Any corrective procedure should work toward providing the horse with stronger feet, stronger legs, and stronger gaits. When we think of the term “corrective,” all too often we equate it with a single, isolated solution, a one-time change that will instantly resolve the issue. In reality, corrective trimming and/or shoeing is a process;
it is most effective when applied within the guidelines of sound shoeing principles. A successful approach to corrective farriery should take into account how the trimming of the hooves will affect the whole horse, from a top-down perspective.
Q: Does corrective trimming/shoeing help in cases of tendon or ligament injury?
A: The simple answer is yes. However, the better question is why? Most tendon and ligament injuries are situations in which the horse’s musculoskeletal system is pushed to the limit. When the larger muscles are completely exhausted, more stress (load or tension) is placed upon the tendons and ligaments and this, in turn, compromises the support to the horse’s joints. The first priority of corrective trimming/shoeing should be to restore the functional balance of the hoof. This balance can be viewed three dimensionally (front to back, side to side, and symmetrically, as the hoof relates to the center of the limb). Secondly, provide support to the limb, if necessary. In many cases of tendon and ligament injury, this may require an extension to the hoof that only a shoe can provide. For instance, if a horse suffers from a collapsed heel, a bar shoe or an extended branch shoe can be placed on the hoof (under the unsupported area of the limb) to alleviate joint stress. Another, often overlooked, condition is Limb Length Disparity (LLD), similar to our human “right/ left” sidedness, where one side becomes stronger or, in extreme cases, where one side is structurally shorter in bone size. A corrective approach, in this situation, may be to lift the shorter limb by adding various thicknesses of hoof/shoe combinations that can even out the horse from the top (shoulders/hips), downward (knees/hocks) to the base (fetlocks).
Q: What can I (horse owner) expect if corrective procedures are NOT incorporated?
A: If no corrective farriery is initiated and a tendon/ligament injury is left to “nature,” it can result in collateral damage lameness. This is, in part, due to the compensatory nature of the horse, while coping with the initial injury. In these cases, it is common to notice a breakdown of the opposite, sound limb, as the horse relies more on that side to find relief. With a correct approach to corrective trimming/shoeing, the sound limb should be considered as well. It is important to give the compensating limb the added attention it may require (i.e., supportive leg wrapping, or a preventive extended shoe in severe cases).
Q: What hoof conditions are more likely to contribute to a tendon or ligament injury?
A: It has been my experience that the hoof condition most likely to lead to such injuries is what most farriers refer to as High/Low Syndrome, where one foot is higher/steeper in the heel, compared to the other that is lower/collapsed. This condition is almost always a result of the LLD conformation. As the horse develops, this syndrome often worsens to the point that the farrier will have to trim the pair of hooves as if they are from two different horses; by doing so, this will help maintain a functional balance for the comfort of the horse.
Q: Conversely, what impact does a leg injury have on the hoof?
A: When leg injuries occur, even the healthiest of hooves can suffer. The compensatory response by the horse is inevitable and a certain amount of hoof collateral damage will exist. Extreme concussive and/or compression force placed upon the hoof, due to a protracted leg injury, can result in hoof bruising, hoof wall separation, sole abscesses, or, in the extreme case, coffin bone fracture.
References and Recommending Reading:
Horseowner’s Guide to Lameness, Ted S. Stashak
The Foot of the Horse, David Roberge
Shoeing in Your Right Mind, Doug Butler, PhD, CJF, FWCF
Farrier-Friendly™ series, www.farrierfriendly.com