Lameness - Causes, Prevention & Remedy

08/25/2017

With lameness being the one of the most common health concerns for our horses, what are the causes & what can we do to prevent & help remedy this affliction? Here we look at common issues of the equine hoof, how this affects the balance & movement of the horse, & what we can do to prevent & remedy these issues.

The Healthy Hoof

What Are The Signs of a Healthy Hoof?

How nature designed the hoof, what it needs to function & why.

By studying the hooves of wild horses, we can learn what a healthy hoof looks like. These horses need their hooves to function optimally, their lives depend on it for travelling up to 20km for food & water & escaping predators. Wild horses who do not travel enough (due to watering stations or lack of predators) are prone to hoof issues that we see on domestic horses, such as overgrowth, cracks & flares. This helps us gain an understanding of what our domesticated horses need to support their hooves to meet their workload & environment.   

The Wild Hoof

This photo of a wild mustang shows the vital elements of a healthy hoof that enable the horse to survive in the wild & roam over varied terrain at varying speeds:

  • Short, compact, circular & even hoof shape with no signs of cracks or flares.
  • Wide heels & frog
  • Level base, where the frog, sole & hoof wall all share in equal weight distribution
  • The edge of the hoof wall is bevelled / rounded, enabling it to roll smoothly during movement without excess pressure or strain.

Healthy Hooves of Wild Mustangs

In these photos, the healthy hooves of these wild horses show a compact hoof shape in both the fore & hind hooves, & the rounded edge of the hoof wall. This rounded edge is very important as it allows the hoof to smoothly roll as it moves, without excess strain on the hoof wall which would lead to flaring, cracking or chipping.  

Parts of the Hoof, their Function & Related Issues

Wild Horse Hoof

  1. Hoof Wall - A hard outer casing that protects the inner hoof & pedal bone. The external layer regulates moisture to maintain flexibility. The inner layer connects to the laminae, which connect to the pedal bone, securing it in place. The hoof wall's length is designed to be level with the sole, to share weight-bearing with the sole, frog & bars. Excess length causes pressure which can cause cracks, flares & distortions.
  2. Thick Sole - The protective base of the hoof is designed to be thick & strong, to protect the internal hoof. Designed to be in level contact with the ground for even weight distribution, otherwise thinning, becoming painful, prone to bruising & eventually collapse, which can cause the pedal bone to rotate.
  3. Functioning Frog - The frog is designed to share in weight-bearing & has 3 important functions. It is the main shock absorber, protecting the internal hoof, joints, tendons & ligaments from concussion & trauma. Inside the hoof, the frog is connected to the digital cushion, where it acts as a pump for circulation. It also provides traction to prevent slipping. 
  4. Wide, circular shape - The base of the hoof is designed to be significantly wider than the top, maximising the amount of expansion of the hoof as it lands, & contraction as it lifts. With each step, this movement aids circulation within the hoof, keeping the tissues healthier & better able to perform. 

The Domesticated Hoof

How do we replicate the healthy hoof shape of the wild horse to our domesticated horse? Whether our horses are happy hackers, in professional performance or retired, the demands on their hooves, & their environment is often far removed from those of wild horses. How does the domesticated hoof differ?

The Modern Equine

How Do Our Horse's Hooves Differ?

Here are 3 photos showing common examples of today's shod equines. We highlight the differences compared to those of the wild hoof, & the potential related issues.

Front Hooves:

  1. Hoof Shape: Long & Narrow. Longer than the compact wild hoof, which can impair balance during movement.
    The angle of the hoof from the top to the base is minimal, reducing circulation.
  2. Hoof Wall Length: 
    Extending past the sole, it is now bearing all the weight, instead of being level for equal weight distribution. 
  3. Toe Length:
    Alters the take-off point of the hoof, which impacts the landing postition, stride & gait.

Hind Hooves:

  1. Hoof Shape
    Longer & straighter than the wild hoof, impairing circulation & balance.
  2. Toe Length
    Excess toe length causes pressure at the toe & straining the laminae.
  3. Heels
    Imbalanced & uneven angles, signs of collapse, where the pressure on the heels (often from landing heel-first, instead of landing flat for even weight distribution) causes them to come more under the hoof.

Underside:

  1. Hoof Wall
    Designed to be level with the sole for equal weight distribution, here the hoof wall is carrying most of the weight of the horse which can strain, distort & thin the hoof wall.
  2. Sole
    No longer bears weight, which can lead to thinning of the sole (& in severe cases, a collapsed sole).
  3. Frog
    Contracted & unable to act as a shock-absorber & support circulation.

The Imbalanced Hoof

A Common Cause of Lameness?

The Knock-On Effects of an Imbalanced Hoof

Something that might seem a minor imbalance in the hoof can lead to an array of symptoms & conditions of lameness.  

  • Through excessive weight bearing, the long hoof wall can distort & flare, causing tearing of the laminae, especially at the toe where the pressure is greatest during take-off. The stance of the laminitic horse shows the backwards posture reducing weight from the toes.
  • The sole, by not coming into contact with the ground due to the longer hoof wall, can become thin & loose it's protective ability to support the pedal bone. 
  • The frog, also not contacting the ground, no longer absorbs the shock from the impact when the hoof lands. This can increase concussion within the hoof, affecting the bones & ligaments within the hoof (riskig the onset of ringbone or navicual syndrome) & the leg. Circulation is also greatly reduced.
  • Imbalanced stride caused by the excess length of the hoof wall & toe prevents fluid & efficient movement of the hoof & limbs which affects the whole horse.

What Is The Solution?

Supporting Hoof Health & Balanced Movement

H can we replicate the shape of the wild hoof so that the hoof can function effectively? Here we demonstrate how the our horseshoe & barefoot trim can:

  • Eliminate the hoof issues discussed above by restore the hoof to it's natural shape & optimise it's functions & performance. 
  • Enable a stronger hoof wall that is aligned with the sole & frog for even weight distribution.
  • Strengthen the sole to provide better protection of the pedal bone.
  • Engage the frog to act as a shock absorber & promote circulation. 
  • Correct hoof wall length & round the toe for a more precise, consistent & efficient take-off & landing.    
  • Correct hoof imbalances, cracks & flares, thin soles, bruised heels etc.

Before & After Photos

Arabian Mare, Dubai, 2017

Near Fore Before: Long hoof shape, distortion of the hoof wall, bruising at the heels, collapsing of the heels, toe length affecting the hoof take-off & landing position.

Near Fore After: Immediately after 1st shoeing a more compact hoof shape is restored, all excess weight removed from the hoof wall, rolling at the toe enabled.

Phantom, Long-Term Lameness

Near Fore Before: Flares, cracks, collapsed sole, vet diagnosed little chance of recovery.

Near Fore: 3rd Cytek shoeing (12 weeks later), sound from first shoeing, cracks growing out, flaring greatly reduced.

Sole supported & thickening, frog functioning to absorb shock & increase circulation for improved healing.

Phantom - Cytek Shod
Phantom - Cytek Shod

Transiton to Cytek Before & Immediately After
Courtesy of Shane Hitchen, Cytek Farrier, Australia

Top Photos = Before  /  Lower Photos = After

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