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By Gail Snyder
Sidebar: A horse is sound if he is comfortable going barefoot, not if he is comfortable in shoes.
It’s about time someone speaks up about the unnecessary suffering inflicted upon horses by well- intentioned people. Someone needs to make horse guardians aware of this “dark side”, so it might as well be me. I’ve kept such mentions to a minimum while still getting my message across. But as a hoof care professional, I’ve seen things that made me cry.
Who hasn’t heard a farrier say, “He can’t hold a shoe because he has crappy, shelly feet”? You may be surprised to learn that horseshoes are the primary cause of shelly hooves. The outer wall has been routinely thinned with the rasp, making it dry, brittle, and eventually unable to hold a shoe. The hoof capsule then loses its strength and becomes painful. Now the horse “needs” corrective shoes, wedge pads, toe clips, and epoxy to hold Humpty Dumpty together! The shoes also inhibit the circulation needed to deliver vital nutrients to the hoof - yet another contributor to shelly walls. This is a common scenario that can be avoided (and remedied) simply by going barefoot.
Corrective Shoes and Wedge Pads
Veterinarians and farriers commonly use corrective shoes and wedge pads to address hoof issues. This should raise a big fat red flag for the horse guardian because this approach doesn’t fix anything. Instead, it is the beginning of a slow decline leading to even more rigid shoes that better mask the pain, allowing the horse to be used despite the lameness. A horse is sound if he is comfortable going barefoot, not if he is comfortable in corrective shoes. When the shoes come off, the truth is revealed. In the conventional world of rehabilitation, corrective shoes and pads come first, followed by drugs and surgery; then, one day, “Sparky” is put down at the ripe old age of 12. Natural hoof care would remove the offending shoes, restoring circulation and expansion of the feet, thus beginning the hoof rehabilitation process.
Thrush and Nail Problems
You can smell the stench of rotting tissue when a hoof pad is removed. Serious thrush lurks under the pad and within the hoof capsule. The all-white hoof in Photo 3 shows thrush is resident in the nail holes, then radiates over the sole, and lives deep under the bars as well. Farriers do not always tell guardians that the shoe/ pad combination is making the hoof unhealthy, so it is wise to check this out for yourself.
Natural Balance Shoes and “The Square Toe Syndrome”
There is nothing “natural” about the Natural Balance Shoe (NBS). It is a square-toed device placed on an anatomically round-toed hoof. It is intended to shorten breakover and improve biomechanics. The shoes are often placed too far forward, thus actually inhibiting breakover (see Photo 4). Also, the leverage on the long square toe is significant enough to cause soft tissue damage to the coffin joint within. Even if the shoe is placed correctly, a square shoe on a round front hoof has biomechanical interference on the diagonal (at the toe pillars) such that turning is significantly inhibited, even more than direct forward movement. The added interference forces the horse to lift its legs higher, just to breakover, as you would have do if wearing a pair of swim fins.
It is common knowledge that horseshoes cause concussion, especially on hard ground. Concussive forces are extreme when metal shoes are applied, so plastic shoes are being used to better absorb shock. Like metal shoes, they need to be nailed on, and they cause peripheral loading. But plastic shoes are also thick and clunky, making biomechanics even worse than their metal counterparts. So, don’t fall for the plastic shoe spiel (see Photo 5).
Laminitis and Founder
Laminitis (inflammation of the laminae) and founder (coffin bone dropping or displacement resulting from laminae detachment) are often the result of inappropriate, unintentional - and usually preventable -horse keeping practices. Photo 6 depicts a foundered hoof. The red-stained area of sole, near the frog tip, is the result of coffin bone penetration. Other common causes of laminitis and founder include: overeating, inappropriate feed, metabolic/ hormonal conditions, poison, toxins, drugs, vaccines, stress, obesity, illness, infection, and hoof trauma.
Some of the worst cases of laminitis and founder can be found in obese and insulin resistant horses. It is becoming an epidemic as a growing number of horses are “over-bred, over-fed, and under-worked”. Conventional emergency measures include a plethora of drugs such as butazolidin, pergolide, isoxsuprine, and peripherally loaded horseshoes that are equally inadvisable. The drugs and shoes mask the condition, thus allowing it to worsen. They do not address the metabolic problems at hand. In this case, fix the horse, not the hoof.
Incompetent Hoof Care Professionals
There are many people in the hoof care profession that believe hoof rehabilitation can only be accomplished by aggressive trimming techniques. Sole thinning, bar removal, exit cuts, resections, digging for abscesses, and toe chopping by well-intentioned people is a very grave concern.
Another form of incompetence is flat out laziness or lack of knowledge, both of which result in poor workmanship. Please - request references and speak to long-time clients before hiring a hoof care professional.
It is a common and widely accepted practice to put horses in pastures and paddocks previously used for cattle. As such, the number of barbed wire cuts is astronomical, affecting about 25% of my client’s horses. Many a horse has lost his life to barbed wire entanglement and T-post impalement. Those who survive the ordeal endure hoof disfigurement, lameness, bacterial infections, thrush and the need for ultra-frequent hoof care. Please don’t accept unsafe fencing, and properly train your horses to not panic if an entanglement of any kind should ever occur.
Hoof Trauma and Event Rings
The hoof in Photo 9 depicts what is called an “event ring” – a moment in time when the horse developed painful laminitis due to an extreme life event. The things known to cause laminitis and founder are also responsible for “event rings”.
We can often predict when the event occurred by understanding that wall growth occurs from the coronary band to the toe at a rate of 1/4 to 3/8 inch per month. Knowing the timeline helps to identify the actual cause of the event.
My hope is that the case studies presented above demonstrate how important your hoof care decisions are to your horse. I hope you will turn into a hoof fanatic and demand quality work from the people you hire. Making good decisions is the key to preventing lameness and minimizing (if not reversing) hoof pathology.
About the author:
Gail Snyder is an experienced hoof care professional, clinician, author, trim instructor, and hoof rehabilitation expert. She has worked on horses with severe hoof conditions, previously deemed incurable, and was able to restore health through natural hoof care, nutrition, and the healing powers of movement. This recipe for success is proven, however, Snyder’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and work in the field of dynamics, modeling, and mechanics give her unique insight into the biomechanics, form, and function of the equine hoof.
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