Thursday, 7 May 2009This article aims to promote the need for hoof care amongst all racehorses and none in particular. While it comes just after Sunline's sad demise, there is no implication inferred by ourselves or the author. It aims to highlight hoof care and its importance to the well-being of all equine breeds.
Racing and Sports---------------------------------------------------------------------------
The following article by Chris Ware EMT & UHHGM
Picture this. Young Casey Stoner dons his protective gear and heads out onto the track to compete in the next MotoGP. He walks towards his bike. There it stands on the grid, all sleek and shiny tended to lovingly by an army of mechanics. Every tiny detail of its construction design is to maximise speed and power.
As he gets close he sees a brick attached to the tire of the front wheel. He doesn't worry particularly because he knows that the bikes of all the other competitors have bricks on their wheels too. That's just how they are.
His mechanic says “good luck mate” and watch when you get up to speed cause having a wheel like this is gonna cause a hell of a problem...but that's the way they all are. So he heads out on the track to almost certain disaster.
Ridiculous! Couldn't possibly happen? Maybe not in the sport of motor racing, but it's a fair comparison to what happens regularly in horse racing.
Every day horses with hoof problems are at war with their natural biomechanics, forced to adjust every single stride to compensate for hoof deformation and its associated muscle issues that causes them to be unco-ordinated and clumsy. These horses may one day fall or suffer a secondary catastrophic injury due to continual micro traumas to bone joint and ligament due to the “bricks on the end of their legs”!
Now here's where it gets tricky, because there is no one to blame except tradition. A lot of money has been allocated to inquiries that investigate accidents on the track which really found nothing out of place as catastrophic injuries are still occurring to many horses - and subsequently their riders.
There is still an elephant in the room when it comes to hoof problems and the racing thoroughbred, but it would seem those who can make changes are firmly looking the other way.
Horse shoeing up till about 10 years ago was grounded in principles that are very subjective and had more to do with engineering than equine biomechanics.
In the last few years startling new research is showing that much of what we thought, and taught as gospel about the hoof and its functions, is only partially correct. It really is time to deal with that elephant even if it's only for the sake of occupational health and safety.
Farriers and vets do a difficult and dangerous job. In respect of hoof care it's not fair to point the finger at them as they are doing exactly what they have been trained to do. But hoof care has reached a very strange place in the 21st century where breakthroughs in rehabilitation are coming from outside the traditional farriery or veterinary world and a result it takes a huge leap of faith for those who deliver traditional care to explore what is now termed “natural hoof care” where these breakthroughs are being made.
Sadly the inquiries into racing catastrophes tend to take notice of those who know the least about equine biomechanics with the blame often directed to the track surface or governing conditions.
New research at cellular level from people like Professor Robert Bowker of Michigan State Universities' Equine Hoof Laboratory has answered a lot of questions about why horses have so many hoof problems and why the majority as a species end up lame with a poor quality of life.
Sadly it's revealing that traditional shoeing and feeding practices are at the heart of the problem.
I can feel many people drawing back in horror and making the sign of the cross at my last sentence, but I can only say that I used to feel that way too. I couldn't conceive that something that had been around as long as horse shoeing could be bad for horses.
In the racing industry hoof problems become advanced very early in the horse's life because these horses are put into work early and shod early and often. This is good for those who wish to see what potential their investment has as soon as it can be saddled, but not good for the horse because his skeleton does not mature till he is at least six, no matter what breed he is.
With thoroughbreds you have young hoof bones that are still forming being loaded incorrectly and that encourages early hoof deformation.
The hoof is a dynamic living structure and must not be thought of as a hard solid unyielding object on the end of the horse's leg. It is living tissue able to respond to its environment and to reshape itself in response to stress and loading.
If the wrong stresses are applied it will reshape into a form that is far from physiologically correct that will not be able to perform its evolutionary functions. It will be structurally weakened, its internal tissues will become compressed and dysfunctional.
Once young racing thoroughbreds reach a point where they have hoof deformation you might as well consider them as the racing bike with a brick on the wheel, never able to reach their full potential, unless you are taking steps to return them to being physiologically correct.
I look down at really dysfunctional hooves chocked up with wedges that are further crushing collapsed heels. It is palliative care, not rehabilitation, and places these horses only months away from a possible career ending injury.
Albert Einstein said “you cannot fix a problem with the same logic that created it” and who am I to argue with him!
If I have tweaked your interest in exploring natural hoof as a rehabilitation tool you might like to see more about the recent breakthroughs in hoof care.
There is good information available on the net. For great articles on the latest research see Pete Ramey www.hoofrehab.com. For information on how you can identify postures that horses adopt when they have hoof pain even if you know nothing about the hoof see www.equethy.com
In Australia there are specialists in this field such as Andrew Bowe of Mayfield Hoof Care Centre (www.barehoofcare.com). Andrew is a Master Farrier of 20 years experience, much of it gained in the racing industry. He also has a science degree. He came to natural hoof care in an effort to help navicular, laminitic and foundered horses.
Andrew is also one of the developers of the Diploma of Equine Podiotherapy Course because he wanted to share his insights with others involved in equine hoof care.
Andrew says that his total change in direction from a farrier to an Equine Podiotherapist has opened up a whole new world of rehabilitation to him that he was unable to do with traditional shoeing. He feels that this is definitely the way forward for hoof care for the 21st century.
The other aspect of equine hoof health that has a far greater impact that we ever imagined is diet. We are learning now that to have healthy robust hooves the horse must have a diet similar to that which it evolved to have.
Domestic horses' diets and most of the pastures in Australia are creating insulin resistance in our horses. We are virtually turning them into diabetics!
Dr. Katy Watts of the Safergrass Organisation www.safergrass.org has an excellent website which details her research. Dr. Watts became interested in laminitis research when, as an adult, she fulfilled a lifelong dream and bought two horses. Following the very best information offered by the very best texts then available on equine diets she managed to founder both of them.
She was devastated but it compelled her to work researching the effects of pasture and traditional diets on our horse's health. To recognise hooves in trouble there are “living landmarks” that say it all as depicted in the accompanying pictures.
Firstly note the drawing of the white hoof overlayed on the horse's actual hoof.
It shows the shape of a physiologically correct healthy hoof. It is the shape this hoof should be!
Compare it to the actual shape of these hooves they have deformed a great deal from the hoof that nature intended to carry this horse.
1. Shows the upward curve in the coronet band that indicates that the lateral cartilages inside the hoof are dysfunctional and they are being displaced. The hoof capsule is moving upwards as the laminar connections weaken and the sole and digital cushion become thin and weak.
2. The heels are overlong (nearly three times longer than they should be) and are folding down towards the ground. There would be huge crushing leverage forces on the caudal heel area with every stride. All the internal soft tissues in the back of this hoof are being incorrectly loaded and this horse would be suffering caudal heel pain with every stride. Heel pain causes gait changes and secondary muscular issues.
4. The rings you see on the hoof wall are metabolic stress lines. They develop when the horse has suffered an episode of sub clinical laminitis. Often you can log every race that has traumatized the hoof as each time a new ring will develop. They can also be caused by constant episodes of sub clinical laminitis.
Now don't rush off to your farrier with this drawing and ask him to trim the foot to a physiologically correct shape. You will cripple your horse!
Rehabilitation needs to be done in increments by someone with an understanding of the physiologically correct hoof and how to reverse hoof deformation. It also needs to be done by someone who understands the state of the internal tissues.
Don't accept that your horse has bad feet and that it is not your responsibility to help him. You and your farrier can take a journey of discovery which will help all your horses.