Veterinary Attention for Hooves in Trouble:
Humane Trimming Allows for Honest Healing from Navicular Syndrome,
Laminitis and Other Hoof and Leg Ailments
by Tomas G. Teskey, DVM
|Figure 1: A very contracted hoof with narrowed heels, uplifted and atrophied lateral cartilages, inactive frog and two-dimensional confinement with shoe.|
|Figure 2: A non-contracted hoof with broad heels, exhibiting plump lateral cartilages, active frog, and ability to adjust in three dimensions.|
|Figure 3: Warmblood mare with penetrating founder due to shoeing, confinement and further misguided shoeing with elevated heels.|
|Figure 4: Same mare regrowing hoof capsule using natural hoofcare techniques and boots with pads.|
|Figure 5: Same mare with completely regrown hooves in seven and a half months. All four feet had coffin bone penetration and all four are recovered and sound.|
Sometimes it’s more fun to “save the best for last”, whether enjoying a vacation, riding through beautiful country or eating a favorite dessert, but withholding the best treatment available for horses with troubled hooves isn’t something we would ever want. Allow yourself the time and opportunity to explore how natural hoof care complements horses and all equines, bringing about faster and more complete healing than any other modality available today!
Excitement was the word upon my discovering how to shape the hoof to bring both comfort and utility to horses suffering with pain in their heels. Commonly referred to as “caudal heel problems” or “navicular syndrome”, these horses often land toe-first, sending impact forces down through their now-misaligned bony column, causing further problems such as laminar separation and sprained ligamentous connections around the joints and lateral cartilages. Instead of exacerbating such misalignment by elevating heels in these horses and increasing concussion with steel shoes, keeping them at their most proper physiologic height along with providing comfortable terrain and/or form-fitting hoof boots allows optimum circulation, comfort, and the “sudden willingness” to land properly…heel first. This sets up an entire cascade of events critical for proper hoof function. Quite simply, when hoof protection is needed, boots allow a horse’s hooves to move in all dimensions and grow properly over time, something completely denied when restrained by a shoe. Exercising the hooves properly curtails the degenerative and atrophic changes that continue when steel shoes and/or poor hoof form exists. All horses with heel or navicular troubles can be seen to have deformed hooves to some degree…these deformities arise through improper hoof care and lack of exercise. (See Figures 1 and 2). To honestly heal these horses instead of covering up the symptoms of heel pain, we must provide for a more ideal hoof form through humane trimming that slowly changes the hoof shape, allowing the frog and rear of the hoof to comfortably engage the ground. Once these horses begin to land correctly, the once-atrophied and painful structures such as the digital cushion, lateral cartilages and impar ligament regain strength and usefulness and are no longer a source of pain for the horse. So straightforward is the basic premise behind this treatment that I have yet to have a horse fail to improve to some degree--most are back in the show ring, on the trail or back in competition.
Now I know it used to take me at least a year, maybe longer, to get a horse going more normally after a bad case of laminitis and/or founder. Many foundered horses have come and gone since my more in-depth introduction to the hoof, all with increased comfort and usefulness. (See Figures 3, 4, 5). The vast majority of horses suffering from laminitis can be noted to have a diet too rich in simple sugars, excessive body condition, improperly-shaped hooves (long toe, high heel, with or without shoes), and a lifestyle lacking exercise.
Though we know that horses can suddenly founder from grain overload or overuse on a hard surface, it is more common to see how the laminitic process occurs over months and months, giving way to founder when the system can no longer compensate for injury. Other organs can suddenly fail us or the animals with seemingly little “warning”, or at least warnings we somehow don’t recognize, but thankfully, hooves give us clues of the impending disaster long before it occurs when we know what to look for. Tending to a horse in laminitic distress has been very successful for me these past several years. Keeping heel height correct and reducing long, leveraging toes brings relief in itself, but adding boots with or without pads inside is a wonderful gift for these horses and owners. Raising heels in belief that tension in the deep digital flexor tendon must be reduced is an unfortunate practice based on wrong information. In fact, raising the heels in a laminitic horse worsens the stress on the lamina, daring a horse to hang on to what they have left. This “tension theory” has also led to the practice of sectioning the deep digital flexor tendon, adding insult to injury.
Somehow this poor tendon, the largest in the horse’s body, has been singled out unfairly and totally misunderstood. It is not in balance with the laminar connections of the hoof, it is in balance with extensor tendons, branches of the suspensory ligaments upon weight bearing, joint capsules, ligaments and the fascia of the lower limb. I only mention this at some length because those horses coming to me in desperation with previous tenotomies have largely failed to make a recovery that I would deem appropriate for their condition. For the horse’s sake, avoid tenotomies and study instead the proper balance of the hoof and how to make it comfortable.
These horses with such common ailments are stumbling around on their hooves that we have misunderstood. They are organs that move and stretch and bend, complementing the horses’ fluid movements. Embracing such techniques that respect this physiologic inheritance brings success that is foreign to more “traditional” hoof care…of course! Navicular syndrome and founder are only two situations we commonly deal with, but so many other problems such as hoof cracks, sidebone, ringbone, arthritis, thrush, grease-heel, and lower limb trauma are much more successfully treated when we are mindful of achieving proper hoof form and function. More blood in and out of the hoof means more blood through the entire limb, (times four), and around the entire body! There is much good news and information available at many sites on the internet, and attending workshops such as given by Martha Olivo www.marthaolivo.com , Pete Ramey www.hoofrehab.com in the U.S.A. or Chrisann and Mike Ware in Australia www.equethy.com are bringing better understanding to all of us trying to do the best job for the horses.