Asad Has a White Line Now

I’ve had a hard time writing about Asad’s hooves until now, because every time I trimmed them I saw how much damage there was to the white line where the laminae connect the inner structures of the hoof to the hoof wall. Instead of a thin smooth narrow white line, he had a lumpy erratic blackened fibrous gap. Honestly, I do not know how he has remained sound with as much damage as he has suffered to his hooves.

Asad’s hooves are just now beginning to recover from long neglect after years of some sort of ‘natural’ ‘barefoot’ trim whose perpetrators must have gleaned their idea of a healthy horse hoof from Disney cartoons. He arrived with radically underrun contracted heels and so contracted frogs. He also had truncated toes that left his hooves looking more like a can of tuna than a horse hoof.

I have a hard time imagining how severe the trim must have been for those problems to predominate when he had been confined and his hooves neglected long enough for them to grow about double their normal length with his bars folded over to create a double sole. Asad has a hard time imagining that any human intervention on his hooves isn’t going to cause him absolute misery. So we have been working towards him becoming willing to allow his hooves to be handled and trimmed while allowing nature to do what it does best by keeping him moving.

I hadn’t realized how much my sense of self required that I fix my horse’s hooves instead of letting them grow out and break off as they regained their actual natural shape. Allowing him to self-correct the distortions humans have inflicted on his hooves has been quite educational as well as a major challenge to my ego. It would not have occurred to me that popping giant crescent shaped pieces of hoof wall out of the quarters would allow his heels to migrate back where they belonged, his toe to lengthen, his sole to expand and so allow his whole hoof to regain its correct proportions.

As long as Asad is moving well, I occasionally offer to check his feet. If he refuses to let me pick up his feet, I let his hooves alone, but I do make sure he is tracking up and moving freely. When his gaits get short or uneven is when I get pushy, and when he generally becomes more amenable to a hoof trim.

I’ve been doing a garrison trim on Asad’s hooves when he deems hoof work tolerable. The garrison trim has been marketed as the new improved and novel ‘mustang roll’ but it has actually been standard practice for cavalry troops when in garrison at least since horse shoes were invented if not before. I found the complete standard for a true garrison trim in ‘The Chamberlin Reader’.

The cavalry practical garrison trim actually considers the health and internal structure of the whole hoof. To keep cavalry horses’ hooves sound and healthy, their shoes were pulled when they were not in service. Neither the sole or the frog were never touched while the hoof wall was trimmed even with the sole and the edges slightly rounded or rolled to minimize chipping.

But I’ve had to give up my whole idea of how to go about a proper hoof trim. Asad absolutely detests vibration on his hooves. He regards the motor driven Hoof Boss trimming tool as an absolute life-threatening abomination and agent of Satan that he will do absolutely anything to escape. A hoof rasp gets more more disdainful rejection than a panicked one, but I still have to leave the hoof rasp in the tool box if I want him to pick up his feet for me.

Asad allows me to bring a hoof pick, a pair of hoof nippers and a hoof stand near to hand. He will even stand with a his hoof on the hoof stand if I am polite and considerate. Since his natural hoof wall is thick dense and resilient, leaving a smooth rounded edge with a pair of nippers takes some skill and muscles.

He is usually very clear about which front hoof is in need of a trim. He is a complete gentleman, picking up that hoof and allowing it to rest in the hoof stand while I work on it without any issues at all. The other hoof, however, becomes firmly anchored to the ground and if I insist on pestering him about it before correcting the hoof he considers a problem, he’ll briefly pick up the contested hoof and then snatch it back and stomp back down with a glare.

I make a point of working in the round pen, so he can move around and he and I can check my work. I generally start by trimming out the quarters- the hoof wall is slightly thinner there and a little bit easier to start the first nip. I start by level out one side towards the toe. When he starts to get restless, I let him go.

Once Asad is willing to stand with his weight on the trimmed hoof, he is quite gracious about allowing me to work on the other. We follow the same routines and now I can usually get both quarters trimmed before he demands to check on my work. Once he is moving freely, I do a final check, making cure that his heels are even his bars are parallel to the frog and level with the sole, not growing out sideways.

I double check his front feet the next day, and see if he wants his hind feet attended to. Generally, the answer is no. I’ve only had to trim his back hooves a couple of times since he arrived. I have a lot of theories about why that might be so, but in the end they are his hooves and I’ve learned to respect his sense of himself. If he doesn’t want his hind hooves messed with, I let them be.

Until very recently, trimming the quarters was all I needed to do. Even very brief periods of movement allowed his hoof capsule to reshape itself. Asad has been positive that it is my problem not his if watching his hooves reshape as he moves around in the days and weeks after a trim pretty much breaks all my ideas of what hooves ought to do.

I have finally come to the conclusion that the big horseshoe shaped divot on his chest just inside the right shoulder joint was a severe and neglected injury. It looks like he got kicked in the chest by a horse with shoes. Which is exactly why most breeders pull a mare’s shoes and hobble them behind when breeding them. By some miracle, his actual shoulder joint was not shattered, but the myofascial omnihyodious on the inside of the shoulder was damaged.

While Asad has never been overtly lame, he has had unusually high knee action as well as some swimming motion in front while traveling wide behind since he arrived. A lot of that was due to his excessively overgrown hooves. But improvement has been slower than I like.

I do like to understand why his front hooves turn into ovals for a while instead of staying nice and round after trimming the quarters flush with the sole. I’m pretty sure that is because that allows the circumference of his hoof to expand and it tales a bit for the sole growth to catch up.

I am also pretty sure that that shoulder injury was then neglected- Asad was left to stand, confined and isolated to heal up as best he could. That would explain the subluxation of his hyoid bone, lower jaw and sensitivity at the poll. The scarring and damage to the hyoid apparatus distorted all the parts of the primary regulator of his proprioreception.

As we have slowly worked toward correct hoof shape and movement, Asad has, at different times, popped his lower jaw and then his hyoid bones back into their right place. Since he will let me float the worst of the high points on his incisors as well as his molars without restraint or sedatives, his bite has improved. And his extreme sensitivity at his poll has eased.

The old shoulder injury also explains the times his front hooves have become D-shaped, with a short straight inside wall and a right angle to the inside of the toe as wellas why his hind hooves were occasionally both high on the right side and short on the left.

This most recent time I trimmed his front hooves, they were both nice and round and had a lovely dense clean white line. I was able to trim all the way around from toe to heel flush with the sole. I had high hopes we were finally reaching a point where his hooves were stabilizing.

But when we were standing grooming after a few circuits of the round pen at each ait going each way, I got to watch his entire spine unwind. I know intellectually that a horse’s spine does not bend, that each vertebrae is faceted and they rotate and lock together to compensate for changes in footing and direction. Seeing that whole system release, readjust and reset was astonishing. Asad’s whole neck and back, especially at his lumbo-sacral joint shuddered as the many muscles of the longisimuss dorsi tweaked and turned every vertebrae.

Asad was muscle sore for a few days and I was preparing myself for another long haul. I’ve been keeping my own focus on keeping him moving. And of course, his hooves promptly began to readjust to the changes in his distribution of weight and proprioreceptive patterning.

BUT today when we were lunging Asad decided to offer me a display of his renewed balance and proprioreception. He has always liked to do what I call a bounce-n-box where he bounces straight up in the air with enough hang time to strike out a few time with his forefeet while he shakes his head about. Today he took his bouncing up a level.

Asad decided that today was the day to display a full on capriole, bouncing straight up in the air with his back level, neck erect and his profile vertical with enough hang time in the air to kick out behind and land on his hind end. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes. So he did again…and then again.

I ask him to change direction, because I am compulsive about working both directions equally especially with a horse that has a history of injury. So he cheerfully swapped direction, swapped leads, and proceed to bounce into another serious of caprioles going the other way. I am also compulsive about ending a session with a walk regardles of how glamorous and/or speedy a session may have been.

Once we had our requisite walk in both directions, we halted. Asad stood a moment. Then, when I released him, he swaggered up to me to bunt my hand with his nose and offer me a red-nostriled snort. I had to agree, he had done himself proud.

I do not know if Asad will ever be sound enough to ride- he is eighteen and that is old to be rehabing a lifetime of neglect and injury. But I am pretty sure that my pony will be healthy enough to display his Baroque war-horse ancestry whenever he pleases. And I am pretty sure that letting him call the shots on his hoof-ly rehab process has kept us both on the right track.


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