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Duke: Aged Fox Trotter 

       Duke is an older Missouri Fox Trotter gelding. He is a trail horse that was previously shod and was about to be retired due to stumbling and arthritis. He has contracted heels and frogs. However, since going barefoot, he is not stumbling like before and isn't acting worn out! His hooves could still improve, but, I'm thrilled that he is more comfortable and able to get more exercise. His hoof walls are good examples of healthy horn. Note the waxy smooth appearance and  not flared, rippled or cracked, nor do they appear "dry". I would still prefer that his frogs developed more and widened his heels, but short of a massive effort with boots, pads and lots of exercise in the boots (and I'm not sure at his age we would be able to develop his feet as much as I would like) I think this is about as good as he is going to get. The most important thing is that he's moving comfortably.
   You may ask why would Duke be more stumble footed in shoes, even though his feet still aren't "perfect" without shoes? While his heel bulbs and digital cushion is weak, and will always be, it still gets more stimulation without the shoes. The shoes hang the foot by the wall, like a toe-nail. The shoes add artificial wall length to the overall foot. This will lift the frog out of ground contact in all but the deepest footing. The frog is what feels the ground and tells the horse where his foot is, so if it's not touching the ground, the horse can't really feel where his feet are, so stumbles and lands toe first, which usually will lead to flaring of the toe, bruised soles and distal descent within the hoof capsule. Also, lack of ground contact sets a horse up for a chronic thrush problem, and this can be true in unshod horses with too high heels. One more negative of the shoes; extra wall length at the toe can increase leverage on the soft tissues in the leg and lead to bowed tendons, as well as the fact that shoes add concussion to every step taken, regardless of what surface your horse is actually on. The shoe IS his footing. 
   Shoes and excess hoof wall cause peripheral loading (meaning the wall or perimeter is the only weight bearing part of the foot) that causes the coronet (hairline) to actually pinch at the top, further compromising blood flow. A short walled, barefoot horse with the proper mustang roll will have all bottom parts of the foot contact the ground during the stride and actually create a hydraulic suction that pulls blood flow into the foot, which acts as a hydraulic cushion for the leg, to minimize stress on the soft tissues of the leg, and the horse can feel where his feet are at all times and when he feels where his feet are, he is much less apt to stumble. 

Duke left front hoof

Duke's heels

 When I approched Duke's owner about posting him on my website, she was not only willing, but I believe she says it best, so read her words yourself!
 "I just want to say that Duke started stumbling quite a bit a few years ago.  I
always knew he had contracted heels but he had always been very sure footed.  I
had lameness tests done with a vet who told me he has arthritis in his hocks,
particularly on the left side.  I put him on Majesty's Flex HA Wafers and
Majesty's Bio Plus Wafers.  Those things helped the arthritis and made his
hooves tougher.  The farrier tried different corrective shoes but it didn't
help, in fact he got worse.  We all thought it was just his age and the
arthritis.  I stopped letting him do the kind of tough climbing he loves to do
because I was afraid he'd get hurt.  Then I moved here in July of 2009 and
contacted  you to be my new natural hoof care professional.  I am so glad I
did!  When I had him at Kanopolis last weekend he was the same surefooted horse
I knew 10 years ago and I believe it's due to what you're doing with his feet. 
Don't tell Duke he's 23 years old!  He sure doesn't act like it.  Thanks, Amber! "

Duke's front foot

  Duke is a good example of how it often actually works when going from shoes to barefoot. He hasn't had a dramatic recovery from nearly being put down to winning races with a big, visible change in what his foot looks like. I still count him as a success- from stumbling in shoes to surefooted and bare. There is real improvement in the quality of his life and his usefulness as a riding horse. Thanks Duke, for modeling contracted heels and atrophied frogs. Hopefully, this will help other owners learn to identify what frogs should NOT look like so they can reverse it.