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.
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
had lameness tests done with a vet who told me he has arthritis in his hocks,
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
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 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.