Equine Podiatry and Jeet Kun Do

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In part, I have Bruce Lee and Jeet Kun Do to thank for my philosophy of equine footcare! Now I know some of you are scratching your heads but hang in there, I promise you’ll get it. When I was a kid, I used to rush home to watch Chinese Kung Fu theater. If there were a Shaolin temple nearby, I would have joined to become a butt kicking monk in a heartbeat.

As a fan of KungFu, I became acquainted with Bruce Lee and his philosophy of Martial Arts, which was called Jeet Kun Do. What Bruce Lee realized, was that his traditional training in Wing Chun was not enough to be the best martial artist in the world — that was his goal.

He knew that Wing Chun was great, but it wasn’t the end all, be all he was seeking. Understanding this, caused him to embark on a learning journey. He then started spending time with various martial artists to learn from them. The compilation of his learnings became Jeet Kun Do. Jeet Kun Do wasn’t a martial art per se; it was more a philosophy of martial arts.

Jeet Kun Do is different for every practitioner; because each practitioner has unique strengths and weaknesses. Now what does that have to do with horses you ask — Plenty!

There lots of styles of shoeing horses. Moreover, many clinicians claim their philosophy or method is the best. This can be confusing because some clinicians contradict others. So how is one to know what’s valid? This question started me on a learning journey of my own; I began spending time with other farriers and going to clinics.

After spending much time at many clinics. I realized that they had great things to offer but, there were limitations to what they were putting forth. What I mean is, there would be some instances that what they were teaching wasn’t workable. So, I filed away what I learned for another time. Eventually, a situation would present itself where what I learned, would be just what I needed to make a difference.

What I’ve learned over the years is that every horse and every foot is unique; which means there is no one size fits all methodology for equine footcare. Moreover, there was something else I learned… As good as these clinicians were at teaching me, the best teachers are the horses themselves! Horses don’t lie! If a method or philosophy is sound, you can see the difference it makes for a horse.

Getting back to the beginning, traditional farrier science early on taught us; try to get feet to match, this has led many footcare practitioners to emphasize esthetic values over proper limb/foot function.
Esthetic values might make a horse owner happy because it’s pretty, but in the long run, that could set the horse up for failure. Current research regards every limb as having its own center of gravity, which means we shouldn’t let form get ahead of function.

Instead of emphasizing esthetics, I think a good hoofcare practitioner approaches the horse holistically… While protecting the hoof; the goal of the practitioner should be to facilitate fluid movement, with proper landing and loading. There are so many ways to accomplish these objectives today.

Moreover, we have different methods of trimming, with lots of different types of shoes. Some shoes are made of composites, we have acrylics, hoof casts, wooden clogs, and boots, just to name a few options out there now. Technology and research are continuing to give us more options. Because of the vast resources at our disposal, I am compelled to upgrade continually. That is why I embrace a philosophy of shoeing, rather than a fixed method.
I’d like to sum all this up with the words of Bruce Lee and I quote:

“Absorb what is useful.
Discard what is useless.
Add what is essentially your own.”

I think Bruce Lee’s philosophy can be applied to equine footcare — Bye for now!

The Story of LB

I was excited when I received these pictures of Little Bob at his first show; because he almost didn’t make it. When Little Bob (a.k.a. L.B.) was born, we knew that we had a tough nut on our hands. L.B. came out of his mother mad at the world. Shortly after his birth, his problems started multiplying. The first thing you noticed was L.B. could not stand or walk normally.

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Initially, we all thought he needed a little more time to develop, but as time went on, we were resigned to the fact that he was suffering from flexor tendon laxity, which simply means, he didn’t have enough muscle/tendon strength to support himself. Whenever he walked, his pasterns would sink to the ground while his entire foot severely rocked upward. He then developed a severe infection that went into all of his joints, especially the hock joints.

The vets tried various courses of antibiotics with no success. Things were so bad that he only had 12 hours left before he had to be put down. He must have known because he started to respond to the last course of antibiotics. As L.B. continued to feel better he began developing a bad attitude towards all of his caregivers. He seemed to want to make everyone pay for bringing him into the world. He would kick, bite and charge everyone who handled him. When I would work with him, he would sit down, rear up and make me his chew toy. Seemingly there was no end to his mischief.

Because of L.B.’s terrible attitude everyone started calling him Little Bastard instead of Little Bob. As L.B. began to stabilize and repeatedly handled he became less ornery. Once the infection cleared up L.B. was able to come home. That’s when I could proactively pursue his conformation problems. He had a club foot, medial-lateral imbalances, and the most severe problem before us was the lack of tendon integrity. I had to rebalance him though trims and make custom glue-on shoes that would give him support for his developing bones and tendons.

Bob_jumpingWhen L.B. was in the hospital and things looked really bleak I remember telling his owners that all the time, money and energy being spent would not be in vain. Any horse that required this much attention surely would be a show horse in the end.
I will remember Little Bastard affectionately for the rest of my life … He is one of the many horses over the years that I was able to help. And for me, there is no greater feeling than when you can help a friend, four-legged or two!

Why Does My Horse Keep Abscessing?

You can help reduce the likely hood of abscesses by being aware of some of the causes.

First some basics:

Hoof abscesses are pockets of pus that form in response to bacterial invasion and proliferation. When pus builds up within the rigid hoof capsule, the pressure on sensitive tissue causes pain(mild to severe). Left untreated, the pus will eventually work its way out, bacterial pressure forces its way out through the path of least resistance. Sometimes a crack or hole forms at the bottom of the horses foot, it often goes through the coronary band, if the abscess is high in the hoof.
Keep in mind that X rays are not always helpful in determining the cause of abscesses. Some foreign bodies cannot be revealed by X rays alone, such as wood.

There are two basic origination points for abscesses, internal and external.

With an external source, a foreign body, such as a nail can causes a breach/puncture in the hoof leading to an abscess. Sometimes bacteria gain access to the hoof from the environment, through minute cracks or breaches of the capsule that aren’t evident to casual observation. These breaches might not be visually apparent but consider; a tiny breach might have occurred and resealed itself before you observed it.

If external causes have been ruled out, then it is likely that there was/is an internal cause. Internal causes of abscess are the result of bacterial build up because of separation, or damage to the internal structures of the hoof. Structural alterations/injuries (such as rotation of the pedal bone) can cause damage and infection to the sensitive tissues of the hoof.

These are some of the factors that can contribute to or cause internal abscessing:

  • If a horse is grossly overweight, and/or has had a laminitic episode.
  • Poor trimming.Ppoor foot conformation.
  • Bad horn quality(creates cracks and breaches)
  • Age (some older horses tend to abscess more)
  • Severe Concussion e.g., road founder

A vicious cycle may ensue when; you have a few of these things coinciding. If you have any (or a combination of) of these problems, they can cause the horses feet to crack or disintegrate further- causing more stress on the internal structures. When more stress is placed on the internal structures of the hoof than normal…trauma/damage may result in the pedal bone displacing (founder).

When the pedal bone displaces, the trauma allows bacteria in the foot to proliferate, resulting in an abscess. In those circumstances (If there’s no sign of an entry wound) It is not advisable to invade the foot by probing round (with a hoof knife) to find where the abscess is, as that in itself is likely to increase the risk of infection and just cause further problems.
It is in these situations, an x ray is helpful and advisable, to see what is going wrong.

Now we can get into why some horses abscess frequently:

Ordinarily, when a horse has recurring abscesses’ that’s not the case. It’s usually because the original abscess was not sufficiently drained, and the pus built up again over time.

If the original drainage hole was not big enough, it may have resealed before all the pus escaped. An abscess can also form several pockets within the hoof. Unless each chamber is drained, the abscess will form again. If there is a foreign body in the hoof capsule that has not been identified, and removed, it will create infections and abscess repeatedly.

If your horse abscesses regularly, and the cause eludes you; it could be that the combination of these things, is the cause: Poor trimming, poor foot conformation, bad horn quality or severe concussion, with environmental factors such as rocks/sticks in wet, dirty, paddocks. You can help reduce the likely hood of abscesses by being aware of some the causes. Having a good environment, with proper hoof-care, will help the foot retain its integrity, reducing opportunity for abscesses.

Hoof Supplements

Supplements are not necessary when a horse has good feet, access to nutrient rich grass, feed, and hay. However we all understand that we all don’t live in a perfect world, so some supplementation may be necessary.

Many horses can use a hoof supplements especially in the dog days of summer. When summer comes around, horses typically have an increase in their work loads. Further considerations are: Heat stress( a lot of nutrients are lost in perspiration) an increased frequency of baths, very wet or very dry turn outs, and stomping from flies, all these variables degrade horn quality.

Hoof supplements can be helpful! The down sides are that they can be expensive and take time to work. Typically it will take several months before you see a change. That’s why in certain cases I recommend that you keep your horse supplemented. To mitigate the expense of the supplements you can buy in bulk or get only the nutrients that you need (more on that later). Something to consider is; that once the horse is on the maintenance dose, it becomes more economical.

Believe it or not, hoof supplements can save you money and aggravation, here’s how:

  • You will not have to call your Farrier as much for lost shoes.
  • You won’t have the considerable expense of glue on shoes, or acrylic rebuilds.
  • You won’t have to go through the process of scheduling, and waiting for the Farrier to put the shoe(s) back on with the potential of missing an event you want to be a part of.

Now, which supplements?

IMG952855I wish I could tell you; but I can’t because there are so many different nutritional variants, due to locals, and choices of feed.

As a first step you can try a foot supplement such as: Farrier’s Formula, Horseshoers Secret, GrandHoof, and Smart Pak just to name a few in an ever increasing line of products. There are so many products on the market these days, that it’s almost a full time job keeping up with it.

Sometimes horseowners try these supplements and they get lucky. In these situations supplements make a big difference and solve their problem(s). Sometimes these supplements make a negligible difference.

For those who get negligible results in supplementation, they need to go deeper by getting an analysis done.

Next steps:

You might be disappointed with the results when you find that the analysis finds the overall nutrition to be good. However, the small deficiencies that the analysis points to might make all the difference for your horse.

So now its time to make your custom nutrient program here are some links to sites for ordering what you want:

Some horse owners after going through these steps, are finding that they can help their horses for only 20 to thirty cents a day. And they get the added benefit of overall good health

Happy Trails!

White Lines Disease

I have horses that have chronic white lines disease and it typically gets worse during the summer months. The reason for this is the warm humid weather helps the fungi proliferate. These anaerobes are opportunistic, which means the anaerobes present themselves with the right causal factors: increased activity levels, moisture, heat, torque/concussion, and the right bio-chemistry.

I don’t want to be redundant. However, White lines disease and thrush have a lot of similarities. The Main difference between thrush and white lines disease is; the location of the infection(s). Also one is more fungal in orientation the other bacterial.

As I said in my article about thrush, you have to consider these causative factors, which create the infection. This bears repeating; horses get turned out in the same paddocks day in and day out, and after many years of manure, and urine being layered into the ground. You can see how paddocks become a breeding ground, for many opportunistic bacteria, and fungi.

slider1Just as in the case for thrush there are some horses that are naturally resistant to white lines disease no matter how much they are exposed to it. With the converse also being true; there are horses that no matter how clean their environments are, or how well they are cared for, get infected.

Three contributing factors to white lines disease are; foot confirmation, biomechanical stress, and biochemistry. White lines disease has many similarities to thrush infections however to understand why white lines proliferates you have to delve into deeper into confirmation and how that affects biomechanical stress.

I mentioned the common causal factors previously but I want to dig deeper into the main opportunity, and difference, with thrush that causes these anaerobes to proliferate; which is torque.

White lines disease can also be called seedy toe. The reason for this name is that the infection attacks the toe region of the hoof capsule in between the outer horn and the sensitive tissues. This border between the outer wall and the sensitive tissues is called the laminae. Seedy toe is found in the laminae in the toe region of the hoof capsule. Which begs the question why? For us to answer the question, we have to delve into biomechanics and torque-specifically.

(I must add at this juncture that white lines disease also attacks the quarters and heels of the horses foot. The biomechanical stress that helps proliferation of the fungi is concussion.)

At the moment (physics term) of breakover torque causes the dorsal laminae to stretch. When this is done repeatedly the hoof capsule adapts(wolfs law) and grows longer. When you put these causal factors together: torque, biochemistry, humidity, anaerobes. The fungi start burrowing into the laminae from the solar(ground) surface of the hoof. The longer the toe is, the more torque is required to/at breakover. The more torque, the more stretching of the laminae creating greater opportunity for the fungi, giving you greater proliferation and infection.

If you have a white lines infection in the heels and quarters of the hoof, the things mentioned above apply, but! You substitute torque, for concussion.

Now what is the role of the farrier in all this?

The basics are:

  • Trim and dress the foot to remove all the distortions of the hoof capsule.
  • Balance the foot to help minimize torque and concussion.
  • Create access for oxygen and medication to get to the infection site(s).

This was a horse I just recently acquired. He has the added difficulty of a thin wall making him susceptible to hot nails.

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Note the divots from forging in front of the hoof capsule.
The pathogens (WLD) gained access to the hoof capsule from the divots and the sole.

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The solar view of the infection.
Note the elongated /distorted hoof capsule and the stretched white line(now black).
Lack of horn integrity and torque has elongated the hoof capsule.

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Because of the infection and the narrow hoof wall, nailing the shoe was not an option.

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The circumstances led me to glue on a shoe so the horse could compete.

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I was sent this picture after the horse pinned in the hunter pace.

What is thrush, and how should you treat it?

Thrush is an infection with an anaerobic bacterium found in the horse’s environment.

Thrush is usually identifiable by a strong putrid odor accompanied by a thick black liquid in the horse’s frog, specifically in the sulci.

It’s easy to understand how horses get thrush when you consider most horses get turned out in the same paddocks – day in and day out. Manure and urine are accumulated over many years and are layered into the ground. This makes paddocks a breeding ground for many opportunistic bacteria and fungi which is the main contributor to thrush.
Dirty stalls are the other obvious breeding environment.

Unfortunately, thrush can become chronic, and there are two main factors contributing to the development and persistence of thrush:

  1. Poor foot confirmation
  2. The horse’s individual susceptibility to it.

Blacksmith attaching horseshoe to horse's hoof - close-upA horse with a very narrow upright heel is more likely to get thrush because; the frog doesn’t interact with the ground as it should. The frog of a horse is subject to the old “Use it or lose it” motto, just as any muscle would be. The frog is part of the hydrodynamic system of the foot (i.e. the circulatory system) the foot loading and unloading on the ground, increases circulation which is part of the circulatory process. When the frog is too high up within the hoof-capsule, the fogs interaction with the ground is limited. With limited stimulation from the ground, the frog atrophies. This results in the acquisition of, and difficulty in— treating thrush.

If your horse has chronic thrush and nothing you’ve tried has worked, here are some suggestions:

  1. Stay away from pads. They create an anaerobic environment which proliferates thrush and white lines disease.
  2. Pick the feet and brush out the frog area at least once daily. You can treat the thrush with your choice of medication; what’s more important is the consistency of cleaning and treatment.
  3. If your horse lives outside permanently with other horses in a wet paddock, before you go riding.
  4. If your horse is turned out during the day but comes into a clean stall at night, treat the thrush before he goes in the stall for the evening.

In both cases, the goal is to have medication working as long as possible.

When thrush has created a large cavity in the central sulcus (or collateral sulci) lameness, or sensitivity of the frog often manifests. If lameness or sensitivity is indicated, you need to do two important things: clean and pack the area. Before you pack the cavity, take some cotton swabs and run them through the cavity. Do this repeatedly until the swabs come out clean. Then pack the cavity carefully with cotton, then soak the cotton with medication.

This benefits the horse in two ways: one, it will keep the infection medicated, and two, it will help keep out the mud, dirt, and manure that have all the anaerobes in it.

horse_back2Your choice of medication is important when; the thrush has eaten into the sensitive tissue, you don’t want a medication that is caustic. Horses tend to resent being burned every day by medication. That is why some people use Hedison K. I recommend Today (cephapirin sodium), or Tomorrow (cephapirin benzathine) because they have been proven to be very effective.

Both the Farrier and Veterinarian have important roles in treating thrush. It is often the Farrier who discovers the infection while removing the shoes and pads.

Sometimes infections of the frog look superficial and that is why the owner (or groom) might not be alarmed. There are times when it can look that way to the Farrier as well.

The Farrier knows that the infection has reached sensitive tissue when the cleaning and trimming activity causes blood to manifest. This usually means the bacteria has created a cavity under the surface of the frog and cannot be seen by just looking at the bottom of the hoof. In that situation, the Farrier will have to debride all the necrotic tissue that can be removed without doing surgery –which is obviously the vet’s domain. If the situation gets that far, the vet will remove the deeply infected tissue, bandage the foot with medication, prescribe antibiotics and confine the horse to a clean environment.

Your job, as the owner is to insure this does not happen. The most important role in taking care of thrush is on the caretaker’s shoulders. Simply put, without daily care, the situation cannot be resolved.

Notes: The causative organism(s) for thrush are, fusobacterium, necrophorum. The causative organism(s) of hoof wall disease (aka, white line disease, seedy toe) is fungal onchonmycosis).

Should My Horse Go Barefoot?

First I need to preface my remarks by saying; I am a farrier, as well as a natural footcare practitioner.
The Natural hoof care movement started in the early eighties and has been gaining in popularity.

They have several compelling arguments that I must acknowledge, such as; driving nails into the foot, isn’t good for the hoof capsule. And that steel shoes retard expansion of the hoof capsule (see note below). The barefoot movement has contributed greatly to the soundness and well being of the horse with their holistic approach. I have benefitted from the research of wild horses. I use hoof mapping techniques garnered from Duckett’s Dot, Gene Ovnicek’s E.D.S.S. system, and Pete Ramey’s method, to determine the hoof’s ideal confirmation and size in my practice daily.

Blacksmith attaching horseshoe to horse's hoof - close-upOriginally natural hoof care advocates posited that every horse given enough time would be able to adjust to being barefoot, while being able to do its job. That premise did not always make it in the real world.

When natural hoof care was in its early stages, I knew one natural hoof care practitioner that had a thoroughbred horse go barefoot in a paddock for a year, even though it was lame. The natural hoof care practitioner insisted that the horses feet given enough time, would callous up and be serviceable. The thoroughbred due to his thin soles and soft feet never calloused up. The owner after a year of paying for feeding and boarding an unusable horse, finally gave up and had the horse shod. Once the horse was shod, the horse was serviceable in a week.

The main reason going barefoot with the thoroughbred didn’t work was genetics. Barefooters base their theories of optimal hoof conformation and function from feral horses. Brumbies and mustangs are not thoroughbreds. If a brumby had thin weak feet like a thoroughbred, natural selection would ensure the culling of the horse by predators. For this reason said horse would not able be breed and pass this genetic weakness on. Although it is not natural for horses to wear shoes in the wild, it is also not natural for a horse to be a thoroughbred.

It’s hard to compare feral horses, to horses that have been bred for specific purposes; such as, quarter horses that compete in gymkhana classes, or thoroughbreds that were bred for racing on a track.

Our breeding and domestication of the horse has given us some bad dividends such as abnormal conformation, diseased, and weak hoofs. Domestic horses have challenges/obligations that feral horses do not. A feral horse is not required to gallop with a two hundred pound rider on a paved road. My example is extreme, but you get the picture.

Natural footcare have had to acknowledge over time that not every horse can so its job without some form of protection.
So natural footcare have gone to boots, and various other modalities to protect the horse’s feet for work and competition.

Boots, glue on shoes, etc., have their problems and limitations too:

  • Boots are a great option, but they cannot address every situation.
  • Boots, glue on’s (and their variants) trap moisture and bacteria.
  • If boots aren’t fit properly, they cause rubs and irritations.
  • Boots cannot remediate all hoof capsule imbalances like remedial shoeing can.
  • If your horse has abnormal feet such as a club foot, it can be difficult to keep the boot on the horses, foot.

Boots have to be put on, and taken off regularly for what would be considered the normal activity of the shod horse, such as turnouts. The application and removal of boots for certain activities have some horse owners feeling that this as an added inconvenience. Especially when they have bad backs and high strung horses.

Many horse owners/riders do not have enough resources (in certain areas land can be very expensive) to live up to ideals of the barefoot movement. So unfortunately, many horse owners are forced to work within their constraints. These horse owners if they could, would turn their horses out on large acreage with natural grass, water, and other horses. Many horse owners do not have those resources so; they board their horse at a stable, turn the horse out in a paddock, and ride the horse as much as they can.
These horse owners are the ones that find it practical to use farrier services.

I don’t think it is helpful to say (as some natural hoof care advocates have said) that farriers are damaging feet, and decreasing the serviceable life of the horse. That I feel is provocative, and painting with a broad brush.

In response to that, I would like to point out that farriers like Jamie Jackson and Gene Ovnicek pioneered the natural hoof care movement. While not every farrier is qualified to be in practice, the same can be said for natural hoof care practitioners.

Experienced and gifted farriers working alongside Veterinarians have saved many equids from suffering and death (such as in founder cases). The farriers’ goal should be, to facilitate the well being, service and longevity of the horse. Experienced and qualified farriers have facilitated the well being and longevity of many equids. I’m happy to say, I have many senior horses at high activity levels; who have worn traditional shoes all their lives, and are still enjoying their lives of work and play.

The best way to determine whether your horse can go barefoot or not; is to consult with a footcare professional to go over your particular situation and needs.

 

Note: Steel shoes limit expansion of the hoof capsule. Limiting the expansion of the hoof capsule is beneficial in instances of fractured coffin bones, quarter crack repairs, and hoof wall avulsions. Egg bar shoes are still a great tool for treating sheared heels.