Years ago I worked with a horse with chronic back issues. If you sat on him bareback and looked down his neck and up between his ears, his neck curved like an “S”. Rowdy had some very unusual symptoms. Looking at him, he appeared dizzy. A visit from the vet and his prescribed round of antibiotics seemingly cleared an inner ear infection but Rowdy still appeared painful over his shoulder, neck and spine.
The story was that Rowdy had flipped over during the roping of a calf. The impact it seemed had caused his inner ear to rupture. But something more was going on with Rowdy and I suspected that his hooves were to blame.
I’d known Rowdy from the time of his birth. He’d grown up in a large herd of horses, running free over hundreds of acres. Since he left my place, Rowdy had been confined to a corral and used 2-3 times during the week as a cowboy pony, gathering, roping, general ranch work.
During t hat year and a half, Rowdy was trimmed and shod regularly. But something about his hooves was different; as I gave Rowdy my overview, I noticed that not only did he have some serious hoof cracks and flares, he also had large pressure bands on all four hooves. It wasn’t hard to see that Rowdy’s accident was to blame for his weaving and circles, but the neck, back and spine issues were all about his hooves.
Hoof structure can have a lot to do with how well a horse is physically. Their physical wellness has everything to do with how well they are psychologically.
In Pete Ramey’s video series, “Under the Horse” Pete lays out some of the common markers indicating hoof problems. Some of these include:
- Ski Jump Toe
- Asymmetrical Wall Thickness
- Horizontal Ridges on the hoof wall – evidence of laminitis
- Separation of the wall and sole – black spots, splits, blood in the hoof wall
- Bruising both on the outside of the hoof wall and underneath
- Pressure Bands (rings)
Rowdy had them all! Hooves like Rowdy was now standing on are very painful.
As plains dwellers, horses need extra circulation capacity and extra shock absorption to enable them to run long distances as a natural defense against predators. When a horse is able to wear the hoof normally, the hoof, on contact, expands, dissipating the force of impact. Horses in the wild have very short hoof capsules with heels that touch the ground and toughened frogs. If any part of the hooves’ action is impeded, such as by the walls of the hoof being too long, the horse ceases to be able function at its best.
Instead of the hoof absorbing impact, it begins to radiate energy up into the horse’s body. This radiated energy can be stored in the knees, neck, withers, spine or hindquarters. As time progresses, the unbalanced hoof begins to cause the horse to hold pain in other parts of its body. In Rowdy’s case this imbalance was being absorbed through his neck, back and spine.
A natural trim later, Rowdy was standing on better-balanced hooves. Two months later he was remarkably better, no longer biting when touched and definitely a happier creature.
In this world of complexities, sometimes the best therapies are those furthest from our mind. In Rowdy’s case, trimming his hooves properly proved to be the therapy he needed for his neck and spine.
A trainer with her Master’s Degree in Psychology, Karina resides in Maine where she and her partner, Kirk Stanley, operate a 400-acre organic diversified farm and provide Natural Hoof Care services for clients. www.themirroreffect.com
Making Natural Hoof Care Work for You (book) and Underneath the Horse (video series) by Pete Ramey, available at Pete’s site, www.hoofrehab.com , for good photos of healthy and sick hooves, and to refresh your memory on anatomy and how it impacts function.
www.barefoottrim.com a website dedicated to the natural hoof
www.safergrass.org a lot of useful information on grazing your horses, an important element for overall hoof health and function.
Conformation/anatomy books or videos by Dr. Deb Bennett. She is a wealth of information, including breed specific topics; her bio