EQUUS - - Career Chances For Older Horses -

The best course of ac­tion for a horse with one or more club feet de­pends on his age, the cause of the con­di­tion and the sever­ity of the case. “The goals are gen­er­ally the same in man­ag­ing th­ese feet, at any stage of de­vel­op­ment, and any stage of sever­ity,” says Good­ness. “The main goal is to try to achieve align­ment of the pha­langes [pastern bones

With a ma­ture horse, the first step to con­sider is whether in­ter­ven­tion is even needed. If a horse with mild club foot is sound, com­fort­able and able to per­form the work asked of him, it might be bet­ter to not

try to change it.

and cof­fin bone] as close to nor­mal as pos­si­ble in the re­spec­tive joints [pastern joint, cof­fin joint] with­out caus­ing any fur­ther hoof cap­sule dis­tor­tion.”

Vet­eri­nar­i­ans and far­ri­ers may take a num­ber of ag­gres­sive ac­tions with foals and young horses who are still grow­ing (see “Club Foot in Foals,” page 76). With a ma­ture horse, the first step is to con­sider whether in­ter­ven­tion is even needed. Trim­ming to lower the heel might seem like an ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion. How­ever, if a mild club foot has been there through­out a horse’s adult life, and he is sound, com­fort­able and able to per­form the work asked of him, then it might be bet­ter to not try to change it. “We need to get away from the idea that the feet should match per­fectly---or try­ing to force them to match or have the ideal an­gle,” says Burns. “You can’t sim­ply re­move the heel to make it look nor­mal or you may make the horse lame or crip­pled.”

Nel­son agrees: “Try­ing to lower the heels and put an ex­tended toe on the foot will cause more prob­lems. It causes the cof­fin bone to start ro­tat­ing within the hoof cap­sule, be­cause you are fight­ing the pull of the deep dig­i­tal flexor ten­don, and it is stronger than the lam­i­nar bond be­tween the cof­fin bone and the hoof cap­sule. You can­not cor­rect it me­chan­i­cally by trim­ming the foot; it sim­ply makes it worse.”

But that doesn’t mean the horse’s feet do not re­quire at­ten­tive care. He may need to be trimmed more fre­quently than nor­mal to keep his feet bal­anced. “If the hoof is grow­ing a lot more heel than toe, there’s a prob­lem,” Burns says. “The op­po­site foot will tend to grow a lot more toe than heel, and that in it­self is a prob­lem, so fre­quent trim­ming can keep them from be­com­ing too mis­matched with an un­even stride. It is im­por­tant to keep the hoof cap­sule as healthy as pos­si­ble.”

Also, says Burns, “Hav­ing the up­right heel pre­dis­poses the hoof to more risk for shoe loss so we need to pay care­ful at­ten­tion to where breakover is and where the shoe is placed on the up­right foot. The shoe should not be pushed out beyond the perime­ter of the up­right hoof, even though that’s still a very common prac­tice. Glue-on shoes can be a good al­ter­na­tive for up­right feet; this elim­i­nates some of the shoe loss.”

If, how­ever, a club foot is a re­cent de­vel­op­ment in a ma­ture horse, es­pe­cially

if he is also un­sound or ex­hibit­ing changes in be­hav­ior, then have him ex­am­ined by a vet­eri­nar­ian to look for signs of pain or stiff­ness through­out his body. In­juries, mus­cle sore­ness, arthri­tis and other prob­lems in the neck, shoul­ders, back and other parts of the body can al­ter a horse’s way of go­ing enough to af­fect his feet, and no in­ter­ven­tion with the hoof will help if the un­der­ly­ing cause is not ad­dressed.

At­tempt­ing to re­duce the height of a clubbed foot---to help a horse who is un­sound or has an un­com­fort­able, un­even gait---must be done care­fully Your far­rier will need to de­velop a strat­egy tar­geted to­ward your horse’s spe­cific needs.

“You have to ad­dress each one case by case,” says Pow­nall. “If you have a broad rule or method that you ap­ply to all horses, it may work on some but it won’t work on oth­ers. You need to be open to many meth­ods, and cre­ative, and try to un­der­stand what caused this club foot. Hav­ing x-rays can be help­ful, to de­ter­mine sole thick­ness and the shape of the cof­fin bone and whether there is any ro­ta­tion. Some­times you have to treat it like you would a foundered hoof. It’s im­por­tant to find ways to make that horse more com­fort­able so he can move more freely.”

Your far­rier will most likely rec­om­mend some sort of pads, wedges, pour-in pack­ing or other meth­ods to support the sole and cof­fin bone while slowly and care­fully low­er­ing the heels. He may sug­gest sup­port­ing the op­po­site foot as well. “It makes sense to pro­tect the sole with a pad of some kind. You are push­ing the hoof cap­sule around [chang­ing the stresses on it], so you have to be care­ful as you do it,” says Good­ness.

“Gen­er­ally, we ac­com­plish our goal by low­er­ing the heels a bit but simultaneo­usly eas­ing ten­sion on the deep flexor ten­don by ad­just­ing the point of breakover,” he adds. “We can do that by trim­ming and rolling the toe or with a shoe, us­ing a rocker toe or rolled toe shoe---grind­ing the toe of the shoe away. There are sev­eral ways to ad­just breakover. With those two strate­gies a per­son can of­ten get the foot to the point where it func­tions bet­ter. It may not look ex­actly like the other hoof, but me­chan­i­cally it can func­tion more nor­mally, and the horse will travel with a more even stride. Many horses im­prove and can go on to be suc­cess­ful in their ca­reers.”

Aclub foot is a lit­tle more se­ri­ous than just a con­for­ma­tion blem­ish, but doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that a horse can’t par­tic­i­pate in most eques­trian ac­tiv­i­ties. “There have been some tremen­dous ath­letes, with a good long ca­reer, man­ag­ing very well with some de­gree of club foot­ed­ness,” says Good­ness. “When prop­erly dealt with by the far­rier, with con­tin­ual man­age­ment, th­ese horses can con­tinue on with the best of them.”

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