Saturday, April 19, 2014

Forward, backward, onward

For those interested in feet, it's about time we had a recap and an update on Lakota.  It's been just about a year since I started working on him and it has certainly been an interesting journey thus far.  We started out with a whole laundry list of problems despite a lifetime of excellent, conscientious care:
  • Distal descent of P3 (otherwise known as a sunken coffin bone).
  • Badly flared and poorly connected hoof walls.
  • Severely under-run heels.
  • Runaway toes.
  • Contracted heels.
  • Six degrees of coffin bone rotation.
  • A poorly developed, weak and diseased frog.
  • A deep and persistent central sulcus infection.
  • A severe mineral imbalance and life-long deficiencies of key nutrients.
  • A coffin bone showing damage and remodeling caused by constant pressure and bruising.
  • And, only 2 mm of sole protecting the bottom of that coffin bone from the outside world.

I took over care of Lakota's feet out of desperation.  Every farrier who had worked on him to that point had generally made things worse for him.  They did not mean to, but I don't believe they recognized all the different, yet intertwined, problems going on with this horse.  Each one focused on just one aspect of his feet and assumed the rest would take care of itself.  Riding Buddy and I have taken a very holistic approach to all of the foot problems we had been struggling with and made changes in diet, management, environment....everything.  I worked on his feet all summer, trimming them every two weeks and, by Fall, we had made significant progress.

10/27/13 Still troubled, but sounder than he ever had been....

Unfortunately, not long after the above picture was taken, Lakota broke through a fence and gorged himself on windfall apples causing an episode of laminitis.  About a month later, he got out on a pasture that still had a significant amount of grass under the snow cover and had another episode (don't ever assume that winter grass is safe for a highly sensitive horse or donkey).  Last month, Lakota came up severely lame with a bad sub-solar abscess that set us back even further.  He was finally sound enough (barely) for me to work on his feet again about three weeks ago.

On a much more positive note, he had a new set of x-rays taken about the same time and, despite all the setbacks, Lakota now has 10 mm of sole depth.  That may not sound like much, and it is still terribly thin, but it is 5 times what he had last year.

3/30/14 before trim.  You can see that the front of the hoof wall, which had nearly become straight in the Fall, once again has a slight dish to it, caused by his back to back bouts of laminitis.

3/30/14 after trim.  It's not all bad.  Despite the setbacks, this is still a MUCH stronger hoof now than it was one year ago.  The heels are dramatically improved, much less under-run and de-contracted.  He has a relatively healthy frog, it is still somewhat weak, but all signs of disease and infection are gone.  The bars are no longer folded over on themselves and, he has 10 mm of sole.

One of the most difficult aspects of correcting all these issues is that the hoof gets stuck in a kind of endless negative feedback loop.  The walls need to be trimmed way back, especially at the toe, in order to get healthy connection and sole growth.  However, with such thin soles, those overgrown walls are all that he has to support him.  The soles won't grow because all the energy of the foot is going into growing excess wall, the walls can't be controlled because they are all that is protecting the soles.  Round and round it goes.  Unless something can be done to break out of this loop, it will never end.  That is where Lakota has been stuck for the past 15 years.

This is where the casts and dental impression material come in.  The dental mold provides support, cushion and stimulation that the sole needs...

The casts (hot pink was on sale - 1/2 off!) provide even more support and protection as well as stabilizing the entire hoof capsule while still allowing for expansion and contraction.  These are what gained us that hard won sole depth.  We're hopping for more.

The most interesting thing to come out of Lakota's recent bouts with laminitis can be seen in the photo below, taken mid trim.

We horse people tend to think of laminitis in a rather limited, one-dimensional fashion.  We generally focus on the toe and think in terms of rotation of the coffin bone.  This isn't really accurate though. The coffin bone is the anchor for the entire hoof capsule, it is the planetary core that the crust is attached to.  No matter how severe the laminitis, it is not the coffin bone that moves downward, even when we think of it as puncturing the bottom of the foot.  The coffin bone can't move, it is joined to the bone above it (P2) and that joint does not fail during a bout of laminitis.  Rather, it is the hoof capsule that loses its attachment to its anchor and rotates upwards, affecting every part of the foot - not just at the toe, but the quarters, heels, sole - everywhere.

In this photo, you can see a butterfly-shaped pattern of "bruising" right in the center of the hoof, on either side of the frog.  This is not bruising from an external source, it is the damage that was caused to the lamina of the sole during a minor laminitic episode.  It has taken this long for it to grow out enough to be visible, both front feet look exactly the same.  It is clearly visible here because there is so little pigmentation in the foot...not something you'll see every day (thank God). 

That lack of pigmentation is interesting in itself.  Lakota does have very white feet, however, constant pressure and bruising to the bottom of the coffin bone can cause the sole to lose pigmentation as well, similar to the way a scar will grow in white on dark colored horse. 

Note: I did not trim anything from this sole, only used my knife to scrape away the dirt so that I could really see what was going on.  The line drawn in front of the apex of the frog is approximately where the white line should be (hopefully, will be someday).  The short line just in front of that is where I brought his toe back to in this trim.  This may look scary, but most of that toe is lamellar wedge, the hoof's version of overgrown scar tissue that needs to be removed.

Lakota was sore when I started, but walked off much sounder after his trim and has improved since.  I'm happy to have been able to stick with one of my cardinal rules of hoof trimming - the horse should be at least as sound after the trim as he was before.


  1. It is fantastic that you put this information out here for others to read about. I sometimes wish that our farrier would take more time, he...won't unless I get after him.
    Siera's back feet grow out crooked and I need him to trim more often.
    Thanks for keeping an eye on the feet and making me think about them.

  2. This has been a fascinating series. I sure wish he'd not had those two setbacks, but despite all that, I think he's definitely making progress. Good job!

  3. Why don't they teach this stuff in Farrier school? What is amazing to me is how you've worked it all out like a long calculus problem. You have gifts, Kris! and being a farrier is just one of them! :)

  4. Wow - - just looked up laminitis on the internet. It is a complex chronic issue with many things that can set it off. You definitely have a lot of patience to work on the cure. It's enough for most of us to do the "normal" things for pets like feed and walk them (dogs). You have to be a dedicated person to do what you do with your hoofed friends each day.

  5. That poor horse has suffered with this for 15 years?!? You are an Angel! What patience and dedication you have for your equine friends. Well done.

  6. Kris, I just don't know how you have learned so much... it's so very admirable! Good for Lakota... and I hope he continues to improve.

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  8. Hello, i know i am 4 years late here but i came across your blogs (i found 2) on lakota and this is exactly my priblem with my thoroughbred. He is 18 now and after probably 10 professionals over 6 years between trimmers, farriers and vets working on him we are right where we started. I had decided 3 weeks ago to do it myself exactly as you described as I stumble across your page today. I wondered if you could share with me lakotas full story, that could help me with my horse. thank you!