Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bad Hoof, Good Hoof...Side by Side Comparisons

I struggle daily with trying to explain to all of my clients the changes individual horses must undergo to have healthy, comfortable, balanced feet. For most people, who have yet to see a truly healthy equine foot in person, it is very difficult to grasp. Even if I pick up a very healthy foot and show them, and then walk over to their transitioning horse, it's tough to keep the differences in proportion, dimension and balance in your mind's eye. So I thought it would perhaps be helpful to do a little pictorial comparing some of my transitioning horses with a spectacularly healthy foot.

When you look at these images, bear in mind that every pathology we can see on the OUTSIDE of the hoof corresponds to a painful pathology INSIDE the hoof capsule. Underrun heels, long toe/low heel, radical heel contraction, sickly, atrophied frogs, and medial/lateral imbalances HURT. To help you visualize this, here is a beautiful photo of the sole/frog corium that lies just underneath the hoof capsule:

Also bear in mind that these things can, in the vast, vast majority of horses, be corrected. The hoof of the horse is nothing short of miraculously regenerative!!! I won't go into meticulous detail regarding HOW we effect the regeneration, except to say this much: bringing back the toe from the top, and eradicating frog infection by soaking with chlorine dioxide and applying Pete's Paste are key and critical. That said, here are four excellent comparisons of pathological to healthy. Click each image to view full size.

Dear Clients,

I wanted to take a minute to thank all of you for taking the leap of faith to entrust me with the care of your horses. I am thrilled and hugely optimistic about the barefoot hoofcare revolution based upon the sheer numbers of owners taking the time to educate themselves on the subject, and then embark on the sometimes scary, sometimes lengthy, and still largely controversial road to barefoot rehabilitation.

Your continued trust and faith in me is critical through your horses' transition. The changes you will begin to see are often strange -- hooves start to look oddly misshapen, frogs that have been carved for years grow in weird and asymmetrical shapes and then shed out in one big hunk, soles become thick and lumpy only to shed out in great chunks, toe angles look startlingly different, toeing in or toeing out briefly (or permanently, if the horse's natural conformation has been "corrected" to the detriment of the rest of the horse by the previous farrier) is not uncommon, among other is all part of the process, and your patience and faith will be rewarded. Some horses weather the regrowth with hardly a bobble; some transitions are tougher. With your cooperation, the goal is to keep them all as comfortable and productive during their transition as is humanly possible.

Be patient not only with the process, but with your horse. He is HEALING; there is no other word to describe this process.

My dedication to barefoot hoofcare and to each and every horse I am blessed to be given the opportunity to help is no less than 110%. The fact that most of the horses I am transitioning are at Sun Coast or very close by makes it possible for me to monitor their progress very closely, and be available for your questions and concerns on a daily basis...that's something I'm pretty sure none of your farriers even came close to offering. That means that they are trimmed not a day sooner or later than is optimum, whether that happens to be weekly, every ten days, every two weeks, but rarely longer than every four weeks. I pay very close attention to their overall condition, not just their hooves. Please understand that I cannot possibly catch, halter, and examine all four feet of every horse on a daily basis, and must rely upon you to help expedite the healing process by cleaning, medicating, and booting your horse's hooves as prescribed. I absolutely welcome your questions, but encourage you to continue availing yourselves of the excellent resources available through Pete Ramey's, my own website, and other sites I've listed on my links page as well as below for your convenience.


Please BOOKMARK these links for your convenience:

Pete Ramey's site

Website of No. CA trimmer Linda Cowles
, who practices a very similar trim to mine

The website of trimmer Paige Poss has some excellent material, although her trimming philosophy differs slightly from Dr. Bowker's physiological trim, and therefore my trim:

And an excellent article by Pete Ramey on the subject of the politics of barefoot hoofcare that is a must-read.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Trimming the Horse with Limb Angulation (Pigeon Toed, Toed Out)

It is not an uncommon practice among farriers to straighten a crooked limb by leaving one side of the hoof longer than the other. The logic is that both heels should strike the ground at the same time. But if the whole LEG is crooked, which it will be to some degree in a horse that turns in or out with a medial/laterally balanced hoof, forcing both heels to land simultaneously cannot be healthy for the limb or the rest of the horse above it. I firmly believe that imbalancing the foot is NEVER a good way to address limb angulation issues. Not only does the imbalanced foot suffer, but forcing the crooked limb straight can cause serious issues elsewhere. Imbalances in hind heel height can cause serious hock, stifle, hip, and back issues. Imbalances in front heel height obviously impact the knees, shoulder and even the neck. The trick is trimming the horse with conformation faults so that the hoof is balanced, but also to minimize interfering and uneven wear.

Our goal is to trim so that the horse tracks as straight as possible, while creating no uneven wear to the hoof. So, even if he LOOKS toed in in front, or toed out behind, his movement will be as straight as is possible without tipping his coffin bone and lateral cartilages out of horizontal alignment with the ground. Watch closely for uneven wear between trims, or wall separation or flaring indicating pressure at a point in the foot. If the horse wears one side faster than the other, then we can safely leave one side of the wall less beveled (or even not beveled at all!), while beveling the less-worn side aggressively. If we have separation or flaring on one side, again, we bevel that side strongly to relieve the force. It won't totally straighten the foot, but it will keep the movement straight.

In any horse, wear pattern is a fantastic, reliable barometer, providing, of course, that the horse is getting adequate movement to wear his feet. It will not only tell you if your trim is balanced; it will also tell you if there may be a musculoskeletal imbalance elsewhere in the horse.

One of the tough issues when transitioning horses out of shoes is uncovering limb angulation that a farrier has been trimming out of the leg that the owner might not have been aware of. You start to balance the foot, and suddenly the horse toes in or toes out...the obvious assumption is that the trim is twisting the leg. Ultimately, the properly balanced, unshod hoof makes enough of a profound effect on the horse's health and overall way of going that the cosmetic flaw is unimportant. Feeling your way through the transition, listening to the hoof, and addressing uneven wear diligently are the keys to keeping these horses sound and moving optimally.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

I'm not against horseSHOERS...just against what they're taught.

Some distinctions that ought to be made...

I spend lots of time reading everything I can dig up on the subject of hoof care. I have no bias in my quest for knowledge -- I devour horseshoeing texts and conventional hoof care information as well as barefoot. I do, however, have a clear bias in what I believe to be healthier for the horse. The more I learn, the more hooves I pull shoes from, the more "pasture trimmed" feet I become familiar with, the more I read -- the more I adamantly believe that the shoeing and trimming techniques used by farriers with conventional horseshoeing educations are detrimental to the health of the horse's hoof.

That does NOT mean that I think anyone who shoes horses for a living is an inherently evil human being. In all fairness, I believe many of them are quite conscientious and apply what they have been taught skillfully. I just believe that what they have been taught is hugely flawed. I certainly don't wish any shoer misfortune; I don't want to steal their business or turn anyone against them. But I cannot in good conscience support how they manage a horse's feet. I do get frustrated that so few of them are open to the new research and ideas that are quietly starting to revolutionize hoofcare. That I find lazy and irresponsible.

Many "barefooters" tiptoe around the issue, careful to never blatantly point a finger at the former farrier or at traditional farriery in general. But I think doing so is a mistake. I think the finger should be pointed, but pointed at the industries that perpetuate shoeing. At the American Farrier's Association, which could at the very least update their certification to include a better standard for barefoot hoofcare, or perhaps even a certification specifically for barefoot hoofcare. At the racing industry, which funds a majority of the research into equine health...seriously...I find it ludicrous that millions of dollars have been spent for improved track surfaces, but we're still nailing aluminum to the feet of million dollar racehorses and watching them suffer catastrophic breakdowns. (Thoroughbreds are not allowed to race without shoes, even though a growing number of trainers are demonstrating how succesfully and soundly horses train barefoot.)

There is no getting around the fact that shoeing horses is a lucrative career for someone with physical strength and minimal education, and no doubt this is exactly what attracts many to the field of farriery. Doug Butler, the author of the textbook used in the curriculum of most horseshoeing schools, also penned a short booklet entitled, "So You Want To Be a Farrier? An Insider's Guide to the Farrier Profession". He prefaces a section on opportunities in horseshoeing with the following rather ironic anecdote:

"There were two young shoe salesmen who went to the frontiers of Africa to merchandise their goods. Each saw the same situation, but each had a different response. After a week, one wired, 'Am returning home. No market for shoes. Everyone goes barefoot.' The other wired back, 'Send two shiploads of shoes immediately! Market unlimited! Everyone goes barefoot!' It all depends on how you look at things!"

Hoof care is health care...does a capitalistic approach have any place in your horse's hoof care program???

I can easily understand the urge to vigorously defend your profession. I can also imagine the fear of being ostracized by your fellow farriers should you dip your toe in the barefoot waters. I've read discussions on farrier forums dripping with disdain for the barefoot movement. They like to contend that they could make even more money if they stopped shoeing...that they could book more clients and boost their income by switching to barefoot. Sure they could...if they trimmed the horse every 6 - 8 weeks, and trimmed the foot as if to prepare it for a shoe. But barefoot requires a higher level of maintenance (I find every 4 weeks is even pushing it with some horses), and a more detailed trim.

I know I personally did not become a barefoot trimmer for the money. Nor was it the best job available to me; I spent a number of years with a fat salary in the life science and internet industries. Barefoot for me, and for many like me, is a passion. I believe in it wholeheartedly, and dream of the day shoeing is a thing of the past. I hope I live to see nailed-on steel and aluminum shoes banned, to see horses run the Kentucky Derby barefoot, to see Olympic equines competing naked hoofed.