By Leah Bartel, Turner Farm Draft Horse Program Supervisor
“No hoof, no horse” is a common saying in the horse world. Although you could take this quite literally, this saying also extends to hoof problems that may seem more minute. Seemingly small issues can quickly develop into a full-blown abscess, navicular disease, ringbone, or anything else that can cause lameness in the leg of a horse.
A crucial part of a properly functioning hoof is the shape of the hoof. The shape of the external hoof indicates how well the internal components and external components are being held together. If there are flares in the hoof either laterally or medially, then the connective tissue, known as laminae, between the internal structures and the hoof capsule become compromised.
Often horse owners hear about laminae when talking about the dreaded laminitis, a condition with various causes that results in inflammation of the laminae and leads to a compromised connection between the internal and external components of the hoof. In extreme cases, laminitis can lead to founder, wherein the laminae become so inflamed that the pedal bone inside the hoof is no longer structurally supported and rotates downwards (sometimes protruding out of the bottom of the hoof).
In order to prevent conditions like laminitis and founder, we must pay close attention to the shape of the hoof and what causes the shape to distort.
Here at Turner Farm, Scooter is a seventeen year old mare with a history of founder. She came to Turner Farm two years ago and since then we have been working on improving the condition of her hooves.
Ideally the hoof wall will extend straight down from the coronary band. Check out this photo of Ruby’s hooves for a healthy hoof shape.
In late May, Scooter’s hoof still had quite a bit of flare in her toe, indicative of weakened laminae.
By removing processed grain from her diet, limiting pasture time, increasing her hay consumption, more frequent exercise, and through proper barefoot trimming, her hooves are growing out the old flare.
Within the next two months her hooves will have completely grown out and will be back to their old straight selves.
Moral of the story: living things have the capability to heal! We just have to be astute enough to see what is helping or hurting natural systems from moving towards health.