Inflammation which leads to low-grade/sub-clinical laminitis is a common cause of foot soreness.
Inflammation equals loss of circulation. Keep reading and we will pick this apart a little bit.
Preserving circulation and obsessing about how tight the laminae is, should be a priority in hoof care and holistic horse management.
This is so often ignored/unnoticed/ misdiagnosed.
The most common cause of inflammation, is a diet too rich in sugars. I don’t know of a single horse who can eat actively growing green grass and doesn’t show ANY signs.
Feeds with grains/grain by-products are rife on the market, do NOT believe what the bag says! You must read the ingredients and you will find that about 1 out of 50 bagged feeds is ACTUALLY suitable as horse food and that’s not an exaggeration. Feed manufacturers are not bound by requirements, nor do they have the willingness, to print the truth on the front of the bag.
Accompanying that, is lack of movement. If there is no physical movement, there is also no circulation. The hoof draws in and pushes out blood with every physical step it takes. The hooves are pumps for blood.
Small paddocks, private paddocks are excellent at reducing movement. Track systems conversely are great at causing the horses (note plural – horses should not be alone!) to move more, when set up correctly and the hay spread around it. Horses will only go where the food is, so if the food is in one pile, that’s where they will hang out.
Another culprit is peripheral loading (such as wearing a shoe, or having long hoof walls) – it messes with circulation.
Back to the grass - ALL grass is high in sugars in spring time, even our Australian native grass. It makes lovely hay a bit later on and is much safer in other parts of the year, but spring is not safe!
This sets up a cycle of the laminae becoming weaker, causing a flare in the hoof wall, which then in turns tears the laminae even more with any amount of overgrowth of the wall acting like a lever against the laminae. The soles become flat and thin and voila, we have a footsore horse.
Most of these horses aren’t lame in their paddocks/pastures and we might think everything is fine. Most of these horses have been going through the below cycle for YEARS without anyone picking up on it.
They will not appreciate going over anything other than soft ground, they may have a shortened, slightly choppy stride and the body doesn’t look elastic in movement. Some will protest louder and be labelled as “difficult” or “naughty”. Again, they may not necessarily “look lame” to an uneducated eye. In my opinion, I see a lot of barefoot horses who aren’t as comfortable as they should be under saddle. They are not “sooky”, they are in pain.
So what are the signs we can look out for to know if this is happening to our horse?
1) Inflammation of the coronet band. If the coronet band is raised in a bump, and it often takes a slightly shiny/rubbery appearance and texture – we have active inflammation in the hoof. If this continues unattended, it will appear as a “ring” on the hoof wall as it grows down. Sometimes if you lift the hairline up you can see a pinkish/whitish raised narrow line – very angry inflammation! This can be seen on black and white hooves equally. Along with this, check the digital pulse, it will be faster/stronger if there’s inflammation present.
2) Rings on the walls, evidence that point number one has been happening for some time. The wall should be smooth. The hoof wall will tell you what has been happening in the horses’ system for almost the past year. Very valuable information can be “read” from the hoof wall of every single horse. Measure how many cm’s from the coronet band down the ring or bump is, and deduct that the hoof wall grows on average, 10mm per month. You can time the events quite accurately like this. Ring after ring after ring means constant laminitis.
3) Flare. If you lay a rasp or something straight along the hoof wall at the front and at the sides, there should be no air gap between the straight item and the wall. An airgap means you have flare. Sometimes flare can be hard to spot when looking at the hoof from above, and it can start sneakily in a mild fashion right under the coronet band. Taking photos from the ground level is a great help as it shows all the distortions. You want the camera away from the hoof some distance so the lens isn’t distorting the image further.
4) Flat soles, thin soles. As the above points happen for some time, the pedal bone will sit lower in the hoof capsule. (we call it sinking, even though It’s actually the hoof capsule that gets pushed up the bony column). The corium (the lifegiving blood supply to the hoof just beneath the wall and the sole, which hugs the bone and soft tissues) between the bottom of the bone and the sole gets squished. Any flare will apply further pressure to the laminae and so also the blood supply- which feeds the periphery of the bone. This causes loss in the mass of the pedal bone.
5) Bone loss – after all of the above has been going on, we have a pedal bone which has a damaged periphery/has lost mass. This can be seen from the bottom of the hoof. The edge of the sole follows the shape of P3. If the edge of the sole has a raggedy outline, divots and an irregular shape, you know that the bone looks like that too.
There is also often a taller ridge of sole around the toe, and the sole drops away just behind the ridge.
6) If the horse suddenly goes sore after a normal trim at the normal schedule, suspect the onset of low-grade laminitis. It is very common!
Then we are left with a horse with a permanently thin sole, and an Xray might show that the “founder distance”= amount of sinking that has happened is permanent, even AFTER we fix the hoof, grow good laminae and try our best restore the bone position inside the hoof capsule. Somethings cannot be completely un-broken afterwards.
These horses cannot be “conditioned” to run over rocks. They have a permanently reduced capacity to grow good sole and we have to look after them in the correct way to stop the damage getting worse, and reverse as much as is possible.
We need stop the cycle of inflammation and tighten the laminae.
Sometimes the bone damage is so extensive that the hoof wall has trouble connecting well at the ground level. Remember – if the blood supply is damaged, the laminae is damaged. Since it’s the laminae that glues the hoof wall to the bone, you may have a hoof where the wall just always wants to flare a little bit near ground surface. Once at this stage, the hoof will flare very easily if they eat 3 blades of nice grass or have a long trim cycle. Any small source of inflammation sends these feet backwards, and fast. Often these horses struggle to get beyond one week trim wise until the feet fall apart again, unless life and diet is absolutely perfect.
So what do we do?
1) Be obsessive about circulation like this – Make sure the horse is moving as much as possible. Keep sugar out of the diet. Balance the minerals. Feed salt! Trim the feet- ideally weekly- to keep the walls from becoming a mechanical source of laminitis. Since these horses love to go sore after a trim, the trim has to be just right, and very frequent.
It is a fallacy to trim less frequently in the attempt to stop post trim soreness. The opposite is required, very little and very often, with the right kind of trim. My book is full or horses who loved going sore after trims before they came to me, and that no longer happens even on their 4 week cycle. The trim is imperative! The heels should be comfortable to land on, the bars should NOT be left high/above the sole to push up into the sensitive structures inside the hoof. The toes should be in the right place for an easy break-over and cause no leverage. If the horse is going toe first, objectively look at the trim and other body issues to see where the problem comes from.
2) ALWAYS protect the feet for riding. Sand is not a comfortable surface. Or if the ground in the living environment becomes inhospitable to walk on (rocks, very hard baked dirt, hard packed stone surfaces, concrete etc), use boots and pads.
We know that a hoof landing on a yielding soft surface draws more blood to it as the ground surface fills the solar concavity. It also cushions the thin soles. Therefore, it makes sense that a hoof in a boot which can flex and absorb shock, and be padded if necessary, is a better option that a boot with a hard sole.
The flex boot is great for this! (I would go as far to say that if a horse in a flex boot and a pad is still footsore, there is something serious going on that needs professional investigation.)
Padding can also be customized for serious problems such as founder rehabilitation.
Part of what we do, is give advice on hooves and flex boots via firstname.lastname@example.org and we’re super happy to help! Just send some good photo’s and we go from there. A lot of people have found this really useful, and we have been able to get horses into Flex boots who didn’t suit before, as they may have been experiencing some of the above (or other) problems. The best and most important thing is we’ve been able to help the horse be more comfortable by working together as a team with the owner/hoof care provider.