soon to be published with photographs and on the newsagent shelves: The Australian Endurance Manual….
NO HOOF, NO HORSE – NO ENDURANCE RIDE!
Commiserations to those who have had to postpone their goals and dreams because of a hoof related issue on their endurance horse.
Some horse people have a gift for recognizing that something is not right in their horse. Some can pick lameness, some are really talented at identifying those tiny issues in a horse’s giddy-up that most of us don’t even notice — until they develop into something more serious.
Not everybody is blessed with special powers so this article is aimed to highlight some common hoof issues that hinder the kilometer crunching success of the ENDURANCE HORSE.
The hoof is a window to a horse’s health; like a barometer to gauge what’s going on. It’s a handy skill to be able to learn to read the hoof and pinpoint problems yourself and deal with them before you call your hoof care provider and your vet and hand over your hard won money.
DIAGNOSTIC TOOLS YOU CAN USE
If you head out to the paddock with your saddle and uh oh your horse is lame, don’t jump straight onto facebook.
Take the time to study your equine friend. Your powers of observation and intuition are valuable.
- Observation – Look for signs of pain. Look at your horse’s eye. This can tell you a lot about his attitude. Watch your horse from a distance. How does it stand? Watch it move. Horses that trip, land toe first, take short strides, forge or display any number of gait abnormalities may be moving this way because of pain. If something is hard to pick up video the horse with the slow motion feature in your phone. Get down at ground level, in this way you can pick up any inconsistencies in foot balance. You may find the horse is landing toe first on one hoof, which could be indicating caudal heel pain. Examples of this are from Thrush or Navicular.
The key to picking up abnormal issues is to know what is “normal” for your horse. Then abnormal really jumps out at you.
2 Hoof Assessment – pick up the hooves and examine them carefully. The aim is to evaluate balance, look for symmetry and any abnormalities or pathologies.
So how do you access balance in a hoof? There is so much controversy regarding how a healthy hoof is supposed to look but balance is one secret to lifelong soundness and maximum performance.
- Look for symmetry of the hairline along the coronary band and symmetry of the heel bulbs.
In a healthy hoof the hairline slopes in a straight line from the dorsal wall to the heel when viewed from the side.
- Frog alignment – a healthy frog is broad, level with the heels and usually has a leathery appearance. The frog should be approx. 2/3 length of the hoof.
- The hoof pastern axis – assess the axis of the hoof in relation to the pastern. Draw an imaginary line through the foot and the pastern parallel to the front of the hoof wall. It should be roughly straight. This “superman vision” method can give you a general idea of bone alignment in the lower limb. Good alignment is important for biomechanical efficiency in the endurance horse.
- Straight hoof wall is a good indicator of balance and health. A hoof wall should not show flaring or bulging nor be decorated with rings. In a healthy hoof the wall is smooth and often shiny.
- Medial lateral balance gives you an estimate of how level the pedal bone sits with in the hoof capsule. To assess this stand in front of the horse and look at hoof straight on. Second, look at the hoof from behind. Crouch down to look for balance of the heel bulbs. On a horses with great conformation and balanced hooves this will look symmetrical from both angles.
- Look at the white line in the hoof? Ideally you want to see a tight white line. Note: its never white but honey coloured. A white line that is stretched, or stained with blood, has cavities or black spots should set off your “alarm bells” that there is a problem.
- Look at the sole – good quality sole should be hard and shiny and if you palpate or press on it, it shouldn’t flex. Horses who suffer with thin soles and are tender footed, will have very shallow collateral grooves at the apex of the frog, very little concavity in the hoof and you may be able to flex the sole at the apex of the frog when you press with your thumbs.
- A plump digital cushion can be a great indicator of a strong, well-developed caudal hoof. Get hands on and feel it. Is it plump like a squash ball or does your horse’s digital cushion feel like a soggy sponge that creates frog movement when you squish it?
There is no question that strong balanced hooves are one of the most important features of the longevity in an endurance athlete.
These horse’s hooves must be able to withstand the continual concussion and pounding sustained during years of training and competition.
Hooves that are compromised are not going to cope with the punishment of endurance competition.
As outlined above hoof balance is a multidimensional concept and there are many more ways to assess it. The ultimate challenge of good hoof care and maintaining healthy, functional balanced hooves is working with each horse as an individual and recognizing what is balance and soundness for your horse.
Back to diagnostic tools we can use….
- Palpation: one of the handiest things we have, excuse the pun, are our hands. Feel, poke and prod your horse’s hooves. Feel for heat and swelling. Run your hands down your horses legs to feel the tendons, lateral cartilages and squeeze the digital cushion, palpate along the coronary band. Your horse should not be reactive to this unless you find something out of the ordinary.
- Feeling the Digital Pulse – This is the best diagnostic tool you can use. It rates highly with your stethoscope and thermometer for monitoring your horse’s vital signs. It’s important to learn where it is and how to feel it.
A strong bounding digital pulse is always indicative of inflammation and pain. The most common causes of this are abscessing and laminitis.
- Use your nose – Pathologies in the hoof usually emit a bad smell. Don’t be scared to take a whiff to identify when something is not normal. Thrush, seedy toe, abscesses and infections tend to have a foul stench.
RECOGNISING AND TREATING COMMON HOOF PATHOLOGIES
Some of the common hoof pathologies an endurance horse suffers:
UNBALANCED HOOVES – This happens because most people don’t get their horses shod or trimmed regularly enough. The hoof is continually growing – approximately a 1cm a month. Often on an endurance horse the rate of growth is a lot faster because they are in work. Movement stimulates growth.
Ideally a horse should be shod every 3 to 4 weeks.
So the negatives with unbalanced hooves is they begin to distort. Long toes, under run heels, upright hooves, contracted heels, flaring hoof walls, medial lateral imbalances. These can progress to biomechanical changes and body issues.
Carl ODwyer, one of Australia’s renowned farriers and shoe manufacturers offers strong advice to owners to give horses some time out of shoes, “Horses need time without shoes to heal from the damage that metal shoes can cause.”
In a well managed horse with its work load, nutrition, minerals and lifestyle all in harmony, the hoof wall should be smooth with no distortions. A common warning sign of internal dysfunction is wavy growth rings. These ridges offer important clues. Based on hoof growth of approximately 1 cm a month from the coronary band, you can estimate when the stress occurred.
Any rings in the face of the hoof wall is an indication of change. This could represent a change in the horses lifestyle, workload, environment, diet, travel, seasonal and weather changes and even the result of the last endurance ride.
If the rings are coupled with a stretched white line is a sign it has suffered from laminitis.
HORIZONTAL CRACKS in the hoof wall – These rings indicate an inflammation from too much concussion. This is a big issue that faces endurance horse and in severe cases will grow down with a yawning cavity. These changes warrant radiographs to determine if there is underlying problems in the pedal bone. It highlights the hoof needs more shock absorption properties to withstand concussive rides so consider riding with pads or hoof boots.
SEEDY TOE – WHITE LINE DISEASE (different name, same thing)
This bacteria or fungi looks for a little cavity or separation in the white line or laminae and then proceeds to party and proliferate.
Initially this does not cause lameness because it involves the insensitive tissues. But lameness can occur when muck packs into the crevice and results in an infection. Lameness also occurs when the ground forces cause the disconnected wall to flare out and tear the sensitive tissues. In bad cases it can spread from the toe to the coronary band.
Seedy toe has the appearance of black paste or is sometimes crumbly grey muck. If you excavate the hole it can be tiny to huge depending on how long it has been left untreated.
HOW TO TREAT
- Excavate the muck out and chase every bit of the black out.
- Treat with antifungal applications
- The only way to resolve the problem is to grow down a better connected hoof capsule and this will most likely mean you revisit your feed regime to include a balanced mineral plan. First step with hoof care, is to trim the wall back and apply a beveled edge. This may be enough to grow the infected wall out.
- If it fails to improve, then it may be necessary to perform a resection and expose it to the air.
- Treating agents are numerous. Tea-tree oil, iodine, watered down bleach or copper sulphate or apple cider vinegar in a spray bottle
- If it’s difficult for you to treat daily, pack the crevice with a blend of copper sulfate crystals and Vaseline. Jam it in with cotton balls using your hoof pick.
Seedy toe should not be ignored!
It is also possible for stones to lodge in these holes, and contrary to popular belief these are an effect of the stretched white line not a cause.
It’s not possible for stones and debris to penetrate a healthy tight white line, because when the laminae connection is healthy, it is tightly bonded to the internal structure and there are no holes.
Once seedy toe has invaded the hoof, the horse will be at greater risk of suffering from abscesses. The cavities can be an easy route via which infection can attack.
The classic signs your horse is suffering with an abscess is lameness, pointing one hoof, unwilling to weight load the hoof, a bounding digital pulse and heat in that hoof.
They are extremely painful for the horse. Sometimes your horse may be mildly lame on and off for sometime before the abscess becomes acute. Sometimes the lower leg will swell severely giving the impression your horse has broken his leg.
But in any case it’s the “thumbs down -no go” for showing up at the endurance event that weekend.
Abscesses can develop from bruising and trauma to the sole, from a nail puncture, seedy toe infection or through separation at the white line.
As dirt and manure pack into the defect, infection develops. Pressure from the build up of pus beneath the wall causes the pain and lameness.
They are particularly common following periods of wet weather.
Abscesses can blow out at the sole, called a sub solar abscess or they follow the track of least resistance and pop out at the heel bulb or along the coronary band. Once the pressure is relieved lameness immediately subsides.
IDENTIFYING WHERE AN ABSCESS IS BREWING
It is sometimes possible to identify a smoldering abscess by palpating along the heel bulbs and coronary band to elicit a reaction from your horse. They will be certain to let you know when it’s sore to poke. Similarly, if you investigate the sole and use the end of your hoof pick to push around you may source the “spot.”
Identification of the exact location of a sub-solar abscess allows a veterinarian to pare it out from the bottom of the sole before the infection migrates through the soft tissues of the foot. A word of warning: trying to relieve an abscess by digging holes in the sole is effective if you can pin point exactly where it lies but it can risk opening up routes for further bacterial infection and the subsequent down time for recovery is a lot longer than if your horse releases it naturally with the help of a poultice.
HOW TO TREAT:
Movement is vital for an abscess to exit as quickly as possible so don’t confine your horse. Let him out with his herd buddies and the movement helps prevent swelling of the lower leg.
A brewing hoof abscess responds well to hoof soaks in Epsom Salts or with a Poultice of Epsom salts. Poultice kits can be sourced or can be made simply with a plastic shopping bag, duct tape, cotton wool or nappy and epsom salts and water. (PHOTO)
YouTube footage: to make a hoof poultice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyI_1jmaVo0
You can rely on your detective nose to recognize when the abscess has burst. It smells disgusting. Apply another poultice to protect the abscess hole from dirt and manure. It will also encourage the abscess to drain.
If an abscess bursts around the coronary band, this will grow out as a defect in the hoof wall.
Sub-solar abscess can result in the sole coming away or separating which can freak people out. Its best to leave as much of the old sole to protect the tender new sole underneath.
If your horse is sensitive in the central sulcus of the frog and you can smell or see a stinking black discharge, it may well have a thrush infection.
Your nose can also confirm a thrush infection. It stinks!
Equine thrush is caused by anaerobic bacteria (living without oxygen) that, when trapped in moisture, can create an infection that slowly eats away at the horse’s hoof tissue, particularly the frog area. Most of the time this will create some mild discomfort, but as long as it is addressed quickly it rarely does anything more. If thrush is untreated, it can eventually make its way into the sensitive areas of the frog invading and even bi-focating the digital cushion deep inside.
Thrush has the potential to cause a change in the horse’s biomechanics
Pain from the back of the hoof causes the horse to land on its toes and if this continues it can have a devastating impact on the Navicular region within the hoof capsule.
Thrush results from moist and unhygienic conditions. A horse standing in manure, rotten hay or mud encourages it to thrive.
HOW TO TREAT
- Thrush is preventable with good hygiene. Pick out the hooves daily.Medicate the bottom of hoof with something that kills bacteria- this needs to be done daily. Iodine, copper sulphate products or do a daily soak of Lysol concentrate (mix as per directions) or an Apple cider vinegar soak
(The picture to the right is the left fore hoof of a horse showing central sulcus thrush evidenced by the deep crevice between the heel bulbs, and also along one of the collateral grooves. PHOTO)
- For Thrush in the deep central sulcus of the frog, use an antibacterial hand wipe and clean out the crevice using the same action as you would using dental floss.
You can then pour iodine and plug the crevice with cotton wool. Check out footage on the Wild about Hooves Facebook page on treating thrush. It’s easy. But you must be diligent.
- Other successful strategies include This is a 50/50 combination of Triple Antibiotic Ointment and Athletes Foot Cream in a catheter tip syringe squeezed into the central sulcus.
Warning: Do not tolerate deep crevices in the frog sulcus! If you lose sight of your hoof pick up there – this is a concern. Battling thrush is a two pronged approach. Antifungal treatments are important but the second essential is to improve hoof health. Provide you horse stimulating well drained environments to live. If your horse lives in wet climates they need time on dry ground. Providing the correct diet and mineral balance will encourage healthy hoof growth and immunity.
NOTE TO YOURSELF:
Horse owners rarely give themselves enough credit for their own intuition. The time you spend with your horse clocking up the kilometres, you know better than anyone when your horse doesn’t feel right.
LISTEN TO YOUR HORSE
Take responsibility for educating yourself on good hoof care. The more you learn the better equipped you are to make decisions for your horse.
Hoof issues can be avoided by being in tune and getting onto problems before they become a serious set back.
After all, no hoof, no horse, no ride.