Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Lad, with and without

New boy Lad arrived yesterday and he is another Devon resident, which means his owner Vikki will at least be able to come and see him a lot!
Lad's vet and farrier have done their best to improve his lameness but its persisted so he has come here to see if rehab out of shoes can help him instead. 
There is already lots to like about his feet and his farrier has done a good job of improving his landing - which has gone from toe-first to flat or fractionally heel first on his better foot. 
There are some issues with his medio-lateral balance I suspect  - if you look at the digital cushion there is a distinct difference between lateral and medial sides - but that should improve out of shoes.

Lad has quite long toes in this shot but had gone 6 weeks since his last shoeing.
These sole shots highlight how differently a hoof loads in a shoe as opposed to out of it.

More on Lad soon, of course. 

Tuesday, 14 April 2015


The swallows are arriving, the sun has been shining consistently since Easter, the fields are rolled, the muck is spread, the tractor has broken down only once - it can only mean one thing: Spring has decidedly sprung and there is LOTS to do!
There is lots to blog as well but we've had an incredibly busy few days here. With a new horse arriving today there will be masses of photos tomorrow - back soon!

Friday, 10 April 2015

Road movie

Another update today, this time Goofy and Ernie who have been here several months.

Both arrived following diagnoses of DDFT lesions and navicular bone damage (Goofy worse than Ernie) but I am glad to say that they have done well and have been back in work for a while.

Our mission now is to get them fit and as I have had extra hands helping this week I thought it was a great opportunity to rope in the boys (Andy and  my nephew) to get some footage of Ernie and Goofy doing their roadwork and hillwork.
I've slowed down some parts of the footage so you can see their landings more clearly - bear in mind that this is filmed uphill so the heel first landings which are very clear downhill and on the flat are less obvious (though still apparent) here. 

Roadwork from Nic Barker on Vimeo.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Ennis' 6 week update

Ennis has been here 6 weeks and like Merlin has changed his landing from toe first/flat to heel first. He arrived already barefoot, although he had been shod for many years before that. As always, above are his photos on day one with today's comparisons below. 
For me the biggest changes are at the back of his foot - the digital cushion depth is the clearest indicator of a better landing. Although he didn't have the long toe which you could see on Merlin yesterday the stronger palmar hoof is giving his foot a more upright appearance today.
His frog, heels and digital cushion are more developed and his foot is becoming more concave.

These shots demonstrate what is happening - more frog stimulus, stronger digital cushion and better development in the  back of the foot, exactly where he needs it. 
His heels today are a bit too long but as his palmar hoof becomes stronger they will shorten. 

A more supportive foot today.
The frog on his RF was much bigger than his LF but his soles were relatively weak and his heels were a little under-run. On both feet he is changing his media-lateral balance which I hope will also help his comfort levels overall. 

Not such a dramatic change on this foot and he still needs to build a stronger frog and shorter heels. As his landing is now much better that should happen over the next few weeks. 

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Changing bases - Merlin's 5 week update

Apologies for the long blog break - there was so much to do in the run-up to Easter that blogging had to take a back seat. Now we have better weather (at last!) and things are calming down so normal service will be resumed...

Merlin has been here for 5 weeks now and is making great progress. Amanda came to see him before Easter and we took the opportunity to film him and assess him on a circle but what I didn't manage at the time were photos.

Only a week later (sorry about that!) here are his 5 week photos instead...
Interesting for lots of reasons. Firstly the nail holes are nearly grown out. Secondly his toe is vastly shorter and his heel is more supportive and less under-run. 

Compare these photos and imagine how his foot loaded in its shoe. Try standing up yourself and then moving both feet half an inch further forward. You'll find you lose your balance and are constantly trying to bring your feet back under you into a more supportive position. 
Out of a shoe Merlin can re-establish his own foot balance, which means weighting the back of the foot and allowing it to become stronger. He has been able to do this relatively quickly because he already had fairly good feet with frogs and heels which were capable of rapid improvement. 

He was landing flat/toe first when he arrived but had developed a heel first landing by week 4. 
His frog is now receiving more stimulus and has become more robust as a result. You can also I hope see the change in his digital cushion, also developing as he now has a better landing. 

This is his lamer foot and its good to see similar positive changes here. He is also much sounder now on the right rein and should continue to improve over the next few weeks. 

It will be interesting to see whether the twist which was apparent in this limb when he arrived straightens out as his feet change. I suspect it will - but we shall see!
From this angle you can see that the lateral wall was longer than the medial. I think this is beginning to even out but only time will tell.

Friday, 27 March 2015

How to amaze a farrier

There was an article in Horse & Hound this week which caused a certain amount of mild irritation among barefoot horse owners.
In it a remedial farrier talks about barefoot - from his vast range of experience (I don't know of any high level barefoot horses for whom he is the farrier - he certainly doesn't mention any) and with the benefit of his many years of expertise in adhering steel and plastic to horses. 

He says:

"I am an advocate of barefoot, where circumstances allow."

What circumstances are these? Sadly he doesn't enlighten us but perhaps its where the owners have no ambition to do dressage  - bad luck Blinged-Up Bullet Dodgers, your days of success must be numbered - or are just too cheap to buy his services.

"Without a shoe the foot works slightly differently - the surface area is reduced to the solar plane whereas a shoe can be made slightly wider."

Erm, if you load a horse's weight onto a shoe you are actually reducing the surface area to much, much less than the solar plane, Haydn. In fact its a fraction of the solar plane. So if you think a greater surface area is better then barefoot beats shoes every single time.

The second farrier quoted in the article is similarly sceptical of a horse's ability to grow decent feet without a lot of help from the steel and alloy industry. His view is that:

"If the horse has a slight conformation problem, the shoe can create the correct platform. You can extend it at the rear to provide support for piaffe, for example, but you can't do that barefoot. "

First off, as Steve Leigh would say, if you look behind the horse (as well as to both sides and in front) you will see that he already has something called the ground which extends for miles in every direction and provides fantastic support. So I am not sure a bit of metal out the back of the foot is that relevant.

Secondly - and you'll love this, farriers - prepare to be AMAZED - the horse can make his own support!
The very thing you were talking about - a horse with a problem (actually a shoulder injury rather than conformation) and look - he has created his own platform to provide the support he needs. 

And here is the cool thing - its in exactly the right place, its a medial extension (which you could never provide with a shoe - all you could do is a lateral extension which would unbalance him further), and if he doesn't need it any more he can get rid of it. 

Fancy that - horses can grow the feet they need and can adapt them perfectly to the load of the limb above and they don't need us to do it for them. A sobering thought. 

"I've yet to see a horse able to do grand prix with bare feet that can support fully loaded limbs."

Now that's just provocative, boys, as well as ill-informed. But just because its Friday, here's a bit of free CPD for you and your colleagues.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

What's your expectation?

I had an interesting conversation with a journalist at the weekend. She is looking in depth at the way vets, farriers and of course owners look at their horses' feet and she has a keen interest in both biomechanics and barefoot horses. 

I'd sent her the 2 pieces of HD hoof footage we took at the RRR (for those who are interested the original Barefoot in Slow Motion film has had nearly 32,000 plays and the Healthy Hooves film nearly 10,000 plays - not bad going, well done team!).

After reviewing both our film and footage of shod horses we got to discussing this fascinating comparison still. Above is a shod horse in trot - landing toe-first as it does in every frame of its video, including when its on hard ground.

Below is Buddy who - like every horse in our films - lands heel first in walk, trot and canter (he is also in trot in this frame). 

The shod horse looks elegant and its not lame in the footage but the way its moving is stressing soft tissue with every step and it appears unable to extend fully. To me, its movement is strikingly similar to the horses who come here for rehab - who invariably have DDFT, collateral ligament and other soft tissue damage.

I should make it clear that of course not all shod horses land this badly but it does highlight for me how many people don't recognise poor movement and poor hoof balance and the consequences this has for the horse's health.

It got me thinking about what our expectations are for our horses. 

I know that for all the owners of our ex-rehab horses, and for me, our goal is long term health and soundness - not just healthy hooves, although that's an essential first step, but correct movement which only makes the horse fitter, stronger and more balanced with time and work. 

One of the main reasons we have our horses barefoot is because of the health benefits not only to the hoof but to the whole horse. We find that horses stay sounder and have fewer injuries and are able to perform to a higher level than they were shod. It may take longer to get there but its a fantastic feeling when you do (look at yesterday's blog if you need proof!). 

As someone once said, with everything you do you are either building your horse up or breaking him down. Which are you doing?