Former steeplechaser, Big Band Show, “Banjo”, was often described as a hot house flower. But after I pulled his shoes, the debilitating episodes of rain rot and hives and bug bites swelling to the size of my hand all vanished. He was my previous horse and the first I transitioned to bare feet. This proves even a newbie can make a huge difference!
Going barefoot with a natural trim and boots for riding, is not without its twists, turns and bumps in the road. I was a professional trimmer working in Delaware for six years. During that time, I specialized in teaching owners, mostly women, to trim their personal horse(s). I quickly learned that in addition to teaching them to trim, I had to prepare the owners for issues they might face, if transitioning to bare feet were to be successful.
- Chipping of the hoof wall
- Rehabbing cracks, holes and other deformities
- Concerns post-rehab
- Building a strong back-of-foot
Until then, I encouraged my clients to educate themselves so they understood the advantages of having a barefoot horse. Personally, if I ever found a horse who could not be ridden barefoot in padded boots, I would recommend he be retired. It’s not fair to ride a horse with that much damage.
Shoes, whether metal or plastic, nailed or glued, are a short term band aid not a fix.
2. Soundness. After each trim, your horse should walk soundly.
When I first began trimming, I followed some excellent advice from Dr. Tomas Teskey. He recommended that after I pulled shoes, one nail at a time, I just round the edges of the hoof wall and even-up the heels. “Make no big changes on the first trim,” he suggested. “To the horse, it feels like you just pulled off half his hoof. Give him a month to adjust.” What great advice that was. The horses certainly appreciated it. I just had to alert the owners about the expected chipping of the walls (more on that below).
Most horses walk off from every trim, sound on grass. There are two major exceptions: First, ‘navicular disease or syndrome’. Second, the overly trimmed horse.
This poor shod guy (not my client) has had Back-of-Foot Pain for years. He points first one foot then the other to relieve the pain in the back of his foot. The traditional world calls it ‘navicular syndrome or disease’ but the navicular bone is just an innocent bystander. In fact the coffin bone suffers more damage when he lands toe first. Pull the shoes, therapeutically boot if necessary. Apply the natural trim and treat the frog. This will rehab the back of the foot. Rehab is straight forward. Dr. James Rooney, author of The Lame Horse, clarified the problem and treatment in 1975 and yet 36 years later horses are being put in bar shoes, being wedged every 6 weeks, having their nerves cut and eventually euthanized.
Many domestic horses, and especially ones who are shod, have a weak back-of-foot. You may see thrushy frogs and contracted heels which are protecting the back of his foot. When I pull shoes on a compromised horse like this, he may well be lame. He walks incorrectly, by landing toes first. This is an obvious compensation for a sore back-of-foot. The fix? Padded Rx boots of course. And time.
The conventional world calls this navicular syndrome or disease, which in my mind is a misnomer. Back-of-Foot-Pain doesn’t exactly slide off the tongue but that’s what it is. And it is fixable. According to Pete Ramey, his worst case of BFP, when rehabbed, was pasture-sound but needed boots for riding. Not too bad considering all the horses he works on.
At a rescue some years ago, I put one foot-sore boy in Epics with a half inch pad and off he went. First, he tested the walk, then trot, then extended trot, then all hell broke loose as he galloped off, kicking and bucking. This former racehorse hadn’t broken out of a shuffle for five years! There wasn’t a dry eye at the gate.
Now I’d use the Rx Boot as there is more airflow and they are less expensive. I would however replace the quarter inch pad included with a half inch one. If there is no thrush, Equicasts are another option, particularly good for the owner who doesn’t visit daily.
What if your horse walks off lame after a routine trim? Consider whether he was over-trimmed. Anyone can make a mistake but there are aggressive trimming styles that I don’t recommend. You can not grow a good foot on a horse who is too sore to walk correctly. If a trimmer is repeatedly over-trimming, fire him.
One aspect of correct movement is a flat or heel-first landing at the walk and heel-first landing at other gaits. It’s easy to spot a toe-first landing while walking your horse in sand. The toe kicks the sand up. I would be particularly concerned if I saw routine sole and frog trimming.
If one more person asks me when her horse can go on rocks, I am taking myself out to the back shed! If your horse lives on rocks, he will adapt. If not, BOOT. Horses adapt to what they live on.
Chipping: Thin, shelly racehorse hoof wall with lots of laminitic rings easily cracks. You can grow a well connected hoof (wall to coffin bone) in one hoof growth. But it takes a few capsule growths to get a thick, healthy wall.
4. Some Horses Abscess.
During transition to a natural trim, I do not expect a horse to abscess but I let owners know that on occasion a horse can develop them. In some cases, the horse looks like he has broken a leg; we call that ‘three legged lame’. Forewarned is forearmed. After all, I don’t want the owner dashing back to shoes!
Abscessing can be frightening to an owner. Honestly, during my six year career, I have had only one horse abscess soon after a trim. One of his lateral cartilage looked so laid-over and mushy, that we actually had a vet out to look at him. It took a while but he got himself rearranged.
November. Peanut’s abscess exploded through his laminae creating the black hole of Calcutta. He was never lame on this foot! The owner soaked him weekly in White Lightening to keep the area free of bacteria and fungus. Obviously it was full of dirt most of the time. Do try stuffing the area with cotton balls. This is not white line disease.
Here’s a pleasant way to soak! Doctor Clayton, “Doc”, former racehorse, is a premier trail horse, as you can see. He is in padded Epics on front. Owner Bette is on board.
As I walked into Garwin’s barn, I thought, “The excised soles are the least of your problems.” Holy Mackeral! Check the flare.
After months of bandaging and stalling, Garwin’s sole slowly repairs itself. We put padded Epics on Garwin and he happily trotted in his pasture. He even trotted down hill on the driveway. Sub solar abscesses will drain and as the underlying “baby” sole develops, the top sole will slough off. No need for surgery.
Cracks: Wakefield His five year old crack is due to the huge flare and misshapen foot.
This is a foundation broodmare, former racehorse, with 1″ of good connection of hoof wall to coffin bone at the top, then a long flared capsule with deep cracks. Of course the soles are flat because the coffin bone is not fully connected to the wall.
I soaked with White Lightening/Vinegar as directed. The deeply penetrating gases eliminate bacteria and fungus that would thwart our progress. The foot must be bagged to trap the gases, then put in a Soaker, so the baggie won’t rip.
This foundation, thoroughbred broodmare was severely flared. It was of special interest to me that she had been barren for a few years. I wondered if rehabbing her feet, providing ideal blood flow, might correct the situation.
By relieving the mechanical stress of the flared wall and eliminating bacteria and fungus with a soak, the hooves began to repair, immediately. I soaked every foot in White Lightening during the trim.
In the Reader’s Digest version of natural hoof repair, Dr. Robert Bowker says there are grocery bags of keratin traveling along the laminae attached to the coffin bone. The keratin creates and repairs hoof wall. 50% or so of the wall is created from within, while 50% grows from the coronary band. Her smaller cracks closed with the first mustang roll which relieved some mechanical stress on the wall.
I wish I had a graduation photo of this lovely girl but she developed colic and was put down several months after I started working with her.
Cracks etc. on Good Feet, the Good Foot Continuum: Good hooves aren’t static. Some days they are perfect, and another there’s a crack or thrush, especially in wet climates! Much of this toe crack has healed before reaching the ground. The mechanics were off and the wall cracks to accommodate. That’s its job.
6. Wall Cracks and Flare on Good Feet.
From time to time, quarter cracks on the side of the hoof and toe cracks in the front will develop on good feet. I have seen this most often on Thoroughbreds whose walls seem to max out at 1/4” thick. If the foot mechanics are a bit off, cracks may appear. Don’t apply any goop! Horses like hard hooves.
Back-Of-Foot: From the The Glass Horse. The front half of the foot is coffin bone and the back half is lateral cartilage. This is correct for a feral horse. In our domestic horses, you would be happy with a cartilage half that length and much thinner. The creators forgot the digital cushion located in back between the cartilages. (Reminder that none of the texts are entirely correct when it comes to the hoof. Here’s your proof.)
The central sulcus of the frog above is filling in, inside to outside. It sort of blossoms into a sulcas. Don’t trim it.
This frog is a bit behind the one above but still on the path to health. Notice how close the heels are. The back half of the foot looks squeezed in. As it all rehabs, the heels will open up, but slowly. The owner’s responsibility is to keep the frog healthy and encourage as much sound movement as possible.
- The Whole Horse Symposium: Mind Body Spirit. October 15 and 16. The Nat’l Equestrian Center in Lake St. Louis, Missouri. Great discounts for 3 or more and early birds. Fantastic lineup. Priceless conference.
- 2011 NO Laminitis Conference. The first annual with Dr. Robert Bowker, Dr. Eleanor Kellon and other major players. August 5, 6, 7. Syracuse, NY. Only $175!
- Under the Horse, 10 DVD series with Pete Ramey. $250 and worth every cent.
- Equine Sciences Academy to learn about all aspects of natural horse care. Audit available
- The Horse’s Hoof. Article series on the frog is archived.
- My site, 4 Sweet Feet, for many articles on trimming and natural horse care all geared to the owner. Free trimming videos focused on the rehab trim for the owner are posted.
- The Swedish Hoof School has some very interesting You Tube videos on hoof mechanism.
I hope you will share my posts far and wide. My goal is education for the horse owner. If you can’t find a trimmer in your area, I will help online. I am available for affordable clinics for owners who want to learn to trim their horse. For other resources, kindly check my site. Thanks for spreading the word about care for the natural horse!