Thursday, June 30, 2011

Hoof Pathology: Underrun Heels

*Please note: I am NOT a hoof care professional!*

Underrun heels are unfortunately a very common occurrence in domesticated horses, and one that a lot of horse owners don't recognize (including me until about two years ago!). So, what exactly is an underrun heel? It's a heel that has been pulled too far forward, and it is often accompanied by an overly long toe. It's interesting that a lot of people will look at an underrun heel and think that the horse "has no heel," while in fact it has a lot of heel but it has just been pulled so far forward.

To illustrate the point, I've borrowed a picture of Laz's hoof from Kristen's blog (not picking on them, just using sweet Lazaroo as an example!). I've drawn a line from Laz's heel straight up through his pastern, and you can see that the heel is quite far forward in relation to the rest of his hoof and both his fetlock and  cannon bone.

Now, compare that to the following picture of Salem's hoof (taken from last year). Notice how much less hoof is behind that line. But more importantly, look where the line goes -- straight up through the fetlock to the cannon bone. The heel is in its proper place at the back of the hoof.

Using the same pictures, also note the length of the heels:

Note how long Laz's heel is in comparison to Salem's heel. As I mentioned, some people will think that an underrun heel is short; but if you find the point where the heel touches the ground and trace it all the way back to the coronet, you can see that it's actually quite long. Such a long heel can put the coffin bone in an unnatural position in the hoof, angling it onto its tip instead of allowing it to rest in the natural near-ground-parallel state.

The above photos are a good visual of the same hoof showing an extremely underrun heel on the left and a much-improved heel on the right.

So, what are the consequences of an underrun heel? Well, consider the internal structures of the hoof: the front of the hoof is supported by P3 (the coffin bone), while the back of the hoof is supported by the digital cushion and lateral cartilages. When the heel is drawn forward, more weight/stress is placed on the coffin bone. As Dr. Richard Mansmann notes in the article Underrun Heels: Not So Innocent, "without protection from the heel and digital cushion, the bony column will receive more concussion. When the laminae inside the hoof wall stretch and tear, the bony column even lowers into the hoof, which thins the sole and puts additional pressure on the blood vessels internally. The wings of the coffin bone can become lower than the coffin bone at the toe, increasing bruising and pain. Then the toe will land first to protect the sore heel." Landing toe first can lead to even more damage to the internal structures of the hoof.

And since underrun heels cause the digital cushion and lateral cartilages in the back of the hoof to become passive, they are also weakened. This can make it more difficult for the hoof to function properly once the underrun heel has been corrected.

Underrun heels can lead to a myriad of problems, including quarter cracks, heel cracks, bruised heels, coffin bone synovitis, injuries of the deep digital flexor tendon, pedal bone osteitis, and degeneration of the navicular bone and bursa. Add to that a long toe, which often accompanies an underrun heel, and the hoof wall will be pulled further away from the coffin bone, causing a stretched white line, abscesses, and White Line Disease.

So, where exactly should the heels be? Of course, each horse's conformation is unique, so there is no cookie-cutter diagram or angle that can be applied to every horse. According to Salem's hoof trimmer Candy, the "heel should be approximately 1/8th inch from the periople curls." This is the trimming method taught by The Oregon School of Natural Hoofcare. According to their website, the "periople tufts [or curls]  are periople skin at the heel that lift and curl or will wear down from the heel striking the ground in locomotion," and they are "a clue to the baseline of the hoof."

Luckily, the heels can be gradually worked back to their proper place through correct trimming. And once the heel is back where it should be, the issues associated with underrun heels will diminish. I'm confident that this will be the case with Laz; hopefully sometime in the not-too-distant future, we can compare the above photo with one where Laz is closer to his "ideal hoof" and see the drastic differences in the two.

Now go out to the barn and take a good, long look at your horse's hooves!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

First XC Water Crossing!

OK, not really. :-) But I am obsessively walking Salem through every puddle I can find (which are plentiful these days!) in an attempt to prepare him for our eventual eventing superstardom.

Friday, June 24, 2011

What a Difference 2 Months Makes!

I just got back from Salem's fifth hoof trim and, WOW, his hooves are finally starting to look great! When he got here on April 16th, his hooves were overgrown, flared, chipped, and cracked. There was major white line separation everywhere, his rear frogs were totally crooked (the RH was so funky that Candy called it his "Picasso hoof!"), and there was fungus lurking in every little nook and cranny. But thanks to Candy's great trims, his hooves are almost back to where they were last April.

So, let's get to the pictures! I have to apologize that I don't have the same angles for the "before" pics and the current pics, but I think you'll get the idea. This first set is Before/After of the left front:

Left Front April 23rd

Left Front June 24







Thankfully, all of the fungus that was infesting Salem's hooves has been killed (yyyaaaaay, Gas Chamber Hoof!). And I'm finally seeing some nice tight white lines and a bit of concavity. I won't bore you with Before/After pics of every hoof, so here are the rest of today's hoof pics:

Right Front

Right Front

Hinds (I think -- ??)

Right Hind

Right Hind

Right Hind

Left Hind

Left Hind

Give us another month or two and Salem will have some perfect little rock-cruncher hooves. :-) I am SO thankful that I have such a wonderful trimmer; so let me give a big shout-out to Candy Giordano!  She has done an amazing job with Salem and if it wasn't for her, Salem would probably be in shoes. For anyone looking for an incredibly balanced barefoot trim, I highly suggest contacting Cheryl Henderson of The Oregon School of Natural Hoofcare and getting the name of an OSNH-certified trimmer; Candy is certified through them and I have to say that this method of trimming is by far the best that I've seen.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Gas Chamber Hoof: Updated Version

Yes, it is once again time to torture Salem with Gas Chamber Hoof (known to the general public as White Lightning). Salem's hooves look great and you would never guess he has any issues; but when he's freshly trimmed, you can see some little areas in the white line that aren't quite as tight as they should be -- that's fungus. And it just hasn't resolved despite daily hoof-picking and spraying with ACV, so it's time to take out the big guns.

For those of you unfamiliar with WL, it's a product that kills bacteria, fungus, spores (even Anthrax!), and viruses while doing zero damage to healthy hoof tissue. Once mixed with white vinegar, it creates a bad-stuff-killing gas, so the horse's hoof must be enclosed in some form of "gas chamber." Last year, I used gallon-sized Ziploc bags with duct tape and Vetrap, which worked well but was a giant PITA.

This year, I've adopted Candy's method: buy a dry sack from a sporting good store (they're usually in the kayaking/other-water-sports section), put the solution and hoof in the dry sack, and secure the top with an Ace bandage. And voila! New Improved High-Vis Yellow Gas Chamber Hoof!

As you can see, I did a crappy job of putting the dry sack on Salem's leg. It started slipping, so
 I had to adjust it midway through the 40-minute soak

"I am not amused. Give me more mints."

So far, we're only two hooves into the treatment (because I am a BAD, procrastinating owner!). I do have two dry sacks, but I don't want to push Salem's patience so we're only doing one hoof at a time. He has another trim scheduled for Friday, so we'll see if we've killed all the fungus or if we must continue with Gas Chamber Hoof adventures.

At least he has a nice view for his 40-minute soaks!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

10 Things I Really, Really Want (NOW!!)

A big part of me wants to let my Spoiled Brat flag fly for this post, but I've decided to curb the greediness troll and not allow myself to list things like "custom Arc de Triomphe saddle" or  "$10,000 Dover shopping spree" or "sapphire-encrusted spurs." I'll stick to the 10 most pressing wants/needs for my Princess Pony, some of which I'll be purchasing in the not-too-distant future, and others that will have to wait.

1) Fly Sheet -- South Florida has recently become Land of Giant Swarms of Flying Arthropods, and it's making us all miserable. Yes, Salem has a fly mask and fly boots and I soak him with gallons of fly spray; but the army of insects is massive and relentless. Poor Salem! I am looking for a fly sheet that is light-colored (preferably white), has a belly band and neck cover, and ideally is made of fly-repellent fabric. Unfortunately, I haven't found one that's affordable and has good reviews. Any suggestions?

2) KER's Equishure -- This is a hind-gut buffer that reduces symptoms of hind-gut acidosis. Am I obsessed with Salem's GI tract? Why, yes, yes I am. But Salem is still leaving some of his gorgeous soft green orchard/alfalfa hay, and that has me perplexed. He also has been occasionally weaving in his stall, something he never did in the six months he was with me a year ago. I'd like to try Equishure and see if it can help with some of these symptoms.

3) High Velocity Fan -- I already have one of these installed in Salem's stall, but I feel like it isn't enough; the heat index has been consistently over 100 degrees lately. And if I put him in a fly sheet, I think this one is a necessity.

4) Fly Predators -- See item #1! I have said, "We need fly predators!" until I'm blue in the face, but nobody seems to listen. Heck, if every boarder pitched in a few $s every month, we could make it possible. In an ideal world, we would have started with these a few months ago. As things stand now, I don't think we'll have them at all. :-/

5) Keratex Hoof Gel -- It usually rains about 6 days a week from May-October here, but this year it seemed like Monsoon Season would never come. Well, it's finally here (and thank goodness; the Everglades have been burning, and I've walked out the door to a thick, acrid haze of smoke far too many times). Now that it's raining almost every day, I need to start protecting Salem's precious hooves from excess moisture; and Keratex Hoof Gel is the best product for the task! I'll be picking some up tomorrow.

6) Automatic Waterer -- Sure, the Princess Pony already has two huge buckets and an automatic waterer in his stall. But he usually drains the buckets before I arrive, and I'm not sure if he drinks from the waterer; it has rust in it! Yes, I've cleaned it and scrubbed it...but I don't think it meets Salem's standards. I'd love to buy him a Nelson waterer with a water consumption meter; but this pricey item will have to wait a while. Third bucket it is!

7) Mowl -- Salem is a grain-flinger and bowl-flipper extraordinaire. And while wetting his food usually curbs this behavior, it's certainly not a guarantee. I would love to get him a Mowl, which is a rubber dish with a giant rubber mat attached to it; this thing is unflippable! Unfortunately, at $69.95 + freight, I won't be clicking "Add to Cart" any time soon. Maybe I could make a ghetto mowl with Salem's current rubber feeder, a big mat, and some Krazy Glue?

8) Back on Track sheet -- I admit, the BoT craze has me a bit flummoxed. Some studies show that keeping leg tendons cool while working is imperative, while others suggest that heat from BoT leg wraps with ceramic magic-ness is therapeutic. Me = confused. Whatever. I know so many people who have this sheet and rave about it, and I want to be a member of that club. Yes, it's blazingly hot here at the moment, but it's not mystical magical powdered unicorn-horn/ceramic BoT heat! Maybe this sheet could help the sore muscles in Salem's right hip/back/butt-cheek, and if so I don't really care how it works.

9) Liberty Training Book And/Or DVD -- I've been doing some at-liberty work with Salem lately (since we can't do much else). I'm no Sylvia Zerbini and I've already gotten to the bottom of my (very shallow) bag of tricks. I'm not sure what else to work on with Salem, or how. The DVD in the link above is one of the few that I've found. Does anyone have other suggestions? (But I have to warn you -- I am not at all interested in giving money to the hypocritical money grubbers whose name starts with a P and ends in an elli!) For those of you who have never seen Sylvia Zerbini, you must watch this clip:

10) Although this is the last "want," it's by far the most important: The ability to take Salem to the best equine clinic in the area and say, "Whatever diagnostics and treatments he needs, do it. Spare no expense!"

So, what are you guys yearning for at the moment (besides a money tree and/or winning lottery ticket)?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Let's Play "Armchair Vet," Shall We?

Beloved Pasture Ornaments -- at the moment, Salem is a member of this exclusive club. As many of you know, last year we discovered that Salem has some sort of underlying back/right hind issues. This was a few weeks before he left for Chicago and I had faith that Raffie would have the issues diagnosed and treated. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and Salem was ridden both on the flat and over fences without  having his lameness issues addressed.

So, here we are a year later. I've been spending money like it's going out of style, both getting Salem down here and bringing him back to the condition he was in last year. And unfortunately, I can't just ship him up to the University of Florida and have them run every diagnostic known to man on him, much as I would love to do that! I honestly don't think Salem is in pain when he's not working, so it isn't a pressing issue. My plan is to start saving money, and in the meantime I'm getting his hooves back in shape (I know a lot of vets start with hooves, so I want to make sure Salem's are in tip-top condition).

But, just to organize my thoughts and get some feedback/ideas from you guys, I'd like to go over the symptoms, possible causes, and diagnostic/treatment options.

  • Occasional bronco bucking at the canter
  • Stepping slightly short in back on the longe
  • Stepping short in back under saddle
  • Lack of muscling in the topline and hindquarters
  • Unwillingness to round and use his back under saddle  
  • Reluctance to pick up the right lead      

Granted, Salem is not standing completely square in this pic.
However, you can see that his right hind muscles are lacking

Right hip

Left hip (this is a bad angle & I caught him while moving, so it's a bit deceiving)

Possible Diagnoses
  • Sacroiliac issues
  • Arthritis in the back (lumbar vertebrae and/or sacral vertebrae)
  • Kissing spines (I'm not too convinced this is the problem, but I'll throw it in there)
  • Trochantric bursitis
  • Arthritis/pain in the hocks and/or right stifle
  • Some kind of trauma in the right hip/stifle

  • Full lameness exam with blocks, flexions, etc.
  • Xrays of all 4 hooves (I am willing to bet that the problem is much higher up, but I know most vets like to start from the bottom and work their way up from there)
  • Possibly Xrays of hocks
  • Ultrasounds(s)
  • Bone scan
Possible Treatments
  • Ultrasound-guided injection of sacroiliac junction
  • Inject area surrounding the sacroiliac with Sarapin
  • Inject trochanteric bursa with steroids/HA, possibly PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma)
  • Tildren
  • Adequan/Legend/Map-5/polyglycan
  • Chiropractic
  • Acupuncture
  • Inject hocks and/or right stifle
  • Massage
  • Shockwave therapy
  • Mesotherapy
I will try to get a video soon, as I know that would be helpful. My trimmer knows a great chiro/acupuncturist who isn't ridiculously expensive; we might be able to get her down here (she works on the TBs @ Calder Racetrack) so I'm thinking of starting there. My gut feeling is it's right hip/stifle, with maybe a bit of lower back issues thrown in.

And I just want to say: I will not ride Salem (even at the walk) until I have his issues diagnosed and treated. Doing otherwise would not be in his best interest. I won't ask him to do anything that would require him to really use his back. In fact, at the moment I'm hardly asking him to do anything; I'll have him trot around maybe 2 or 3 times each way, and canter once each way about twice a week, just so he's doing something.

So, what do you all think? Any ideas, suggestions, stories, and support will be greatly appreciated!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hair Club for Geldings

Yep, I finally took the plunge, grabbed the clippers, and gave Salem the horse neck equivalent of a Brazilian.   :-) I roached that mane down to the root!

I have to admit that I'm not a fan of the completely-shorn look. Yes, I love not having to deal with that one giant lock that flips to the left side of his neck no.matter.what, but I'm quite anxious for his spike to grown in. Right now, he looks like either a military cadet fresh out of boot camp or a bald old man with a single shock of hair in front. Either way, it's bad.

Hopefully, in a few weeks he'll be rockin' a 'hawk. If it looks anything like this, my little heart will melt:

Love a punk rocker Fjord pony with a mile-high mohawk! Too cute.

Think spiky thoughts!