Clouds in the Rain: The Water Wicking Properties of a Thick, Concave Sole

Submitted by David Landreville, Landreville Hoof Care

When I was a landscape designer/contractor I loved the rain. I prayed that it would come and water my newly created landscapes because the water from the hose never had the same effect as a good rain. The plants would grow a few more inches, foliage filled in and greened up, and the dust was washed off of the boulders and stones in a way that softened the look of the landscape and heightened the subtle colors of the desert. The rain would freshen everything it touched. My love for rain quickly went away when I started trying to rehab horses feet. 

In the beginning, just when I felt like I was making progress with a horse, the rains would come and I'd have horse owner's calling me worried about their horse being sore. I'd do my best to convince the owner that their horse was just temporarily rain sore and to help them keep their horses as comfortable as possible until it dried out, often driving out to see if there was something else I could do. Many times the drive wasn't wasted and all I needed to do was clean the hard packed mud clod off of their soles. This usually provided immediate relief, however mud would accumulate again and the owner would have to keep their feet clean. Over the years I tried everything to prevent rain soreness:

  • Leaving the walls a little longer
  • Boots and pads
  • Creating positive drainage
  • Adding pea gravel

I did everything I could think of, including warning the owner up front that they would likely experience soreness during the rains for the first year or two.

After about 10 years of dreading the rains, and just when I was starting to get used to warning the owners before we started the rehabilitation process, I started having much better results. At first I attributed that to being prepared with boots and managing the environment, but some horses were still having trouble even when their owners were being proactive. After a long time of trying to figure out how to predict and prevent this problem I realized that some of the horses were getting along fine with big old mud clods on their soles while others were lame and the horses that were getting along fine had better feet at the end of the rainy season while the lame horses feet looked worse. I really wanted to understand what the difference was.

Over time I became aware of a pattern. After things dried out, the improved feet had a tremendous amount of crumbly sole that easily exfoliated, revealing even more concavity than they went into the wet season with, while the the horses that went in with flatter feet had even flatter feet by the end of the season. This realization caused me to try to help horses build as much sole as possible during the dry seasons. Convincing the owners to do their part was a challenge but I had a much better success rate with the ones that cooperated. 

First I had to get the owners to see and understand when the feet were improving and when they were declining instead of just riding their horse until they broke down, and then freaking out. Next I had to get them involved in the process so they felt more like it was a collaboration. After they knew what progress looked like and they realized that the changes were happening after they improved the footing and/or started using boots and pads they began to take even more ownership of the rehab process. Once it started feeling like team work, their horse's feet started getting even better.

I know 2016 was a bad year for a lot of folks but I had some of the toughest founder cases with the quickest and best turnarounds that I've ever seen. One of the biggest reasons for this was the arrival of the EasyCare Cloud boot. I used this boot extensively to get foundered and rain sore horses through the wet weather. I went through more than one pair in a few months time with several horses. In many of the extreme cases the boots were left on until the sun was shining. Sometimes they only had them off for an hour or two for the feet and the boots to dry out. I was able to trim frequently enough to keep the dead tissue to a minimum. This kept the feet from getting infected and allowed extra comfort after a trim. I taught the owners to use the boots as much as needed, but as little as possible, and to gently graduate their horses out of them until their horses were moving around comfortably totally bare. 

Over the last few years I've learned to love the rain again. I've also learned some interesting things about horse's feet. In wet weather the mud that collects in a concave sole works somewhat like a sponge. When a healthy concave hoof with thick live sole gets packed with mud, the weight of the horse squeezes the moisture out of the mud and keeps the sole dry. An old fashioned orange juice squeezer might be a better analogy. The mud ball elevates the foot off of the  ground just enough to let the weight of the horse squeeze the water out. They can go for weeks and maybe months like this if they have adequate concavity in the beginning. Once a horse is acclimated to their weight bearing being distributed between their heels and the peripheral edge of their sole at the toe, the sole will thicken and form a bowl (concavity). Achieving this is possible for most horses if they have the right owner/trimmer team. These horses are the ones that benefit from the rain. For the horses that go into the wet season with thin, flat, or even prolapsed soles, Easyboot Clouds used responsibly in conjunction with well timed and properly balanced trimming, should at the very least get a horse comfortably through the wet weather.

 An added benefit is that the rocker effect of the mud clod on a properly balanced, thick, concave sole helps to develop the digital cushion and lateral cartilages because the weight bearing is over the back of the foot where it belongs. This puts the center of the mud ball directly under the soft regenerative tissue in the back half of the foot, and increases flexion in the hoof capsule, while the rocker effect on a thin flat sole caused by excessive weight bearing on the toe puts the center of the mud ball directly under the coffin bone in the front half of the foot. This causes excruciating pain and magnifies the strain on the Deep Digital Flexor Tendon along with the ligaments and joints in the leg. Flexion of the hoof capsule is increased this way too, but in a harmful way.

I believe some of the founder cases from this year (pictured above) may not have been as successful without the Easyboot Cloud

Indicted

Submitted by David Landreville, Landreville Hoof Care

I started studying the mustang model about 11 years ago after one of our young geldings was diagnosed with late stages of navicular disease. We got him when he was five from a guy who had bred him and was training him to rope off of. He'd been shod since he was two or three, had already sustained some leg injuries, and wasn't performing at the desired level. After we acquired him I continued shoeing him. By the time he was seven his pasterns and heels were collapsed, his toe angles were very low, his soles were thin, and there seemed to be no way to correct the angles with trimming alone because there was no wall growing beyond the peripheral edge of his soles. The vet blamed it on poor conformation and recommended EDSS shoes with medium rails and wedge pads. For those who aren't familiar with these terms it basically boils down to about as much artificial wedging as you can get away with. Typically, it doesn't get better from there. We gave it a try for three shoeing cycles but realized quickly that Santo was just a different kind of uncomfortable and artificial wedging was giving us the illusion of artificial soundness. After I asked the vet directly what we were to expect he finally admitted that our horse's future was grim and we would be lucky if we got two more years out of him. 

This is when I started asking more questions. We found an alternative vet that recommended taking him barefoot and following Jamie Jackson's and Pete Ramey's work. I bought their books and jumped into the void. I took Ramey's advice and burned Jackson's wild horse hoof model in my brain. It payed off more than I could have imagined. Santo immediately started growing healthier feet and his soundness was improving daily. By providing ample movement, managing his feet with physiologically correct trimming, and with the help of EasyCare products, Santo has been ridden comfortably to this day, over 10 years later.

I started applying my lessons to other horses and getting the same results. After I'd been rehabbing hundreds of horses for eight years, Pete Ramey came out with his second book, Care and Rehabilitation of the Equine Foot. I'd already been to a Ramey/Bowker clinic and read as much material as I could get a hold of. I labored through Bowker's chapter, rereading sentences, paragraphs, and pages over and over until I felt like I was comprehending what I was reading. Being under horses full time for the past eight years really contributed to my understanding of the information I was reading and most of it was confirming many of my own realizations.  I was really excited to be able to trim during the day and be learning the science of it by night. 

I'd heard about Brian Hampson's work with the Australian Brumbies and couldn't wait to consume the next chapter but as I read his research I slowly started feeling uncomfortable and rereading it to make sure I wasn't misunderstanding it. The more I reread it, the sicker I got. "Everything I'd been doing for the last eight years was wrong!" This was the predominant voice in my head. He made such a strong case that "high mileage, hard substrate feet" better known as the "Mustang Model" wasn't the model we should be following because there was a high incidence of laminitis found in this type of hoof according to his research. He compared them to low mileage soft substrate feet and found more wall flare but less laminitis. "Laminitis!" was now the predominant voice in my head. I was silently living out the scene in Fun With Dick and Jane, where Jim Carey is running around his house yelling, "Indicted! Indicted! I'm going to be Indicted!"

 

After explaining my new findings and fears to my wife, she paused for a few seconds and very calmly said, "Ok, but you tell all your clients to board on sand, trim frequently, and to use hoof boots when they ride. You've been doing that with all of our horses for years and their feet are beautiful and they move beautifully." I thought about what she was saying for a few minutes until it sunk in. I realized in that moment that our horses and my clients horses had the best of both worlds. I was relieved and returned to my old mantra that I learned years ago from the same source, "Question Everything." I continue to have a lot of faith in the healing powers of the Mustang Model and continue to question it, simultaneously, every time I pick up a foot. I also continue to realize more and more, since I started teaching it, that different results come from different perceptions. I also know from experience, that perceptions can change when they merge with other perceptions and that is precisely what keeps us moving forward.

Bringing the Foot Back to Life

Submitted by David Landreville, Landreville Hoof Care

Many horse owners find themselves in a situation where their horse isn't necessarily lame but they know that their horse's feet could be healthier. They find themselves in the uncomfortable state of not wanting to settle for "what is" and not knowing how to achieve "what can be". In my own opinion this is where change often starts and where I suggest:

  • A change of footing.
  • Then a change in trim protocol and diet.
  • And finally to give the horse room to move because that's where the real change occurs.

I recently had someone ask me what my take on frog contact with ground surface is. In my opinion, frog contact is the heart of hoof development and the key to bringing a foot back to life. One thing I will say to begin with is that it all depends on:

1. The stage of development of the foot

2. The type of footing that the horse lives on

Success will be limited unless you can control these two factors. The footing needs to be brought up to the frog or the frog needs to be lowered to the footing. One way or the other, or both.  Sand/chat/pea gravel and/or boots with appropriate pads can be used to accomplish this.

I consider this ( photo above ) to be a well developed foot (eight years in a small track system and micro managed on a 1-3 week trim cycle).  You can see that there is less heel height (ends of collateral grooves to ground contact points) and more heel depth (ends of collateral grooves to hairline).  The frog is fully alive and in the same plane as the heels (blue line). This relationship doesn't change much when the foot is weight bearing due to the strength of the back of this foot.  This frog and digital cushion are well developed and they can take a lot of weight bearing. This, in turn leads to further development.

I believe the frog needs to make contact with the ground but it's actually a very specific area of the frog and a very specific percentage of the horse's body weight that it is supposed to support. It's slightly different for every horse, in every environment, and for various stages of development. Proper frog contact provides proper stimulation to the digital cushion and lateral cartilages. These tissues are regenerative. In my experience this is true even in older horses, although this can be limited by the extent of the damage done over time. Once the proper frog/heel/back of sole relationship is achieved, development can begin and the frog can begin to gradually take a heavier load. When a foot gets to this point, development can be continual. The key to frog development is pressure. The frog thrives on pressure.  It is like a muscle in that way.  It can be developed at any age, just like an old man who decides to get fit in his 70's. It's not easy but it's possible.  Needless to say, starting younger is better, but better late than never. 

 The key to success here is in controlling the environment, movement, diet, hoof shape (trimming/wear) and especially movement.  The horse should always be kept as comfortable as possible because it's the proper weight bearing over the hoof structures while standing and during movement that build the foot.

Above is the progress on a hoof made over 5 months of trimming on a 2-3 week cycle. The heels have been properly lowered and shaped (for the stage of development) and brought closer to the level of live horn, following the contour of the growth corium. The goal here is to keep the horse comfortable while gradually getting the frog reactivated by making proper ground contact; bringing the living tissues that thrive on stimulation closer to the ground. This horse was living part time in a grass pasture and part time in a 12'X12' stall bedded with shavings. The black arrow shows an abscess eruption that I used as a land mark to track the progress.

Here's another photo showing the foot before, and directly after, a trim. Here, I set the heels according to the horse's poor stage of development and the terrain she lives on, which is a 10 acre natural desert, grass pasture (dry and hard footing). My decision to "set the heel height" comes from carefully listening to the horse. By that I mean that she is untied and not being held when I trim her so she is free to leave if she doesn't like what I'm doing. 

I almost always trim to just above the live sole in the seat of corn (back of sole forward of the heel purchase) and use this as a gauge for heel height. I've learned to respect the live sole plane and wait for change. This is the horse's response to readiness for change. The dead sole will exfoliate more easily when the horse is weighting the heels properly. Then I just remove the dead tissue and follow the same protocol for the frog. Removing the dead tissue on the frog exposes the live tissue that has feeling. When the toughened surface areas of the living heel walls, seat of corn, and frog are all in a proper tight relationship the back of the foot will become naturally more stabilized. This allows the horse to willingly set their weight into the back of their feet. When this is done correctly the horse will typically show signs of relaxation like licking, chewing, yawning, eye rolling, lowering their head, engaging with the trimmer, etc. 

I work over time to close the gap between the ground and the frog until the frog is taking its fair share of the weight bearing. This can take a few years. These same techniques can be applied to horses that are being transitioned out of steel shoes with distended frogs.


Left: just out of steel shoes. Right: two years later after making all the changes mentioned above.

Understanding Bio-Mechanics

Submitted by David Landreville, Guest HCP

 A broad, well defined, true frog tip is an indication of a properly suspended coffin bone.  When the live sole is thick it forms a bowl, referred to as concavity.  When the bowl is symmetrically shaped and deep, (at least a 1/2 inch measuring from the bottom of the collateral grooves at the tip of the frog to the peripheral edge of the sole in the quarters) the coffin bone is not only suspended off the ground by a thick flexible dome (the sole) but due to the highly vascular venous plexus at the corium, and valve like nature of the hoof capsule, P3 is also floating on a cushion of blood.  In well developed feet, added support from the digital cushion and lateral cartilages that form the internal arch make the hoof capsule a super structure that's not only capable of withstanding years of almost constant concussive forces but having the ability to convert these forces into beneficial vibrations that result in stored energy like a power pack.  The back 2/3 of the foot has the ability to develop like a muscle when the weight bearing is correctly placed over the soft tissues.  Add boots or rubber shoes to this equation and you begin to wonder...what's the limit of strength and endurance?  
This isn't a new revelation.  We read and hear about the bio-mechanics of bare feet all the time in books, videos, and on the internet but we rarely see photos of really healthy, high functioning feet. 
This video has three parts:

  • In part 1...I talk about the importance of the back of the foot being properly shaped for efficient movement.
  • In part 2...I talk about the importance of knowing the relationships of the major structural  landmarks of the sole in order to assess and mitigate structural migration. 
  • In part 3...I show some techniques to safely and effectively use a sharp hoof knife because I feel that application is more important than theory. 

Sound or Insensitive?

Submitted by David Landreville, Guest HCP

When I first started trimming I thought the goal was to have horses that could travel barefoot all day over rocks.  Since then I've realized that this is where ego comes in, and compassion goes out.

Another problem is that horse's hooves are adaptable to their environment, however, this can get them into trouble if they don't get enough daily movement and the environment they are in is not conducive to good feet.

Something that should be constantly considered about horses is that their feet grow at a rapid rate (roughly 1/16 inch every 4-5 days).  This isn't just the walls. The sole, bars (which are just continuations of the wall), and frog try to keep up with the rate of the wall.  Just like human fingernails and toenails, hoof walls are only live tissue until they grow past the peripheral edge of the sole (the specialized equivalent of human skin) where they lose moisture and feeling.  Rock hard hooves aren't necessarily a good sign.  A healthy sole is at least a half inch thick and relies on constant movement or simulated natural wear (proper trimming) to keep the wall and frog very close to the live sole plane.  A thick, healthy, live sole  can be identified by it's quality and appearance.  There will be concavity that measures at least a half inch deep from the peripheral edge of the sole at the quarters to the bottom of the collateral groves at the tip of a well defined frog.  The surface of the sole will be smooth like leather but not necessarily shiny like stone.  It will be void of lumps and bumps.  There may be a crackly texture directly under the coffin bone forward of the bars and surrounding the frog.  This is retained sole and can be between 1/8 - 1/4 inch thick.  This is a good thing that adds comfort when it's managed properly.  It should feather out to nothing about half way from the bottom of the collateral grooves to the peripheral edge of the sole.  This should be a result of high mileage, proper trimming, or a combination of the two.  

Because of the conical shape of the hoof capsule, when the walls are are allowed to grow past the peripheral edge of the sole for long periods of time, the sole tries to migrate with it.  The problem is that the sole has a border and the wall doesn't.  This causes the sole to stretch and flatten under the horses weight.  This would draw more attention if the horse would just go lame every time this happened so we could all recognize a pattern and agree on the cause.  Horses have adapted to this problem over millions of years of evolution by accumulating, retaining, and producing an excess of the retained insensitive sole that I mentioned earlier.   In nature this would happen during the wet season when grass is abundant and the ground is softer.  It quickly gets worn away as it dries out and horses have to move more miles over more abrasive terrain in search of grass and water as it become more scarce.  This accumulation of retained sole keeps them sound enough to survive until it's worn back down.  If over-growth persists and is not managed naturally through wear or mechanically through proper trimming then the retained sole gets thicker as the live sole gets thinner.  Eventually there will be nothing but thick retained sole that the horse becomes reliant upon for soundness.  At this point if an attempt is made to rectify the hooves, the retained sole can exfoliate all at once exposing the true, thin, live sole.  Exfoliation is a natural response to growth equilibrium of the hoof structures...out with the old, in with the new.  It's just not meant to happen all at once after an extended period of overgrowth. 

Miles of daily wear, frequent proper trimming, or a combination can develop any foot to its true potential.  I believe that the horse's true potential hasn't even been seen yet.  I do know that with the recent advancements in rubber boots and shoes the standard has been raised considerably.  Rubber hoof wear not only protects, but it helps build the horse (and saves the legs) and the highly regenerative structures of their hooves.

When people see photos of the feet that I've developed over years of simulated wear,  they often ask, "yeah, but is she sound all day on rocks?" My answer is, " I ride in boots so they are improving with every step."

A Tool for Everything

Submitted by Rusty Toth 

Meet Delilah, she is a 16.1 h former race horse I was introduced to to help her become sound again. She is a sweet and kind mare with some issues from less than stellar shoeing practices in her past. She has a low heel, long toe and very flat thin soles.

After a discussion with the owner, we decided to try the EasyShoe Performance. The frog stimulation, I believe, will help grow sole while getting her off the rough hard decomposed granite that is our ground in the Phoenix area. She was so tender standing on a mat she could not load one foot long enough to either directly or indirectly glue on the shoes. Poor girl gave it an honest try, but she just couldn't do it. Now what?

In trying to problem solve the situation, I remembered a blog from Christoph some time ago about modifying a shell into a shoe. Bingo! With the Adhere being so quick to set, the shell encompassing her hoof wall, she could set the bugger down quickly and with gusto, and I knew the boot would remain in place.

We truly have an excellent group of people collected with EasyCare. A quick call to Christoph to ascertain the size of hole required for the size of shell and we were off and running. I used a three and a half inch hole in a size #2 Glue-On shell. She needed the support of the base and frog.

Knowing how sore she was, I did not apply any glue to the sole surface, and applied Adhere to the wall of the shell only. Using a duct tape damn, I applied Vettec Soft to make her immediately comfortable. Knowing this product has zero sticking quality we will remove the packing in two weeks time to allow the sole to breath.

The owner reported the next day that Delilah was walking sound, landing flat and even heel first for the first time in a long time.  Problem solving at its best. I am grateful to be part of such an incredible team of people collected, using amazing products with an infinite ability to be used to solve any problem. Thank you EasyCare.

 

That's My Story and I'm Stickin' To It: The Learning Curve

Submitted by David Landreville

That's My Story by Collin Raye was a popular song in the 90's. I don't know how many times back then I would hear someone finish their sentence with the line, "That's my story and I'm stickin' to it." I feel sorry for Collin Raye as I'm sure he never escaped his fans shouting this line at him. What I find interesting though, is how a hit country song aimed at self deprecating humor quickly became a national anthem that seemed to "stick." This method of "tweaking the truth" has become very prevalent in our society and has become an every day part of my personal experience with horse people: Veterinarians, farrier/trimmers, trainers, and horse owners. It's easy to judge the success of a concept, or product, by your own experience, but not very productive to just stop there. Here's a self deprecating story about my learning curve with EasyShoes.

I've spent many years developing a predictably successful trimming protocol. The trouble is that success is like money, and it seems that you can never have enough. When the EasyShoe first came out, I have to admit, my first thought was negative because it looked too much like the demon I'd been fighting for years. A funny thing happened, though. Over time, the closer I looked at it, the more interested I became until I was modifying Glue-On shells to mimic the design (because they weren't available to the public yet). I started gluing them on my own horses and immediately had some positive results. They improved the movement and the integrity of the soft tissue in the back of their feet.  I was excited about this and couldn't wait for the EasyShoe to become available. As usual, when trying something new, there will be a learning curve. My problem was being able to make them last for a full trim cycle. I was getting anywhere from a day to a month. I still saw hoof improvement as long as they would stay in place. I was afraid that I wouldn't be very successful using them on my client's horses if I couldn't reasonably predict how long they would stay on.

After a few brave souls offered to be experiments, I slowly broadened my experience and learned to improve my success rate. I achieved good changes in the hoof but only moderate success with them staying on the feet. To be honest, it was very close to a matter of doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Something finally changed but it wasn't for the better. A new client asked me if I would apply them to her horse as she was going on a 50 mile endurance ride in the upcoming weekend. She seemed thrilled at the chance to be getting to try this new product. After applying them she took photos and proudly posted them on Facebook. One of the comments read, "not enough glue"... from Garrett Ford. A nagging feeling crept in and I couldn't get rid of the sense of foreboding. I was terrified that they were going to come off during her ride. My internal dialogue took over from there. I couldn't wait until the weekend was over. I called her on Monday hoping to hear that she had a great time and all my fears were over nothing. Instead, they were confirmed. She had a horrible ride, losing all but one shoe by the forty mile mark. She had no way to remove the last shoe and for fear of hurting her horse she got off and walked him to the finish line. I'm sure my name came up more than once in that stretch of the trail. I apologized but wasn't sure that would be enough.

After a futile attempt at justifying the failure with rationalizations such as, "these shoes just don't work on a well trimmed hoof" and "if the horse had better conformation there wouldn't have been so much torque on the shoe", but I knew other people were having more success than I was. I decided to reply to Garrett's comment, "I would appreciate any tips that you might have." Garrett graciously offered to show me first hand the protocol that he had developed for predictable adhesion (the same protocol that is available on the EasyCare website). After spending a day gluing shoes on his horses, I realized that what he was showing me and what I had been doing were a universe apart. Garrett advised me that, if you don't develop a strict protocol, you'll never be able to look back and see why you were successful or where you failed. This made perfect sense to me because I felt the same way about trimming. I'm grateful for the lesson and now I am very proud of my shoeing results. As a matter of fact, I've had to develop my own protocol to remove them in a timely fashion. If you're not having good results with something that other people are, you may just be the variable.

Well, that's my story and I'm sticking' to it...for now.

The Illusion of Heel Height

Submitted by David Landreville, Guest HCP

Many people don't know this, but horses aren't "stuck with the feet they have". Over time, their feet can be restored and can reach a state where continual development is possible. Don't say "That's just what they have." Hoof development is not necessarily limited by age, conformation, or even tissue damage. I believe it's mostly limited by knowledge and perception. For instance, someone can have a lot of success keeping horses sound with their trimming and booting protocol, but when they teach someone else that student has their own experience and interprets it a little differently than the teacher. When that student teaches someone else, the same thing happens and this goes on and on until the details of the original protocol get lost in translation. It becomes very unreliable, like the telephone game. If the founder of the original method is unfortunate enough to have their name attached to it, they will most certainly get as much blame as praise. The success rate may become uncontrollable and a new method will eventually arise.

Photo credit: Daisy Bicking.

There have been plenty of good trimming methods developed by good practitioners, and the best ones are constantly evolving (methods and practitioners). What you don't hear so much about is hoof development. I believe this is because everyone is too busy arguing about trimming methods to realize the incredible regenerative qualities of the horse's hoof. Almost any hoof, whether the horse is young, old, or debilitated. The challenge is methodology. There is a certain relationship that the hoof structures have to be in for the hoof to reach growth equilibrium and for the structures to reach a state of continual development: a relationship that must be maintained constantly. This is one of the lessons of the Mustang Model. It's nothing new. Horses have been doing it for themselves for eons.

Many hoof care practitioners realize the advantage of self wear for establishing individual physiologically correct hoof conformation. For some, including myself, it is a source of great frustration. I'll admit that when I first heard claims of achieving barefoot soundness from acres and acres with 24/7 movement on varied terrain my reaction was "What about the rest of us who only have small acreage or just a rented stall?" After I brooded on this for a while, the thought crossed my mind, "Why not simulate the wear?" The only thing I had to change was the frequency of my trim. I had noticed on my own seven horses that within one week of beveling the wall in order to load the peripheral border of the sole, they had already grown enough wall to transfer the weight from the peripheral border of the sole back to the wall. 

All the photos of wild hooves and the self trimming domestic hooves that I had seen looked more like my horses directly after a trim, so I decided to increase the trim frequency to once a week. This isn't an original idea. There are plenty of horse owners that ride regularly, do their own trimming, and dress their horses feet up a little just before or after a ride to keep the chipping and cracking down or to keep their boots fitting optimally.

I just decided to do it on seven of my own horses for as long as I saw favorable results. That turned out to be about seven years. Most of my horses were rescues with hoof/body issues and less than favorable conformation. I found that when I kept their feet perfectly balanced, the structures began to develop and take on a shape of their own. This contributed to the overall unique shape of each foot and transferred into the improvement of the horse's conformation. They were all standing more square and this, in turn, transferred into their hooves, maintaining their balance. The longer I kept at it, the less I had to do at each trim interval and the better their feet and bodies looked. And the better they were moving. They all fit nicely into Easyboot Gloves, and though they could be ridden bare foot, they went even better when booted. It's been about ten years since I started my simulated self wear experiment. A few years ago, I completed my track system and imported tons of sand. The extra movement and forgiving footing has allowed me to reduce the trim frequency to 2-3 week intervals with out compromising hoof development. 

Caudal hoof development can be measured by assessing the ratio of vertical heel depth compared to vertical heel wall length. A well developed heel has more heel depth than heel wall length. Here are three examples of of heel development.

I've measured the vertical heel depth from the pink line at the hairline to the blue line at the termination of the collateral grooves and the heel wall length from the blue line to the green line at the ground bearing surface of the heel wall. 

David Landreville, Landreville Hoof Care

How to Achieve Hoof Growth Equilibrium

Horses' hooves are highly regenerative. They are designed to be a sustainable structure that not only lasts a lifetime but improves over time. When the horse's weight is continually and properly balanced over the horse's hooves and the surface area of every structure receives the correct amount of pressure, you will achieve growth equilibrium. When this is frequently maintained through miles of wear, and/or simulated wear from trimming, the hooves will continually develop over the lifetime of the horse. This means that horses have the ability to have the best feet of their life when they are older. When this is tapped into, the rest of the horse benefits also.  There will be less strain on the legs, hips, back, shoulders and neck. This will minimize injuries and allow the horse to become well conditioned with out having to compensate.

Draft cross on 80 acres, Bermuda grass diet, and a two-week trim cycle. Before and after trim.

The benefit to the horse and human is that the comfortable working career of horses can be extended well into their later years. Imagine a horse that's well conditioned when they are in their twenties. This isn't easy to do. In fact, it takes money, time, knowledge, and discipline. By now, most barefoot enthusiasts know well that it can be very difficult to trim your way into successful bare hooves. It's even more difficult to trim your way into well-developed bare feet. Most also know that this isn't likely to happen if the following criteria are not met:

  1. A proper diet of mostly grass hay.
  2. Adequate movement over varied terrain.
  3. Frequent, minimal, and proper trimming.
  4. Proper use of boots, pads, or composite shoes.
  5. Balanced riding.

Of course, there are always exceptions, but I believe that most horses have room for improvement. Hoof development goes far beyond typical maintenance trimming and requires either a lot of land for adequate movement (many daily miles for self balancing wear), or knowledge of equine physiology for trimming that closely mimics balanced self wear.

Recognizing Structural Development

  1. A dense digital cushion that you can feel when you palpate the tissue in-between the frog and the pocket in the back of the foot that's formed by the span of the heel bulbs.
  2. Full and rounded heel bulbs from healthy well stimulated lateral cartilages.
  3. A full frog that feels like tire rubber.
  4. Thick undeviated hoof walls and bars.
  5. Smooth concave soles.
  6. Well-connected lamina, especially in the heels and between the toe pillars.
  7. Well-defined edges between structures.
  8. An even layer of retained sole that's only present in the deepest part of the sole continuing around the tip of the frog (sometimes this will form a circular shape outlining P3 ).

What strategies do you employ to achieve hoof growth equilibrium?

David Landreville, Landreville Hoof Care

Get the Drift

Submitted by David Landreville, Guest HCP

The photos below are the right front foot of a right fore-limb dominant Warmblood. She stands 17h and has size four feet. These photos span five months time. The previous trimmer was doing a good job keeping the heels level and the toe reasonably short but due to her body weight being imbalanced over her feet with the majority being over her right front, the hoof capsule drifted laterally until the outer structures started to break away from the corresponding inner structures.

She wasn't lame at the time that the first photo was taken, in fact, she was being ridden weekly by the trainer/trimmer and by the owner for weekend dressage lessons. I feel that this is important to note because many horses endure excessive damage to their feet and limbs because they don't show obvious signs of lameness and the owner/trimmer either doesn't recognize hoof distortion or isn't sure what to do about it.

The photos are two different views of the same foot. The time span between the images on the left and those on the right is several months.

This horse is not fully rehabbed at this point but she has continued to maintain progress in spite of many hoof care challenges. Here's a list of the pros and cons of her environment and lifestyle:

Pros:
1.  Lives in a 1/4 acre paddock with several other herd mates.
2.  Gets ridden regularly (and straight) by a professional trainer.
3.  Fed mainly Bermuda grass.
4.  Gets a properly balanced trim every 2-3 weeks.

Cons:
1.  The footing in her paddock is several inches of manure.
2.  She gets supplemented with alfalfa.

This mare had a chronic infection in the lateral bar that was being caused by the shearing forces from the outer structures tearing away from the corresponding inner structures. The footing in her paddock made this difficult to clear up.

This horizontal sequence of 3 photos shows her foot at different intervals of the rehabilitation process.

Left to right: 10/23/2013 - 11/9/2013 - 3/9/2014.

I've outlined the frog in pink and the outer edge of the collateral groove in green. The vertical blue line runs from the back of the central sulcus to the center of the toe. The horizontal blue line indicates the back of the heel bulbs. The red dots indicate:

From top to bottom:
- the center of the toe
- the tip of the frog
- the center of the back of the foot

The white outlined areas show where the foot is making ground contact. The top row are the same unmarked photos. When the coffin bone is correctly aligned with the hoof capsule the red dots should line up on the vertical blue line. The earlier this is detected, the easier it is to correct.