Monday, December 30, 2013

Contraction continued...

Before I get to the hooves in the photos I'd like to mention a few other factors that might play a part in hoof contraction:

  • The weight of the horse: the heavier the horse, the less likely it is that their hooves are contracted. Drafts can have sorry, sad feet and still have very little contraction, small ponies and minis are the opposite.
  • Movement: Allison had it quite right in her comment on my last post, movement is essential. Without movement and heel first landings the hooves will contract. Standing = stagnation.
  • The hardness/softness of the surface they live on: hard surfaces offer more resistance to the hoof causing it to expand wider, soft surfaces are the opposite. Mud or soft sand can contribute to contraction.
  • The moisture content of said surface: here's a bit of a contradiction to the last point, drier environments leave hooves more contracted than wet ones. This is because tissues tend to shrink when water isn't abundant. A healthy hoof in a desert environment will probably look more contracted than a healthy hoof in a more humid environment.
  • Injury/disease: if one hoof is contracted, I would suspect an injury in the leg or disease in the hoof. Anything that makes it uncomfortable for the horse to land on that hoof correctly.
  • Shoes: when the horse weights the hoof it expands, when they lift the hoof it contracts. In order to nail a shoe onto a hoof it has to be lifted- so the hoof is already at it's smallest when the shoe is nailed on. The nails will then interfere with the normal flexing of the hoof once the horse starts moving again, and if the nails are placed too far back they will interfere with the expansion of the heels. Shoes lock the hoof into its smallest (contracted) size which can get worse over time. I've heard there are farriers out there who can avoid this, but they are very, very few and far between.
Okay, onto the pictures.

Personally I think those hooves were contracted due to the pain from the bars (cue the broken record...). The bars are meant to give structure to the back of the hoof and to keep it from expanding too far upon impact with the ground. If the bars are left to grow unchecked, they can grow so long that, not only do they cause pain, they actually stop the back of the hoof from expanding. When the hoof can't expand all it can do is contract.

Lets look at some of those pictures a little closer, shall we?

The red lines outline the bars, the blue lines are there to show how deep they've grown into the hoof. Keep in mind that you can't see all of the bar, there's probably quite a bit that has been pushed up inside the hoof too. The accordion folds are a tell-tale of too long bars. Those are compression folds that are created when the too long bars get squeezed between the inside of the hoof and the ground.

I know there are some out there that still don't think bars need to be trimmed, all I can say is that every time I've trimmed off overgrown bars one of two things happen: they either start licking and chewing (a sign that a stressor was removed) or they pick up a hoof I haven't gotten to yet and ask me to do that one too. I imagine the horses in the photos would react the same way.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charlotte Du Jardin sets the records straight!

Charlotte Du Jardin and Valegro set a new freestyle dressage world record with a score of 93.975% at the London International Horse Show this week. She broke Edward Gal and Totilas' record, good for her!

Charlotte Du Jardin & Valegro WORLD CUP Grand Prix Freestyle to Music London Olympia 2013 from Toptalent Dressage on Vimeo.

In case the embed doesn't work:

Dang it, the video got pulled. Here's another one:

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What's the deal with hoof contraction?

A word that gets thrown around a lot when it comes to hooves is contraction, but I think a lot of people new to hoofcare don't really know what that means. I'm going to try to help you out.


: the act or process of making something smaller or of becoming smaller 

 Normally when someone says that a hoof has become contracted they mean that the back of the hoof, the heels, have shrunk/become pinched like in these feet (I snagged these pictures off the web):

What's wrong with that? There are structures inside the hoof; like the coffin bone, navicular bone, live frog, digital cushion, and lateral cartilages that are all negatively impacted by hoof contraction. There's only so much room inside the hoof, and when that space gets smaller- through contraction- they stop functioning correctly. The lateral cartilages lose their efficiency at pumping blood, the digital cushion loses its shock absorbing function, the coffin bone itself can even be remodeled due to the pressure. All this measures up to a horse with impaired movement at best and dead lame at worst.

What causes contraction? Simple: The horse not landing on the back of the foot. Without the weight of the horse pressing on the heels, they don't expand.

 How can you tell that a hoof is contracted? Take a look at the hooves above, they all have a few things in common. For one, they all have long toes. Yes, even the second one down, it's not as long as the others but it'll get there. Toe first landings = long toes as the constant pressure will stretch the lamina and sole. Second, look at the frogs, they are all narrow little triangles with ugly looking trenches in the central sulcus collecting thrush. Third, look at the bars, they are all very long. Lastly, look at the heel bulbs and see how they look like cleavage squeezed tight in a corset.

Here's a hoof that isn't contracted, can you see the difference?

The trim isn't perfect, but you get the picture
Most of us know that horses should be landing on their heels because that's where the shock absorbers of the hoof are. So what would cause a horse to land on their toes instead? It's normally because of pain in the heels, you just have to figure out where the pain is coming from.

Let's go back to the thrush issue real quick: Thrush and contraction go hand in hand (or hoof in hoof). As the hoof contracts the frog folds up like an accordion, creating that deep crevice you see in these photos. Thrush just loves deep, dark crevices like that. Some people think (and I thought this myself once) that the pain from thrush can cause contraction. What I've learned recently points to the contraction happening first, making a nice, comfy home for the thrush to move into later.

So can anyone guess what I'd say caused the contraction in the above hooves?

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Settling in

They've been home for a month and we're starting to figure things out here on the homefront. Gwen has relaxed and finally stopped pacing the fence; she's even started lying down for naps every morning, which is wonderful to see. I'm figuring out how to care for my animals and a baby at the same time- thank goodness for playpens and strollers! I think the little guy is going to start walking in the next month or two so then I'll have a new monkey wrench thrown in the works.

I've had to get a tad creative about grazing since my permanent pasture is currently grass-free. I now have a collection of step-in posts that allow me to make temporary paddocks.

Temporary paddock #1
I wish my husband would let me fence in the yard so we wouldn't have to mow, but he is emphatically against it. That doesn't mean they can't graze there loose for an hour or so.

mowing the lawn for me
I've been on a bare handful of  rides since they've been home. It took a while to get a trail cleared so I could ride. My husband was so proud that he'd gotten his tractor and made me a trail to ride on by my birthday, so I got all excited and tacked up Coriander and got Gwen in tow (because I can't leave her behind or she'll catch up, dragging the fence behind her.), only to find that what my husband considers a cleared trail is not what I consider a cleared trail. There was brush and broken trees everywhere! Oh well, I guess everything looks different from horseback than from a tractor.

That's about all that's happening here right now, eventually I'll have more to talk about- it might not be until next year though. Babies do change everything!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

They're home!

They came home last Thursday, getting them here was... ugh. I really wish I'd gone with my instinct and just walked them home last month, instead Gwen and I had a little saga going on with the trailer for 2.5 weeks. Let's just say that, at this point, the only way she's getting on a trailer again is if she's dead. Yeah, it went well.

It's sure nice to have them home though, where I can see them whenever I look out the window. I've gotten a front row seat to Gwen's neurotic show. She wore this lovely path next to the fence line by pacing FOR DAYS ON END. On the bright side, she's getting better, I only saw her pacing for an hour today.

Coriander, on the other hand, settled in pretty quickly. By the second day he was comfortable and begging for treats.

Unfortunately the pasture looks pretty ghetto right now. There isn't much grass because we had to go around and fill in a bunch of holes and dips with topsoil and then we had to dig a drainage ditch to try to keep it dry. I am planning on making more pasture but we need to clear out a few more acres first. They should have grazing available next year.

Baby boy has been getting some horse time too. He likes to chill in his stroller with his feet up and smile at them. Maybe he'll be a horse boy someday?

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."

Monday, August 26, 2013

Almost ready!

I realize that my last post was pretty cryptic so here's what's happening: We bought a house!

Somehow, after about 8 years of looking, my husband and I found a house we could both be happy with. Let me tell you, it isn't easy to find a house when I'm insistent on buying a place where I can keep the horses and my husband wants it in a specific small town. I can't tell you how many crappy, old farm houses we've seen in the past few years. Enough so that we could make up rules about looking at them, like: If you can close your eyes and walk across the floor without falling it's pretty good, if the river in the basement has a current that's pretty bad.

Want to know how we found it? Sure you do. Craigslist. No kidding, I put up an ad that we were looking for a house with land and this guy responded to it. Comes out the house was around the corner from the one we were renting, 2 miles from where the horses are now. Another interesting detail: The house was built for a distant cousin of my husband by another group of his cousins. Small world.

But guess what? If you're buying a house with acreage the banks can't deal. Maybe in Wyoming they can, but here in central New York if you've got more than 2 acres they freak out and screw you on the mortgage. Apparently they're afraid that if we default they won't be able to sell the place. Jerks.

Also, be very, very wary of gas leases. Banks don't want to mortgage properties with gas leases, period. Our place had a gas lease and the seller had to get out of it before we could get a mortgage. Apparently this wasn't a problem a couple of years ago but now it is, so if you are a landowner and you think you might want to sell someday- don't get a gas lease (not to mention there's a whole slew of environmental reasons why you shouldn't do it either).

So we own a house - with almost 30 acres, most of which needs to cleared before we can use it - so we've been kind of busy lately. Fortunately my first, sacrifice, pasture is nearly ready.

There are some dips and holes in the field that need to be filled in, the run-in needs a few boards, the t-posts need caps, and I need to get some hay but I'm sure I can get those done and bring the horses home early next month. I just have to figure out how I'm going to get them here!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Finally frog!

Gwen's right hind
Finally! That frog is a thing of beauty, healthy and full-bodied with not a thrush crack in sight. Now that's what I'm talking about!

Now I just have to get the other 7 hooves to look like this...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Best. Things. Ever.

To what do I refer?


I kid you not, if you have pasture-kept horses these things are brilliant.

A few months ago a certain gelding decided that eating a few bites out of his feed pan and then kicking his grain out all over the ground before grinding it all into the mud was a good idea. He would then proceed to do the same to his sister's food.

Now imagine that there's a heavily pregnant woman ranting at him about how he's wasting ALL OF HER FREAKING MONEY.

Yeah, it's kind of amusing. Now. It wasn't then.

So when I had had enough, I bought them feedbags and said to Coriander, "There, try to dump your feed all over the ground now." Hahahahahahahaa.

Amazingly, both horses took to them immediately, even Every-New-Object-Is-Potentially-Life-Threatening Gwen. Probably because it was filled with food. Now there is no more food dumping and no more stealing the other's rations. Even better, you can squirt their wormer into their feed and they will eat it! Thank you Paradigm Farms for introducing me to this concept. No more drama over worming! I LOVE my feedbags!

The brilliance in action:

That's about it for horse excitement around here. I manage to sneak in some ground work a few days a week and I'm slowing getting their feet back under control. Getting so big you can't trim your own toenails kind of gets in the way of trimming your horses. I did take a few rides about 4 weeks postpartum but then the land-owners IR mare came back and in jerry-rigging the fence to keep her off the pasture, the gate kind of disappeared, so that ended riding for the time being. But that's okay, taking care of my little dude has pretty much trumped everything else. An exciting change is in the horizon for the horses though- more on that next month. In the meantime here is a gratuitous photo of my little cowboy:

Friday, April 5, 2013

He's here!

Our little boy was born on the evening of March 28, he was 7lbs, 12oz and 19.5" long. We're still trying to get used to life with a newborn, but so far he's just about the sweetest, cutest thing ever.

Please excuse me as I disappear for a few weeks. I'll be back.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Finding the bars

No baby yet, he is now officially overdue. I think that pregnant women should just automatically add another week to their due date, that way they won't be completely disappointed when they don't go into labor anywhere near when they think they're supposed to...

Anyway, to pass the time I've been putting together an exercise for an owner I've been working with online, the owner of this horse, who has been having a hard time seeing how the bars on her horse's feet have overgrown. After I put together some images for her (from photos snagged from an online forum), I thought you all might be interested in them too. Do you see what I see?

If I don't respond to comments, don't hold it against me, it probably means that this kid has finally decided to come out and meet the world. Happy spring everybody!

Friday, February 22, 2013

The honeymoon trimester

Once you reach the 14 week mark of your pregnancy you are officially in the second trimester, and if you're lucky like I was, most of the horrible symptoms of the first trimester go away. That means no more all-day nausea and no more wish-you-were-dead exhaustion. Plus an added bonus, you can feel the little tyke move!

Around 15 weeks I started to think I could feel something in there, by 16 weeks I knew what I was feeling was baby, and by 18 weeks my husband could feel him moving around in there. Actually by 18 weeks my husband could see him moving around in there.

What does it feel like? Ask someone to come around randomly throughout the day and gently poke you right above your pelvis a few times with a finger. That's about what those first few weeks felt like to me. It is simultaneously amazing and super creepy. Or maybe I've seen too many sci-fi movies...

Unfortunately though, the second trimester of pregnancy brings it's own problems. For me, problem #1 was round ligament pain. Normally this is a sharp groin pain that most women feel when standing up or rolling over or something similar, it normally lasts for a few seconds and then it's gone. Well, let me tell you something my fellow riding friends: The stronger the muscles of your pelvic floor the worse you'll feel round ligament pain. Know what makes your pelvic floor muscles really, really strong? Horseback riding, especially dressage. Yay. So one Sunday morning, as I was trying to make myself breakfast, I ended up on the floor gasping and crying from intense groin pain that didn't quit for 10 minutes (my poor husband had decided to throw me in the car and take me to the hospital when it finally let up). When I called my doctor's office the next day, the nurse said that was normal. "But it put me on the floor!" I said. "Totally normal," she replied.

Uh huh, not acceptable. So I did some internet searching and found a website called Spinning Babies that had some exercises for stretching out those muscles and ligaments that were killing me. The first one is called the Inversion, it looks absolutely bonkers but it helped SO MUCH! It takes your head a few days to get used to it, but the stretch on my ligaments started to help immediately. If you can, keep this up during the rest of the pregnancy, not only is it a good stretch but it also helps get the baby head-down for birth.

Helpful exercise #2 were the pelvic tilts, these not only help stretch the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments but also stretch your lower back nicely in the third trimester. Feels SO good!
let the belly hang
tilt your pelvic toward your chin and round your back
 And finally, another exercise I couldn't do without, the Bird Dog exercise. These are for when your back starts to hurt and pain starts shooting down your legs. Give it a few days to a week to start working, but it will help the pain go away. This can be done in the third trimester, balancing becomes hard but not impossible.

After I started doing these exercises, the second trimester was a breeze for me. I even went for a few rides, much to Coriander's chagrin. Here's another tip: When you're six months pregnant, canter in two-point/half seat. Trust me on this.

At this point I've still got a month to go. We're almost ready to meet our little guy!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Another barefoot article

 This one is from Eurodressage, "Keeping Horses Barefoot: A healthy horse from the ground up." Once again, Shannon Peters is quoted as a barefoot advocate (because Shannons are good people), they've also got a few quotes from veterinarian Melanie Quick who astutely advises that horse owners do their research before taking their horses barefoot. She also says this, which makes me happy:

“I prefer horses living the barefoot lifestyle, as there is absolutely no doubt that when applied correctly it gives the horse superior hoof, leg and back health, enhanced soundness, increased career longevity, and optimizes their performance. If the competition rules can be changed to allow hoof boots in the dressage arena I think barefoot will be massive, and we will all wonder why anyone ever shod a horse.”

Yes, thank you Dr. Quick for saying it and thank you Eurodressage for printing it.

But then there are some other quotes that make me want to pull my hair out. Like this one from FEI Dressage Director Trond Asmyr, "the reason why hoof boots are not allowed in FEI Dressage events is because they may be masking potential unsoundness and it is the FEI’s policy to ensure that all horses taking part in FEI events are perfectly sound and fit to compete. There are therefore no plans to change this rule."

Seriously? Because shoes don't do the same thing? How many of us know of a horse that was not sound barefoot become "sound" as soon as a set of shoes was nailed on? Everyone? Your argument is invalid, Mr. Asmyr.

Just to clarify my position in this argument: If a horse is not sound totally barefoot then the horse isn't sound no matter how they go in boots or shoes.

Then there's this from farrier Michael Jakob that sets me a little on edge: "According to Jakob there are also various reasons why the horse may seem lame lame after a barefoot trim, but he says the main problem could be that the hooves are cut too short."

This bothers me because it's a gross oversimplification of why a horse would be lame after a trim. I suppose I should give the guy a break since this is a magazine article and he can't go into detail about what might be causing a horse pain, BUT here's what really bothers me about that quote: it puts the blame onto the shoulders of the trimmer without consideration of the health (or lack of) in the hoof being trimmed.

I'm planning on writing a blog post about this (eventually), but here's something everyone should know: If a hoof is really unhealthy, it cannot be returned to health without some level of discomfort. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, they either don't know what they're talking about or they're lying to you.

And then there's this, the hoof they used as an example in the article:

Now I know I'm being overly critical, but darn it, I have high standards. The heels are uneven, the bars are too long and edging towards impacted (That crack in the frog where thrush likes to live? Goes hand in hand with bars that are too long.), and the hoof wall connection is poor. Oh, and can you see the toe creeping forward? This horse is landing toe first because the bars make the back of the hoof uncomfortable.

Well, it's still progress. Head on over to Eurodressage and read the article when you get a chance.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Barefoot article in Dressage Today

Hi all, I ran across a link to this article today and wanted to get it out to anyone who wants to read it:

Beyond the Horseshoe

Read all about how Olympic dressage horse, Ravel, and score of other horses in Steffen and Shannon Peter's care are now barefoot. For free!

Sorry I haven't written much lately, for once in my life horses aren't at the forefront of my mind. The Quarters are doing well, though they aren't doing much more than eat hay while we wait for this arctic blast to blow by. There are some things I want to write about, I'll try to muster up the energy to do that sometime soon. Until then take care and stay warm!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Winter shows her snowy face

Gwen is too busy for photos

But Coriander knows I've got food in my pocket

I know there's grass under here!

Gwen is annoyed with snow

But Coriander doesn't seem to mind

Butch prefers to eat out of the feeder

But my two like their bags :)