REMEMBER – Seedy Toe should never get to the extreme stage. If it does, it has either been ignored or not noticed in the first place – neither of these is any excuse. If a horse is shod or trimmed every six weeks, that should be the maximum amount of time that elapses between inspections.
If you are a horse owner and you notice a crack on the horse’s hoof then make sure you ASK the question of the farrier ‘What are you going to do about this?’ The answer ‘It will go away’ or ‘I wouldn’t worry about it’ is NOT acceptable. It WONT go away, and if he wont worry about it, then who will? Even a simple sand crack can progress to Seedy Toe, and it can be prevented so simply by being alert to this problem.
Most horse owners lavish feed, rugs, stabling, care and love on their horses, yet unwittingly can commit their horses to months of unnecessary pain with abscesses resulting from untreated Seedy Toe.
Extreme cases of Seedy Toe can result in rotation or distortion of the pedal bone.
Left untreated, Seedy Toe WILL progress, and will eventually destroy the complete hoof capsule.
The message I want to give is a message of hope, loud and clear.
Inspect the hoofs regularly
Watch out for possible damage
Catch it in the early stages
EXPOSE IT TO AIR and this will nip the problem in the bud.
SEEDY TOE CASE STUDY – this is a worst case scenario –
In early March 1997, a tearful owner arrived at my workshop with Melody, very lame in the off-fore. The owner had been advised to put her down as the hoof had distorted beyond belief. I could fit most of three fingers between the hoof capsule and the laminae at the toe, and she stood completely on her sole – the hoof wall was not bearing any weight at all.
Further inspection revealed Seedy Toe (ignored by the farrier) had caused the hoof capsule to lift off the laminae and affect 90% of the hoof wall. I cut away the damaged and distorted hoof wall until finally I exposed the Seedy Toe area and then reconstructed the missing hoof wall with Bond-N-Flex. Continued treatment by way of shoeing and inspection of growth resulted in a totally healthy hoof, with no sign of Seedy Toe and with Melody being ridden by a very happy owner just in time for Christmas 1997.
The cause, the effect and the resolution of Seedy Toe – also known as White Line Disease.
It seems that weather conditions play a big part in the cause of Seedy Toe – lots of rain followed by warm days and good spring grass growth.
These three things promote rapid hoof growth and very often that hoof growth can get way ahead of the maintenance trimming schedules; not only are the hooves growing fast but they are also quite soft and very flexible. The end result is flaring of the hoof wall, which causes it to separate from the laminae at the junction of the white line, hence the term White Line Disease (Pic 1). This condition allows dirt and foreign materials to be pushed up into that area of the sensitive tissue under the hoof wall which then causes aggravation, then inflammation, then infection followed by an abscess.
Horses in flooded areas have even more problems with Seedy Toe if they cannot be moved to higher ground or into dry stabling or if the water is too deep for them to wear boots.
The effect is always lameness, associated with heat in the hoof wall and a much stronger digital pulse than normal.
Sometimes the infection will migrate under the sole and erupt back out near the heels or alongside the frog, or sometimes the abscess will make a track upwards through the laminae and erupt out at the coronary band.
When these abscesses have been resolved there is a capillary track left under the hoof wall; this is where the microscopic Seedy Toe bug develops, which thrives in this closed area where there is no oxygen as it is an anaerobic bug (ie thrives on lack of air) and eats away the laminae under the hoof wall resulting in a cavity. Left unresolved, Seedy Toe has the potential to cause the whole hoof capsule to separate from the pedal bone, or put simply to drop off.
When the abscess infection runs back under the sole it does not progress into Seedy Toe; the reason is that the sole continually exfoliates and does not have a lamellar structure for the Seedy Toe bug to harbour in. However with an under-run infection from an abscess that has started from hoof wall separation at the white line area, part of or all of the sole and often the frog will lift off after the infection has passed and it may take two or three months to normalise.
Resolving Seedy Toe requires the intervention of professional vet and farrier team plus full cooperation of the owner, and full knowledge of what causes Seedy Toe and how to control it and prevent it from reoccurring.
We must understand that a flare anywhere in the hoof wall is your greatest enemy at any time but more especially right now, when everything is soft and flexible.
Treatment should be to remove or debride all the separated hoof wall (Pic 2) back to where there is no more visible parting of the laminae/white line/hoof wall and the area should then be left open to the air for a couple of weeks, which is time enough to kill the anaerobic Seedy Toe bug; it will have only been active up around the outer edges of the opening now exposed or debrided, so in an example such as this (Pic 3), you may need to fit a supporting shoe and rebuild stability to the lower part of the hoof wall (Pic 4), then the horse can be worked normally while the hoof eventually grows down and grows back to normal.
Over the years there have many and varied remedies for Seedy Toe or White Line Disease discussed by many people, and we will each use the remedy we have the most faith with. Peroxide, blue stone or condy’s crystals are all bandaids and are all totally useless at preventing Seedy Toe and can also prevent the proper bonding of hoof reconstruction materials which can be needed in extreme cases of Seedy Toe.
We would never have to deal with Seedy Toe if we just learned to recognise its cause rather than looking for bandaids after the problem arises. The one cure for the anaerobic Seedy Toe bug is exposure to air.
PREVENTION: There is one principle that is undeniable and it is that ‘prevention is better than cure’.
Correct balance in the hoof eliminates flares anywhere in the hoof wall, which prevents cracks and separation from developing, and we should then be able to maintain a sound hoof, whether shod or unshod.
I have lost count of the number of consultations over the last year where each owner has explained in great detail that the horse in question has to be shod with bar shoes and rolled toes or egg bars or wedged heels or something similar, because it was diagnosed with suspected navicular disease two or three years ago.
According to each owner’s lament, the horse is tripping and stumbling and has never really been sound; even x-rays which are sometimes years old were never really positive. If they were positive and there is navicular degeneration, the previously mentioned style of shoes may be appropriate and should be continued with. So what is the problem with these vague symptoms?
It is very important to fully understand the basic principles which may be causing stress to the navicular bone area and heels either side of it. As seen in Pic 1, the deep flexor tendon travels down the back of the leg and passes over the navicular bone then attaches to the underside of the pedal bone. Thus, if a hoof is at all long in the toe it will cause pressure at the heels and excessive tension in the deep flexor tendon where it passes over the navicular bone. High heels and short toes will also give the same indication due to concussion at the heels; the resulting effect is a lameness which outwardly looks like navicular disease, but is it really…?
The golden rule in problem solving is always go back to basics, and this is especially true with horses and lameness, but first of all listen to the owner and get all the historical information possible. Common symptoms of navicular disease are usually that the horse is disunited in its gait, rough to ride, stumbles a lot, has a sensitive back, forges and over reaches intermittently – also the horse is usually displaying a less than happy attitude. Many of these symptoms can also simply indicate unbalanced feet.
The majority of horses that I see with long term suspected navicular are simply horses that have been left too long between shoeing. This is an owner education problem and these horses need to be re-shod very regularly at no longer than four weekly intervals. This is to prevent any flaring or distortion in the toe area from causing pressure at the heels. To really understand this, try standing on a flat surface then put a two centimetre piece of wood under your toes and stand upright; you will notice that your weight is now all back on your heels just like the horse, so by stopping long toes and correcting any flares at the toe, it will also stop any excess weight on the heels which will then begin to grow properly, plus there should be an immediate improvement in the horse’s movement and attitude.
A horse which has upright pasterns will also often display signs of navicular soreness but for the opposite reason; it will be short in the toe and high in the heel and have a short proppy gait, as well as being rough to ride and inclined to stumble. On inspection you will see that the frog is small and also contracted, so the soreness is a combination of two problems – the high heels are causing the hoof to land too early, resulting in excess concussion of the heel buttresses and the high heels also prevent any frog contact with the ground so there is no cushioning.
In this case leave the toe alone and lower the heels down to the junction where the widest point of the frog meets the hoof capsule – you will see evidence of bruising at this point. In extreme cases this needs to done in stages a week or two apart, as the deep flexor tendon which has contracted will also need time to stretch. Now that the frog is in ground contact again, blood flow through the hoof will go back to normal and the toe will begin to reform.
Another common man made problem is to fit shoes which are too heavy to suit the bone structure of the horse, and leave them to hang out past the heel buttresses. This causes pressure and soreness under the shoe at the heel, which can also give the impression of navicular syndrome. In photo B, the toe has been left too long plus the heavy shoe extends back past the heel buttress.
The bottom line is that without the benefit of an up to date x-ray, a competent farrier must carry out a very accurate assessment and balance and correction on these suspected navicular cases before jumping in and shoeing the horse wrongly. In most of these horses I get to see, all they ever needed was to be trimmed correctly or shod with normal shoes. Ask the horse too – if it doesn’t look right the chances are it certainly doesn’t feel right either.
I recently came across one of the worst cases of inappropriate shoeing I have ever seen. The little horse was brought to me wearing frog bar shoes. I enquired why it was wearing these shoes and the owner explained that some time ago the horse had suspected navicular disease and the farrier had determined that for the rest of its life the horse should be shod with frog bar shoes. You can see the result in Pic 1 & 2. The horse had been shod recently, with handmade shoes.
On asking the owner, the horse only ever had suspected navicular disease; it was never physically and unequivocally diagnosed with navicular disease. But I suspect strongly that it had always had very high heels, and was more than likely suffering from shock in the heels, from the heels landing too early because they were too high.
The horse was about 14.2hh, quite upright in the pasterns, the result being that it will grow longer in the heels. However shoes like this totally stop the natural workings of the hoof, along with lifting the frog off the ground. As you can see in Pic 1 & 2 the shoe is hardly worn; it had only been on there about two weeks, so it had not regrown at this stage thus the hoof was actually prepared like this when these shoes were made new and fitted – it was this preparation that really upset me.
When I took the shoes off this horse and tried it with the hoof testers there was absolutely no sign of lameness in the navicular area at all. In Pics 2 & 3 & 4 you can see how far the heels have become constricted.
When I commented that I had never seen heels as contracted as these, the owner actually thought I was joking but it was true. Sadly, it was also said to me that there were a huge percentage of horses in that area that were being shod like this and had contracted heels like this. I genuinely had never seen heels so closed in on the frog. The width of the frog further forward, about an inch from the heel, is actually not too bad, but right back at the heel it was barely more than the width of my sole knife. If they had been let go any further you could just about have grafted the heels together and used them for a funnel.
The black lines that I have marked on the heels of the hoof in Pic 4 are actually where the buttresses of the heel should be if it was in true balance. The owners felt they should have the frog bar shoes put back on but I refused, and then set about convincing them of the folly of doing that. This hoof MUST get down on the ground and be given a chance to spread out and develop at both heels otherwise the horse will be unusable.
This is a classic example of why I have always believed that we should always learn to trim the hoof properly before we start making horseshoes. All the emphasis was put into making a fancy shoe without first:
A. Assessing the problem and then
B. Balancing and trimming the hoof properly to
C. Correct the problem.
Suspected navicular disease that is undiagnosed and unproven should sound a warning bell to look for the real problem.
Footnote: In 2014 the more modern x-ray machines have been able to pinpoint cysts not only on the navicular bone but also at the DDFT junction on P3. Diagnosis seems to be degenerative and not operable. However I believe in the Principle of Cause and Effect –
The Cause is the strain on that area of the DDFT and coffin bone in other words long toe/low heel. The Effect is the cyst and the resultant lameness.
The Resolution is to reduce any further damage by simply correctly balancing the hoof (and in severe cases by shortening the point of breakover).
Founder or Laminitis is one of the most damaging ailments for the horse’s hoof. The causes are varied but the effects are always the same with varying degrees of severity.
The two main causes are either an over-enriched diet coupled with a lack of exercise, or trauma to the horse through injury or sickness or stress.
Founder can be found in nearly any breed nowadays but is still more prevalent in ponies, which have a tendency to be overfed and under worked for their size. Most pastures in the settled areas are far too improved for horses (they were developed for dairy cattle) and are too rich in carbohydrates; this causes a high pulse rate which causes the laminae under the hoof capsule to swell in the toe area (like a blood blister under a thumbnail) and instant lameness. The horse starts to try and walk back on their heels, because this swelling causes the laminae to expand, pushing the sole down and the hoof capsule to turn up.
Trauma or stress founder has exactly the same effect; there are countless books on the subject written by specialists in this field, so I will only offer my opinion as a horseman and farrier.
The old-timers’ treatment for founder was to crash diet the horse if it was overweight, remove the shoes and trim the hoof flat at the toes, then stand him in a damp sand yard, the reasoning being that the wet sand cooled the hoof. Being barefoot allowed constant pressure on the soles to stop them from dropping. Often the horse would dig a hole to stand in where it was comfortable for the first couple of days then it would begin to stand normally as the hoof swelling subsided. Sore footed horses in the wild do this also, and the old timers knew if they didn’t mess with Mother Nature, things worked better and quicker.
Founder is life-changing for the horse forever after; the damaged laminae will never return to normal once it has been stretched. Owners need to be extremely vigilant and to monitor the horse’s condition to avoid the onset of this problem at all costs.
Valentines Day is an appropriate time to discuss the eternal love affair between horse owners and their horse or horses, and the farrier is an integral part of this relationship. I am an Australian farrier and have been shoeing horses for 50 years, and my wife says quite firmly that I am more horse than human. I think she means it as a compliment.
During my own 50 year love affair with horses, I competed in every equine pursuit possible, was a respected colt breaker, was head farrier for one of Australia’s top racing stables for eight years, and nowadays I travel year round teaching people the importance of Hoof Care.
Whenever you think of Hoof Care, think of Valentines Day and that will make you think of the KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Sweetheart). Hoof Care is not rocket science, and there is absolutely no need to make it complex.
The main points to keep in mind if you expect your horse to perform and win are:
Know what you want from the horse
Communicate with the farrier what you need from the horse
Insist on as light a shoe as possible
Understand if the hoof is correctly balanced
Eliminate flares – they are the enemy of performance
For consistent performance, four weeks between shoeing is ideal.
All horses need a break from shoes.
Nowadays most horse riders and owners realise that they have information at their fingertips to seek answers on anything about horses that they could ever wish to know. This information can be very helpful in broadening their knowledge; however, there is so much information available and covering such a wide range of opinions and ideas that the horse owner can often end up more confused than ever in an effort to determine what is correct for their horse.
Hoof Care in particular can be a mine of misinformation. Many of the current fads including barefooting along with ‘quick fix’ horseshoes and other prosthetics, would never have arisen if the horses were performing to the best of their ability without lameness issues. There was only ever one correct way enhance the horse’s natural movement, and that is to correctly balance the feet.
Did you know that 90% of lameness in horses is hoof related? Most gait problems and back strain problems stem from incorrect trimming and incorrect shoeing that should have been corrected, simply by correctly balancing the hoof. My concern is that the basic principles of horseshoeing are being lost, that there are too many variables in horseshoeing standards and not enough is understood about how to achieve a correctly balanced hoof.
Every horse must be allowed to go barefoot at regular intervals, especially young horses. It is little wonder if horses end up unsound if they have been shod constantly for years.
The reality today is that we now expect the horse to sleep in a soft stable and live within a fenced off area, which effectively destroys nature’s ability to condition the hoof and make it tough, yet we still want the horse to be competitive and sound over all terrain. The only way to do this is to fit a shoe which is as light as possible to allow the horse to complete his task, and enhance his performance.
Perhaps it is an economic thing, and you may think that if you fit heavy shoes they will last longer and you will save money – that is wrong! Your horse will have to be reshod every four to six weeks regardless of what shoes are fitted, so that cost never alters. Sure, heavy horses need heavy shoes, but light horses with fine leg bones do not. Let common sense prevail – could you as a ballet dancer perform your best in heavy working boots? Fitting the correct weight shoes will lift your horse’s athletic ability dramatically, and will also reduce downtime from lameness and injury.
In my opinion the single most common cause of lameness in our equine industry is the presence of flares anywhere in the hoof. Can you recognize flares in the hoof? And does your horse have flares? 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. 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.
Consider this basic principle: the flight of a hoof will travel in the direction of its longest point. Long toes and low heels slow down the break-over or forward speed of the hoof and subsequently the horse. (To understand this put on a pair of long toed boots yourself and try running!) If you then add to those long toes and low heels a hoof which is longer on the outside wall, you then have a splay footed hoof, which causes the horse to paddle and slows down his movement sideways, and this is only the front half of the problem.
Viewing the horse from behind, if he is standing cow-hocked, his toes are pointing out, and the hoof will move forward on an inside arc, often hitting the opposite hind pastern causing pain and injury, and it will land with its toe pointing out, slowing down his movement sideways, as well as forward. It is also causing back soreness in the hip area. More importantly is what all this is doing to the mental attitude and confidence of these potentially brilliant horses, and their riders.
As a horse owner, you have a duty of care to your horse.To the horse owner who may feel intimidated at asking questions of the farrier – don’t be shy, just remember that YOU are the expert when it comes to recogising a difference in the way the horse is working, or traveling, or the way it feels. The farrier only visits once every four to six weeks or so, making it difficult for him to assess these minor changes that you observe daily. It is your right to query these changes in the horse’s behaviour or in its working.
An educated owner or rider who understands hoof balance can and must feel free to discuss with the farrier how best to achieve the correct outcome for the horse – it is a team effort.
To help horse owners understand hoof balance, I have developed a very simple tool called ‘David Farmilo’s HOOF-LINE’ which allows the horse owner to check if the hoof is correctly balanced whether shod or barefoot. This method takes any guesswork out of hoof preparation.
Remember – your horse has five hearts, so if you truly love your horse, start at the feet first, where there are four hearts pumping and then work up to that big heart.