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“No Hoof, No Horse”: Three Aspects of Correct Farriery

Many a seasoned horseman will admit that success in any discipline of horse sport is dependent on healthy hooves. Palm Beach Equine Clinic proudly offers the most advanced equine podiatry services to referring veterinarians and clients.

As the winter show season reaches its peak in South Florida, hoof care is paramount and the importance of good quality hoof care in the competition horse can’t be denied. The equine hoof is unique, as it is comprised of a group of biological structures that follow the laws of biomechanics. To that end, the farrier is a major asset during the show season as he or she can be proactive in maintaining the health of a horse’s foot and help to prevent lameness.

There are three very important aspects of farriery science that the farrier will use to keep any horse sound:

1. The Trim

Trimming the foot in conjunction with the size and placement of the horseshoe. Typically, a farriery session will begin with an evaluation of the conformation of each hoof from the front, side, and behind to observe the height of the heels. Next, the farrier should observe the horse in motion to see whether the horse’s foot lands heel first, flat or toe first. Regarding the trim, many farriers no longer use the term ‘balance the foot’ – which has no meaning – and have begun to use guidelines or landmarks when approaching the trim.

The guidelines used are:

  • Trimming to achieve a straight hoof-pastern axis
  • Using the widest part of the foot which correlates to the center of rotation
  • Trimming the palmar foot (heels) to the base of the frog or to the same plane as the frog.

A closer look at these three guidelines, which are all interrelated, will help to show their importance. If the dorsal (front) surface of the pastern and the dorsal surface of the hoof are parallel or form a straight line, then the bones of the digit (P1, P2, P3) are in a straight line, and the force from the weight of the horse will go through the middle of the joint. Furthermore, and equally important, if the hoof-pastern axis is straight, the weight will be distributed evenly on the bottom of the foot.

2. Center of rotation (COR)

As the COR is located a few millimeters behind the widest part of each foot, it allows the farrier to apply appropriate biomechanics to each foot. The foot is trimmed in approximate proportions on either side of the widest part of the foot, which provides biomechanical efficiency.

3. The Heel

Correct Farriery Palm Beach Equine Clinic
Foot where heels have migrated forward and red circle shows the soft tissue structures displaced out of the hoof capsule and thickened. Right: Shows the same foot after the heels have been trimmed and a larger shoe has been applied.

One should trim the palmar section of the foot to the base of the frog or trim such that the heels of the hoof capsule and the frog are on the same plane. Adherence to this guideline keeps the soft tissue structures (frog, digital cushion, ungula cartilages) within the hoof capsule, which are necessary to absorb concussion and dissipate the energy of impact. We must remember that heels do not grow tall, they grow forward. If we allow the heels to migrate forward, the soft tissue structures will be forced backward out of the hoof capsule. Furthermore, as the heels migrate forward, the weight is placed on the bone and lamellae, thus bypassing the soft tissue structures of the foot. Allowing the heels to migrate forward also decreases the ground surface of the foot.

These three guidelines can be applied to any foot and they serve as a basis for maintaining a healthy foot, as well as a basic starting point for applying farriery to a horse with poor foot conformation or one with a distorted hoof capsule.

Correct Farriery Palm Beach Equine Clinic
Foot shows the three guidelines applied to the foot. Note the proportions on either side of the widest part (black line) of the foot. Right: Shows the length of the shoe and the wide expanse of the shoe creating a platform under the foot.

Advances in Equine Podiatry with Dr. Stephen O’Grady

Dr. Stephen O'Grady Palm Beach Equine Clinic Veterinarian
Dr. Stephen E. O’Grady, DVM, MRCVS

Palm Beach Equine Clinic is proud to have beneficial consulting relationships with many equine medical professionals throughout the country, including Dr. Stephen E. O’Grady, DVM, MRCVS, of Virginia Therapeutic Farriery. Dr. O’Grady provides advanced services in equine podiatry, offering comprehensive diagnosis, treatment, and maintenance for a variety of foot conditions using medical therapy as well as therapeutic shoeing.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic features the services of Dr. O’Grady for consultations year-round. With the experience and expertise of its world-class veterinarians, in addition to Dr. O’Grady’s wealth of knowledge, the Palm Beach Equine Clinic is able to provide the very best in advanced treatments in equine podiatry.

Equine Podiatry Services

There is no structure on the horse that is as susceptible to injury, disease, or “wear and tear” than the equine foot. Proper, timely hoof care can often make the difference between a sound performance horse and one with chronic lameness. Some of the problems that Dr. O’Grady consults on include:

  • Hoof Diseases
  • Laminitis
  • Severe Infections
  • Advanced White Line Disease
  • Therapeutic Horseshoeing
  • Hoof Wall Defects
  • Juvenile Orthopedics

Equine podiatry requires extensive knowledge of hoof anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and diagnostic imaging, as well as the farrier skills necessary to implement specialized shoeing. The combination of being educated as both a veterinarian and a professional farrier allows Dr. O’Grady to treat each foot problem with an understanding of the medical physiology and the mechanics involved. This blending of the two professions allows him to comprehensively diagnose, treat, and design a maintenance plan for a variety of foot conditions using medical therapy as well as therapeutic farriery. Dr. O’Grady also works together with referring veterinarians on difficult cases to discuss and assist with a plan that works for all parties.

Diagnostic Imaging for Equine Podiatry Cases

equine standing mri palm beach equine clinic
Palm Beach Equine Clinic offers a Hallmarq standing MRI that can provide a detailed diagnosis of any foot issues.

The advanced imaging equipment at Palm Beach Equine Clinic, in combination with Dr. O’Grady’s expertise, allow for comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of all hoof-related conditions. Palm Beach Equine Clinic offers a Hallmarq standing MRI that can provide a detailed diagnosis of any foot issues. Medical therapy, such as surgery and various medications, are often combined with therapeutic farriery for the best possible results. Dr. O’Grady’s methodology centers around using the basic principles of farriery, and when necessary, combining these principles with advanced technology and improved farrier products available on the market.

Equine podiatry consultations can be used for a variety of complicated hoof conditions where the problem is severe, chronic, and non-responsive to the present treatment. Hoof problems can include severe injuries, acute or chronic laminitis, hoof wall defects (non-healing quarter or toe cracks), hoof capsule distortions (club feet, long toe under-run heels), and severe hoof disease (infections, WLD, canker). There are many hoof-related problems that benefit from the advanced technology and farrier techniques available today.

Dr. Stephen O’Grady and Dr. Robert Brusie Address Foot Soreness in Competition Horses

Foot soreness, especially for jumpers, become more noticeable as the winter equestrian season winds down in Florida, according to well-respected veterinarian and farrier Dr. Stephen O’Grady of Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

Palm Beach Equine Clinic veterinary examination hoof

Foot Soreness Issues Surfacing Toward the End of Winter Competition Season

Dr. O’Grady has been treating horses for 45 years across the country. He also travels extensively all over the world, teaching and training other veterinarians and farriers on therapeutic farriery solutions. It’s obvious to Dr. O’Grady why foot soreness and problems are more common later in the horse show season.

Dr. Stephen OGrady Wellington Florida Palm Beach Equine Clinic
Dr. Stephen O’Grady of Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

“When horses arrive in Wellington, Florida, in December, foot care starts with bar shoes, pads, pour-ins, etc. as a form of prevention for the busy three months. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to start the competition season by doing a conservative trim, leave horn on the bottom of the foot, and make sure the proper size shoe is selected. The various farrier products may actually add pressure to the structures in the beginning of the season” says Dr. O’Grady.

“When it comes around to March, the structures of the foot have been compromised by the intensity of the competition schedule. The protective farrier products have already been used and there’s nothing more to absorb the shock and energy at the end of the season.”

Preventing Foot Soreness in Competition Horses

Dr. O’Grady adds that it is okay to use different medications and anti-inflammatories as long as the proper dosages and rules are followed as prescribed. But to properly fix foot problems, he has one sure solution.

“Time is the best cure,” Dr. O’Grady says. “The feet are the slowest structures on the horse to recover. There isn’t a magical fix.”

However, Dr. O’Grady has an idea that might help if you cannot give your horse sufficient rest despite the numerous classes and repetitive nature of the show schedule.

As the season wears on, whether it’s WEF or HITS, Dr. O’Grady believes that decreasing the amount of warm up, schooling and lunging makes a world of difference in protecting the hooves.

“But if the feet are sore, the feet are sore,” adds Dr. O’Grady. “There’s no quick fix. It’s all about prevention.”

Snowballing Effects of Foot Soreness

Sore feet can cause numerous problems elsewhere, according to Dr. Robert Brusie, head surgeon at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

“The horses with sore feet tend to land funny, which can cause strained suspension ligaments or tendons,” says Dr. Brusie. “There also could be sore heels. Sore feet tend to make them short-strided and that could lead to a sore back and or a sore neck.”

Dr. Brusie says one way to notice a horse with sore feet, especially among jumpers, is their reluctance to jump the fences.

“That can be hard on the riders, too,” adds Dr. Brusie.

The foot is the closest to the environment and if you have a sore-footed horse, it could lead to lameness and poor performance, according to Dr. Brusie. Another possibility that could lead to sore feet is being too wet.

“Horses that are to show or play (polo) sometimes get two or three baths a day,” explains Dr. Brusie. Coupled with rings that are sprayed with water to help the footing can lead to problems, he said.

Both Dr. O’Grady and Dr. Brusie believe that taking proper care of your horse’s feet early helps the horses in the long run by eliminating other problems.

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