Friday, February 8, 2013

The Search For A Farrier – Part II

STEVE arrived relatively on time.  I say “relatively” because the appointment time given by his wife, who schedules his appointments, was for “about 1:00 pm”.  He was short, had a grey mustache and long curly beard.  He was polite, intelligent, and explained things as he went.  AND… he is very kind and patient with the horses.  Roger was a royal jackass the entire time he was being worked on.  He was slinging his nose around, and  winging his back feet as if to say “If you can catch it, you can trim it.”  STEVE arrived with MIKE, a much younger, nice looking man in his early- to mid-twenties.  He was also kind and patient.

Roger was first out. Poor trimming by THE KID had Roger toeing out horribly, which according to STEVE, was due to unbalanced trimming that led to mid-alignment.  STEVE started with the fronts.  To my surprise, he never touched the nippers.  He used the rasp to alter the balance of Roger’s front feet.  During the process, he talked about what he was doing and why.  He told me that he was making tiny changes and that recovery was a slow process.  STEVE and MIKE took their time, discussed in detail each hoof, each angle, what, why, etc.  He would trim, have me walk Roger, shave a little here or there, watch Roger walk, and finally released me to put him away. 

Second out was Texas Chili.  Chili is not mine, but he is safe to turn out with the girls, Angel and Tally.  Chili had platter feet, flared on the sides.  STEVE told me that the reason this was happening was because THE KID had removed the living sole, and that the walls were what was supporting Chili’s weight.  AND… this was not a good thing for the horse.  The sole, frog, and walls need to be in balance to each other and work together to function properly.  If one or two things are out of balance, it will be visible in how the rest of the hoof looks and behaves.  Chili also had a problem that most people call “Under-run Heels” or “Under-slung heels”, which is caused, ultimately, by crushed heels that are unable to support the weight of the horse.  Combine this with a careless farrier, a long toe, and a thin sole (either naturally or farrier-induced) and you get an under-run heel.  To correct this, STEVE trimmed the walls back so that the sole took more of the weight, and rasped off the flares.  After walking Chili walk, he declared the horse done.

By now, I was seeing a pattern with STEVE.  He nipped very little, and had not yet pulled out the knife.  When I asked him about it, he told me this: “The sole helps to support the weight of the horse by working in tandem with the walls.  If you whittle that out of there, then you are left with just the walls, which will separate and flare.  The frog will shed twice per year.  Since it is between the heels, it is the shock absorber.  Take that away, and now the heel takes all the impact.  Over time, you will have a horse that is navicular.  Besides, there IS good bacteria on the bottom of their feet, not unlike the surface of your skin.  Get the bacteria out of balance and instead of fighting thrush, you are now promoting it. 

BING!!!  THAT is where the thrush is coming from!  Every single farrier I had used before STEVE had trimmed the frog.  ALL OF THEM!  That was the first thing they did.  Clean the hoof, trim the frog, whittle the sole, and go to nipping the hoof wall length off.

Next out was Tally.  She was long, but had never been trimmed by THE KID.  STEVE did some rasping and shaping and that was it.  Last out was Angel.

Ah… Angel…special in so many ways.  Her hind feet are normal.  Her fronts are a mess!  She is club-footed on the right.  Her left is so over-sized that it looks like it came from another horse.  I’ve had one or two farriers in the past lop off the heel to put her on the same angle as the other front, rather than “trimming to the hoof”.  The result has always been two weeks of lameness.  Imagine slowly, over time, growing a high heel and walking around on it every day.  Then all at once, you switch to a flat shoe.  You are going to hurt.  The reason is because Angel’s shoulders grew slowly off balance.  Then in one trim, the right shoulder dropped.  She was sore in the shoulder, not the hoof.  So I always talked to the farrier, asking them to NOT remove the heel.

I was distracted and when I pulled my head out of my ass, the heel on Angel’s club foot had been nipped off.  STEVE apparently heard my gasp.   He set her foot down and came around to talk to me.  He explained in detail what he had done, why he had done it, and what the end result would be.  He had indeed, trimmed off the heel.  However, the bottom of her foot was not flat.  He had a bit of a “rocker” in there, with the hoof higher across the middle and shorter on the heel and toe.  He said that this would allow her heel to hit first, rather than the forward third of her hoof, which it had been doing.  It would put pressure in a different area, which would cause the hoof to grow normally, which would correct the club foot and in a year, it would look normal.  He pointed out, using calibers, the coronet band was the same on both feet…identical.  The growth came out of the coronet band normally, then was clubbed.  He showed me that the measurements on both feet, from the coronet band down the hoof wall about ¼ of an inch, were completely identical.

He told me that he thought that she had been born with completely normal feet, and that from the get-go, bad trimming followed by bad trimming, had shaped her feet to what they are today.  He said he also knew how to correct it.  The bigger foot, on the left, was bearing more weight, therefore it had spread out and become enlarged.  STEVE told me that he had corrected hundreds of clubbed feet and asked me to trust him.  I stood there scowling and processing what he told me, then said “If my mare can walk in the morning without being three-legged lame, you got a deal.”  He did warn me that in six months, as the newer, wider hoof grew out, it would be very noticeable and not to panic.  It made sense so I promised not to.  I took pictures so I can show the progression a year from now.  By the way, Angel is still sound.

At this point, I would like to address the frog and thrush and STEVE.  Everyone knows that you can get thrush in damp environments, right?  The fungus is in the ground and if it takes hold in the foot, it’s hard to get rid of.  STEVE was a Registered Nurse for twenty years before switching over to being a farrier.  He knows about physiology, and germs, and has educated himself on not only HOW the hoof works, but WHY it does what it does.

Have you ever put on a latex glove and worn it for a while?  What happens to your hand?  It sweats, right?  Well, that dirty hard hoof, sole, and frog will “sweat” also.  WHO KNEW???  So the thrush takes hold in the newly cleaned and carved frog, which has been stripped of the beneficial bacteria, then the horse steps in mud or poo which “protects” the growing thrush.  And with no beneficial bacteria to help fight it, it flourishes.  The perfect hoof will clean itself, with “new” dirt coming in at the toes, and “flushing” out the back between the heel bars.  By leaving the frog to slough naturally, it protects the living frog and the beneficial bacteria. And as I stated before, I have sand. I live in the desert.  The horses are never locked in a stall.  I simply do not have a ground moisture problem.

Angel has ALWAYS had thrush to some degree in her club foot.  After trimming her, STEVE showed me where the frog was in the process of sloughing, being attached at the forward point of the frog, and at the heels.  He said to clean the foot out, DO NOT use a pick except on the very outside.  He prefers to use a stiff bristle brush or a steel wire brush.  He explanation is this – with a pick, you can gouge the frog and/or the sole, which give thrush and other bacteria a foothold.

Then he told me something else, which I’m sure you have all heard before.  If not, you’ll read it here first.  PEA GRAVEL.  STEVE said to put in some pea gravel, at least four inches deep, and six feet wide, where the horses have to walk through it every day.  Pea gravel has many benefits… a) it creates drainage, putting the walking surface above the standing water, b) it massages the sole of the hoof, c) it promotes circulation, which causes sole growth (by the way, the sole protects the bottom of the hoof and helps prevent wall flare), d) it will toughen the sole, e) it will round the edges of the hoof wall preventing chipping.  And because it’s rounded, it won’t become embedded in the sole or lodged into the frog.  He warned though that it needs to be deep enough so that it doesn’t feel like they’re walking on marbles - there really is a difference.

One of the stories that STEVE told me was that a kind hearted woman had bought a crippled foal at the auction for $10.  The foal’s breeder, rather than fixing the foal, or euthanizing him, had run him through the auction. (We all know of these asshats!)  The problem with the foal?  He was knuckled over and was walking on the front of his hooves.  The woman gave the little guy to STEVE, who fixed the foal and still has the gelding and STEVE said that he is his favorite saddle horse.  I asked to see pictures.  I’ll let you know if I ever see them.
Stay tuned for Part III (Oh yes… there is more!)

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