March 31, 2015

For Want of a Hoof the Horse Was Lost

Gem came to me with shoes imbedded into her feet so bad that it took over an hour just to get one off. She ended up kinda clubby on the fronts especially the front right and the farriers I tried in OH didn't do her any favors, but didn't make her any worse either. We moved to WI and met Chad aka the World's Best Farrier who recommended we pull her shoes since I was predominately riding in the arena and winter was coming on with heavy snow pack. I did and 5 years later I haven't looked back since.

Chad worked on her every 8 weeks and got her fronts looking more normal and functioning amazing. She always had slightly higher heels than the "normal" hoof, but she moved fine and the consensus was to not bring her down anymore to stress her ligaments. Basically, don't fix what isn't broken. Unfortunately, we then moved to SC and had to find a new farrier.

At around the same time as the move I found the Rockley Farm barefoot rehab blog and began reading up. She recommends no trimming at all. Let the horse build the hoof it needs flares and all. Since I couldn't find a farrier I liked (the one at our first barn had every horse walking lame after a trim and the so called barefoot trimmer I used messed Gem up) I decided to subscribe to that theory. And it worked too. For a long time (about 18 months) she did great without any interference. She was self trimming like a pro keeping those heels down and the toes back all on her own. I was putting some heavy mileage on her in conditioning on hard surfaces and she was out 24/7 on 10 acres with rocks and hard pack mixed in with the grass. Her nutrition was fine: Strategy when needed and good quality hay. She completed her first LD at Biltmore, a RnT and her first 50 all barefoot on rocks. Her second 50 was sand and she did fine although her feet looked well worn at the end.

But after Pow Wow in early Feb something changed. It was subtle at first but kept snowballing. I wondered if she somehow could have bruised her feet at Pow Wow, but that seemed a bit odd given that it was 39 miles of sandy roads. What would have bruised them? It was super wet and rainy following the ride and perhaps that played a part too, but she lived in snow and mud up north without an issue.

The final straw happened Sunday. I pulled her out and took a good hard look at her feet. They didn't look good at all. Her fronts were nearly vertical and the heels had contracted significantly. Her bars were so long that when I looked from behind I could fit my whole finger (not smart by the way as she could easily have broken my finger) under it and the frog wasn't touching the ground at all. Not good.

I grabbed some quick pics:

Back right. Pastern angle doesn't look horrible, but the heel is really high
Front left in the foreground with front right in the background. Look at those!! She looks like she is walking on stilts :(
Looking from behind at front left. The frog isn't bearing any weight at all

Contracting heel, long bars

Front right.
 My best guess as to what happened? I put a lot of miles on her between Sept-Feb due to conditioning and then riding the two 50s. The 39 miles of sand only added to the stimulus for more hoof growth. Then I put her out to pasture and didn't ride at all for 2 months and when I did get on her it was always on the soft grass at the barn. This didn't do anything to wear down the new hoof growth. Add a bunch of rain making the ground even softer and a less than ideal diet and boom! You get crappy feet.

I happened to be talking with S Sunday night about another issue and she mentioned having a new farrier look at her mare. He is an endurance rider here in the SE and she knows him personally, but he lives a long way off in NC. He was coming down last night so I asked if he would be willing to come over and look at Gem when he finished with her. He was happy to add two more horses to his day (Pete needed a trim too) and I met him after work.

I talked to him about her and he was shocked at how high those heels were. I asked if he thought they could have bruised and he doubted it given the footing there and how rock hard her feet are. He was very impressed with that as has every farrier who has ever touched her. The girl has diamonds for feet. He took her bars down quite a bit, but didn't have to touch the toe much at all. In his opinion, he thinks having a longer heel is better than a longer toe to deal with. He didn't see any abscess or signs of bruising, but he didn't like the angles either and wants me to keep a close eye on it with the new spring grass coming in.

He was a bit more aggressive than I like, but then again she looked pretty bad. I was really worried she would walk off lame, but she seemed fine. Her angels improved by about half and he said the rest will come much more slowly. He wants to come out again in 5 weeks or so which I am fine with.

While I am a barefoot fan for lots of reasons, I also like my horse doing well and will give her what she needs. With my current riding and her diet, even though she roams 35 acres all day and night, it doesn't seem like I can continue the self trimming ideal like before. We will see what the summer brings once she is off the grain again and it dries up around here, but for now she is back to regular trims. He was only $35 which is the going rate for a trim around here and he seemed to do ok with her. If she shows up lame tonight for my weeknight ride, then I will have to do some more thinking. I don't like either of the barefoot trimmers around here and so that's not really an option. More on her hoofsies as time goes on.


  1. If it makes you feel better, Gracie's feet did EXACTLY the same thing this winter when I had to give her 2 months off while recovering from my injury: her heels contract and get high, and her frogs become narrower. Just riding more will correct that within 2-3 months.

    When I first got her last year, she had long toes as well as the contracted heels + frogs, so I had the barn farrier take a look at her because I wasn't sure how to go about her heels myself. I was really happy with the farrier, as he lowered her heels a bit and backed up her toes a lot. It was what I'd figured she needed but it was nice to know I'd been on the right track. Gracie walked off landing more heel-first whereas before she'd been landing toe-first. I like what this farrier did with Gem: it sounds like a similar approach to a similar problem. Some individuals need more heel than others, but as their footfalls become more heel-first, they will trim down the excess heel. Even then, they might still have more heel than your average barefoot horse.

    I LOVE the Rockley blog and I try to manage my horses' feet like they recommend, but the truth is that we can't always provide the type of movement over varied terrain that that kind of management requires. I think having the farrier come out more often when you can't ride as often as you would need to provide self-trimming, is a great plan B. :)

    1. And I think Gem's feet look really good regardless!

    2. Thanks :) her feet really are amazing. It completely freaked me out to see her stilts. It is nice to know someone else has a horse that grows hooves like this too and that it is manageable. Once I get riding more again it will hopefully return to her normal heel height which is higher than normal but she lands heel first in all my pics so I won't argue with what nature is providing for her.