Asad and Hoof Pain

I knew Asad was overdue for a hoof trim before he started down my way. What I did not know was just how long it had been since his last hoof trim. As you can see in the photo below, he had platters for front hooves and his hind hooves were equally overgrown.

I was also aware that Asad could be touchy about having his feet picked up. What I was not aware of was why he was reluctant to pick up his feet. I like to make sure that all the odds are on my side when I ask a horse to do something for the first time.

So I started by asking him to stand still while I ran my hands down his leg with a sponge I had put some fly-spray on. We have nasty biting black flies in September here in New Mexico. I’d be a fool to expect him to stand quietly while being snacked on.

Once he realized that I was relieving him of distress by discouraging flies, he was very cooperative. He soon stood still for me to wipe down both front legs. In fact, he stood so still he became quite rock-like and unresponsive when I asked him to pick up his feet.

I tried a couple of my usual tricks like gently tapping his heel-bulbs and squeezing his tendon just above his fetlock. He finally shifted his weight just enough for me to pick up one hoof. And he let me hold it up just long enough to get a glance at the bottom before slamming back on the ground.

I asked him to pick up the other front hoof the same way and got the same response. Then I told him what a wonderful horse he was and put him away. The brief glance I got at the bottom of his hooves told me all I needed to know about why he did not want to stand around with one foot up in the air.

Yes, his hoof wall was overgrown. But his heels were also undershot. And he had a double sole, where the bars of his hoof had grown so long that they had bent over covering his true sole. There was still so much Iowa mud packed into his hooves that I could not make out his frog or his clefts.

He did not want to pick up his feet because it hurt to put more weight on the ones that stayed on the ground. I was pretty sure that it hurt just to stand around. I was surprised he was willing to move at all.

Then I reminded myself that I had been feeding him some horsey anti-inflammatories for his shipping fever and swollen eye. He had been moving because that reduced the pain and inflammation in his feet. I decided that the best thing I could do was feed him the anti-inflammatories so he would keep moving while I figured out how to pick up his feet without making him miserable.

I eventually plan to teach him the Spanish walk, where the horse extends their forelegs as they parade themselves at the walk. It is an excellent way to make sure that you and your stallion have a way to discuss when it is appropriate to raise and extend their foreleg and when it is not.

Instead of standing beside his shoulder and facing the rear, I face forward. Then I tap his ribs just behind the elbow. When mounted, a leg aid here is called ‘in front of the girth’. Leg aids in front of the girth offer a means to communicate with your horse about elevating their forehand and extending their front legs.

I started by have no more expectation for Asad than that he shift his weight towards his hindquarters. Once he was willing to do that, I asked him to take the weight off of one front hoof. I made sure that he was able to cooperate by choosing the hoof he was positioned to pick up to step forward already.

And yes, after each attempt at communication, we had a brief break where I found a few itchy spots and shared a couple of handfuls of timothy pellets. I made sure to stop asking him for anything BEFORE he started turning back into an unresponsive rock. Pestering him when his feet hurt is just going to aggravate him. Once aggravated, he will be LESS likely to cooperate next time.

Meanwhile the combination of the change in climate and footing from Iowa mud to New Mexico desert had dried out his hooves. The hoof wall became more brittle. Since he was moving around, the excess hoof wall began chipping off.

I was impressed that his hooves retained their basic shape while the excess inches of hoof wall were breaking off. He has to have excellent balance and impressive bio-mechanics for that to happen. The crusted mud and built up tissue at his coronet band also began to break off. His new hoof wall is dark, dense and gleaming.

That showed me that his hooves were regaining their ability to flex. As a horse’s hooves absorb and release energy at each stride, they expand and contract. The expansion and contraction pumps blood through the hoof. That blood-flow nourishes the hoof and reduces pain and inflammation.

It took a couple of weeks, but Asad was eventually willing to raise each front hoof when I asked him. Then I felt it was time to check the soles of his hooves again. It took a few tries, but he was finally willing to let me pick up each front hoof.

I only held them up long enough to get a look the first time. Occasionally, he is willing to hold each one up long enough for me to clean them now. BUT I am pleased.

I am pleased because I can see the hoof wall, the white line, the bars, the clefts and the frog.

I am pleased because his hoof wall is smooth and thick and the hoof angles are correct so I can rule out laminitis.

I am pleased because taking time to make sure handling his feet is associated with feeling better is making it a little bit easier to handle his feet every time I ask him to cooperate.

I can hope that time and care will repair the damage from neglect. I am sure that there is still a long ways to go, so I was glad to come across an article explaining that it really does take six to nine MONTHS for hooves to recover from injury and inflammation. I will continue working with Asad’s mind, but I won’t be asking him to exert himself physically until his hooves are in excellent shape and it is clear he is not hurting.

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