Thursday, September 5, 2013

Time To Throw In The Towel?

So much to talk about! I think I'll stick to the lameness issues in this post, and discuss the rest in a later post.

I had spoken at length with my vet about Lilly's issues when I called her to make the appointment, so she was already aware of what the issues were when she got there. I added a few extra details to the story, and then we got right down to business. We took Lilly into the indoor and my vet's assistant walked and jogged her for us while we discussed what we were seeing. I was afraid Lilly would be having one of her "good" days today since the vet was out, and she was. Other than not really wanting to move out, she looked pretty good. Again, I kicked myself for not taking a video the day my trimmer was out, because she was having a really off day. It would have been nice to show her exactly what I was talking about. I promised my vet that I wasn't crazy, so we moved on to the flex tests. She tested her ankles on both front legs, and then her knees, and said she tested slightly positive on the right front, but nothing worth being concerned about.

After discussing what we saw, my vet suggested we nerve block the right front and see what we get. So we put her back in, gave her the injections, and then waited for it to take effect. While we waited, the assistant commented on what a sweet horse Lilly was, and how easy she was to work with. She said she wishes all the horses they encounter were like Lilly. My vet chimed in saying that not only is Lilly the sweetest mare ever, but she's also the cleanest mare ever. She said, "whenever you see Lilly, she'll look just like this... spotless!" I just love hearing people gush about how well mannered my girl is. She's such a pleasure to work with and be around. I am so lucky to have her.

Watch out... she's crazy!!
Lilly took every opportunity she had to take a nap... it's hard work having people brush you, feed you cookies, stick you with needles, and make you jog every now and then.

After testing to make sure the nerve block had taken effect, we took her back to the indoor and had the assistant jog her. She was quite lame, and my vet said this is exactly what she was expecting to see. I took a short video.

She said, "she's foot sore." So why didn't any of the soreness show up before the nerve block? My vet said she thinks it didn't show up because her feet are equally sore, so it shows up as more of a short stride rather than any kind of limp. Make one hoof feel better, and she'll limp on the only one that feels sore. It also explains why some days she's feeling better than others, and why one day she's really lame on only one hoof. It just depends on how her hooves are feeling that day.

She said it was up to me if I wanted to block the other hoof, but she expected to see her sound and really moving well without taking short strides. I opted to do the block. I don't want any residual questions lingering.

After the block on the left front, we jogged her quickly in the indoor and she moved almost completely sound. We didn't think the block had made it's way up to her toe yet, but there was a noticeable improvement, so we considered it a successful test. Next step was to get some x-rays.

My vet is going to send me the actual files from the x-ray machine, but in the meantime, you'll have to look at these super high quality iPhone pictures of the x-rays. Better than nothing, I think!

Left Hoof (the so-called "good hoof"):

Left hoof x-ray from today...
Left hoof x-ray from 10/17/11 (Two months after the shoes came off)
I took a photo of the x-ray while she had the measurements up on the screen so I'd remember what they were. The sole depth is what we were most focused on, and although the depth isn't posted on the October x-rays, at that time they were anywhere between 5mm and 6mm.

Right Hoof (the so-called "bad hoof"):

Right hoof x-ray from today...
Right hoof x-ray from 10/17/11 (Two months after the shoes came off)
Sole depth on the October x-rays for this hoof were also between 5mm and 6mm. I posted the x-rays from October so we could really get a good comparison and see just how far (or in this case, not far) she has come in nearly two years of being barefoot.

There has been a little improvement in the left hoof as far as sole depth, but she pretty much has no palmar angle on that hoof, and my vet said she has too much toe. Looking at her hoof in real life, though, I can't imagine taking off anymore toe! She said Lilly should have a minimum of 15mm of sole, and 20mm would be ideal. We're rocking out at 6-7mm. Not good, but I'm not really surprised. I've known her soles are thin, and I knew they hadn't really grown much since the shoes came off two years ago. It just hadn't really been a concern because she had been doing pretty well up to this point.

So why is Lilly suddenly having issues with her hooves when she wasn't a few short months ago? It has to be a metabolic issue, a terrain issue, or a weather issue. She's on real grass 12 hours a day, she's getting a lot more hay, the ground is much less sandy here, and it's the wettest summer we've ever had. I think I read that we're 9" above normal. Perhaps it's a combination of all those things, but it's wreaking havoc on her hooves.

So what do I do? I really only have two options: I can try to keep her comfortable and wait it out, hoping she just needs more time, and try to find a pair of boots she can wear for more than three days before they come apart. Or, I can have her shod, possibly with pads, depending on what the farrier thinks. With option one, she might be more comfortable than she is today, but I don't think she'll feel markedly better because even in boots, she's still walking on those soles. With option two, I'm doing what I've tried really hard not to do, which is put her back in shoes. Chances are, though, that we'd see immediate results and she would be 100% comfortable.

My main purpose for pulling the shoes in the first place was to get her hooves into shape. She had terribly underrun heels, shoes that were too small, and they just weren't healthy at all. I hoped that if I gave her enough time to transition, I could have a barefoot horse, but I never closed the door on having shoes again someday. I thought perhaps during peak show times she might need shoes, but I wanted that to be the last resort because she seemed so much happier once the shoes came off.

She has really thin soles, and super flat hooves, and other than being able to get her heels back where they need to be, that's really been the only physical improvement in her hooves. It's possible that she's just genetically doomed to have have thin soles and no matter what I do, they're always going to be thin. If they've not really thickened a whole heck of a lot in nearly two years, will they ever? Am I wasting my time, and in the meantime causing my horse unnecessary discomfort? The goal is 20mm and we're at 7mm... that's a heck of an uphill battle.

If I put shoes on, I could actually ride my horse. As it stands now, even with the boots she's uncomfortable at times, so I don't feel right riding her. I have a call in to my trimmer to tell her what we found out and get her opinion on what she thinks I should do.

Could it be time to throw in the towel and bow down to the horseshoe gods?


  1. Horse shoes were made for a reason :) Seems like an easy decision to me, especially if she can be comfortable AND you can ride!

  2. Could you cast her hooves? That seems to work for a lot of ouchy barefoot horses without taking the shoes option. But, even if you have to do shoes, some horses just aren't cut out for barefoot despite how hard you've tried and at least you're an educated owner who can make sure she gets correct shoeing.

  3. My farrier always told me that Carlos could go barefoot but it would take a while and it would be "painful for me to watch" meaning he would be uncomfortable but fine, and I would be more worried about it then not. He said the best thing to do with those horses is to pull shoes and not look at them for a year.

  4. Some horses just need shoes. I think this brake was good for her feet though. Can you still haul her to that clinic?

  5. Thin soles are really hard to manage, R. You have always done right by Lilly, and taking her barefoot for two years has done her feet a world of good. I'm certainly not going to snark if you put shoes back on her, poor dear.

  6. Keep her comfortable - boots, shoes, whatever it takes - while you get a handle on the metabolic issue - chromium, magnesium and selenium (if your forage is low selenium as ours is) together with vitamin E can make a huge difference. Keep her weight down, and make sure if she gets any supplemental feed at all other than hay that it's low NSC - it may not be listed on the package but you can find out. An appropriate mineral supplement may help, particularly with zinc and copper. My vet/chiro has a custom supplement made up for use that makes a world of difference. Hooves grow from the inside, and a new hoof capsule takes up to 9 months to grow from the top down. Without the metabolic/diet issue under control, the hooves won't be OK. Also have her thyroid levels checked - this can go with the metabolic issues.

  7. Your horse, your call. You know a lot more now than you did then so I know you won't let her feet slide downhill again if you do put shoes on her. You can always take them off again.

  8. About the best I've got for you is sympathy. I know exactly how you feel. What is right, what is wrong? We may never know, so we just keep trying till something seems to work better than the things that didn't. With that in mind, I think Kate really had some great info.

  9. Lilly's hooves sound so much like Fritzy's. She has horribly thin soles and flat feet. I tried the barefoot route with her for almost a year and it just did not work. There was no way she could be ridden barefoot. It was awful. I think some horses just have horrible feet and have to be shod. I am lucky that all my others can go barefoot. I am not against shoes, but if they can go barefoot, then that is what I do.
    I know you will make the right decision for Lilly. Do what you feel is best.

  10. Sorry you're battling this out, and from the sounds of it - battling other stuff too. Lilly sure is lucky to have you thought, all these x-rays, vet visits, nerve blocks, trims, etc. aren't cheap - we all know that, and you clearly put her above and beyond, so, of course, whatever you decide to do, will be the best for her.

  11. Aw, hugs. I have SO been where you are... I went through this for nearly two years with Saga. He was horribly sensitive to the tiniest bits of sugar, and he had thin soles and flat feet. The Bioflax I fed him sure helped with the thin soles, but of course then he got hurt...

    Anyway, after a lot of effort to go barefoot, I ended up keeping Saga shod. Like you, I knew what I was dealing with, I understood the problem, and we'd tried so, SO many things to make barefoot work. I knew what to watch for with the shoeing. I had a good farrier (and I was still up his butt at every shoeing, lol). I will say that pads made Saga three-legged lame, so be aware that they don't always help. But, shoes made a world of difference for him. He was happy, played around, stopped being stiff and sore in his body, etc. It was the right decision for him, and it may be the right thing for Lilly too. I know I totally beat myself up about not being able to get it "right" for Saga to be barefoot, but at some point, we do what we have to for our horse's comfort. You might want to try it and see how it goes. You can always take them off. :)

  12. I wish I knew anything about hooves. I have no advice, but know that you have fought a tough battle with Lilly's hooves her whole life. As you said, you have some improvement in her heels so that's something! :) Hugs.

  13. I had a horse with thin flat soles who needed shoes and pads to be comfortable as a riding horse, so that is what I did--for over ten years. I still have this horse--retired him in his late teens--he is thirty-three and pasture sound as a barefoot horse (has been this way for over fifteen years). I don't think those shoes and pads did him any harm. As others have said, the answer that works is different for every horse and every situation. I really don't think there is an overall right or wrong, and I'm also sure that you helped Lily's feet by letting her go barefoot for awhile. Hoping that you find a solution that works for you and Lily.

  14. I agree with most everyone...keep her comfortable and go ahead and get her shod. You have the right eye and her feet can stay healthy while shod. You know the correct things to look for so just make sure you go with a farrier who will listen to your opinions and requests. I think you will notice a world of a difference! And I think you really have the knowledge to make sure her feet don't return to what they once were. :) Good luck!

  15. Alas, I am in the exact same boat with my big buckskin. He is moderately IR and although he has gorgeous, big, thick-walled feet...he is as flat as a pancake in the sole and I'm guessing (because I've never done x-rays on him) they are very, very thin. I've got his feet looking as good as they ever have, he's no longer fat and is on a straight grass hay diet with his IR supplements...You'd think he would be a rockstar...Sadly, he is lamer than he has ever been before, so it's time to slap some shoes back on him. I am not going to pad him, instead will have the farrier melt mothballs to pour on his soles and that creates a hardening affect that gives his tender soles protection.

    It's very frustrating when we do anything and everything we can to make these horse's feet right and it doesn't work. BUT...Lilly's feet have come such a long way in the last couple of years and you have learned a ton. I would lay odds you will make sure the farrier trims those feet correctly and sets the shoes correctly and all will be right with the world. :-)

  16. I had/have the same issue with my gelding. Super thin soles. We tried barefoot, but ended up going back to shoes with front pads. He is way more comfortable and to me that is what counts. My mares are all barefoot as I believe that is what is best,but in the end its what is best for each horse.

  17. If your horse is more comfortable in shoes and you can ride her, why hesitate? There shouldn't be any rules about right or wrong except what works. Good luck.

  18. I'm a barefoot trimmer, who also does hoof casting and fits boots. If a horse's soles don't thicken on is own while barefoot, casting is the best way to build good, calloused sole material. In one casting session of two weeks, I've seen a sole thickness increase from 6-9 mm. In two sessions of casting (casts applied, two weeks later reapplied, and then two weeks later taken off) you can have your full sole amount grown in. Shoes are not going to grow the sole. Any sole grown with shoes and pads is not calloused, it can and will be scraped off or worn off. You'll be looking at a lifetime of shoes and pads. It may be a "band-aid" for now, making her appear to be sound, while only masking the underlying issues. I strongly ask you to consider finding someone who can cast your horse. I'm in southwestern NC. NaturalBarefootTrimming at hotmail dot com.

  19. I really admire your dedication to finding a solution because right around the time you did this post we did throw in the towel so to speak and put 4 shoes on. The ground where we are is just plain unfair to horses and nothing we were doing was giving Miss Thin Soles any comfort.