Why Cast A Foot Rather Than Shoe?

These are pictures taken of a hoof that I began working on about 5 months ago. The horse had previously been in shoes, then in glue-on’s and this access crack was going nowhere good.

Many times a crack like this grows out easily, with no further issues. In this case, the horse has feet that look decent from the outside but the solar view reveal thin soles, contracted heels and a nonexistent frog. So it’s not a healthy foot and it’s not going to easily grow out a crack like this.

I was asked to begin casting it when the glue on shoes would not stay on. I trimmed it, did a mild resection and had the owner do a deep cleaning treatment. Further prep involved mildly sanding the outside to remove any debris, and then gluing a cast on.

Casts stop hoof expansion. Without getting into too much detail, sometimes we want this to happen. This hoof was cast three times to get to the point you see in the first (after) photo. The last time I was able to get a layer of Equipack down to increase circulation and the foot grew about an inch between casts.

One more trim and the crack will be completely grown out. We’ll keep working on his other issues but this was a fun example of when casting is the appropriate tool.

While I’m Under Your Horse Trimming.. Some Guidelines

Lately I’ve had a few new clients comment that they’ve never been told by their farrier or trimmer what they need to be doing while their horse is getting worked on.  I realize I discuss this with people that I work for, but that there really isn’t much written about this. There is however a video from Smartpak that shows a farrier being downright molested by the horse he is doing finish work on (front foot forward on the hoof stand) and everyone is laughing.  It’s not funny.

It’s not funny if you’re the person doing the work.  I’ve been bit on the head, on the shoulder, on the back.. So here goes, starting from the beginning.

When we arrive, we’d like your horses to be ready to trim and reasonably clean and dry. We do understand weather happens; spotless is not necessary but mud to the knees is a problem.  One big reason we’d prefer less muck is because that stuff ruins our tools.  Rasps currently cost over $30.00.  So in order to keep costs down for everyone, clean is good!

Please don’t expect us to catch your horse in the field.  This is dangerous and frankly the liability to you is huge should something go wrong.  I personally want you there so I can discuss your horses feet with you, so I never do this anyway and would never expect anyone who works for me to do it, either.

Crossties.  Some folks are ok with this, personally I am not.  I don’t feel it’s safe after having a horse fall on me and get stuck with me underneath it.  Freak incident?  Maybe.  But horses pull back and horses panic and – things happen. I’d prefer a human on the end of the lead rope!

We really like a clean, dry, level place to work.  I know a lot of people will work in the dirt and I’ve done it, too.  But I can’t do my best work on an unlevel, dirty surface.  Please try to  give us at least a few stall mats somewhere to work on, out of the weather.

Flyspray.  Please have GOOD flyspray available and allow us to use it liberally.  If your horse picks up a foot to kick at a fly, all that weight shifts onto the person under the horse. It’s abrupt and can injure your hoof care professional in a second.  This is a dangerous job; please, let’s minimize the risks of people getting hurt.  I often carry fly spray and if I continually have to spray someone’s horses will charge extra for it.

Your horse needs to stand still when we are working around and under them.  This means also keeping their head and neck straight and still.  When they turn and look right, all their weight goes left and vice versa.  1200 shifting pounds is not safe or easy to deal with and again.. we can’t do good work under these circumstances. I have noticed that often when I trim a horse for the first time who has  a bad trim – he also has bad manners.  I doubt this is a coincidence.  Please don’t let your horse touch me.  Even the kindest horses have nipped me – when I’m under them, I’m fair game.  I always “meet and greet” and say good bye at the end – I like your horses and enjoy getting to know them.  Just not while I’m under them.

Where should you be?  Ideally it is on the opposite side of the farrier while we work in the front and on the same side when we are working behind. Please don’t stand directly in front of your horse in case he startles or the hoof stand goes flying! Staying alert and and aware of your horses activity is important; I appreciate a heads up if a client needs to take a phone call or text.

Discipline.  A great client told me the other day that she realized a long time ago that I am the one who needs to discipline the horse for acting up because I know it’s happening long before she can identify it and furthermore, it’s often directed towards me and therefore I’m the one who needs to address it.  I could not have said it better.  I feel your horse tip onto me long before you can see it.  I feel them think about rearing long before you can see it.   Corrections are based on a lot of factors.  One is – how old is your horse?  Babies get leeway because they need training and I’m more than happy to participate in that because I want to trim well trained horses.  It’s in my best interest, too.  Old horses get leeway because they have aches and pains (and I expect clients to use whatever is appropriate to make them as comfortable as possible).  Your average working horse of middle age has no excuses unless there’s an injury, so – perfect manners are expected.  What is perfect?  My horses can be trimmed with the lead rope over their backs and their feet are light as feathers.  That is perfect.

What is discipline?  Sometimes it’s a growl or I’ll tell you to do something. Usually it’s a tap with the rasp and a sharp word to stand up.  If a horse tries to kick or strike me, it’s going to be more than that.  Rearing gets a strong correction also.  Anything dangerous is going to get a much bigger reaction out of me because I want your horse to understand that this is never acceptable.  Not only is it not safe for me but I think you probably don’t want your horse kicking or striking at you, either.  If you do then I’d prefer to not trim for you.

A world about natural horsemanship and “moving their feet”.  This is inappropriate when someone is under your horse working.  Whoa needs to mean that your horse plants his feet and does not move until told to do so.  You cannot discipline him for moving by moving him more when someone is under him – it’s dangerous.  I’ll leave this subject alone now other than to say that I don’t train my horses that way.

Scheduling. Some clients we schedule the next trim before I leave, some contact me a few weeks out to set up an appointment.  Most horses should not go more than six weeks between trims and I do a few who need to be done every 3-4 weeks to stay balanced.  Life gets crazy and it’s important for us to all stay on top of scheduling as best we can.

Diet.  What goes in your horse creates the foot we have to trim. If your trimmer or farrier suggests a change, ask why and try to work with them on this.  We see a lot of correlation between diet and hoof quality – and we see a lot of feet – so please take this seriously.

Questions.  Please – ask!  I am, and I think most hoof professionals are happy to explain things and answer questions.  If your vet has questions, have them call me. I’m happy to explain why I am doing something the way I am, and to listen to what they have to say.  This is how we all learn.

Remember – these guidelines are so that everyone stays safe and your horse gets the quality work that he deserves!

  

 

 

 

A Little Bit on Feet and Trimming

The reason my business is called The Whole Horse is obvious – nothing works in exclusion.  In addition to the other horse services I provide, I am also a barefoot trimmer.  I’d like to clarify the context of that a bit here; as I’ll be taking on a limited number of new clients this summer.

I was always a fan of the foot.  I love the shape, the function, the symmetry and… the puzzle.  When I ran a sales barn I was blessed with the very best farrier in the area; he routinely worked magic on the horses that came in.  No left lead?  Let’s look at how this horse stands.  Doesn’t want to use the shoulders?  Let’s consider why.  The list went on and on but he always began from the bottom up.  This was my initial education on a proper trim and shoe job, even though I didn’t know it was happening.

When I moved to my farm, I was out of his travel range.  This was when things got a little weird, so to speak. I met and worked with a number of farriers but they were never able to achieve the seemingly effortless work he had done and my horses began to subtly suffer the consequences.  Training problems.  Joint issues.  Back problems, hock problems.

At the same time I was receiving great encouragement from my new hoof care providers to take things into my own hands. I had a yearling who snapped off a toe; I was handed a rasp and taught to keep his heels level. I’m proud to say he does not have a club foot – not because I was particularly skilled but because I was given the knowledge and tool to prevent it by a generous farrier who didn’t feel threatened by my interest.

Then I had a horse with a laminitis episode.  Again, out came the rasp and an earnest conversation about how if I kept his heels level and short the outcome could be very different than getting into a shoeing package. I was asked to have a little faith, ride it out and monitor it closely with him.  The outcome was fantastic; the horse never rotated, had very little hoof distortion and recovered completely.

I was intrigued.  I began studying.

The next horse came with a bucking problem.  Four shoes, four sheared heels, four contracted feet.  Off came the shoes and he handed me the rasp again.  Once his feet were fixed, he stopped bucking. It was that simple.

My personal horses.. off came the shoes.  Sometimes things were hit or miss. I was studying Pete Ramey and Jamie Jackson’s work and some of it made sense and in practicality worked and some of it didn’t.  I kept what worked, filed the rest for possibility and kept going.

At this point my personal horses and sale horses were now all barefoot and sound.  Of course I had also began feeding them differently.  The elements were coming together.

I began riding with farriers. A pivotal moment was when I was asked by one to draw a picture in the dirt of an ideal foot.  He nodded at my little dirty sketch and said “yes, you see it”. I am deeply grateful for the time, interest and effort the people I have worked have given me.

The foundered horses and ponies came POURING in.   I learned to cast; a skill I am particularly proud of as I can keep a cast on a horse for 4-6 weeks and use them to create nearly any situation without damaging the foot or causing pain by nailing an already sore foot.

I kept studying.  Anatomy, physiology, practical purpose.  KC LaPierre’s dissections. Fran Jurga.

Along the road I learned that the battle between barefoot trimming and shoeing is not productive at all and I refuse to engage in it.

I will continue to hope for a better dialogue about what is best for the horse at any given time; but the people I work with don’t seem to be interested in anything else.  I refer horses  to farriers often when I believe that the horse would benefit from shoes.  I often rehabilitate a horse for a client with the goal of making a foot that is easy for the farrier to shoe and maintain.  I never have been and never will be anti-shoe.

I like the problem feet, I like solving the puzzle. I love to rehabilitate a horses feet and watch the other issues evaporate, just as my original farrier showed me so many years ago.

The journey of fixing a horses feet is often long. In consult with my vet over a horse a few months ago she commented that it takes a year to grow a new hoof entirely but the process of healing the inside is much longer than that.. the second year is when you develop sole depth, stabilized internal structures, strengthened collateral and medial ligaments, and the tendons and ligaments in the leg regain their correct support systems.

I’ve always been a fan of the Thoroughbred and hate that most hoof problems in them are blown off as being breed inherent.  Sometimes this is true; my personal horse has thin walls that he inherited from his TB mom.  He’s sound barefoot as he has excellent internal structure. Occasionally I cast him for extra wall support.  However, I trim many many TB’s and OTTB’s that have excellent feet in every way.  The idea that all TB’s have crappy feet and will be hothouse flowers on them is always a time bomb ticking.  No hoof, no horse is true.  Horses need to stand on four balanced feet in order to have sound upper body structures.  Putting a bandaid on a horses hoof problems will only lead to unsoundness in the rest of the horse.  The time you take working on the bottom saves you time and money working on the top and isn’t that what we want?  A sound horse.

If your horse has problem feet, consider thinking out of the box and looking at solutions that are customized to YOUR horse.  Nutrition, management, expectation during rehabilitation and proper trimming and/or shoeing is a package deal.   Find someone who is interested in your whole horse.  If that’s me, great. If it’s someone else who can do the work, that’s great – it’s the horse that matters.  I wish for you all and your horses four happy feet.  If you’d like to contact me about your horses feet, fill out this form. I’ll be adding limited clients in the Garner/South Raleigh NC area this summer and some in the Chapel Hill/Mebane/Durham areas.

 

Your Horses Feet – What You Put In Is What You Get Out..

I recently had the pleasure of having lateral radiographs done of a client’s horses feet.  We took them because it’s smart to have baseline rads in a younger horse for future comparisons and because he has a slightly club-like foot and I wanted to know how much lower I could take his heels.

Turns out his angles were perfect.  This horse has beautiful feet on the outside, concave on the inside and is sound barefoot on nearly every surface. However, his films revealed something – in the year we’ve had him, he’s grown a much healthier, hardier foot – but the work is not done yet.  His soles are still not yet thick enough to shorten his toe anymore than it is – it would drop him down onto his coffin bone.

It’s a process.  It’s a process.  It’s a process.

Here are nutrients found inside horses feet, borrowed from Progressive Nutritions website:

Table 1: NUTRIENTS FOUND INSIDE THE HORSE’S HOOF from high to low
Protein/Amino Acids (94%)
Fat/Oils (3%)
Sulfur
Calcium
Zinc
Copper
Selenium
Carotene (Vitamin A)
Alpha-Tocopherol (Vitamin E)
Biotin

Please note that biotin is LAST on this list.  Protein and amino acids are FIRST, followed by fats and then SULFUR and then a slew of minerals and a few vitamins.  Yet most “hoof supplements” are based on biotin.

Hoof quality, or lack thereof, is the thing I hear the most complaints about.  I do trim, and I do advocate for horses being barefoot but there is a caveat – if the horse is fed correctly, a tremendous amount of improvement can be made in almost any foot. If not, you can forget about it.  The single biggest hoof killer is carbohydrates.  Again, the formula for a healthy horse and foot is forage and nutrition first and carbs last.  If a horse is not fed correctly great feet will not happen.

My vet was thrilled with those films, as both his owner and I were.  We are in this for the long haul.  Another six months or so and those soles will be super thick and the toe will be able to be brought back even more.  Thinking long term is critical when considering what you feed your horse.  While feet get the big complaints, the most common question is “how do I put weight on my horse?”  The usual answers are the answers that cause secondary problems like poor hoof quality.  If you focus on only weight gain, you may sacrifice having a sound horse in the long run. I like a horse in good flesh as much as anyone does – frankly, I like mine a little fat.  But I want that horse standing on good, solid feet and nothing will do that but proper nutrition.

The beautiful thing about this is that the science has been done and the questions have been answered.  There is no need to reinvent the wheel.  Minimize carbs and provide the proper building blocks and every horse will grow a better foot.  Will he trot sound on gravel like this guy? I can’t say.  But if you are struggling with hoof quality, please stop feeding for weight gain or a shiny coat.  You can do your own homework – there are many resources – or you can contact me and I’ll guide you through the changes in your horses diet that will improve his hoof quality.  Incidentally, shiny and fat will follow right along!