Saturday, July 16, 2011

Can She Go Barefoot?

She had crappy feet from the beginning... she was doomed.

It's hard to tell in these old pictures of Lilly when she was SUPER CUTE, but she has hooves made out of PVC pipe halves. In addition to her check ligament surgery in September 2000, a mere 5 months after she was born, we had to do hoof reconstruction because her hooves had crumbled to pieces.

Could she be any cuter?
If only I'd had this blog back then... I'd know how long she wore those pipes. They pretty much stayed on until she outgrew them and they were rasped off. I think they used Liquid Nails to glue them on, so there was no getting them off.

Very shortly after her surgery.
You can see the puffy spots on her legs where they're still swollen.
I tried to keep her barefoot after the pipes, but after I really started her training, my farrier and I decided she needed to be in shoes or she wasn't going to stay sound. Until that time, she'd been a pasture puff for the most part because I was moving around so much. She knew the basics, but that was about as far as we got. I believe she was four when she got her first pair of real shoes.

I remember being really embarrassed about her feet before the first pair of shoes went on. My farrier would cringe every time he came out to trim her and he practically begged me to let him put shoes on her front feet. I think he regretted his efforts after our first attempt at having her shod... she was having none of it and for the first couple appointments, she was UGLY. On the third or fourth time, I guess he'd had enough and what happened inside my barn was NOT pretty. That was his last time ever touching my horse.

I took my camera with me to the barn today to get some current pictures of her hooves. I cleaned them all up, got the aisle ready, and turned on my camera to find the batter was dead... After kicking myself for not checking that before going out to the barn, I decided to use my iPhone and hope for the best.

The first group of pictures are of her front feet. A lot of the pictures turned out blurry, especially those of the bottoms of her front feet, so these are the best I have so far. I plan on getting some more with an actual camera.

Fronts from the front...
Fronts from the back...
Left side view...
Right side view... (event lines much??)
This second set of shots is of her hind feet. My biggest questions were about how my farrier was trimming these since they're not shod. Most of the pictures turned out blurry, but I'll post these anyway.

Left hind...
Left hind...
Right hind...
Right hind...
I know a lot more now than I did a few months ago, but how do her hooves look to everyone? And is my farrier trimming her like a barefoot trimmer might trim? She's completely sound, even on rocky ground, so she does great barefoot behind. I wonder if she would have an abnormally long/difficult transition period if I pulled her front shoes and tried to go barefoot with her. She had such a rough start where her hooves are concerned, and she was barefoot for about 3 years without a whole lot of success...

Any and all comments are welcome and appreciated even if you say, "OMG! What has he done to her hooves??!!"


  1. Her front heels are pretty contracted, from what I can tell, and maybe with a bit of thrush (see the 'butt cracks' from behind?). The heels and frog are supposed to help support the hoof. Other then that, I am far from an expert and that is why I pay a trimmer to trim. :)

    I though I'd share my experiences though. Key was shod all the way around at a very young age, as he was bred by a farrier. When I bought him at a just-turned-four, his owner gave me a strict foot plan--certain angles he had to have, etc. He was in aluminum shoes as his feet were too thin for steel shoes or clips. He pulled shoes left and right in his stall (had had very limited turn out at this point). He abscessed constantly (almost as soon as one healed, he had another). He eventually pulled the whole side of his foot off when he pulled a shoe just standing in his stall, and I said, 'no more shoes'. It wasn't working, and despite my farrier saying, 'He can NOT be without shoes', I did it anyway.

    Here's what I learned when you transition: If a horse is on nice soft pasture and you work them in a nice arena, their foot will not be hard. They WILL adapt to whatever you put them in, much like our feet. I wear shoes constantly, and there are no calluses on my feet. But there are plenty of normal people who can run marathons on pavement with no shoes at all--and this is all due to what they work the feet on. So many times I hear 'she's fine in her pasture but ouchy on rocks'--of course she is, if the horse stands 23 hours a day on soft grass and works one hour a day in a soft arena, why would you expect her feet to be hard? If you don't give a hard surface for the hoof to realize it needs to toughen up, it usually won't. And most people, when their horse is 'ouchy', leave them on the softest footing available.

    It takes time. Key had to wait to grow a decent frog and a better digital cushion to support his weight. Most horses in shoes have little frogs--because there is no reason for the hoof to have a hard frog if it never comes in contact with the ground. (With thermal pictures, they also show that horses with shoes on have a lessened blood supply to the hoof, so this too could be a reason for tiny frogs. It also has a slight numbing of the hoof, which is why so many horses interfere and need bell boots when they wear shoes). In a hoof like Lilly's, that has always been supported for a long time, it's much like Key--it was a long transition period. You have to wait for the heels to de-contract. You have to wait for the frog to grow. You have to find pavement/gravel and walk them to tell the foot to toughen up, the soles to thicken, and the wall to harden.

    But when all those things finally happened, I showed him everywhere, and did anything I wanted. I never had to worry about sending in my entries for shows and then pulling up to the barn to see a lame horse with a pulled shoe. I have not had ONE abscess since. There wasn't anywhere he couldn't go, and--whoo hoo--it's CHEAPER!

    It's frustrating that I changed farriers, and he wouldn't put the horse's heel on the ground, and I have to start all over again to toughen up his hooves with this new trimmer. The hoof is pretty amazing when you set it up to do what it's supposed to and then let it adapt.

    I don't know if Lilly can go barefoot, but I don't see why not. I don't think it would be quick, and if she's on soft ground she would need work on rougher surfaces, but I would assume it's doable. There are always boots out there to put her in to help her transfer over.

    There are plenty of stories of horses with crumbling feet that go on to be able to handle gravel and rocks of any size, given the right management. If you want to--and that might be the most important factor--I think you could do it.

    /I may be biased as all my boys are barefoot, but no one has had an abscess, I don't have to try to find pulled shoes which WOULD happen because my boys play hard!

  2. Before you decide, keep in mind that we are in the time of year that is kind to hooves.

  3. PS - her baby pictures are adorable!

  4. Know nothing about feet but baby Lilly is SO FREAKIN CUTE!!!

  5. Okay...You did say this was okay...But my first thought is...'OMG! Her shoes are too small.'

    There is still a lot of forward migration of the heels, aka-'no' or underrun heels. I know it's a fine line between leaving a lot of shoe hanging out the back because of the probability of pulling it off with a hind, but she has not support back there, which will cause her bulbs to want to drop and continue to force the heel growth forward.

    Is she still in bar shoes?

    Cause if she is, they are definitely too small.

    Let me dig up the posts I did on Turk's feet when the farrier started on him last year to show you what his bar shoe looked like.

    Now...after saying that...I do remember when the farrier first put the bar shoes on Lilly and it looked like that pair had been properly set. I thought her heels would have come back under her by now. Her toe length looks a lot better so I am surprised that the heels have not improved.

    And baby Lilly was adorable. She just when from a cutie to a beauty.

    Her back feet look good

  6. Okay...sorry...I went back and bar shoes.

    Got it. My bad, I didn't look closely enough.

    I think she is just being shod to small in the front.

    Could she go barefoot?

    You won't know until you try, but if you pull her shoes, I am dying to see her heels 'naked'.

    Beretta (my 2y/o) has severe forward migrating heels. She is just about due for a trim, but I could let her go a couple of weeks, and take pictures of what they look like, before and after. It's really quite interesting because from the side she looks like she has no heel, pick that foot up and there may be an inch or more of heel, all mushed down and growing forward. That all has to come off and her toe brought back to keep her aligned over the center of her foot.

  7. That horse has no heel and those shoes are way to small. I am curious what a barefoot trimmer or another farrier would say. Having another set of eyes or two take a look might be help her in the long run.


  8. Here's the good news, her hinds look good. I'd make a few small changes to the trim but nothing really substantial. A pat on the back for those!

    Now those fronts...

    I'm sure someone's said that she just doesn't seem to grow any heel. Guess what, she's got a LOT of heel, they're just underneath her feet. Take a look at the growth rings, her heels actually start right behind the last nail holes. This is called forward-foot-syndrome. What happens is the front of the foot gets pulled forward from lots and lots of toe first landings, so tension from the toe pulls the heels forward too. They have to, that's how the hoof wall works- as one structure.

    Because of that I, sadly, don't see a rosy future for your girl if this continues- she's going to come up lame and get prescribed wedges. Those will work for a while until they don't anymore and then she'll get bigger wedges. This could continue until her biomechanics are so screwed up and she's in so much pain that she's diagnosed with navicular.

    Fortunately the fix for this is easy- bring her toes back (I'm guessing they're at least an inch longer than they should be). Once the tension at the front of the hoof wall is eased her heels can start to move back where they belong.

    Can she go barefoot? Yes but it will take work. She'll need a competent trimmer who knows what they're doing, boots and pads, and a change in lifestyle. Because of her heel contraction, pathetic frog, and pudding for digital cushions she's going to need motion, motion, and more motion to develop the back of those front feet to where she'll be sound and comfortable. If she's going to stand in a stall for 1/2 or 3/4 of the day that just won't cut it.

    Here's what I'd recommend to you in the short term: Find a farrier who knows how to properly trim for and apply a natural balance shoe. Google "hope for soundness," read all you can, and see if you can find someone in your area. Good luck!

  9. Ditto everything smazourek says. Major underrun heels. Too many farriers trim like this around here, and it's a struggle to find a good'n.

  10. I find it interesting about the under heel. That is interesting information, I don't know much about trimming but I knew they just didn't look right.