Okay, let’s do it, let us move higher. At least a few feet above the hoof level:
This horse’s front left hoof is ahead of the right one. Left hoof is also larger, has a lower hoof angle. All telltale signs that this horse is dominant on the left side.
Many books and articles have been written about how to trim high/low hooves. Sometimes it is even called a ‘high/low syndrome’. Were we to use this term, we then also have to acknowledge that there is not a single horse out there without this syndrome. Fact is, there is no truly symmetrical horse anywhere. Every horse has mismatched front hooves, it is just a matter of degrees. Some come close, it is then hard to distinguish any asymmetry for the untrained observer, with others we see an extreme development into a club foot.
How do these asymmetries develop? Here are some reasons for it, not a complete list, I might add:
- Hereditary: Especially mares have a higher probability to pass on an asymmetry. Stallions less likely.
- Conformation: Horses with long legs and short necks will develop a bigger high/low difference, because they have to spread their front legs further to be able to graze.
- Injuries: Shoulder or tendon injuries can cause this asymmetry to develop
- Hoof Trims: Infrequent trimming can accelerate high/low development
A hoof trim every 6 weeks can only correct the looks of the hooves for a short while. Mechanically we can adjust both hooves so they look similar. But without addressing the causes higher up, this is short lived.
To achieve long term results, we need to get the horse owner and rider on board. From the first day a foal is grazing it will start spreading its legs to reach the ground with his muzzle. Horses being very habitual, they will continue to always spread the same way, either the right or the left leg will be placed forward, but it is habitually always the same leg. With time, we see hoof changes: the front hoof will grow larger and flatter, while the back placed hoof will grow more heel. The forward placed hoof will get pressure mainly over the heels, therefore the heels will grow less while the toes can grow quickly forward. The rearward placed hoof experiences most pressure on the toe, restricting toe growth, causing toe flares and the less pressured heels grow long rapidly. To help with breaking this habit, we can use feeders higher off the ground:
Now there is no need to spread legs while eating.
When training asymmetrical horses we often encounter resistance. There is refusal to take the lead with the weaker leg. Just like we see resistance when we force a right handed child to write with the left hand. With the child, the repercussions of not being ambidextrous is of little if any consequences. Quite different for horses. The stronger leg shows a larger associated shoulder, possible causing saddle fit issues. The stronger leg is more susceptible to tendon injuries. The weaker leg is more susceptible to suspensory and ligament injuries. The frog of that hoof is often recessed and more likely to get thrush.
How big an influence can it really have on the shoulder development, one might ask. I took a few photos form a horse with a moderate high/low hoof difference: The left hoof is the dominant hoof with this horse:
Narrow based, left dominant, but by no means extreme.
Here are the shoulders:
A rather large left shoulder development while somewhat atrophied on the right.
Here both shoulders from the side view:
We all, I believe, can see that there has to be a real incentive to get the horse to be as symmetrical as possible. How to go about it?
We mentioned the high feeders off the ground. That is a first step. Next, we need to lengthen and stretch the recessed side. The horizontal movement is restricted, the horse needs to loosen and stretch the restricted leg. Roundpen work is a wonderful tool to achieve this. Let’s take a horse where we intend to strengthen their right side: in the walk and trot, we want to go mainly counterclockwise, like in the photo below:
The right leg needs to travel further forward so that the horse can stay on the circle.
During the canter, the horse will lead with the inside leg. Again, if my purpose is strengthening the right side with that same horse, I have to make him canter clockwise:
Here this horse is opening up his right shoulder to be able to scope more forward with his right leg. The right hind already has reached way far forward.
Same with the horse in the picture below. We can observe an opening of the shoulder to reach far forward with the right leg.
What’s interesting in this frame is the strong vertical push upward from the left hind as well as the left front, all to open the right side of the horse for the following forward move of both right legs, the hind and the front. When talking about strength, I should differentiate between vertical and horizontal strength, or static and dynamic strength, if you like. While the leg with the lower angled and larger hoof has certainly more horizontal strength, the more upright and smaller hoofed leg has certainly more vertical strength. To get both legs more even is the objective.
Often one can find certain restrictions or adhesions in the shoulders of the horizontally ‘weaker’ leg. Stretching and massaging that side will help breaking these adhesions.
Here, I’m trying to open the shoulders through massage.
A few years ago, I elaborated on that massage technique in my blog Managing The Club Foot. If you are interested, you can read up on this by clicking on the link.
We probably never achieve total symmetry, it will always be one of the elusive goal. But I truly believe we should always strive for it and never stop seeking it, only then can we get results. I have achieved more balanced and more symmetrical hooves with this approach on numerous horses in training.
Hooves mirror the horse, they tell us a story of the happenings in our horses life. If we only focus our hoof care on the hooves, we are missing the big picture, we are just treating symptoms, a Band-Aid approach. To achieve real changes and do our horses justice, hoof care needs to address the whole horse and everything about the horse’s life.
From the Bootmeister