Last year in May, I got a call from a concerned horse owner. He had a Belgian mare with some hoof issues and was wondering if I took on new clients. I told him I do, but that I was due to leave on a ten week endurance ride across the country in a week or so, so he’d have to be ok with that. He said the horse was really sore and ‘something is wrong with its feet’. He was not a very experienced horse owner, and he hadn’t had this one for long. I agreed to come on out and see what I could do.

When I got there, what I saw was a big mess. This was a foundering horse, and a big horse. I told him this horse needs to see the vet and get some intensive care, that I would be unable to provide since I was leaving. He asked me to do what I could anyway, so I did. She had active abscessing and a prolapsed sole, coffin bone likely very near the surface, and could barely pick up her feet, let alone hold them up. It took a long time to trim up the worst of her lamellar wedge, and balance her up to the best of my ability. I was not very happy with the results, but with the assurance of the owner he’d get her to a vet, and a few numbers of other hoofcare professionals in the area, I left hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

Meet Sparrow’s Cheval, or Chevy as she is affectionately called, a 17yo Belgian mare. All photos by Shannon Grinsell, except where indicated otherwise.

Fast forward to now March 2012. I hadn’t heard any more from the Belgian’s owner since I had gotten back from the ride in July. I had, in fact, even forgotten about her, when I got a message from another local Natural Hoofcare Provider, Megan Hensley of Holistic Hooves. She asked if I remembered a Belgian with hoof problems and how bad was it, as she had gotten a call to come out and look at it. It still didn’t connect in my head that this was the same horse.

Here is the neat part of the story: she had put out a post to Facebook, the networking wonderland, the previous evening, musing about how she really wanted to work with a draft horse and help it. So a FB friend messaged her and said that her boyfriend has one, that it is in bad shape hoof wise, and no one in the area is willing to help. So they were going to euthanize her, as they didn’t want to watch her gimping around in pain anymore. Would Megan like to have her and see if she could help?

The universe works in mysterious ways. She went out and then was posting about it on Facebook, asking opinions and also about a trailer ride for it to her place, so I offered since I had a good sized trailer. When Megan sent me the address, it all clicked. That Belgian! Oh my, she was still around? I went back and took a closer look at the hooves and x-rays and thought she had actually improved from when I saw her.

Megan later called asking if I could also give a few pointers. I have been practicing a little longer than she has, though there is still so much to learn, especially on these pathological cases. I told her I would come a bit earlier and we’d take a look. Then we talked about the lack of good hoof care for Drafts (the owners had been unable to get anyone to take care of it, the vets didn’t recommend any corrective shoeing or trimming, and none of the farriers wanted to deal with it either. This is typical in our area and how part of that is also due to the fact there is a lack of well-trained Drafts as well.

I have worked on a number of Drafts, and those that are trained to have their feet worked with and hold them up, great! Those that aren’t; well you can discuss things with a horse, but when a draft wants its leg back, you are a rag doll on the end of that leg. So this led to an idea on Megan’s end: one that is not common, if it has been done at all. Why not work on drafts as a team? We could be Hensley and Herman Draft Services or something to that effect. One holds the leg and otherwise handles the horse and the other works on the foot. Trade off as needed. Brilliant! We also thought we could start a campaign on draft horse education for owners to help them learn how to handle and train their horse for proper hoof care and other basic horse things. Chevy could be our poster child! Well, those ideas are still be worked on, but for now, we are working together on Chevy, to hopefully get her feet feeling happy again. Below is our first work with her, and her journey from her old home, to her new one with Megan.

These are her x-rays from supposedly 7 months back. We REALLY need to talk to the local vets on how to take x-rays…nothing on the hoof has been marked, so you can’t tell much of anything! We are going to photo copy the chapter on how to do X-rays in Pete Ramey’s new book, and hand them in to the office.

I don’t have a photo drawing program on this computer, but I was able to change some of the contrasts and such, and here is what I see: definite rotation in the hoof capsule, at least some sole now under P3, and what looks like an air pocket in the wall of the toe that matches what we see on the real hoof. Anything else is totally impossible to determine from these images. Large animal vets really do need to know how to take good images and how marking hoof wall, frog apex and other points of the hoof, is key to this. It is no help to the hoofcare professional (barefoot trimmer or farrier), if they don’t have the tools to do the job. Good imaging is part of that tool box.

And here is what Megan saw when she first went out to see Chevy. She didn’t do much with her feet at this point, just round off a few things here or there, take a bit of the heels. Photos by Megan Hensley. At least there is a frog and some sole: her right front is the bad one. The left seems fairly normal, if a little long.

So then we figured out a day I could meet up with her, to work on Chevy and bring her to Megan’s place. It was a mixed bag weather day, alternating between warm and humid with sun, and cold and rainy. Not the best day for working on a horse.

Chevy and her herd: two donkeys, a mustang, and a goat 🙂 All well taken care of and happy.

Chevy greets us at the gate…a sweet mare, she is a typical gentle giant Draft.

Hensley and Herman Draft Services. Here we are, me (with coffee in hand as usual) on the left, and Megan on the right, ready for action.

Chevy not so happy about moving around when asked to turn and cross over. Not too horrid on a straight away, but even then a little sore.

Chevy comes up to us and can at least stand square. We all seem to be saying “Rain? Now? Come on!”

Here is what they are looking like from the front and sides. Megan had rounded off the worst of it and taken the heels down a little already on the last trim, but we still had much to do.

Taking a first look and getting an idea of what we want to take, where.

A huge wedge. Remember the air hole on the x-ray? Nothing holding the wall to the rest of the foot.

And taking a look at the other hoof.

This one wasn’t too bad, so we had at least one foot for her to stand on. Since it was only one hoof, we didn’t think it was metabolically triggered laminitis, although we will do some blood tests later as more funds come in. She doesn’t seem to show the typical body signs either. Best guess was maybe she had had an injury, and it was supporting limb laminitis that started everything.

“Help me please!” says Chevy.”We will do our best, kiddo,” says I.

Chevy has her own Facebook page now as well. We want to take new radiographs, do blood tests, and so forth. We want to do this several times throughout her recovery.

Next entry: we trim and pad Chevy’s hoof, and take her to her new home. Read Part Two here.