Thursday, 29 December 2011

The hoof as a magnifying glass

Wiola posted a great comment on my Christmas message post and I wanted to highlight it here.

"I totally agree with "leave alone if horse gets worse with trimming" as duly taught by Kingsley. 

Just a random thought - seeing hooves are always changing in response to work the horse does...and seeing the shape and sensitivity is dynamic and changes in response to biomechanics and diet etc....

Seeing all that, I wonder if leaving hooves without shoes AND corrective trimming would make us all pay more attention to how we school/train/compete our horses.

If, let's say, schooling/dressage a horse with weak back muscle at a level it is not ready for, in hollow outline and by a rider with underdeveloped seat would cause the horse degree of back pain that would quickly lead to more limb strain that would then lead to sensitivity in bare feet/lameness then perhaps the whole training would become wiser. 

As it is, so many issues in the horses' bodies that are the results of uneducated riding can go on and on for a year or longer. These issues are "treated" and "cured" for a moment only to resurface with greater force and show up as lameness. 

Perhaps having horses barefoot and largely self-trimming, a horse that shows any issues in weeks or days rather than years, we would grow more sensitive to training the whole horse and be more tune in to their needs and body issues."
This is sentiment I completely agree with and for me its one of the biggest benefits - and biggest trials - of having a barefoot horse: it is much, much more difficult to overlook a problem when a horse is barefoot.

This is true whether the issue is lack of training or a biomechanical issue, as Wiola's post demonstrates, or whether its a more general health concern like a nutritional imbalance or metabolic problem.  


In a lecture I went to last year, Prof. Jean Marie Denoix (talking about shod horses) made the point that a "sudden" injury or lameness is rarely that"; in fact, the precursor of most injuries is months or even years of fatigue and progressive stress on tendons.  As he said: "a tendon injury is rarely a primary cause" - and if you don't identify and solve the source of the injury, it will inevitably recur. 

But imagine if you had an incredibly sensitive early warning system which could detect and alert you to these early signs of stress, fatigue or malfunction.  In a barefoot horse, this is exactly what you get.  

Hooves are an unbelievably accurate barometer of the overall health and fitness of the horse and will usually provide early warning of potential problems which can often then be nipped in the bud - dietary changes can be made, overworked soft tissue can be rested, weaknesses strengthened. 

However, in many shod horses, this barometer simply can't be read because the hooves are no longer capable of providing subtle feedback  - wear patterns cannot be seen, proprioception is reduced and, even if limb-loading changes, deviations in the hoof capsule are removed by trimming and shoeing. 

The level of detailed information a bare hoof provides can be uncomfortably immediate and uncompromising, but on the other hand, if you have a very sound, robust hoof then you can be pretty confident that you have a sound, robust horse. 

11 comments:

Jassy Mackenzie said...

Nic, this is so true! You cannot hide or conceal any issues when the horse is barefoot because it seems that what the body feels, the hoof reflects.

For a couple of days recently my young barefoot TB has not been feeling quite himself... he has been spooky, a bit less forward going than usual, and felt footy. Yesterday we found the problem and it is an abscess... on the inside of his mouth near his lip!

Nic Barker said...

Really interesting, Jassy - its fascinating how these things affect them, isn't it?

Neets Human said...

Couldn't agree more... I would feel blind folded if Neets wasn't barefoot..

amandap said...

I am another who agrees wholeheartedly with this. Once you commit to this 'listening' your whole life with your horses changes. You have to become flexible and strict agendas go out of the window. Bare hooves to me are windows into a horses health, ignore what they are telling you at your peril and detriment of the horse.

For me this 'listening' has become a fundamental of horsemanship. No more sticking plasters to meet my goals but a journey trying to learn what is best for each individual horse and being ready to change my plans or management at a moments notice.

Val said...

Excellent comment and analysis!

Jacqui said...

I totally agree, the trick is to know where to start or who to turn to when issues show up.....

Nic Barker said...

NH - "blindfolded" is a really good way to describe it - dead right :-)

Amanda - perfect comment - encapsulates exactly what I think both Wiola and I feel, and certainly its the way I am trying to go more and more. As you say, Jacqui, the secret is to know where to go when things go wrong(!)...

Val, so glad you found it useful!

Wiola said...

Definitely agree Nic and Amanda - now, my million £ question is how an average rider who has lessons with me can manage a competition horse so they can do the sport barefoot too...

I know there are performance barefoot horses out there doing well but HOW do we make it more widespread & more practical for an average owner; that's what I would love to have an answer to.

Nic Barker said...

Wiola, I know its difficult at the moment, as barefoot is such a small percentage of horses, and even less of performance horses.

Better livery yards, with YOs who have an excellent knowledge of nutrition, would be a good start but that demand has to be driven by owners.

If owners push for this, they will get it in the end, but they have to know what they want and why, so knowledge of hoof health is critical.

It would also help if people bred horses and brought them up as youngsters with more thought for their feet - again, knowledge is critical.

None of this is rocket science, but we need to keep the tidal wave of information growing :-)

amandap said...

I definitely agree with better and more flexible livery yards. I read of so many people who are restricted by yard turnout rules etc. Perhaps this is where all weather tracks could come in or a variety of tracks and pea gravel and grass free turnout.

I've noticed such a change in willingness to learn more over the past couple of years, people are definitely taking this barefoot stuff on board and hopefully it will seep into the breeding and management of foals and young stock for the future as Nic points out. This is such and important area for prevention of so many hoof and body problems in the horses lifetime.

I'd like to thank Nic for this blog and so many other knowledgeable people who so willingly share their knowledge and experience so openly. You (and those like you) are in my opinion a huge factor in the change I'm seeing and reading about and a big force pushing that tidal wave.
The photos and stories of real life horses are so graphic and changes cannot be denied...

Happy New Year to everyone, their families and horses. x

Nic Barker said...

Thank you, Amanda - its lovely that you find the blog useful. The online community is such a great way of being able to support, encourage and educate each other :-)