The Story of Inty - Curing Founder Using the Strasser Method
Part 1 of a two-part series
My world came crashing down on May 24th, 1999. My beloved half Lipizzan, half Arabian mare, Interlude Vedera (Inty) was stricken with severe laminitis and subsequently foundered.
You see, Inty was a horse that dreams are made of. The first time I ever saw her, she was doing a magnificent passage around a paddock. She was 7 years old and unbroke, but I bought her without a second thought. I trained her myself, from scratch, with just the help of some good books and a few lessons. We competed successfully through second level dressage, actually earning scores of "9" on three separate occasions. A German-educated dressage professional once told me that she had "world class gaits" and could be competitive on a national level.
After some clinics with a French Classical dressage trainer, I taught Inty to piaffe, Spanish walk, and do flying lead changes. Her high level of training made her such a fun horse to ride whether it was climbing the rocky trails of Sedona, Arizona or galloping around the track area at the stables.
Laminitis Without Cause?
There was no incident that led up to the laminitis. It literally came out of the blue, overnight, with no cause, no reason, and no mercy. Knowing what I know now, I see that we were headed for disaster all along. After all, for the entire 8 years that I had owned her, she had been living in a stall, body-clipped, blanketed, and shod in a various assortment of therapeutic bar shoes in an effort to help her "poor-quality" feet.
Monday, May 24th, she showed a moderate lameness in her right front foot. My farrier was there and he thought there might be a corn under her shoe, as she was due for re-setting. He pulled the shoes, was unable to find a problem, and set her in heartbars, as she had worn them in the past for "therapeutic" reasons. When her lameness was the same the next day, I called the veterinarian. I must stress that the possibility of laminitis was the furthest thing from my mind! I had no idea that such a thing could happen without an obvious cause. Inty was a bit overweight at the time, and had been diagnosed 5 years earlier as "hypothyroid", so that is all we had to blame it on. Here is my chronicle of the events that ensued:
5-26-99 My Primary Vet X-rays Inty and diagnoses laminitis. There is no rotation in this initial set of X-rays. Digital pulse is high in right foot and she shifts constantly between both front feet. Start on oral "bute" 1 gram morning, 1 gram evening; 5 days of "Ace" injections; and DMSO gel applied to coronary bands. Total stall rest on deeply bedded shavings is prescribed.
Over the next month, Inty continues to worsen, and becomes sore in the left front foot also. On 6-29-99, Primary Vet takes 2nd X-rays. Severe rotation (8 degrees) in right foot, minor changes in left. The next day, a Hoof Specialist Vet is called in to evaluate X-rays, and she determines that we should leave her untouched for 30 days (no changes in shoeing at all, shoes left on as is, with no trim or reset) and X-ray then. She says the heartbar shoes are in exactly the correct spot to serve their purpose (stabilization of the coffin bone). We are to continue total stall rest.
Inty continues to worsen, especially in the left front foot. On 7-14-99, Primary Vet looks at her left foot. He pulls out a rusty nail on the inside back and thought it looked like there may be a bruise in that area. We put an Easyboot over that hoof and shoe. She seems to stabilize with only some favoring in the left foot, so we begin to try and decrease the bute back to 1 gram twice a day.
7-27-99 Primary Vet takes 3rd set of X-rays. She is suddenly very bad in left front foot again. Will not put weight on that foot. There is a whole flap of loose sole falling off her left hoof and the Primary Vet pulls it off. There is also what looks like an abscess draining on her coronary band of the left hoof. Her entire sole is soft and something is severely wrong in that foot. Primary Vet pares into the sole a little bit to see what is going on, and seems to realize he has done too much. Put Easyboot back on. The developed X-rays reveal 8 degrees rotation in left hoof now, with almost no sole under the coffin bone. The right hoof was about the same as last X-rays.
7-28-99 She is much worse today, and lays down for the first time. She cannot weight her left foot at all and spends most of the day down. She seems to be in severe constant pain. We increase her bute to 2 grams twice a day. The bottom of the sole has now opened up about 1/4 inch in the area where the vet had pared it.
7-30-99 Hoof Specialist Vet and two consulting farriers meet with us. Inty is really bad, laying down a lot, and holding the left foot off the ground entirely. Her entire lower left leg is beginning to swell. Specialist Vet tells the farriers that we will not be removing her shoes at all, so they didn't need to be there. She explains that the hoof is collapsing inwards under the coronary band and must be opened up in that location or she will burst through the sole (sole penetration). She says that any changes to the angle of her feet by trimming or removing her shoes may cause sole penetration. The general premise seems to be that sole penetration is the worst thing that could possibly happen (I now know this to be untrue) and that preventing this was our immediate goal.
She then proceeds to use a dremel tool to remove the hoof wall of her left forefoot, just barely under the coronary band, in a horizontal line that is parallel to the coronary band, about 5 inches long and 3/4 inch high, extending from the front of the hoof to the inside rear of the hoof. She calls this a "coronary grooving". Underneath is raw, pink tissue. She says that the whole open area will harden up in 3 weeks and until then we are to put betadine on the tissues, wrap the entire hoof with Vetwrap (changed every 2 days), and put her on antibiotics. Continued stall rest is prescribed.The Coronary Grooving
Inty is supposed to improve because of this procedure of "coronary grooving". I was in such a desperate state at the time, I would probably have let someone cut off her ear if they told me that would make her better! I was trusting the experts, and I allowed this procedure of mutilation to take place.
I still do not understand the reasoning behind such a drastic measure. How can inflaming and irritating the hoof tissues and exposing the laminae to the open elements create healing of the laminitis? If I had known the whole story behind grooving and resections, and how this would create months of pain and delayed healing, I would never have considered such a thing.
8-1-99 Inty seems even worse. She is laying down groaning. The 4 grams of bute a day don't even seem to be working. A couple days later, pink raw tissue (solar tissue or coffin bone?) begins protruding from the opening on the bottom of her sole. It looks like a little finger sticking out.A Downward Spiral
For the next week, she does not progress. Rather, she is a bit better, then much worse, over and over again. Things get so bleak, Inty is suffering so constantly, that I begin to consider euthanasia. I am almost in constant tears and completely torn apart inside. The vets have no answers for me, it is just "wait and see". I think they were becoming doubtful as to her fate. Certainly at this point, it was only a salvage case. She would never be ridable again.
Now her left foot is bulging more on the bottom and her leg is swelling up. The tissue is still sticking out on her sole and doesn't seem to be improving. At my request, Primary Vet comes out and looks at her. He puts her back on antibiotics and provides an ointment to apply to the tissue on the sole. The Specialist Vet's plan is to continue treatment with the heartbar shoes as soon as she could be re-shod, but so far she has been in the same shoes for nearly 3 months! There seems to be no end to Inty's suffering.A Glimmer of Hope
Out of sheer frustration, I had spent the past couple of months searching the internet for anything with the keyword "laminitis" in it. Most of the information was just downright depressing, but I found a very intriguing site that kept drawing me back to it. The site is titled "Treating Founder (Chronic Laminitis) Without Shoes" (http://members.screenz.com/gretchenfathauer/) and is written by Gretchen Fathauer. Within this extremely detailed and photo-filled site, she describes her experiences with her foundered horse Max and her discovery of a treatment method that can actually heal the foundered horse's feet. Her website is a wealth of information, and I studied it avidly. On this website, I also discovered a link (Star Ridge Publishing's website: http://www.alltel.net/~star/index.html) to order Dr. Hiltrud Strasser's and Jaime Jackson's books. Hiltrud Strasser, DVM, a German Veterinarian and founder of the European Institute for Hoof Orthopedics (ESHOP), is the originator of this treatment method. Jaime Jackson is a former farrier who, after spending many years studying the feet of wild horses, began to de-shoe instead, and is Dr. Strasser's greatest proponent in America.
The premise of this method is surprisingly simple. Remove the horse's shoes, trim the feet in a special way that simulated the natural hooves of a wild horse, turn the horse out to live with other horses in a pasture or paddock, hand-walk or exercise the horse as much as possible, and provide daily hoof soaks in water. In essence, return the horse to a more natural state, to allow his hooves to heal the way nature intended - a truly holistic approach to healing this horrible affliction of our modern horses. The key to the whole healing process is a restoration of the natural "hoof mechanism", something that is prevented by horseshoes or improper trimming or living conditions. Horses' hooves must be able to expand and contract with every step, creating constant circulation through the hoof and lower leg, 24 hours a day. Without "hoof mechanism", circulation is diminished to dangerous levels. And any horse that wears shoes, or is kept in a stall for any length of time has had this natural hoof mechanism taken away.
I finally received Dr. Strasser's book "A Lifetime of Soundness", and Jaime Jackson's books, "The Natural Horse", and "Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoofcare", and read these books from cover to cover, immediately. They literally changed my life, overnight. Suddenly there was a glimmer of hope! Maybe we could save Inty. Was there really a miracle cure? Would such a simple, natural treatment method succeed where standard veterinary medicine had failed?
But then began my conflict. This would go against everything that the professionals were telling me to do. This would alienate me from my vets, my farriers, even my friends! I would have to completely change my entire equestrian life, and abandon all the practices that I had spent so many years defining. Would I have the courage to proceed with this enormous task at hand?
For the love of a little grey mare, of course I would.
But I couldn't do it alone. I needed something and/or someone to validate what I was doing. I began e-mailing Gretchen Fathauer, author of the website, and she gave me so many leads and tips to get started. With Gretchen's help, I began talking on the internet to people all over the country having similar experiences. She pointed me in the right direction and literally gave me the courage to begin. She referred me to Frank Orza, the inventor of the Horsneakers hoof boot (www.horsneaker.com) and supporter of the natural hoofcare movement. Since he also lived in Arizona, she thought he might be able to assist me in some way.
8-18-99 Talk to Frank Orza (inventor of Horsneakers) and his wife Mary from Tombstone, Arizona. After hearing my story, they offer to drive to Phoenix the following Sunday and pull Inty's shoes and teach us how to trim. The next day, I move Inty into a 1 1/2 acre pasture, along with my other horse. Overnight she changes from a depressed, moping creature that was lying down most of the day, into a much happier horse that now looks like she will survive.
I also attempt to discuss these new methods with the Specialist Vet, but she is not cooperative and basically tells me that I am on my own. She doesn't return my last couple of phone calls.
8-22-99 Frank Orza and wife Mary come to counsel and remove Inty's shoes, which had been on, untrimmed, for 3 months now. When we removed the bandage, the infection underneath had a horrible smell. The entire coronary area was grossly swollen with raw flesh. Frank must use a hacksaw to remove her right front shoe, as she cannot lift that foreleg at all! We get the shoes off and Frank gives my husband, James, instructions on how to rasp her feet every day to try to get the heels down and the toes shortened. Her hooves are so very long now, with dangerously high heels! Note: Today is her very last dosage of bute. She had been taking bute every day for the past 3 months.
Over the next week, she continues to get a little better every day, for the first time. Every day I walk her around the pasture and twice a day her open areas are washed. The swelling goes way down in the area of the coronary band over the grooving. The pus stops coming out of the grooving area. The sole of her left fore begins to flatten out. The opening begins to seal up a bit and the tissue no longer protrudes as much and is less sensitive and harder. She is off all painkillers, and is uncomfortable, but okay. She lays down some every day, but is up and walking slowly around most of the time.