Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Farrier visit April 27, 2009

(Pictured: Buttercup gets her regular lysol soaking to prevent infection of her stressed lamina)

The farrier visit went well, as always with my great, new farrier. I'm very lucky to have him. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: a good farrier is worth his weight in gold.

Yesterday's goal was to keep our angles the same, but to help the heel grow straight down from the heel bulb. My farrier changed Bud to a steel regular shoe, set it back only slightly, but with the branches wide and level with the heel bulb. He slightly filed the heel so that it will stop following its desired course of underneath her.

Right front:

To be honest, I'm not quite happy with this hoof. I think the toe should have been set back a little bit further and as a result of not doing so, the angle is a little to low. But it still doesn't look nearly as bad as it has in the past and progress is progress! 

For comparison (four months ago before our current farrier):

The problem hoof, traditionally, has been Buttercup's front left. This is the one with the most stress on the laminae because of the splayed hoof. On a good note, the vet we saw two Saturdays ago said that the lamina are heeling and she will likely regrow a strong lamina (provided we keep her infection free) in less than six months. Unfortunately, after every time we trim and shoe, her lamina gets stressed and she gets lame for about a week afterward.

Here is the left:

I don't care who you are ... that is a beautiful hoof! OK, maybe I've gotten a little bit barn blind. But the progress is amazing, even in comparison to the way her hooves looked in March. Yes, the heel is a bit lower, which may seem counterintuitive since we are trying to build heel, but that's because to get new, healthy heel, sometimes you have to remove the underrun nasty heel.

Notice how much further the shoes are underneath the heels on the most recent pictures? A wise woman once told me that hooves grow into whatever space you give them. Look at the above picture, if you were a hoof, where would you grow? Now, look at the most recent picture. Where would you grow? 

On Friday we got great news from the vet: Buttercup's P3 (coffin bone) is completely normal in her front left hoof!!! Further proof that we are on the right path! The $75 for X-rays is always well spent to make sure you are moving forward in the rehabbing process.

Why would I need a hoof journal?

(pictured: Buttercup and me in August on one of her good days last year. A good day meant that she was sound enough to ride on soft dirt)

Let's start with a basic definition. A hoof journal is a log of how your horse's hooves look over time and what type of trimming or shoeing plan your farrier uses and why.

It is my opinion that a hoof journal is the first step a horse owner can take in becoming an advocate for his horse's health. 

It doesn't matter if your horse is sound or lame. Now is the time to start a hoof journal. Your basic tools are a camera and some way to record the information. You can do it the old fashioned way in a notebook, or make it pretty and put it in a scrapbook, or even make a video journal. Whatever is easiest for you. 

My hoof journal is a bit of a mess. I have a notebook that I take with me for farrier and vet appointments and I have a folder of pictures on my computer (I'm sure I'm taking up 75% of my memory!). I keep saying I'm going to print it out ... but I don't. But it does work for me as is, even if it isn't kept in one place.

So, why do you need a hoof journal?

Because, as a layman, it is really easy to confuse what your farrier is saying. If you take notes, it will force you to pay attention and it will force you to ask questions. Also, as we know, as horses progress through training, change barns, change farriers, etc., they will undergo changes that could affect their overall hoof health. Not to mention, if something ever does go wrong (or you are rehabbing and something goes right), you need a "baseline" of what the hooves looked like to begin with.

How do you start?

Through trial and error, figure out what is best for you. At your next farrier's appointment, ask about how and why your horse's hooves are trimmed a certain way. Write that down. After your farrier leaves, take pictures. Please don't take pictures while your farrier is there -- pay him and let him leave. You want side shots of all four hooves. To get this get as far to the ground as possible. You don't want to have a downward angle on this. Then take front and back shots of all four hooves. Those are your basics.

If you want to get really involved take pictures of the soles (pictured: Buttercup's sole Dec. 17, 2008, after her first trim with her new farrier), but this is a bit harder to do. You want the lens to be parallel to the sole so that the hoof represents its true self and isn't distorted.

My hoof journal takes about two minutes every 6-8 weeks to update. So we aren't talking about a huge investment of time.

If you want to get really detailed in the rehabbing process, you can right down when the horse was lame and when the horse was sound. Or when you started a supplement (from my notes I know that Buttercup started a supplement Oct. 24, 2008).

Anytime I talk to the farrier or vet over the phone, I take notes and put them in the journal. I write down exactly what they say. This really isn't for me, but for the other professionals that might have to hear what the other professional is saying.

Hoof journals will also create an awareness and open up a dialog with professionals. To me, it is just as important as putting on a helmet before I go for a ride ... not because that helmet is going to save me from every disaster, but because it reminds me that what I'm doing is risky behavior and I shouldn't be complacent. Every time your horse is trimmed or shod, you risk your horse's health and you shouldn't be complacent, even if you have the best farrier in the world.

What would happen if your farrier was injured and you had to take your horse to a new farrier? Would you be able to tell him the nuances of your horse's hoof? Or would you have to trust that he'd figure it out the first time? Why take that chance?

On a side note, I have an exciting update about Buttercup, but I'm waiting to finish this post and run out to the barn to snap a few photos. 

Friday, April 24, 2009

Another blog of note

I just came across this other blog, http://myfarriertalk.blogspot.com/

Unlike my blog, this is actually written by a real farrier. The author really stays away from the techno-speak, so it is pretty easy to understand.

Here's another link I like: http://farrieritis.care4horses.com

I especially like the term "farrieritis" and plan on using it more! As in, did you know that there is a deadly equine pandemic? It's call farrieritis! On a side note, for those of you who don't think that this is a pandemic, visit any horse forum or open up any Internet sales site. From my own uneducated eyes, I see 50% of the horses having some sort of farrieritis.

I have an update on my own horse's soundness that I will get to in short order!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Farriers 101

A good farrier is hard to come by, but worth their weight in gold.

Not sure if your farrier is a good farrier? Here's some things to consider:

-Does he know things about your horse such as what discipline he is, level of training and conformational defaults?
-When you ask a question, does he give a straightforward answer? When you don't understand, does he try to help you understand the concept?
-What do others in the competitive horse community think of him? (I emphasize competitive because many hoof issues lay dormant in limited work).

Of course, knowing those things means you must open a channel of communication with your farrier. As I've said before, a good farrier doesn't mind you asking questions.

Let's say you have opened up a dialogue with your farrier and you notice your horse isn't being trimmed or shod properly. What is your next course of action?

1. Let the farrier know your concerns. Hear him out. He may have a plausible explanation. Make sure you take notes.
2. Ask him to meet with your vet and your trainer to get professionals working on the case. Remember, you're a layperson. You don't know everything, and you telling him he is doing something wrong is likely not going to go over well. If he is working professional to professional that is going to make change more likely. If you can't get them to meet, tell him what your vet has said and his or her recommendations. Tell him that you respect his opinion, but you were thinking what the vet said is valid and perhaps he could incorporate it into his trimming/shoeing routine. Keep in mind that some farriers are very anti-vet for a reason. Many vets do not have the correct understanding of hoof anatomy, and so many farriers don't often want to hear them out.
3. After your concerns, make sure you talk to him before the next trimming/shoeing. Will he do anything different? If so, why? How will it affect my horse?
4. After your farrier leaves, inspect the hooves. Take pictures and compare. If there is improvement, good (don't go on to step 5). If not, I suggest getting a new farrier (see step 5).
5. In the horse world, your reputation is as good as what other people say about you. The last thing you want to do is really anger the professionals in your community. Trust me: they will talk about you if you don't pay your bills on time, are flaky on business deals or are just bad to do business with. If a professional is not doing an adequate job, you have a responsibility to let him or her go. Call up your farrier, and tell him why he is not working. Of course, don't be a snot about it. Just say something like, "I feel like the changes we talked about weren't realized when you came out the other day. I've seen your work, I know you're a good farrier, but I'm afraid at this point in time I made need a specialist."

That brings us to the next point. How does one find a good farrier? Often, using a variety of indicators can help you narrow down the field.

-www.theamericanfarriers.com has a great listing of certified farriers. Some of them are mediocre, some of them are great. But it is a great start. However, sometimes awesome farriers aren't certified through this association -- so using this resource alone may not be the best choice.
-Call your state vet office. Who do they recommend in your region? Who do they give cases to?
-Ask around at competitive barns (again, I emphasize competitive because weekend trail riding horses often show no signs of lameness despite incorrect trims due to their limited work). Who do they recommend and why?

When you narrow the field to three to five farriers, start making phone calls. You want to know if they come out to your area, or if you need to haul over to them. Ask what their areas of expertise is and what discipline they general trim/shoe for. Ask for references. Treat this phone call like a job interview.

This is also a critical time to let the farrier know that he is expected talk to you about your horse's health and he is expected to keep an open dialogue with your vet and other equine professionals. But always let him know that you respect his experience first and foremost.

Now, let's talk about how to keep a farrier.

Whenever I get a new farrier, I make an "investment" into him, especially if he is just coming out for my horse. On the first evaluation or first trimming, I'll usually give a $15-20 tip. During the first time I meet him, I'll ask him about himself and his family. Take note of what he likes to drink (if you see a Starbuck's container, ask him what his favorite drink is). Does he have kids? How old? What kind of horses does he own and what does he do with them?

Usually by the next trimming, I'll bring him his favorite drink. I had one farrier who couldn't get enough of Mello Yello (not Mountain Dew). Considering I was usually his last job for the day, he probably always was happy to see me and that Mello Yello.

Another farrier of mine loved Starbucks. I've never seen an ex-Marine, cowboy-type love frilly-froo-froo coffee as much as him. I'd bring him a Chai tea from time to time, and would give him gift cards for Christmas or other occasions. It even became a joke between us.

I've even had a farrier work on a training issue that I could have likely done myself. A horse was having problems loading, and while he was trimming I was bemoaning some of my troubles. I saw him puff up and say, "I bet I could get that horse to load." I told him, "I'd pay you $10 if you can get that horse to load in 10 minutes."

After he was finished, he set to work. He had the horse loaded in 15 minutes, and I gave him a $25 tip.

You are really going to have to get to know your farrier and know what he likes (some farriers would hate it if I ever asked them to "train" my horse).

So why should you invest in your farrier? Because when your horse pulls a shoe, gets an abcess or something goes wrong in between trims, he will be more likely to put other things aside for you. You are, afterall, a good customer.

That brings me to a final point about keeping your good farrier (and getting him to call you back): BE A GOOD CUSTOMER. That means paying when services are rendered and respecting his professionalism and professional opinion.

Also, many farriers have bad backs (I haven't met one without back problems, ever). Please make sure your horse is trained to have its hooves handled. It is one thing for a farrier to deal with a horse in pain, but it is quite another for him to deal with an untrained, difficult horse.

Because hoofwork in an art, not a science, farriers often take their work very personally. I have yet to meet a farrier who was ambivalent about his work or his job. With so many emotions invested, you have the opportunity to really create a great relationship or create a volatile relationship.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hooves 101

Since the problems with my horse's hooves, I've noticed so many other horse owners with the same issue. Usually the problem is long toe, low heel (LT/LH). Most of the time, their horse is sound and they go on, unaware of the dangers and pain their horse is in.

So what do you look for? What does a properly trimmed/shod horse look like?

(Pictured: the ideal hoof according to an artist)

First, let's explore what happens to horses when hooves are not right. Symptoms manifest in the entire horse. Remember, hooves are your horse's foundation. Something happens to the hooves, it will affect the entire body of the horse.

Here are some clues that something is wrong:

-Irritability: I have seriously never met a horse that was downright nasty. I've met some horses that were hard to get along with. But every horse that I've come across that was "evil" had some sort of pain associated with it. What do I mean by evil or nasty? It depends on the horse. Some horses seem spitful; others will try a nip or two. If you are having problems in training, you may want to re-evaluate your horse's hooves. You could think it is just the horse's personality (sometimes it is) but rule out pain first. Sometimes a horse only shows pain with a tight eye or a tight lip.

-Lack of cadence: New horse owners may have a problem diagnosing this. Refining your eye to pick up slight nuances of movement is something not even some horseman 20 years in the business can do. If your horse is sound, my advice is to video tape your horse under saddle and at liberty (or lunge or roundpen). The best gait to find issues is at the trot. I find that 20 meter circles and straight-aways are key. A horse with heel problems will likely breakover quicker with the front feet, and land toe first. This means the horse must try to match this shortened stride in the the hind legs. A horse with toe problems will also break over quickly, but will land rather flat-footed. Again, the hindlegs are left compensating for the front legs not performing adequately. At the trot, the front leg and the hind opposite leg match each other. If you don't have a video camera, a neat trick you can do is wrap those matching legs in white polos, and the other two legs in pink or bright colored polos. The idea is to see if the legs are in perfect unison. If they're not, you have a problem. Like irritability, a lack of cadence does not necessarily mean you have hoof problems, but it is a good indicator. Here is a great video where you can see problems manifesting at the trot. This is Buttercup, she is sound, but her cadence is off at the trot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KBX6WnX_O8

-On/off lameness: it could be blamed on abcesses or a hard ride, but a horse experience on/off lameness is could be suffering from something more severe. An abcess usually resolves itself in about a week. If you are having symptoms for about a month, something could be wrong.

-Poor posture: a horse with hoof problems will stand with it's hind end tucked underneath it's belly or with it's front limbs tucked under it's torso. A comfortable horse (within the confines of its conformation) will stand with limbs perpendicular to the ground, in general.

(Picture ripped from google search. I'm not saying this horse has hoof problem, I'm only using it to demonstrate the forward-leaning posture that can indicate hoof problems. Though, looking at those toes are making me feel like this posture could be related to this Belgian's hooves.)

Now, the above indicators should help, even if you know absolutely nothing about hooves. I will do my best to try and explain it here. Remember, I'm a layman and not a professional. This is all new to me too. Your best bet is to seek the opinion of a vet or even an outside farrier (I've found that farriers are great about giving opinions on why the other guy is doing it wrong, but take it with a grain of salt as they are highly competitive and can be prone to exaggeration). Also, remember, vets are not necessarily qualified hoof experts. But at least seeking another professional's advice should give you some perspective.

Before I jump into this topic, last month's Practical Horseman had a great article on a properly shod horse. If you can get your hands on it, they did a great job of explaining.

OK, here are the essentials: you want the heel to extend underneath the heel bulb, you want to heel angle to match the hoof angle, and you want the angle of the hoof to match the angle of the patern. Sounds simple, right? Well, not really.

Farrier work is an art, not a science. If it was a science, we wouldn't have so many issues. Every horse is unique. Some horses have a 55 degree slope on their hooves, others have 47 degrees. It is whatever is comfortable with their conformation (this is why I listed some non-hoof indicators above).

Since mankind domesticated horses, we have had a need for farriers. Domestic-bred horses have no natural selection to prevent animals with poor hooves from breeding and no natural elements to keep their hooves worn. However, if you think that feral (truly wild horses no longer exist as the Przewalski's horses were returned to the wild from a zoo-kept breeding program) horses do not experience hoof problems, you're wrong. Ask any BLM organization. They may have tough hooves and are less prone to problems, but issues exist.

Just the other day, a feral horse near where I live turned up three-legged lame. My guess is abcess, but I haven't heard the official diagnosis.

So, let's get back to generalizations. You'll also notice that I'm really focusing on front hooves in my posts. With a horse's weight being mostly on the front end, this is where most hoof issue crop up, but don't neglect those hind hooves!

(removed picture of "balanced" barefoot hoof)

A properly balance shod hoof:

One thing you'll notice is that this is an artist sketch. This is an ideal. Hooves often don't follow the ideal, even when perfectly shod or trimmed.

Now, what should the hoof look like from the bottom?

By the way, if you are having a hard time doing your own research on what is healthy/normal and what isn't. I'd like you to know that it took me about an hour to find the meagar pictures in this post. You aren't alone.

The purpose of the blog is to help you become an advocate. To be an advocate, you need at least a basic understanding. But how can you get an understanding if you don't have the proper tools at your disposal? The system is rigged, and not in your favor.

So, your hooves don't look like the ideal AND your horse is exhibiting the above symptoms? Start asking your farrier questions. Ask everybody questions. Your friend, your barnowner, the vet. If you don't know, here is no harm in asking. Most farriers don't mind you asking why your horse's hooves don't look right. In fact, if he is good, he'll most likely explain it has something to do with your horse's conformation. Other times, it can open up dialogue. A static horse may be trimmed one way, but need to be trimmed another way once he is in motion, and your farrier may not see the entire picture.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How it began

(pictured: Buttercup, age 4 in summer 2006; unfortunately, this is the only picture I have that shows what her hooves looked like before our current issue)

It's hard to relay how exactly Buttercup's problems began. I think it's because I never really paid attention. I scheduled the farrier, I held my horse when he came and I paid him money. 

When I first started Buttercup, I labeled her a "lazy foot" horse. She just didn't have impulsion or the want to move forward. A year later, I got a surprise when a new farrier started doing her: she was lazy footed because her sole was too low and she was walking on it.

One would assume that would make me more aware of the foundation to my horse, but it didn't.

Not too long after addressing the sole issue, Buttercup developed a succession of abcesses. This was the summer of 2006. A horse that had never been lame the first four years of her life now spent nearly an entire summer lame and soaking in epsom salts. 

Finally, she abcessed so badly on her front left that it popped up near the cornet band. Since then, she has been unable to grow the crack out. Vets and farriers have debated this. Did it actually damage the cornet band? Or is the white line (now permanently prone to infection due to the crack) not healthy enough to support the weight and causing the hoof to continue to splay? When professionals don't agree, it is difficult for us laymen to know.

Since that abcess, Buttercup has been shod out of necessity (I plan to discuss what I've learned about barefoot v. shod at some point; and, no, I will continue with shoes as recommended by N.C. State, my vet and current farrier). 

Everything with Buttercup went great for two years. Same farrier the whole time. I took time to ask him questions, but mostly we just shot the breeze in a one-up-manship type of conversation. Good farrier, great conversationalist. 

Then, because of my husband's job, we moved.

Knowing Buttercup's hooves were not the best, I quickly told my old farrier to fill my brain with all the necessary information to carry on to our next farrier. He even gave me a pair of pre-hammered shoes that would be for her next shoeing. 

Her prescription was as follows: shoe in a natural balance steel shoe about an 1/8 of an inch from the tip of the frog; don't touch the heel, just rasp down the toe.

When it came time for Buttercup to be done at her new home, I was in awe by the new farrier. He knew his stuff. All of the other hooves at the barn looked great. And, he told me my old farrier had done it all wrong. The fact that my horse had been on-and-off for the last two weeks made his assertion sound reasonable (heck, any professional's opinion sounds reasonable to me!). 

When he was done, Buttercup's hooves looked different. How different? I couldn't tell you. I wasn't noticing. I just knew they were different.

Buttercup's lameness worsened. She was off mostly on the splayed front left. Compensating, she then made her back right lame.

After eight weeks, I had moved her to another barn that used a different farrier. I just missed his run when she was at seven weeks, but she wasn't looking too terrible and I chalked the lameness up to abcesses. I soaked her probably four or five times a week.

By the time the farrier came back (probably pushing ten weeks ... I know, I know, that's really bad), Buttercup was nearly three legged-lame.

I described what the old-old farrier had been doing for two years and what the last farrier had said and done. Probably not too well, considering I wasn't fully involved and I have no expertise in hooves.

This farrier decided she was abcessing bad on the front left (splayed hoof). He got to work on that one. He dug it completely out from the sole and patched her over. By the time he got to the other hooves, Buttercup started rearing up, trying to pull her hooves away. She was in so much pain. It was hard to watch. At one time, I pleaded for me to take her to her stall to let her recuperate a bit. It was as much for me as it was for her.

I remember sobbing a bit into her neck, trying to soothe her. This was the first moment where I said to myself something is definitely wrong.

I brought her back and the farrier completed the job, a little worse for wear dealing with a very painful horse with his bad back. He assured me, in a few trims/shoeings, she'll be sound. Just give him time. He'll fix her. 

(pictured: how we spent the summer and fall of 2008)

She never did regain soundness, even though he started doing her in June 2008 and it continued through October. 

It seems silly to think about it now. But I never looked at her angles of her hooves. How ridiculous. But you know, the more I talk about my problem, the more I learn that other horse owners are like me: a tad blissfully unaware and all-together too trusting. 

On a night of frustration, I posted on a horse forum called the Free Speech Horse Forum. It's the type of forum you either hate or love. I happen to love the no-nonsense and no-sugar-coating, though sometimes it can be a tough pill to swallow (this is the same message board that accused me of having a wormy horse -- she was on a regular worming schedule; but you know what? They were right; she had worms despite her regular de-wormings). 

Here is the link to that post: http://fhotd64476.yuku.com/topic/14925

The long story short: I got X-rays, I got my old farrier on the phone and I spearheaded an action plan for my horse. 

Here are the pictures:

(Reference the top of this post for the before picture)

My old farrier took one look at the photos of the hooves and said, "They're killing your horse."

And that's when it hit me: it is all my fault, too.

The X-rays showed that Buttercup's coffin bone had dropped one to two degrees in the front left. 

Here they are:

Front left

Front right

So we made an action plan, I started taking regular pictures, and I started a hoof journal. Those of you with healthy or unhealthy hooves may want to do this. It would have saved Buttercup had I wrote down what courses of action we were taking and why, and taken pictures at least every six months of her hooves.

Here was the plan, according to my journal (these were the thoughts of my old farrier and my current vet): 
  1. Put her back in natural balance shoes
  2. Bevel the surface of the shoe, so as to eliminate sole pressure
  3. Bring the bars of the shoe underneath the heel bulb
  4. Bring the toe of the shoe about an 1/8 of an inch away from the frog
Of my own choice, I put her on a hoof supplement, even though all three professionals said she'd likely just piss away my money. But I want my bases covered.

The farrier working on her never called the old farrier or my vet back. He was probably too busy. But when he came, I told him our action plan and seemed OK with it. For whatever reason, change did not come. The only thing that seemed to change was that she was put in the natural balance shoes.

Here are the after shots:

I got a new farrier. 

This time, I screened them over the phone. I told them that they must be willing to work with my old farrier, work with me and work with my vet. I said, "I may not always be right, but you are going to tell me why I'm wrong if I want something done."

I only had one call back (as you can imagine).

Here is Buttercup in December waiting for her new farrier. Please notice the discomfort in her posture. She was in so much pain -- and, man, she was irritable for the last six months, as you can imagine being in so much chronic pain. 

Here are the before and after shots:

Let's talk about what's wrong with this picture. First off, this is classic Long Toe, Low Heel (LT/LH). The heel is under-run and the toe has been allowed to grow enough to "break" the angle from pastern to toe. Remember horsemanship 101? The pastern angle should match the hoof angle. This isn't necessarily true, but it is a good rule of thumb. The shoe has also not been brought under the heel bulb.

Big change, right? Not only is the hoof dramatically smaller, but look at the pastern/hoof angles. Also, notice the shoe extends to the heel bulb. You can almost hear an audible sigh of relief looking at these pics (not just from the owner -- me -- but from Buttercup).

We've been progressing down the rehabilitation road so far. We are still struggling with balancing the hoof, keeping the white line clear of infection and more. We just had new X-rays taken on Saturday and a thumbs-up for soundness from the vet.

Here is her very relaxed posture today:

I love that picture ... you can just hear her saying, "Wow, I don't hurt anymore."

Throughout this blog, I will keep everyone updated on my own personal story, as well as posting useful information along the way.

Disclaimer: Everything posted here is according to my memory of the account. I am human and subject to making mistakes. I don't hold anyone accountable for the above situation except for myself.

Mission statement

It is the expressed purpose of this blog to use my personal experience to help other horse owners become advocates for their horse's hooves.

I am not a farrier nor any equine professional. I have a day-job, like most horse owners, and never thought to question the goings-on of my horse's health. 

On this blog, I will post information that I've found as well as share my story of Buttercup, a 7-year-old paint mare that, to be honest, has never had fabulous hooves.

The old saying goes "No hoof, no horse." One small oversight or too much trust in professionals or not having the right professional can lead to no hoof ... and then you have no (sound) horse.