Friday, September 20, 2013

Sounds vs. "sound"

First, to clarify a very important point left over from my last post: If the hooves are unhealthy, soreness after a trim might be a sign of healing. If the hooves are healthy, however, the horse should NEVER be sore after a trim.

The nice thing about really healthy, sound hooves is that they are resilient. For instance, Gwen has never been sore after a trim, ever. Which is really amazing considering how many times I've screwed up. Fortunately for her, I studied and documented and kept improving so I didn't make the same mistakes over and over. For a sound horse, one bad trim shouldn't hurt much, a series of bad trims will probably ruin them.

A "sound" horse is a different matter. This is the horse that most people think is sound but really isn't. Coriander falls into this category, nine years of no hoof care (before I got him) on top of halter horse breeding have given my boy less than perfect hooves. That poor horse is my trim barometer- if my trim is a little off he'll show me. Sometimes I feel like a mad scientist trying to figure out exactly how he wants his hooves trimmed: leave the heels higher here, leave the toes longer there. It takes trial and error to keep that horse happy.

It's my personal opinion that there are a lot more "sound" horses out there than sound. When I go out to trim a new horse I always ask the owner to lunge the horse for me so I can do a lameness check. Most of the time I find that the horse is a little off on one foot or another- but the owner never saw it! Now, I am not an expert on diagnosing lameness, I think people just get used to seeing their horse move a certain way and think they're fine. And really, here's where the problem lies for the trimmer: If the owner already knows their horse hurts then they can usually handle a little soreness after the trim if they know healing is happening, If the owner doesn't know anything is wrong with their horse then they'll probably freak out.

Here's a short list of what I consider to be signs that your horse might only be "sound." I'm not saying that all of these are definite signs of unhealthy hooves, just that they are often correlated:

  • If your horse is perfectly comfortable on sand or soft grass but has issues as soon as they step on pavement, concrete, or hard dirt (gravel doesn't count, that's hard for most horses)
  • If your normally well-mannered horse is especially averse to picking up a specific hoof
  • If your horse takes short strides/ has a limited range of motion
  • If your horse does not stand with the front legs straight underneath them but with them stretched forward or back
  • If your horse typically stands with one front hoof in front of the other/pointing a hoof (not when grazing)
  • If your horse has bouts of "mystery lameness" but seems fine most of the time
  • If your horse squeals or bucks when jumping (this could also be a back/tack issue)
  • If your horse is a dead-head in the pasture but turns into a fire breathing dragon as soon as you mount (again, might be a back/tack issue)
Want to read a little story about me screwing up? Of course you do. I trimmed a horse that I knew was lame and unhealthy but the owner was completely clueless; thought the horse was perfectly healthy.

Here she was before:

and after: 

I learned a lot from trimming this horse, because she hurt after the trim and the owner flipped out. I learned that you can do the right thing for the horse (this was the trim she needed, after she got past the soreness she moved better than she had in months) but if you don't prepare the owner it's all for naught. I also learned (after consulting with my mentors) that the growth rings showed this horse was foundering- they are further apart at the heels and starting to bunch together at the toes. Which is not surprising considering the horse had been taken away from a place where she was starving and thrown immediately into spring grass. It was just a bad situation all around, basically the owner was a neglectful ________.

If I had to trim that horse again (I wouldn't) I would leave the toes and heels a little longer to try to avoid some of the short term soreness. Chances are she would have been sore anyway. Live and learn.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Should a horse ever be sore after a trim?

I've been putting this off because this is a topic that will potentially make me very unpopular, but I just saw a horse that put it in the front of my mind. Last week I got a call from a kid who just got his first horse and wanted me to trim her, when I got out there I found out that all her hooves looked like this:

And all I could think was, "I'm never going to see this horse again."

Why would I think that? Because with a hoof like this I know there's a very good chance the horse will come away from the trim sore. Most horse owners will immediately fire any trimmer who leaves their horse sore.

"But wouldn't they be justified?" You may say, "surely a good trimmer wouldn't leave a horse sore after a trim?"

Here's the truth: Healing hurts. If you've ever had physical therapy you know this very well. If you've ever had someone massage knots out of your back or neck you know this as well. It hurts, and then you feel better.

Look at the hoof pictured, note the long walls, bars and lumpy sole. Overly long hoof walls will, through the force of the hoof impacting the ground, tear away from the coronet band little by little. Overly long bars will bruise the corium and press on the DDFT and navicular bone. Lumpy soles will also bruise the corium under the coffin bone. All of these things are painful.

Do you know how humans can eventually tune out the pain of wearing uncomfortable shoes but once you take the shoes off your feet hurt like heck? Over time horses can tune out the pain in their feet too, and once you take away the overgrowth damaging the hoof, guess what happens- their feet hurt like heck.

So here's the trimmer's dilemma: Do you do enough to let the hoof heal and risk the horse being sore, or do you do as little as possible to maintain the status quo and let the damage keep happening? Personally, I'll take the temporary soreness if it means that the hoof is healing.

If the trim is good but the horse is sore it means that healing is happening, if you wait a few days for the pain to go away you'll probably find that the horse is moving much better than they were before the trim. That's how rehabilitation works, sometimes you have to take a step back to make a leap forward. (If the trim is bad and the horse is sore that's a big problem, this is where the onus is on the owner to know a good trim from a bad one.)

Okay- back to the horse. She was initially very nervous, didn't want to pick up her feet and even nipped at me once. Obviously she didn't have pleasant associations with trims. Fortunately her attitude completely changed through the course of the trim and she became quite friendly towards me. I found evidence of damage on all of her feet though, bruising around the white line, bruising around the bars, bruising on the soles... they were a mess. Despite that it seems that she wasn't sore after the trim (I asked the owner to contact me if she was) which I think is because her feet were essentially pretty healthy underneath all that junk (note the round shape of the hoof and the nice wide heels).

Next up (eventually): Sound vs. "sound."