The Story of Inty - Curing Founder Using the Strasser Method
The Strasser Method
Although we have made some progress, I do realize that we need more help. I decide to contact Sabine Kells, Dr. Strasser's associate in Canada (who is the first Strasser-certified Hoofcare Specialist in North America), for the photo consultation that Gretchen Fathauer had told me about. This involves mailing photos of your horse's feet to Sabine, and she then critiques your trimming and gives advice on how to implement the Strasser method of rehabilitation.
I call Sabine on 8-30-99, and we talk at great length about Inty and what has happened to her. She is very concerned about this "grooving". We agree that I will mail photos ASAP. My package to her includes not only complete photos of Inty's hooves with our attempt at trimming, but also the videotape that I had been making of her since the day her shoes were pulled. Sabine's immediate instructions are to begin soaking Inty's left forefoot daily in apple cider vinegar water, and to leave the grooving area unbandaged.
9-2-99 After lending him a copy of Dr. Strasser's book to read, I finally muster up the courage to talk to my Primary Vet about the direction I have now taken. Even though he is skeptical, he tells me that if this helps my horse, he is happy that I made this decision.
Our Attempts at the Trim
For the first 2 weeks after our crude attempts at the trim, there appeared to be no real progress. She seemed to get more uncomfortable after each trim. The grooving area became slightly more swollen, and turned from red to white, but stayed soft and moist. The third week after our attempts at the trim, there was significant progress in her comfort level. After a trim that ended up taking a lot of heel off the left front foot, she began to put more weight on the left front and to walk better, more willingly and more evenly. On 9-22 she willingly lifted up her right front foot for the first time in months. The grooving area also began to scab over, but unfortunately this was temporary and the scab fell off and the area continued to swell and inflame.
At this point, the condition of the left and right hooves was worrisome. The left front grooving area showed little to no growth above the swollen, inflamed coronary band. There was a wrinkle in her hoof wall that continued past the grooving area on both sides, which looked as though the hoof wall was buckling or collapsing. This ended about midpoint on the front of her hoof, then the outside of the hoof did not look too bad. The sole of the left front was bulging, and the bulge was uneven, with most of the bulge on the inside of the hoof, so that it appeared the coffin bone was twisted. She was actually standing on the coffin bone bulge, with no weight on the hoof walls, which had shrunk up or broken off since her shoes were removed. The opening on the toe sole closed over and hardened, but then cracks appeared right next to it, closer to the front of the toe, right behind the white line.
The right foot was showing a dip of horn all around the front below the coronary band. It had some questionable looking spots on the sole, and had probably been abscessing too, but I was unable to soak it in a bucket of vinegar water as she would not lift that foot.
The two hind feet, although not originally diagnosed as having laminitis, both began showing signs that they too had suffered. The right hind seemed especially painful, as she totally refused to lift the left hind foot at all. Both seemed to have an odd shape, and seemed uncomfortable when she walked.
9-22-99 Sabine receives the package and calls me, very distressed about what she sees going on with Inty's feet. She says this is a very bad, very serious case, and really is a "clinic" situation. She says that the "grooving" that had been done to her left front hoof will significantly delay her healing and lengthen the time needed for a full recovery. We would be looking at possibly 2-3 years for total recovery, though she may be sound in one year. She says it will be hard, next to impossible, to convey what we need to do without first-hand experience. Because of the seriousness of Inty's feet, and how crucial the trim will be to her recovery, Sabine convinces me to send my husband to Canada to train with her for a couple days. We decided for James to train first because he had already been working on trimming, is more physically talented than I am, and learns skills very quickly.
9-24-99 through 9-27-99 James flies to Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to train with Sabine Kells. When he returns, he tells me it was worth every penny. He learned so much while he was there. Even though we had previously studied the books and tried so hard to do a correct trim, he said that we didn't even have a clue what we were doing! Without hands-on experience, it is next to impossible to trim the hoof in such a seemingly drastic way! Even though his training was short, Sabine had given James the tools he needed to get started. Not only mental tools, but also German hoof knives, the only kind that can be made sharp enough for a Strasser trim!
9-28-99 James trims Inty's left front foot (the bad foot). It is simply amazing-when he is done, she literally has a brand new hoof. I am in shock at how much hoof he was able to remove.
Over the next several days, he slowly finishes the first round of the trim on all her feet. This trim is very time-consuming, especially for the beginner, and very meticulous in its details. And it is almost never-ending (there is always something else to work on) which is why they recommend trimming at least twice a week. Most of the trims simply involve refining your last trim.
The daily ritual of Inty's care since we began the Strasser method is quite simple. She is kept in a large, dry-lot "pasture" with a herd of other horses. She is fed free-choice grass hay, a small amount of alfalfa hay, a couple pounds of whole oats, free choice minerals and salt. She is hand-walked twice a day (using a whip when necessary to force her to walk) for at least 20 minutes at a time. (Ideally, exercise should be even more than that--I was only making a couple miles a day and the goal is up to 15 miles a day!) All four feet are soaked daily in water or mud for 20 minutes, and her left forefoot with the grooved area and any abscessing feet are soaked in a bucket of water mixed with apple cider vinegar. She is trimmed almost constantly at first, but as she recovers, trims are cut down to just once a week.
Upon Sabine's advice, I have discontinued all feed supplements. These did include Farrier's Formula, MSM and thyroid medicine (the thyroid medicine was discontinued very slowly). Given natural living conditions, Sabine feels all these things are unnecessary. The only supplements should be free-choice minerals and salt.
The Abscessing Phase (from Bad to Worse?)
Right after the trim, expect the abscessing phase to begin. The trim sets into motion and accelerates the healing processes, and this involves the excretion of all the dead tissue inside the foundered hoof. There is simply no other way for the body to get rid of this necrotic hoof tissue, so abscesses form all around the hoof capsule, the coronary band, the sole, even the pastern. This is probably the hardest period to get through! You know you are on the path to recovery, yet your horse seems worse. At this point, you really need some Strasser support people to hold your hand. The abscesses make you feel like you are regressing, but you're really making progress!
After the full trims, Inty was more sore and began to severely swell up in her left front leg. I was also worried about her weight, since she had lost so much weight and her ribs were really sticking out badly.
10-8-99 Receive Propolis Tincture from Sabine and begin applying it to her open area (grooving) on left front hoof. The grooving area had not healed up after 2 1/2 months of being an open, oozing wound. It wasn't until I began applying the Propolis that it finally healed.
10-9-99 When I arrive, her entire left front leg is even more swollen! I begin to walk her, and when I look down I see her coronary band on the outside of the hoof looks funny. I touch it, and it bursts open, bleeding - an abscess must have just burst open. We continue walking, and she improves, and the abscess continues to drain. I soak the foot for a couple hours, and note how much more comfortable she appears to be, finally putting weight on the left front, and able to stand without so much shifting to the rear.
I began to wonder just how many more abscesses may be in there, still waiting to come out. The next time James trimmed, he also popped open a large abscess on the heel area of her left front sole. A few days later, an abscess begins draining on the front of the coronary band. Draining continues off and on for weeks, usually showing up during our daily walks.
James is still worried about Inty losing the left front hoof capsule. The attachment is probably very weak, since the grooving side is destroyed, and now the abscesses are encircling her good outside areas. The only truly intact area is the outside heel. Hopefully it will hang on. Also, there is still no true growth in the center of the grooving area. The sides are coming in, but about 1" wide in the center, there is nothing. Frog is still mutated into sole about halfway down. James thinks entire foot may be shifting position backwards to realign with coffin bone. James says that every time he trims, her hoof is completely changed--it appears to be totally remodeling itself.
When I consider the major structural changes that have taken place in Inty's hooves during this healing process, I cannot help but wonder how on earth this could have taken place if she had continued to wear shoes. It is obvious that it could not have happened! Herein lies the key to the entire problem. Shoes prevent the changes necessary for healing. A shod laminitic horse will never make a full recovery.
Week of 10-19-99 Inty continued to be sore and swollen in her left front leg. Her sole looked very bruised. Leg swelling begins to taper off. She continues to drain abscesses on her coronet band and sole, both heel and toe area. She begins the pattern that continues on for many months--better for a few days, then worse, over and over again as the abscesses continue to plague us. But something inside me gives me the faith I need to forge ahead. I know in my heart we are on the correct path.
By November, she is abscessing in her right front foot also. The good news is that her left foot is feeling a lot better. The swelling is almost completely gone in the coronary area, and there is good hoof growing in, very slowly. She is really improving, moving around more and laying down less, and walking better and better. The grooved area is completely healed over and hardened. (The grooved area was supposed to heal over in 3 weeks, instead this took over 3 months!) The growth of her hooves continues to accelerate.
The next several months continued along the same lines. Despite the constant ups and downs, we were making slow but steady progress overall. Abscesses drained, sometimes she was very sore, and constant changes in the structure and shape of the hooves seemed to be the norm. By January, she began to walk sound on soft ground most days. The sparkle returned to her eyes, and she gained back the weight she had lost.
By February 2000, the grooving area had grown down to the bottom of the left hoof, but looked like it was pinching as she walked. James began trying to remove most of the excess "slipper" of foundered hoof from the toes of both front feet. A few more serious abscesses emerged, and each time, I prayed that it was the last one. By April, the grooving was nearly gone, with only remnants remaining on the front of the toe. Her front feet now had quite a bit of sole concavity, and her hind feet were beautiful, healthy hooves with lots of concavity.
Back in the Saddle Again
April 2000: Inty is walking sound on soft ground most of the time. She still has a ways to go, but it has only been 6 months since her first proper trim. (At that time, Sabine told me to expect her to be sound in 1 year, so I think we are right on schedule.) By the end of the month, Inty is walking so good, I decide to put a bareback pad on her and hop on. I swear she is happy when I get up on her back! She begins to really walk out, and is walking almost sound. Certainly no worse than when I was handwalking her. And Sabine is right, as soon as I start riding her, we begin to go much further than before. It just seems easier, and she is actually more eager to walk with me on her back.
May 2000: I have been riding Inty (at a walk only, of course) for a few weeks now. She is only getting better and better! The further we ride, the better she walks. It has definitely given us both new inspiration. I think we are finally over the worst of it, and things can only get better from here!
Summer 2000: With the onset of the extreme Phoenix desert heat, I half-expected some sort of set-back. Inty hates the heat; you'd never know she was half-Arab! While her three other hooves are well on their way to total recovery, the left front hoof experiences more severe abscessing, which continues off and on until August. Finally she begins to perk up, and is walking sound on soft ground. Hopefully we are over that last, final hill! We're both looking ahead to cooler weather, and maybe a little riding again...
This certainly isn't the end of the story--rather, it is just the beginning. We may have far to go to total recovery, but we really have come a long ways. What was one of the worst experiences of my life has become life-changing in such a positive way. I may have never discovered natural hoofcare and the deeply imbued philosophies behind it, if it were not for the illness of my beloved mare.
Advice to Other Horseowners with Laminitic Horses
Unfortunately, this method is often turned to as a last resort, when traditional methods have failed. By this point, such severe damage has been done to the hoof capsule that recovery will never be painless or easy.
This method is not for the faint of heart! You must be prepared for a high level of commitment. You cannot combine the Strasser method with other approaches. Strict adherence to the principles is mandatory! If you are not thoroughly versed in these principles, then you must educate yourself.
The horse's shoes must be removed immediately, of course. He must be taken off all drugs. He must be put into a natural boarding situation of 24 hour/7 day turnout in a herd of other horses. You must be prepared to spend the necessary time every day to soak all 4 feet in water, and any abscessing hooves in vinegar water. The horse must be hand walked, and later ridden, as much as you are able to do, up to 15 miles a day. If the horse is unwilling to walk, he must be forced to walk, with the help of a whip, if need be. This is not cruel, this is rehabilitation.
You must be willing to do what is necessary to become educated in the very specialized trim needed for the foundered horse. The trim will be crucial to your horse's ultimate recovery, and you will most likely need hands-on training or expert help to do the trim correctly.
Most importantly, you must be willing to endure the healing process. Inevitably, your horse will abscess as soon as your trim is correct (and may continue to abscess for up to a couple years!) This is not the point at which to give up! This is a sign that the healing has begun. Do not feel sorry for the horse and give him drugs or allow him to lay down for long periods of time! You must be as brave as your horse will be. The pain will pass, and will soon be forgotten. If this method is strictly adhered to, you horse will make a complete and total recovery. No other method can provide such incredible results.
What could have been just another tragic tale of laminitis has instead become a heroic journey for my horse and me. What I have learned on this journey will affect the rest of my life, and the lives of all my future horses. My horses will never live in a stall, they will never wear shoes on their feet, and they will never have to suffer the kind of pain that Inty has endured.
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