Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Optimal Hooves: Have healthy frogs and soles

A healthy sole is concave.

A healthy frog is triangle shaped and full-fleshed, without thrush.


The Sole

To understand what the sole should look like you need to see the corium again:


The concave shape that you see on the bottom of the corium should be reflected by the external sole. Why are soles concave? Because then they form an arch, one of the strongest weight bearing shapes possible. When weight is placed on an arch it is evenly distributed throught the entire structure. That means each bit of the arch is supporting the smallest amount of weight possible. Think of ancient bridges, there's a good reason why the basic shape on most of them is an arch- it's darn strong.
 

 Can you think of a better shape to hold up a couple hundred pounds of horse? I sure can't.

Coriander's right hind, check out the concavity


 The Frog

 The frog serves as the shock absorber at the back of the hoof. Frog tissue grows from the corium and gets compacted into a very dense, yet springy mass. Want to know something interesting? There are people that refer to the frog as the horse's pads, like a dog or cat. Thing is, I have to agree. If they were called pads instead of frogs, I think people would be a lot less confused about their purpose.

Mrs Mom just left an excellent comment that I want to add here: "the shock absorbing ability of the frog is not just limited to up and down as we have all been taught-- but also in it's ability to allow for lateral movement, acting as a wide rubber band. (ie: load the hoof, walls flex, frog allows for X amount of flexion before bringing things back into line. Combined with the up and down compression, the side to side action also allows for wonderful energy distribution/ dissipation.)." Thanks Mrs Mom!

Surprisingly frogs are actually quite delicate, if the hoof health is compromised, frogs are one of the first things to go. Sadly, the majority of horse hooves are so compromised that most people don't even know what a healthy frog looks like- my horses don't even have healthy frogs yet :(

So here you go, the healthiest frog I could find. Take particular note of the color, healthy frogs aren't gray, they are brown.
Photo from Heike Bean
 I pulled this photo from Heike Bean's website, she's got some great information up about frogs that you should take a look at:

The Affect of Shoes on the Sole and Frog

Now lets imagine you take a hoof and nail a shoe to it- what happens to the sole and frog? They don't touch the ground anymore. This is key. Without contact and abrasion from the ground the tissues are no longer stimulated to grow, the frog will atrophy and the sole loses its callus. I believe this is what actually causes heel contraction in shod hooves: atrophy. As the saying goes: Use it or lose it. This is aggravated if your farrier routinely trims sole- if sole growth has slowed due to lack of ground pressure and what's left gets cut off- you end up with extremely thin soles.

Think about your own feet: If you've worn shoes and boots all winter long and then rush outside barefoot the first chance you get in the spring, what happens? Your feet hurt. Why? Because you don't have the callus on the bottom of your feet to protect you. But if you steadily keep going out barefoot and acclimate, it's not long before you can wander around on rocks in fair comfort. Horse hooves are no different.

This is one reason why so many people fail in taking their horses out of shoes, the sole and frog need time to grow and build a callus, something that doesn't happen overnight. This is even harder for those horses that routinely get their soles cut off, for that kind of foot you desperately need to have boots and pads on hand to keep the horse out of pain while their sole and frog grows in.

Then there's thrush, if your horse has infected frogs he won't be comfortable no wonder what the sole looks like.

14 comments:

  1. You are on a roll girl!! ;)

    One small point- the shock absorbing ability of the frog is not just limited to up and down as we have all been taught-- but also in it's ability to allow for lateral movement, acting as a wide rubber band. (ie: load the hoof, walls flex, frog allows for X amount of flexion before bringing things back into line. Combined with the up and down compression, the side to side action also allows for wonderful energy distribution/ dissipation.)

    Keep up the research- you might just decide to take up trimming for other people ;)


    Oh- and thrush.... oi vey. You know my stance on that particular nightmare!

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  2. Thank you! I'm going to cut and paste your comment into the post right now. That's very important to know.

    I'm actually debating whether or not to trim for other people. Problem is it would take a lot of clients just to make what I'm currently making at my desk job (which is not much). But then I'd be doing something I'm passionate about. Tough decision.

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  3. Sounds like you need to take the leap into a new career.

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  4. Shannon, I am enjoying this series very much. Your approach to hoof health in layman’s terms is great. The Heike Bean frog article is really good, too. I have to admit that my guy’s frogs do not look as pristine as the ones in the photos. He does shed his frogs a bit. I will definitely be looking at his feet in daylight so I can get a better look at them!!

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  5. Linda, I'm still tweaking my trim quite a bit right now. When I feel like I've finally got the trim I want I might start to actively pursue it. We'll see.

    Wolfie, that's just what I wanted to hear. You sure I'm not distilling it down too much? I have a tendency to do that.

    Thanks, June!

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  6. No, don't think you are distilling it down too much. :-)

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  7. These posts are great! I've been giving barefoot some thought lately, so this is quite timely for me. Before long I might have a grain free AND shoe free horse...

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  8. Are you thinking about trimming yourself or paying someone? Either way there's a listserve or two I can recommend to you where you can get some more information and find help.

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  9. Thanks for taking the time to do these posts. They are very important and I am glad I can refer back to them in the future as needed. My boys are barefoot and I think we are doing well, but it is good to have a reference point like your posts. Thanks!

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  10. Oh good! I've still got two left, I hope you find them helpful as well.

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  11. I think we all appreciate the time and research you've done to put these posts together. So Thank You. I'm finding all this very interesting and informative.

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  12. I think her feet will need too much work for me to do it myself, so I'd definitely want someone to do it for me, at least for a while. Maybe once I know what I'm doing and her feet are doing well I could start doing it myself. Having the knowledge would be good though, so if you'd like to share that listserve I'd love to have the info

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  13. These are great! I am really enjoying and learning from your hoof posts!
    I keep my horse barefoot and having stuff to look at and compare to is wonderful.
    Thank you!

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