Monday, March 22, 2010

Equine podiatry - vets and farriers

I had a very short weekend. I had a workshop on Saturday dealing with equine podiatry. And I had 2 exams today, so I spent most of my spare time over the weekend studying. I still managed to visit my horses and pet and brush everyone. They are all doing great. All of our snow is gone now, and the pasture has dried out. Some of the first few blades of grass are trying hard to green up, but they don't last long when there are 5 horses wandering 3.5 acres (winter pasture) in search of spring nibbles. I'm hoping in a week or two, I can get the new fence up so that the horses can access the hay-field-now-turned-pasture. We decided that since we aren't getting good hay on our fields (they are old and need to be reseeded), we are turning them into pasture. It's actually better to buy hay - easier and not that expensive. We had some awesome horse hay this year - large square bales of grass/alfalfa mix. It didn't actually have that much alfalfa, just a smattering, but the horses prefer that hay over the stuff we baled. And we have only gone through half of the hay that we got so far, and the horses are in fat/sassy condition! I'm excited that the amount we purchased will last us pretty much through the whole year! We only got 22 large square bales!

The equine podiatry lab I had this weekend was very interesting. It was sponsored by the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practioners). Its design was to improve communication between veterinarians and farriers in order to ensure that horses are getting the best care they can, and to make sure that the two equine fields are working with one another instead of against (as can sometimes happen in cases of misunderstanding). We had lectures about detailed hoof and lower limb anatomy by an equine foot surgeon, and then we had lectures about farrier basics (how to trim and shoe) by a farrier. I was most interested to hear the perspectives of what is proper trimming/shoeing by both farriers and vets, since my main interest is in barefoot trimming. I listened to the lectures with intense scrutiny, trying to figure out where their philosophies differed or agreed with mine. I was rather pleased to hear that most of what the farrier taught us, I agree with. He obviously didn't get into the controversy about shoeing versus leaving horses barefoot, or say anything about therapeutic shoeing. What I definitely agreed with were his descriptions of proper angles. He even said that not every horse needs shoes! He said horses need shoes when they are wearing their hoof faster than they grow it. My only point of disagreement was when he said that shoes help with concussion. One of the other student's asked him to clarify, since she couldn't understand how a metal shoe would prevent concussion, and he did actually sort of say that they only really help by supporting the hoof. So I felt like even the farrier knew that metal shoes don't cushion feet. He said that the carriage horses he trimmed wore metal shoes with rubber bottoms because they wore their feet so fast, but also needed cushion and traction.

I also learned why farriers carve out that bit of sole on the outside edge of the toes (the part that barefoot trimmers say never to touch). It seems that if the sole contacts the shoe there, it causes bruising because the sole is striking an unyeilding metal edge. I do wonder what that means for all those fancy new shoe designs that do allow some sole pressure - I still have more to learn. The only anti-natural hoof trimming words I heard spoken where by the hoof surgeon, who said he's not sure he buys the natural barefoot philosophy that all hooves need to be modeled after wild horses. His reasoning was that wild horses live on dry hard ground, where as our horses out here (in the midwest) live on moister, softer ground. What he must not understand is that the barefoot trimmers are learning that horse's feet ARE different in different terrains and we need to compensate for that as well. What I did learn is that the vets, farriers, and barefoot trimmers actually have the same ideals as to the perfect hoof shape. What I haven't discerned yet, is how each wants to deal with hoof problems. I really look forward to getting more insight on that. So far what I know suggests that vets and farriers like to micromanage foot issues and possible resort to surgery (cutting nerves and tendons) and specialized shoes, when a barefoot trimmer would rather try trimming as the treatment and see how it helps. Maybe it's just me, but I like the least invasive philosophy. Of course, I don't know how to do the highly specialized treatments, where as I think I could figure out how to trim some of these feet, so maybe I'm biased based on my knowledge level. By no means do I think that ALL shoeing is bad though. I do think that there are some cases where a stabilizing shoe might be necessary. I wish there was a good study out there that compared different methods of treating laminitis, founder, and navicular disease (seem to be the most common hoof ailments) with the different philosophies. It'd be a great study!

The afternoon part of the workshop was devoted to teaching us the proper way to remove a shoe, trim a foot for shoeing, and then to put the shoe back on. We used horse cadaver feet from horses whose bodies where donated for research after euthanasia for various ailments (BIG THANKS TO THOSE WHO DONATE ANIMALS TO HELP THE NEXT GENERATION LEARN!) I trimmed a rear hoof and we figured out that the person next to me was trimming a corresponding front hoof to the horse I trimmed (the growth rings corresponded and same color hair). My foot was very overgrown and flared on the outside edge. I say very overgrown compared to my horses, but it wasn't like he'd been completely neglected. I'd say his rear hoof was about like Griffin's rear hoof before his very first trim - long and flared to the outside. This horse's front hoof showed that he must have had some chronic hoof condition - it looked like laminitis and coffin bone rotation to me. The front hoof had a very flat sole and a dished toe shape. The leg had also been clipped, probably for ultrasound evaluation of tendons, so the horse must have been lame on that foot. The rear foot that I had did not show the laminitic conditions of the front hoof. I trimmed my back hoof,and discovered that the three farriers that were there to help us each independently had something different to say about what I needed to do to the hoof I was working on. The last farrier, which is also the farrier at our teaching hospital, gave me the most detailed and best advice about what more to do on my hoof to make it right. I learned that I really respect our school farrier. So, I trimmed my hoof, and put a shoe on (it is hard to get the bottom of the hoof completely flat to fit the shoe properly!). I couldn't get the first three nails to come out of the hoof wall, but then I sort of figured it out. I was glad I wasn't practicing on a live horse! Then I took the shoe back off, and trimmed the hoof how I would do it if it was one of my horses and I was doing a barefoot trim. After I was done, he had no flare and a beautiful hoof shape! Before that, he still had some flare because I was instructed not to take that part of the hoof wall off, otherwise he'd have nothing to nail a shoe to. I did not show the farriers what I did though, because I didn't want to disrespect them. There were some other students that I talked to who also have done barefoot trimming, and one of them was finishing his hooves with a barefoot trim too! We also dug into the sole to look for abscesses and to examine just how far in the corium (lamina) was. My poor horse's front feet had very little sole at the toe area - then we immediately saw the corium. He didn't have any abcesses though. Many of the feet that others were trimming had severe bruising in the soles. It really makes me wonder about their histories. I also wonder about the reason they were euthanized and wonder if there was some alternative method that could have "fixed" them, or it perhaps the reason they were euthanized was simply due to cost and time the treatment takes. Of course, for some, their problems may have had nothing to due with their feet.

And since I trim my own horses, I already had an idea of how hard farriers work! Other students professed a newfound respect for their farriers and said they never want to trim their own horses! I personally find trimming my horses to be a very intimate activity. I feel it makes our relationship closer.


Rosita said...

very interesting

Andrea -Mustang Saga said...

That's funny that they thought it was hard work and they weren't even under a horse!

Very interesting stuff. I find that most farriers I know agree with most aspects of natural trimming, but don't agree that all horses can go barefoot. I don't think all horses can either. It's unfair to take a soft-footed horse on a ride on rocks without protection. I would choose boots over shoes of course. Back to the farriers - for some reason a lot of them, even if they are educated & experienced & highly recommended, do a poor job. I think it may be because they're in a hurry.

If someone got to dissect and trim Coda's hooves after euthanasia they would have found a horrible mess. He just couldn't grow a nice hoof. Cushings, I think.