Sunday, July 17, 2011

More On Hooves

I've been reading and re-reading the comments from my last post and I decided to start another post to address some of the questions and comments rather than replying there. I thought this might encourage more discussion and I can add a few more details. I appreciate the honesty, by the way. Good or bad, I appreciate what everyone has to say.

Similar to the nutrition issues I had this past fall and winter, I'm embarrassed by how little I know about my own horse's hooves. I've had horses for a long time and have always left my horses' well being up to the professionals. Whether it be basic veterinary care, injuries and rehab, or hoof care, I've let them do their job and never really questioned whether things were being done right. I learned my lesson during Lilly's rehab, and now I'm learning another hard lesson about her hooves.

Some more background:
Back in June of 2009, I was heavy into training with Lilly. We were having a super year showing and I was taking dressage lessons to help us progress even more. During this time, the area on Lilly's leg where she had her ligament surgery so many years ago suddenly puffed out.

The bump...
My instructor was complaining that it was because of Lilly's hooves and was extremely adamant that Lilly needed wedge pads in front. I spoke to my farrier about it and he disagreed. I spoke to my vet about it and she disagreed. There was another farrier that came out to the boarding barn and he has a reputation for being one of the best. Unless you're someone special, no, he's not taking new clients. One day when he was there shoeing, I got up the nerve to ask him politely to look at my horse and tell me what he thought. I didn't say anything about the wedge pads, I was just looking to get his opinion about how her hooves looked. He wasn't happy about doing it... I got the impression he didn't want to critique another farrier's work, but he decided he'd take a look. He said, "for what your farrier's got to work with, her feet look fine to me." I'm not even sure what that means...

I started asking around and solicited the opinion of a PBHT II trimmer. She asked me to send her some pictures of Lilly's hooves so she could take a look. Here are a few of the pictures I sent her.

Left front.
Right front.
Left front.
You can see how chipped and crappy her feet look in those pictures, but otherwise they look pretty similar to her feet today as far as her heels are concerned.

The PBHT trimmer said she said she wouldn't recommend wedge pads but thought Lilly needed more heel support. She suggested my farrier back up the toes and set the shoes back so that the heels of the shoe are in line with the heel bulbs. She said the growth pattern of her hoof at the heels suggested that her hooves had been growing forward like that for quite some time. She thought her pastern angles looked a little broken back and said fixing those issues might relieve her tendons. (Four months later is when she tore her ICL.)

I mentioned this to my farrier the next time he came out and he said he would put a larger shoe on her foot to give her more heel support. The problem with that is Lilly was already an avid shoe puller, so the larger shoe just ended up causing us more problems. We had the same issue when we put the bar shoe on recently while we tried to grow out that giant hole in her hoof from the giant abscess. She doesn't step on her shoes with her hind feet, she steps on them with her front feet, so rolling the toe to help her break over quicker doesn't help. The bell boots have only been mildly successful as well.

That's part of the reason she's inside during the day at the new barn. The more pasture time she has, the more frequently those shoes get torn off. We're also trying to limit the amount of moisture her hooves are exposed to, so she stays in until the dew dries and if it rains. All this seems to have helped tremendously with her shoe problems. That, and we've put her back in a size 00 shoe.

So I've had other farriers look at my horse, and the PBHT trimmer is the only one who seemed concerned at all. Now that I've done more research, I'm really surprised that my farrier has no ambition to do anything about her under run heels. He never even comments on them when he comes out... just pulls the shoe, trims her hoof, and slaps the shoe back on. From looking at pictures online, I'm simply amazed at how my horse's feet look, and not in a good way.

I found an interesting article on with the following picture and description:

The curved "quarters" in the above picture relax and straighten within hours of removing excess length. The downward direction of the lines at the rear of the hoof are telltale signs that the heel is beginning to collapse towards the front, a condition called "under run heel".

Compare that hoof to Lilly's hoof:

Yikes!! I guess they're not just event lines like I originally thought.

So you guys are saying her shoes are too small? The heels of the shoes should be in line with her heel bulbs as the PBHT farrier says rather than way up underneath her hoof as they are now?

And are you guys saying that her heel actually starts here?

And how about on this hoof? Here?

Ugh... I'm so upset. I always wondered deep down if Lilly's feet were the reason for her ligament tear. Granted, she didn't have the best ligaments from the start since they were severed when she was a baby, but her feet looked like this before the tear and I'm sure her already compromised ligaments were strained. I'm sure her hooves contributed to the injury.

I guess before I worry about whether she can go barefoot, I should worry about getting her hooves where they need to be in shoes. Maybe then her transition to barefoot (if we decide to go that route) will go much smoother. Should I chastise my current farrier and tell him to get her hooves where they need to be, or should I look for a new farrier? It would feel strange to me to tell my farrier how he should be trimming and shoeing my horse... I would prefer that he actually did that on his own!

He's very highly recommended by a lot of horsepeople I know, and he apprenticed under one of the best farrier in my area. It's upsetting that he isn't being more proactive with Lilly's hoof care. :(


  1. Her fronts look a lot like what JR had with our former farrier. At my first appointment with my new guy he told us the shoes were too small, toes too long, and heels too underslung. It seems a common occurrence around here, though. Now, people think he looks too upright, but he moves better and more evenly than he ever has, even though with (what seems to be correct) trimming his LF club foot is more apparent.

    Luckily the Junebug has pretty solid feet so I have been able to keep him barefoot. His BF Max has to have shoes all around all the time or he goes all kinds of stiff and sore and lame.

    Do you have her on a hoof supplement? I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look right now. :)

  2. Did you pull the shoes when the new farrier came out, or did you leave shoes on him for a while? And how long did it take to get Junior's feet to where they are now?

    Lilly is currently not on any hoof supplements. I've tried her on a couple different ones and never saw a difference in her hooves. When I took her off the last supplement, my farrier kept commenting on how good her hooves looked, so I never put her back on anything else.

  3. I'm far from a barefoot purist - I've got two horses barefoot and one in front shoes - but I've found the information here very useful and detailed - you might find it interesting too:

    Feet problems are a very common cause of leg and body problems, which makes sense. Her heels are underrun but correcting that will take a lot of time and good care.

  4. Hoof care seems to be such a minefield of information and misinformation. And farriers are like vets, some people like them, some people hate them, depending on their individual experiences. When I first started in this whole horse adventure, I used the barns farrier. With Smokey being prone to abcesses, I finally dedicated some time towards educating myself. While I don't proclaim to be an expert, I learned the difference between good shoeing and bad, and soon changed farriers, a move I have not regretted.

    Hope you are able to get this under control.

  5. I'm no expert, so I'll just say that you know I wish you and Lilly the very best.

  6. I think you have hit the nail on the head, personally. I totally agree (from experience with Milo) how an unbalanced hoof throws off the entirety of the body, but it seems that you are leaning that direction too. I too agree that the heels are far underrun, and have always thought so from your photos, but have never said anything not knowing the history of her hooves. I think you are on the right track to correctly balance her hooves before thinking about going barefoot. And dont be afraid to try someone new. Farriers can get stuck in a pattern under horses (again, speaking from experience) and although you might have a lengthy conversation about what you expect, it might not always happen. I think its great you are being so proactive about her hoof health.

  7. Kate, I have one barefoot and one in shoes, and definitely don't fault one or the other either. I've had one horse who did great barefoot and one that has not. Whatever works best for the horse is the way to go for sure. Thanks for the link!

    Thanks for your comment Dave, I appreciate that. My farrier came very highly recommended so I've just let him do his thing. Guess it's time to start paying attention... If he can't get Lilly where she needs to be for whatever reason, I'll have to switch too.

    Thank you, Terry. That means a lot. :)

  8. Milo, I've always thought that Lilly's heels were a little under run too, but my farriers never seemed to think much of it, so I didn't think much of it. My farrier and I did have a conversation about her heels, but when she kept pulling her shoes off, I think he gave up on trying to get her fixed. It's like this is the best he think we can do for her. I wish she hadn't just been re-shod. I'm not sure I can wait 6 weeks to have another chat with him. Thanks for your comment. :)

  9. Ugh, sorry I'm so late to the party. You know I love hoof talk!

    I've read your blog for years, and I have never doubted that you've done the best you can with Lily at any given moment. Deciding to find a different farrier or go barefoot NOW does not mean that you were a bad horse owner in the past.

    Here's what I see, as an amateur hoof nerd: Yes, her heels are that underrun. Look at the coronet band - see how it dips down? The coronet band doesn't lie.

    There's a difference in Lily's feet and the healthyhoof feet - there's a noticeable rise in the HH feet at the quarters. I just don't see that on Lily's.

    I think you should talk to your current farrier, sort of openly and nonconfrontationally, about her underrun heels. If he doesn't think they're underrun... look for a new person. But you've used him for a long time and he deserves the chance to address the issue, IMO.

    I will not lie to you - barefoot is not apples and roses and instant cantering across gravel. There are a lot of us, online and I'm sure locally, who would help you if you want to go that route, but it's not going to be as simple as "pull her shoes and turn her out." I think it's totally worth it, but I live in the desert, feed only grass hay and a pound of grain-supplement, and my horse is fully transitioned. If she appeared in my pasture, I'd totally do it - but I don't board in North Carolina. You gotta make your own decisions. As long as you're thinking them through, you're doing right by her.

  10. I have been the same way--I have left a lot of hoof care up to my past farriers and my horses have really paid for it. I never questioned either--why should I question someone who's been shoeing for 20 years? I know how you feel.

    I understand keeping her inside keeps the shoes on (and this comes from having to search through knee-deep mud for shoes when Key had been turned out). However, water is not the problem people seem to think it is. The hoof has it's own protective coating that comes down from the coronary band--problem is, when your farrier rasps the outside of the hoof, it gets rid of this and thins the wall at the same time. I think much of your 'crumbling' problem is the fact that her feet look heavily rasped at the toe (all that white hoof wall that doesn't seem to be in the older pictures). I think your farrier is trying to back the toe up, but his way of doing this is rasping the toe wall--lots of shoed horses have 'white' toes. The previous farrier did this ONCE with Odie's feet as they were flaring, and that was the last time. There is a huge difference between a mustang roll (relieves toe pressure) and rasping the outside of the wall. It just thins it. Yet, many farriers to do it to take care of the forward moving toe.

    From the research I did when I pulled Key's shoes and then again when I knew I needed a new trimmer, most hooves that have been in shoes for a long time look like Lilly's. Your farrier doesn't fix anything because he looks at feet like this all the time. I would also argue that if the pictures of her back feet is right after a trim, her toes look more worn then the quarters and the length of the walls look a little too long. I don't think she has any other option but toe-first landings.

    It will be hard to try to fix her in shoes, I would think, if your farrier keeps doing what he's doing--ie, rasping off hoof wall, leaving the walls long (helps the toe grow forward), and letting her heels disappear. I honestly think it would be faster for her feet to transition out of shoes--once you lay the heels on the ground, they'll be on their way to being de-contracted by the time she gets her next trim, and then they can work with the heels and the toe. They need pressure and weight to de-contract, and it will be hard to get that in shoes (unless you used bigger ones, and I think she'd pull them.) I don't know a farrier would fix the problems that most shoes cause, but I'm sure there's a way. Your farrier may, or may not know it.

    I have in previous times, tried to tell both of my farriers what I wanted in my horse's feet, and I was always hit back with attitude. I would agree that you should try, but don't be surprised if his 'go all natural on me' attitude comes out. People who are highly recommended do not like hearing a person (especially one with just one horse!) tell THEM how to do the feet. If it makes you feel any better, my last farrier shoed the horses of this barn:
    And he was the one that told me thrush didn't hurt, and rasped off a ton of Odie's hoof wall.

    Her feet can be saved so don't worry--you just have to decide how you want to get it done. Good luck!

  11. I agree with DIJ pretty much word for word. When my filly was a yearling, she came to me never having had a trim. Her toes were extremely long, and her heels very underrun. She hadn't developed a lot of flare yet, but her hooves were definitely in bad shape.

    I had a natural trimmer work on her, not because I believe in that per se, but because the barn owner was a natural trimmer and it was convenient. I, too, am of the belief that you do what is best for the horse, and in some cases that means shoes. She had my filly looking drastically improved in just a few trim cycles with no lameness whatsoever.

    When I moved to a new barn, it also came with a new farrier. He would trim her flat, not rasp at all, and also complained about my horse being difficult (which she never had been before). I wasn't comfortable with the work he was doing, or his attitude, so I immediately (but politely) fired him. I went back to the natural trimmer and got some training, and I've been doing my horse's feet myself for two years. She's never been lame, and she does not have fantastic feet to start with.

    I am definitely not advocating that you should do your own horse's feet, but it makes a big difference to learn as much as you can so you can spot problems, just as you've been doing in your recent posts about Lilly. I'm grateful for all the knowledge I've picked up by doing my horse's feet myself. I do occasionally have a professional out to evaluate my work and make sure we are on track.

    Anyway, I think you're doing the right thing by researching, discussing your horse's feet with professionals, and hopefully coming up with a plan for Lilly's feet. I know if she were my horse I would probably pull the shoes and give those heels some time to grow out properly before re-shoeing if it became necessary. Under-run, crushed heels can definitely put extra strain on the tendons. Think about how your calf muscles would feel if you put on shoes that were two sizes too big and had a wedge under the toe.

  12. Yup, that's exactly where I meant her heels were. Her heels are at least two inches long and are crunching everything up inside the capsules.

    Try not to beat yourself up over this. MOST people don't know enough about their horses hooves, I used to be one of them. Right now you're doing the best thing possible for your mare by educating yourself. *hugs*

    I do not recommend chastising your farrier. From his work and your description I don't see him being open to that discussion. He'll get defensive and start a fight. That's why I thought it might be easier to find a new one. If they see her hooves and gasp or groan you might have found the right one who can fix them. I'm assuming the PBHT trimmer is too far away?

    The decision where to go from here is going to be a hard one for you. Yes, I think the best thing for her would be to make the barefoot transition now- but she won't be in any condition to show for a long time if you do that. It would be a long and painful process but she could end up in much better shape.

    Do you want to show now or do you want to show later? That's the question. Show now- find another farrier. Show later- start her barefoot.

  13. Thanks again everyone for your comments and for making me feel better about being a bad hoof mom!

    Funder, I think my farrier knows Lilly's heels are under-run... I have mentioned to him before about how I thought they were low and that her toes were long. He obliged me and tried a larger shoe at one point, and then we tried the bar shoe again earlier this year but that's all we've done. She rips the shoes off so I get the impression from him that "oh well, we tried... we'll just do it this way instead". I don't feel like he's doing anything to help the situation.

    As DIJ and others have mentioned, though, he does take a rasp to her hoof wall when he's done. Is that really going to make a difference in the toe length, or just keep them from getting longer? Sometimes he doesn't rasp, but instead uses a sanding block, so I always thought he was doing that for some type of cosmetic reason.

    Something else I have pondered in regards to trying her barefoot... similar to the terrain you have there in the desert, this area is extremely sandy and for the most part, Lilly is either on sand, grass, or in a show arena made of some other kind of dirt. I don't think she'd be able to tackle the mountains of Uwharrie without shoes or boots, but I think she would probably do fine in the area she lives in now... or that's my hope anyway. :)

    DIJ, so rasping her feet is definitely a bad thing... I'm not even sure what his purpose is for doing that. I guess that's why keeping her feet dry has made such a difference for her. My farrier has been making more work for himself and he didn't even know it!

    As far as her back feet go, those pictures are just a couple days after her trim. I've been trying to figure out a way to record her feet landing, but I don't have the means to do that. Maybe I'll have to borrow a camera and set it up somehow to see how she's walking. That would probably help quite a bit.

    Like you said, I'm starting to think I can only fix her if we remove the shoes... the more I read, the more I think that's the best way. Any shoeing options we have involve bigger shoes or bar shoes (to float the heels) and we know she's going to rip them off. So much information, and so many different opinions. Why?!

    Spazfilly, I'm so not good at firing people, but I might have to take a break from this farrier and try someone new. I've never received a warm, fuzzy feeling from my current guy when asking him questions about Lilly's feet, and I feel like I shouldn't have to. It would be nice to have a more proactive farrier that takes the initiative to say what he thinks is wrong and how he's going to fix it.

    I would love to do Lilly's feet, and I'm hopeful that maybe once things are the way they are supposed to be that I can learn to trim them myself. That would be quite rewarding.

    That's something else I've been considering too... she could be a part time shod horse. If she needs shoes for the show season, I could have her shod in the spring and then pull the shoes in the fall. I'd like her to be barefoot all the time, but I won't be able to show in boots if she needs something extra for comfort.

    Smazourek, I can clearly see now where her heels are actually located. Poor Lilly!

    The PBHT trimmer is about 100 miles from me. She comes to my area but charges a trip fee of $1.50 per mile on top of the trim cost. I've emailed her again to see if she offers discounts if she does a bunch of horses in the area or if she knows someone closer to me that does similar work.

    I definitely want to show later more than I want to show now. I'm starting to wonder if the saddle/back issues I've been seeing with Lilly could be related to her feet. Maybe the angles have her shoulders messed up and the saddle just does that certain something that causes her discomfort. Getting her feet where they need to be is priority number one for me right now.

  14. Dang it...I typed a comment earlier today and it must not have gone through....Lets see if I can remember what 'quasi'-intelligent thing I thought I needed to share....

    Your comment clarifies a lot for me though...

    Pull her shoes!

    I have a very strong suspicion that the farrier is not even trimming Lilly's crushed heels. She has migrated a lot from the 'previous' pictures you posted.

    Now...I hate to give you conflicting information, because I know you are trying so hard to figure out the right thing to do, but...

    The one thing that was not noted by anyone was the amount of flare on Lilly's toe. If you look at the picture you posted with what you thought was event lines...The 1st line down from the coronet is where the pressure starts to be applied to the toe. By the time the hoof grows out to the next line (2nd from the top), that is where the toe is starting to bulge due to the forward migration of the heel.

    The first thing that needs to be done is the crushed heel needs to be trimmed/rasped off from the bottom and then that toe bulge needs to start to be rasped off from the topside. A person is probably not going to get it all the first time she is trimmed but starting to take that off will improve Lilly's breakover and ease the pull on her tendons.

    Maybe I have been lucky all these years, but I have never encountered problems with rasping topside flare off. As long as it is there, it will continue to encourage the hoof to grow in an inappropriate manner. Fixing things on the bottomside will help tremendously and within a few trims, you will notice that the flare is not happening anymore.

    At least that is my experience. The biggest thing is to not rasp above about 1/2 way up the hoof. Rolling the edge helps prevent chipping, but I guess (once again, just my experience) I don't get that concerned by a few chips. You shouldn't have much problem with that in the conditions Lilly lives in anyway.

    I wondered myself when you said Lilly was having saddle troubles again, about the feet, but thought she was still in bar shoes and should have been about right by now.

    And BTW...trimming is only scary the first time. ;-) Once you get the feel for it, you'll appreciate how fast you can get a foot to improve (in most cases) by being able to touch things up every couple of weeks yourself.

  15. Think that the inside of the hoof is attached to the hoof wall by velcro. As her foot scoots forward, the long toe and extra length he leaves on helps separate the outside of the hoof from the inside--like ripping apart velcro. This is flare, whether it be forward, or like in Odie's case, splatting out all around. The hoof wall will not 're-velcro' itself into the interior of the hoof, so the only way to get rid of it is to grow it out. Rasping it off--which many farriers do, usually to address flare--only degrades the exterior of the hoof. This makes it weak, crumbly, chippy and, as you saw, very susceptible to the elements (wetting and drying). It also does nothing to address the issue, ie Lilly's long toes. He is rasping off the part that is separating from the interior... but the interior is the problem. So, no--it makes no difference to toe length (as you can see!). If they won't put a bevel around the hoof wall to take off the pressure, it will crack. Ask me how i know!

    This is also a relatively new idea for me, but last year I was starting to have saddle problems with Key too. His back was muscle-sore when I was done. He also had a stress-line across his shoulders. It didn't make sense to me as I had ridden him in the same saddle for years, but I let him have a long vacation. After seven or so months I took him out and ran my nails down his muscles and he was STILL flinchy. It didn't make any sense!

    But--Key was a little thrushy then (and I didn't know I too was a bad 'hoof-mom'), it got worse when he was on vacation, and he's been landing toe-first the entire time. Two weeks after my barefoot trimmer came out, his thrush is almost gone with daily management and we've been hand walking on rocks/road to build up his feet. I checked his back today out of curiosity... barely flinched at all.

    In-ter-res-ting! I don't know if this is what is causing Lilly's back and saddle issues but it is certainly possible.

    If you can get her walking on roads/gravel/hard ground for your cool downs and warm ups, I would doubt she would even need shoes for the show season. But, many people shoe for the season and let their hooves relax during the winter. If you must shoe, it is the best option. But you would be surprised at the foot--Key was falling-down sore on gravel on day one (so we didn't do that!) and day 14 he has only a couple of bad steps. They WILL adapt!

    /Have you tried the AANHCP? They're a group of barefoot trimmers, and how I found mine. I think the key to my horses' feet was finding someone who was specifically a trimmer, not a 'farrier'. I also did NOT want to pay travel fees/etc.--a lot of people were not close! Just trying to give you some options!

  16. You are right, those highlighted points are her heels. :( It sucks, having a horse with underrun feet...and one that has pretty much perfect feet. I am constantly comparing my 2, and I have to keep reminding myself that every single horse is different.

    I think the key here is getting a VERY qualified hoof person working on Lilly. That might be a farrier, that might be a "trimmer." How do you find that person? How do you trust that they know what they're doing? Those are hard questions to answer. Sorry. :( But, in my not-so-educated-opinion, your farrier hasn't been actively trying to get those heels back, and if he has, then he has really backwards methods in going about it.

    Her feet will probably never be perfect (what horse's are?) but I know there are people out there that could help her. Good luck to you and Lilly!

  17. I guess I am very luck, my foster mom can trim okay and my mare has great feet. I trim her feet every 6 months or so. They look great, goes over everything and anything. Had shoes on her once for training and had more problems with them then without! Good luck, keeping my figures crossed for you that your on the right path.

  18. Cowgirl, thanks for posting again!

    I wish I had been watching my farrier more closely so I'd know what exactly he was doing to her front feet. I'm always at Lilly's head instead... but there certainly hasn't been any progress made in the last 2 years and I think if he was trying to fix them, we'd see something by now.

    Very interesting about the flare on Lilly's toe! I've never even looked there for flare, but I see what you're saying. She's got a lot more wrong than I thought.

    We took her out of the bar shoe before I left my last barn. As soon as he could, my farrier put a regular shoe back on her hoof. He was literally coming out every 2 weeks to put shoes back on her feet. I think he was tired of that.

    DIJ, I definitely agree that what my farrier is doing as far as rasping the hoof wall is doing nothing to fix her long toes. I wonder if that's why he's doing it?

    Lilly was SUPER ouchy to fingernails or brushes along her back until Alex worked her magic when she came out the last time. I still check her every couple of days (did today as a matter of fact) and she shows no discomfort when I run my nails down her back. However, I haven't ridden her in the saddle in a long time either. I've ridden her bareback, but that's it.

    Perhaps I'm just being optimistic now, but I'm hopeful that Lilly would be fine to show without shoes. Everything around here is pretty soft, and I can work on walking her on the concrete and gravel for cooldowns, like you mentioned.

    I checked the AANHCP site and there aren't any trimmers close to me, but I did find 3 other barefoot trimmers in my area that are recommended by horsepeople I know. I've emailed them all, so we'll see.

    Jill, I've been thinking about my two drastically different horses. I wonder if AJ has such awesome feet because he's been barefoot for his whole life. Maybe it's not "he has such good feet we don't need to put shoes on" but rather they look amazing because he's been without the shoes?

    With a new trimmer for Lilly, maybe she'll have feet like I never imagined she could have. :)

    Barbara, sounds like you're quite lucky! I appreciate the kind words and the crossed fingers. :)