Unbalanced feet are an epidemic in the horse world. It’s an area where most owners ‘leave it to the professionals’ and don’t give it a second thought. Unfortunately, the professionals aren’t always doing a good job. Those unbalanced feet lead to all sorts of issues; navicular disease, mechanical founder, uneven gaits, sore muscles, fractures, abscesses, quarter cracks, WLD, behavior issues, arthritic changes, sore feet, bruised soles, and so on.
Please take the time to read the following short article on the rehabilitation of the feet of a foundered horse. There are a couple of really important points made in the article that all should take note and understand, as well some excellent pictures that we can use for reference and comparisons, even against non-foundered horses.
“Trim: whether you leave the horse barefoot or apply a hoof boot or shoe, realigning the coffin bone with the hoof capsule is critical to healing.”
“Our goal with trimming a foundered horse is realigning the hoof capsule with the coffin bone.”
If you get nothing else out of this article, understand the following: Those are contradictory statements and it’s unfortunate they were used suggesting an interchangeability. The first is incorrect, but it’s the way most people think horse’s feet work in founder situations; that the coffin bone rotates within the hoof capsule.
It does not.
If the coffin bone were to truly rotate within the hoof capsule, the horse would be in unbearable, excruciating, writhing pain with hoof and leg ‘guts’ falling out of the bottom of the foot and blood squirting everywhere. The hoof would literally be torn to shreds.
What really happens in foundered horses is that the hoof capsule grows unevenly, specifically the heels grow more rapidly than the toe. In more extreme cases the toe stops growing all together. This happens because the heels continue to be supplied by blood and nutrients, while the toe experiences a significant reduction of blood and nutrient supply because of the die off of the laminae. This uneven growth puts further stresses on the inner workings of the hoof and a vicious cycle is born. The x-rays then seem to show a coffin bone that has rotated, but it’s really the hoof capsule that has rotated via its uneven growth. That means the coffin bone is always ‘right’. Trim the hoof capsule balanced and voila!
As a point of reference to help you see that the coffin bone hasn’t rotated but rather the hoof capsule, look at the joint of P1 (coffin bone) and P2 (short pastern). If the coffin bone had truly rotated within the hoof capsule that joint would have been ‘closed’ in the first radiograph, having pushed the navicular bone closer to the back of P2, and then progressively become more ‘open’, having dropped the navicular bone further from the back of P2. Instead, everything stays the same throughout.
When looking at the subject’s feet..
…the first thing most people will notice is the dished toes. But the first thing you should notice is the heels. Just as we should be riding the horse back to front, we should be examining and trimming feet heel to toe (back to front). The heels of this horse are way too long, in part due to typical founder growth. Those long heels run forward and push the toe (and breakover point) forward. Because the toe doesn’t grow an equal amount and is weakened by dying/dead laminae, accelerating the stretching of the white line in a foundered horse, the toe also begins to turn up, unlike in a typical low heel, long toe (LHLT) situation.
Here is a classic LHLT foot. The heel on this horse is just as long as (arguably even longer) than the foundered horse’s heel in the article, but because the toe of the foot isn’t compromised by dying/dead laminae it remains structurally strong and doesn’t dish. Instead, the heel compresses and collapses under the stress. Both horses suffer from equally distorted foot imbalances.
Below is an x-ray of a LHLT foot. Note that the coffin bone also looks rotated just as in the foundered horse.
From the bottom we see that the foundered hooves have become oval shaped instead of round. (Back feet are less round than front feet, naturally.) The heels (red) are clearly not located at the widest part of the frog (yellow) as they should be, and instead are significantly forward.
And on the LHLT foot, which has also become elongated and therefore oval in shape:
Seven months later the foundered hooves are round, heels and breakover point pulled back, frogs considerably healthier and more substantial, and white line stretching significantly reduced, showing nice tightness at the toe.
Your horse’s feet don’t have to be this bad for it to be suffering from an imbalance, and there are lateral imbalances that are just as crippling to the horse. It’s time owners paid more attention to their horse’s feet and learned what’s good to see and what’s not. Like all things, some individuals are more sensitive and vulnerable to imbalances, showing lameness at the slightest, while still others can go years with foot imbalances before suddenly succumbing. Good leg and body conformation can often ‘absorb’ the stresses of imbalanced feet, but not forever. The weakest link eventually gives out.
One final note; feet are so important to the horse’s long term health and soundness that poor genetic feet should be a deal breaker for breeders and buyers. Including but not limited to; small feet, flat soles, clubbed or shelly feet. It does not matter if a horse has super sonic track speed or can jump the moon if its feet can’t function as intended, comfortably propelling it forward and absorbing the concussion of landings. It’s of no benefit to the horses to pass on, serving only to weaken the species and make man look selfish and stupid.