Hi-Lo Hooves Again

About six months ago, a friend that is an osteopathic doctor came by to meet Domo. He was truly impressed with the amount of scar tissue and stiffness in the horse’s neck where the needle had been broken off (click here) and was kind enough to see if he could loosen it up a bit. Domo enjoys bodywork, so he stood there with his chin resting on my shoulder and his eyes half-closed while the doctor worked his way through the superficial layers to the deep fascia of the spinal column where the tension and distortion had locked in. Domo’s immediate response was a huge sigh of relief.

I was a bit shocked at the intensity of his body’s longer-term reaction when I went out a few days later and found his left rear cannon bone stocked up with so much fluid that it was round as a stovepipe, cold to the touch and dented when I pressed on it. Usually sudden swellings are hot not cold, and they usually respond to a pressure wrap overnight. In this case, I had to resort to a clay poultice with medicinal herbs for several days to draw whatever this toxic waste was out of his tissues. The horse was not overtly lame, but he was certainly grumpy and uncomfortable.

Once that was relieved, his entire spine began to untwist. This was most apparent in the shapes of his hooves. It seems he had been bracing himself by walking with more weight on the insides of his hind feet so that the inner quarters were narrower than the outer. It was moderate enough that I could not get either the vet or the farrier concerned, but it was obvious enough for me to keep an eye on it, as was his tendency to wear the left rear down faster than the right. His front feet have been noticeably mismatched since he arrived here, and the left front still tended to be upright with contracted heels and the right front still tending towards a stub toe with flared quarters and crushed heels. Once again, no one but me was concerned that his left fore was 5 ¾ inches across and 6 inches long while his right fore was 6 inches across and 5 ¾ inches long. I was and am sure that the unequal hoof wear was a symptom of his efforts to compensate for pain and distortion in his body.

Proof I was right appeared all of a sudden shortly after the doctor’s visit when the left front hoof began to chip off large chunks of hoof wall. I managed to restrain myself from interfering and watched with amazement as approximately 3/8 of an inch of hoof wall broke cleanly off the outside quarter and around to the toe drastically reshaping the hoof. Apparently, Domo had been protecting his neck and back by twisting his spine so much that he was basically walking on the inside of his left front hoof. The change in angle of the heel was so great that the outside heel developed a horizontal split 3/8 of an inch up. At this point, I did step in and start rasping the heel down so that it stayed aligned with the quarter walls, as I did not want the damage to extend into the hoof itself. In a remarkable demonstration of just how flexible the hoof capsule is and how rapidly it responds to change, within ten days:

• the left front hoof was 6 inches across, the same as the right one, with an open heel
• The right one, for its part, was busy busting half moon chunks off the chronic flares in the quarters, and the heels were beginning to straighten up and the toe to lengthen.
• And both hind hooves were becoming more and more symmetrical

Despite all my concerns, his bowed tendon, and all the other damage, Domo has never been obviously lame. He, like me, is incredibly good at compensating for pain and imbalance, so he never showed any obvious signs of lameness throughout this process.

It takes about a year for the hoof to renew itself entirely, however, and a distinct line developed on outside of the hoof wall indicating the before and after stage of this drastic shift in self-carriage. That line is now at a diagonal, with his new heel angle resting on the ground, but about half the toe still to grow out. This halfway point is an extremely sensitive one as it is where the hoof wall, the sole, and the coffin bone all intersect. Changing the way the bone structure inside the hoof is hung onto the hoof wall by the lamina, a Velcro like variety of connective tissue inside the hoof, while holding up a 1400-pound horse is rather like swapping out the supports of a hammock while your 200-pound neighbor is still lying in it. The chances of dropping one end and things going seriously wrong are high.

Unfortunately for the horse, most owners are going to blame the vet and/or the farrier when their horse suddenly shows up lame, making it very difficult to enlist professional help. Without such help, the chances of the horse being able to make through this stage and become sound and healthy are greatly reduced. Without any positive prognosis, the pros are that much more reluctant to engage with litigatious owners, a vicious circle that too often leaves the horse to suffer or be sent to slaughter.

Sure enough, Domo’s entire body locked up midstride while he was playing about one evening recently. I was counting on it being his chronic mechanical issues not a new injury, as even barely able to hobble around at the walk and trot; he was still his thoroughbred self, tearing around at a brisk gallop. He could not compensate for his injuries at the walk and trot anymore because he had two major issues going on that affected both his front and back ends:

• The untwisting of his spine had locked up at the pelvic girdle behind
• The shift in hoof growth in his feet had reached the crisis point in front

I was concerned at the suddenness and intensity of his sudden three-legged lameness, but not exactly surprised. The first thing I had to do was get him slowed down enough to see if I could unlock the unwinding process in his spine. Once he was standing still, I checked all four legs, and found it was his left rear hip that was spasming.

• Bringing the leg forward was no help,
• taking it out behind was worse,
• taking it to the side was totally refused
• but folding it up and lifting the whole left rear haunch resulted in a distinct clunk inside the pelvic area, meaning something big popped into place, unlocking his entire spine and backend, and getting a huge sigh of relief from Domo.

It took him a few strides to work out the kinks in the rest of his muscles after that adjustment, and then he was back to his usual self as abruptly as he had locked up. He was only sound as long as he was moving on soft ground however as stepping on hard stony or uneven ground made him wince at every footfall. He was clearly footsore, especially in front. I had some Bute (horse aspirin) left from when I first got him and had to give him some for a week or so after every hoof trimming. Domo prefers a handful of coffee beans when he is feeling stiff and achy and does not like to eat Bute as it irritates his stomach. I did not want this to turn into a chronic inflammation in his feet, crippling him forever, so I insisted on one hefty dose to take the edge off the inflammation. The combination of Bute and caffeine allowed him to stand and move more comfortably as this new pattern of movement and the insides of his hooves stabilize.

I have been waiting for this crisis point for a long time and while Domo’s symptoms are more acute, they are also much more responsive to treatment. If he is stiff and sore, a few minutes with the hoof rasp and working out the muscle spasms and he is good to go again. It is a huge improvement on where we started. I am finally feeling more optimistic about his long-term soundness and his cheerfulness under saddle.

I knew I was in for a long haul when Domo first showed up. He weighed his full 1400 pounds but his front feet had been hacked down to fit into such small shoes I was appalled. His front hoof measurements were:

• 4 ¼ inches diameter across the sole
• 3 inches from the toe at the ground to the coronet

That meant he had:

• 26.7 inches of hoof wall circumference
• 14.2 square inches of sole area of to rest on the ground
• Approximately** 9 cubic inches of hoof volume
• with a hoof to weight ratio of 98.8*

This was bad news, as it is nearly double the recommended ratio, and means that hoof and leg injuries are inevitable, even if the proportions of his hoof were ideal, which they most definitely were not. Now he has:

• 6 inches diameter across the sole
• 4 ½ inches from the toe at the ground to the coronet

It might not sound like much of a change but it makes a huge difference. Hoof volume is the most vital change, as well as the largest, because there are times during the canter and gallop that not only does the entire weight of the horse rest on one hoof, that that one hoof also has to absorb the entire array of the forces of:

• the horse’s weight
• landing
• and accelerating,
• and turning
• all at speeds up to and over 30 miles per hour.

Even though Thoroughbreds are bad-mouthed for having poor feet, I tend to think they must have the genetic potential for outstandingly good feet to perform as well as so many of them do despite the way their hooves are routinely mistreated. Domo finally has the opportunity for the genetic potential for excellent hooves he was born with to develop. His current measurements result in:

• 37.7 inches of hoof wall, giving him a third more length to expand and contract as the hoof leaves and impacts the ground
• 28.26 square inches of sole resting on the ground, doubling the previous area
• And approximately ** 36 cubic inches of hoof volume quadrupling the volume that absorbs concussion and torque
• Resulting in a nearly ideal hoof/weight ratio of 49.5 or about half the previous ratio*

Since we can add correct hoof proportions to these measurements, I am becoming more confident that my beast can gallop and leap about to his heart’s content without (re)injuring himself.

All of Domo’s hoof problems are the direct result of atrocious hoof care and abuse. If horse racing seriously wants to clean up its image and keep racehorses sound, educating and rewarding racing folks for proper hoof care would be a productive start. Here’s hoping more owners learn enough about how hooves work to team up with their vet and farrier to help those horses suffering from these kinds of issues, and even better, prevent them from getting established in the first place. Better hoof care and no broken needle in the neck would have meant Domo got to excel at what he loves most:

Galloping at full speed

click for the beginning

*The formula figuring out a hoof size to horse weight ratio comes from Equine Podiatry
(a book I really need to buy one of these days)
and is written like this:

Wlbs x 12.56 / hC” x 2

The horse’s weight in pounds is multiplied by 12.56
Then divided by the circumference of the hoof wall in inches times 2

** Hoof volume is approximate
because horse hooves are a fairly columnar section
of a roughly conical shape
whose exact angles would extend
up to somewhere up by their shoulder,
or back somewhere under their belly
And can be closer to a parallelogram anyway
depending on the horse and the hoof and the point of view.

Rather than losing myself, and you the reader,
in the tangle of calculations it takes to figure all that out,
I am taking the lazy road mathematically
And approximating,
Using the formulas for the volume of a cone
which is the one third of volume of a column
which is found by multiplying the height x the diameter doubled
For the mathematicians it looks like this

Approx V= {1/3 [H x (D x2)] + [H x (D x2)]}/2

And gives me the information I really want:

the amount of change

between my two sets of measurements.
Which is what algebra is actually for.

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2 thoughts on “Hi-Lo Hooves Again

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