When a hoof wants to go “SPLAT”, tighten it up!
There is a classic presentation we see in domestic horses that become sore-footed due to dietary excesses and subsequent gut and hormonal changes. We know that reducing carbohydrates and providing quality fats, proteins and fiber is critical, along with adding some other ingredients for healing—that’s a big subject covered in my book. I see this in barefoot horses that are "easy keepers" and overweight—(more commonly in Mustangs, Quarter Horses, Arabians, Appaloosas, Morgans, Gaited horses, Icelandics.)
I’d like to share a few thoughts on trimming for comfort and better mechanics in these cases of laminitis with varying degrees of founder.
Inflammation in the hooves (laminitis) can weaken the connections between the hoof capsule and the coffin bone, eventually causing the hoof to go “splat” (the horse’s weight forces the coffin bone lower and the opposing ground force pushes the hoof capsule upward). If you suspect this is happening, or you have a horse with the telltale signs of hooves going “splat”, here are a few thoughts and ideas for you.
This is a Mustang mare with extra fat (note the crest on her neck). She is sensitive to carbohydrates (sugars) in her diet and is walking OK, but being “careful.” Sometimes turning corners is uncomfortable, the stride is a little shorter and walking on hard or rocky terrain is not fun. Below are some hoof photos from another mare in a similar situation:
1. You can feel a slight softness at the soles in the toe region.
2. There is a laminar or lamellar wedge evident. This is sometimes called a “stretched white line”, but it’s more accurate to say it is inner hoof wall material that has filled in the space where the hoof capsule and coffin bone have physically separated. There is often evidence of some hoof wall flaring.
3. Thankfully she has a big, wide heel and frog, perfectly adapted to handle some extra work.
4. There is a flatness and loss of solar concavity towards the edge of the sole.
These are all clear signs of a hoof that is going “splat.” Let’s think about what trimming we can do to not only help her feel better, but also promote some “tightening up” of her hooves. Keep in mind you will not make progress by trimming alone. Diet, proper terrain, exercise and lifestyle changes are critical for real success.
A. “Tightening Up” a hoof means rolling the edges of the hoof wall all the way around, from heel to heel. We DON’T want this hoof to decontract or open up in the heel any more. We actually would have a more comfortable horse if we could promote a little bit of hoof contraction! By rolling from heel to heel (usually back to the edge of the sole to where that lamellar wedge material is), the softer terrain you provide (or pads inside hoof boots) will “hug” the hoof as it steps down on soft terrain instead of “shoving” the hoof walls further away, worsening the separation. This rolling of the edges also reduces peripheral loading of the hoof, which doesn't feel good when the wall is threatening to separate up inside. (Imagine pulling up on your long fingernail and tearing it away from your nail bed!). What many trimmers might consider a “trimming mistake” is exactly what you want to do here.
B. Keep heel height close to the widest part of the healthy frog and roll/bevel it so it doesn’t grab the ground too suddenly. Imagine a rocking chair movement as the heel and rear of the frog engage the terrain.
C. Allow the frog to take on some primary weight bearing function and share in the responsibilities of supporting the horse. Other than some minimal cleaning up, initially allow all frog material to stay before you decide to trim any of it. This is often considered to be another “trimming mistake”, but in this case I hope you can see why it’s what we want.
D. Allow the bars to remain robust and strong to slow down excessive hoof expansion and perhaps even help “contract” the heels a little bit. Some degree of hoof contraction in these cases is actually protective and beneficial, because it increases sole depth and sole concavity and helps reverse this “splat” hoof shape. Other than very carefully checking the white lines of the bars for any sign of abscessing, allow them to be longer and even take some of the primary weight bearing (which they will easily and comfortably handle in soft terrain.) This is yet again considered to be another trimming mistake by many, because we get so used to DEcontracting hooves, not promoting a little bit of contraction—but that’s exactly what we want here. Don't worry about claims that "hoof mechanism" and circulation will suffer. When the hoof feels better and the horse moves more, that's the WIN you want. Later on you can work on managing the little things, but often times the horse will take of them on their own with movement!
E. Do not trim or rasp the sole AT ALL. Any amount of sole invasion nearly always causes more pain and sensitivity and can set back your efforts by weeks or months.
F. Use pads inside hoof boots if needed to get some mileage and exercise! With comfortable pads, you can go for some walks just about anywhere, exploring different areas and providing the horse with some new scenery—a nice distraction from their sore feet. When you find the terrain or trail that feels the best, go without boots to get the healthiest stimulation and promote callous formation.
I hope this gives you some ideas to think about helping hooves that want to go "splat". I have hundreds of other tips in my book, Insight to Equus, Holistic Veterinary Perspectives on Health and Healing. I have a unique way of presenting information you may appreciate--I'm always striving to think outside of convention and traditions. You can order it at www.insighttoequus.com and I will personally sign it for you.
Hoping you and your horses are happy and healthy,
Dr. Tomas T.