Thursday, September 5, 2013

Lakota - Learning to Read

I introduced you to Lakota, or rather his feet, back in April.  I'd like to say we have a whole new foot on him by now, but we aren't there yet.  We have been making some progress, but it has been agonizingly slow.  We have had a couple of setbacks and made a few leaps forward.  One of the toughest issues for all the horses in this area this year has been the incessantly wet conditions.  Every horse I know has had some trouble because of it and Lakota is no exception.  The other setback was my fault.

There is so much conflicting information about hoof care and trimming swirling around in the horse industry right now that figuring out what is best for a horse seems to be one of the toughest challenges facing owners these days.  Some experts will say you have to trim the toe and leave the heel, others say trim the heel and leave the toe.  More and more, the conclusion that I am coming to is that it is good to study it, to know it, and then set it all aside and do what the horse tells you to.

This is where we were back in April...
What the heck do you trim off of this foot?  Everything about it is screaming that it needs more support, not less.  Trimming feet is a bit like carpentry that way, you can cut and cut and cut, but it won't make the board or the foot any longer.  The sole here is no thicker than a cereal box, the hoof walls are barely attached to anything and the coffin bone is nearly falling out of the bottom of the foot.

My approach to "trimming" this foot has been all about trying to stabilize and support it in order to allow and encourage healthy growth.  I tried letting his heels grow out more in the hopes it would give him more support.   Instead, they folded under him and made him even more sore so I went back to my original plan.  I try to pull the heels back and flatten them so that they form a solid base of support without ever making  them shorter.

In July, I badgered poor RB into getting some x-rays as I really needed to have a better understanding of what these feet were telling me.  We were holding our ground, but not really progressing and I needed more information.  This first shot was taken standing directly in front of the horse.  It shows that I have at least achieved good medial-lateral (side to side) balance...

Anyone who is at all familiar with what a hoof x-ray should look like is going to cringe at this next shot.... 

This is what is known as a "sinker", the upper tip of the coffin bone (that's the triangular bone at the bottom that should mirror the outer hoof) should be slightly higher than the hair line at the front of the foot.  You can see that it has dropped nearly half an inch below that point.  It has also rotated downward by 6 degrees.  The bottom, front tip of the bone is pointing slightly upward.  That is caused by reshaping of the bone itself and tells me that this has been a long time in the making.  The front of the bone should be parallel with the front of the hoof wall.  And...There are only 2 tiny mm of sole underneath the bone, supporting the entire weight of this 1100 lb horse.  A healthy foot would have well connected walls supporting a concave sole with about 12 mm of thickness.

The outside of the foot will tell you what is happening on the inside if you can figure out what it is saying.  After working on these and studying feet obsessively for the past year, I feel like I am finally learning how to read what is written here.  I wasn't surprised by the x-rays, but I needed them to help guide my path.

I've tried to show here some of what I think the foot is trying to say....

Can you see how the hair line has such a pronounced arch to it (the blue line)?  The hoof tubules grow perpendicularly out of that line and as long as it is arched that way the back of the foot will remain crushed under.  As long as the toe remains this long, it will continue to pull itself and the rest of the foot forward and away from the bone.

So here is what I have been doing to try to help Lakota grow a healthy foot:  Using the x-rays to guide me, I brought the toes back 8 mm to where the natural breakover should be.  I leave the heel height exactly where it is, but trim any excess growth that is folding under him and causing bruising.  And most importantly, I add support in the form of equicasts.

Lakota gets a new set of Equicasts and tiny trim to push the toes back and keep his heels under him every two weeks.   After six weeks of this, here is where we are as of 8/20...

with more of my squiggles...

and where I hope we will someday be....
Most importantly (although all of my sole shots came out too blurry to see), the sole is no longer convex as it was in the first photo.  I would not go so far as to say it has any concavity to it yet, but it is below the level of the hoof wall.

Where we were 7/20...

Where we are 8/22....

And Mr. Crazy-Blue-Eyes is happy to stand on all of his feet and run around with his friends.

I've got another scheme in mind for giving Lakota even more support that I am really hoping will have a dramatically positive result.  I'll tell you about it next time.


  1. Great idea about the casts, I would never have known?
    Where on earth do you get them?

    Thank you for this informative post.

  2. As a city girl, I find your hoof-lessons very informative! Thanks for taking the time to share your skills.

  3. Wow. That is one slow, painful process. I have a question. Did you ever consider shoes for him, even as a temporary solution, for instance when the x-rays were taken? I don't know if you are against shoes in principle, or if there's a reason they wouldn't have helped in this case. You've always thought through things so carefully, so I'm very curious to hear your views on that.

  4. I learned a little about casts at the donkey sanctuary, but I have absolutely no knowledge about horse hooves except what I've learned from you and Rockley Farm. Your learning process, however is fascinating and inspiring. Thanks for sharing it.

    1. I'd be very interested to hear what the Donkey Sanctuary has to say about cast???

  5. Our equine podiatrist in Ireland used casts (called them wraps) on Aero & my friends horse after their shoes were removed. They made a huge difference and I reckon they are an invaluable tool to help keep the horse comfortable while his hooves do some adjusting. Good luck with Lakota, he is certainly looking better.
    PS I'd recently read an article advocating "trim the toes and the heels will come back by themselves" I wasn't convinced when I read it because I KNOW if I leave Flurry's heels they will just become higher and higher! Now I'm even less convinced. I guess like a lot of barefoot stuff, it depends on the horse