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:

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.


  1. What's the time difference between the last before and after shots? Her (before) feet look REALLY similar to my gelding's right now.

    Very helpful post, thanks for taking the time to help educate us non-pros! I'll definitely be following this.

  2. Shaunny, the before shots (I assume you mean the really bad ones taken in 2008) were taken in October. The after shots are from the first time my new farrier shod her in December. They aren't perfect, but the difference is clear.

    The last sequence of hoof pictures were taken about 20 minutes apart (just enough time for a shoeing and a trim).

    Glad to help :)