FROM EQUINE WELLNESS - November 2016
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There is a common saying in the horse world: "No hoof, no horse". This is basically a snappy way of saying that if your horse doesn't have healthy feet, you will likely spend more time sorting out soundness issues than riding and enjoying your horse.
Many people think that good feet start and end with proper trimming or farrier care. If only it were truly that simple! While your trimmer or farrier certainly plays a vital role in shaping your horse's hooves, there is so much more that goes into developing and maintaining solid, healthy feet - everything from how much time your horse spends outside and what your fields look like, to what you feed him or apply to his feet topically. If your saddle doesn't fit or your horse's body isn't aligned properly, it will affect his gait and his feet. If there is an imbalance with his hormones, it can also affect his feet. As you can see, good feet require a "whole horse" approach to health and wellness.
The whole horse approach is what we are all about, so we've got a number of articles in this issue to support your horse's feet from all angles. If you've ever been told that your barefoot horse needs shoes to perform in various disciplines such as jumping or barrel racing, you'll want to check out Sherri Pennanen's article on traction control and the equine hoof on page 10. Dr. Wendy Pearson joins us on page 18 to share a new take on equine hoof health and nutrition.
TRACTION CONTROL AND THE EQUINE HOOF
By Sherri Pennanen
Contrary to popular belief, the well-trimmed barefoot horse can have outstanding traction for all disciplines and levels of riding.
Have you been told your horse needs shoes to jump or hunt because he needs better traction? Don't believe everything you hear. It is very possible to follow your equestrian dreams with a barefoot horse. Let's explore traction control - barefoot style!
THE HEALTHY HOOF
We need to start from the basic premise that a healthy hoof which is working as it was intended will, in fact, have far better traction than a shod or studded hoof. For centuries, horses have traversed mountains, rocks, water, mud, snow, ice and hard ground without any difficulty - and without any interference from us. So how can we continue this natural tradition and take advantage of the traction the barefoot horse can offer?
The first step is to have the hoof take on its most natural form by applying a balanced barefoot trim. We need to "help our horses along" by performing this routinely because they generally do not travel the distances or access the varied terrains that horses in the wild enjoy. Similarly, when we let our horses live a natural life, we can improve their overall health and well-being as well as their hoof form. In other words, horses are made to be outside, to graze and move around freely. Putting a horse in a stall will not do anything to further his hoof's natural form or his overall well-being. Similarly, restricting his hoof with shoes may contribute to traction problems rather than solve them.
NATURAL HOOF STRUCTURE
Much of what affords a barefoot horse his excellent traction centers around creating a concave sole and supporting structures. If we were to look at a hoof that was "naturally worn", we would see the walls of the heels and the bars of the hoof being elevated above the concave sole, though not to the sameb level as the hoof wall. So where the bars and heels meet, there is a "traction device", much like the pattern on an all-season radial tire, that allows it to "grab" the ground in difficult terrain. This area works by allowing the hoof to dig in for starting and stopping and limits the potential for sideways slippage.
The hoof should also be allowed to have a "cone" type shape so that the hoof wall meets the ground at an angle. This enhances traction. The conical hoof works like a wedge, helps when the ground is slick or very soft, and aids in pushing off, as well as with ground control.
A hoof with a balanced barefoot trim contacts the ground with the frog, bulbs and heel. All these structures will be at the same level. When the horse bears weight on the hoof wall and it expands under that weight, the contact between these structures and the ground create a "suction cup" effect, which will limit slipping and promote self-cleaning of the hoof. To see this principle in action, watch a horse walk on ice. As he sets his foot down, you will see it expand under his weight and slide just a little forward before it grabs hold of the surface with the supporting structures. As the horse shifts his weight forward, the heel lifts and the whole foot can be lifted when the seal is broken by the movement. Your horse does not struggle to negotiate slippery conditions. He is as secure as can be!
SHOES AFFECT HOOF FUNCTION
Now consider how a metal shoe will impact how these natural mechanisms work. A shoe can actually lead to less security in difficult situations, restricting the hoof wall from expanding under weight-bearing action. Studs will not help significantly. Heels, frogs and bulbs can become contracted with restricted movement and contact, and the result is reduced function and the potential for conditions such as abscesses or thrush. The same horse on ice that we noted above would be dependent largely on the surface of the shoe to keep him from slipping. Borium or other various studs can help, but the shoe will inhibit the "natural suction cup" action and the horse may have more difficulty maintaining security on the ice.
Equines in all disciplines of riding accomplish great things as naturally-trimmed barefoot horses. Whether hunters, jumpers, cross country or trail horses, they enjoy soundness and balance with excellent traction. If you think a natural barefoot trim is for your own horse, discuss it with a skilled barefoot farrier. Your best "all season radials" may be just around the corner!
Sherri Pennanen is the owner of Better Be BarefootNaturalTrim, Rehabilitation, and Education Center in Lockport, NY. She has been certified as a natural trim specialist for almost 20 years and has over 45 years of horse experience. She is committed to herd-based living for horses in a chemical-free environment, betterbebarefoot.com
WHILE I AGREE WITH THE OVERALL IDEA OF BAREFOOT, THERE ARE SOME LIMITATIONS WITH IT. SOME HORSES FOR WHATEVER REASON DO NOT HAVE STRONG FEET, THEY NEED TO BE SHOD. SOME HORSES LIKE MY GOLDIE DO NOT DO WELL ON ROCKY LAND OR TRAILS. WHEN I FIRST ACQUIRED HER I WAS WITH THE GRIFFIN RANCH NORTH-WEST OF CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA. THE TRAILS, MOST OF THEM AND PART OF THEM, WERE ROCKY; GOLDIE NEEDED TO BE SHOD ON ALL FOUR FEET. WHERE I NOW BOARD HER, SOUTH-WEST OF CALGARY, I DISCOVERED ALL THE TRAILS WERE NOT ROCKY AT ALL. AFTER THE FIRST YEAR OF BEING THERE I UN-SHOD HER, AND HAVE NEVER SHOD HER SINCE. NOW WHEN I DO GO TO THE PROVINCIAL PARK NEARBY, SOME PARTS OF THE TRAILS ARE ROCKY, SO I BOUGHT BOOTS FOR HER FRONT FEET, NO NEED FOR BACK ONES. SHE HAS DONE SUPER WELL UNDER HER NEW ENVIRONMENT - Keith Hunt
By Wendy Pearson, PhD
A new take on managing and maintaining hoof quality in health and disease.
Consider the faithful old hoof care product. Most of us remember a time when we thought biotin was the only thing we had to feed our horses to look after their hoof need. How times have changed……
Growing a healthy hoof
This shift in thinking has been spurred by an increasingly inclusive approach to rebuilding hooves…..hooves are made up of mostly protein [around 93%. Especially methionine and cysteine], B vitamins [including biotin, choline, and inositol], and minerals [including zinc, copper, and calcium]…..
The problem is, as soon as biotin supplementation stops, around 70% of hooves return to their pre-supplementation brittleness and poor structure. So clearly the biochemical complexity of equine hooves goes beyond just feeding our horses extra biotin.
Amino acids and minerals
The inclusion of amino acids in a hoof care supplement is critical…..hooves contain primarily protein. The limiting amino acids in hoof growth and structure are cysteine [located mainly in cells that manufacture hoof tissue; called “keratinocytes”] and methionine (located mainly in the stratum basale and in the
stratum spinosum of the matrix; see below).the 1980s demonstrated significant hoof growth in dairy cows fed a diet containing supplementary methionine. It is interesting that methionine can be biochemically converted to cysteine by the horse, and both amino acids appear to play critical roles in hoof tissue structure.
The final major piece of the puzzle in good hoof care is minerals, particularly zinc, copper and calcium. A diet deficient in copper and zinc results in poor hoof wall structure, and calcium is also reported to prevent the sloughing of cells that make the hoof matrix (an effect biotin did not have). A great way to increase calcium levels in a horse's diet is to add alfalfa pellets or meal.
Herbal help for hooves - managing laminitis
While most research on the dietary manipulation of hoof growth rate and composition centers around amino acids and B vitamins, there is great interest in going beyond macro-and micronutrients to improve hoof quality and growth rate, and this includes herbal and nutraceutical products.
There has been very limited research investigating the effects of these feed additives in horses. A study in the Equine Veterinary journal (1998, supplement 26) reported that oil from evening primrose altered the fatty acid composition of part of the hoof. But the oil had no net effect on hoof growth, and the clinical significance of the altered fatty acid composition is unknown. Thus, as far as the evidence currently goes, there is little we can do with hoof growth or composition with herbal feed additives.
Where herbs may play a more important role in hoof health, however, is in the management and/or treatment of hoof diseases such as laminitis. Also known as "founder", laminitis is among the most troublesome of all equine ailments. It is an acutely painful condition of the hoof laminae, and is stubbornly persistent once it has occurred.
Laminitis is a rather puzzling condition in which the coffin bone within the hoof capsule rotates downward towards the sole of the hoof, tearing the sensitive laminae in the process. The closest human analogy might be accidentally tearing your fingernail off the end of your finger. Ouch! The difference is that your fingernail will grow back within a couple of weeks, and happily, you don't have to walk on it while it's healing.
Once the dreaded diagnosis has been made, prevention is off the table. Now the best a horse owner can hope for is to manage the pain and promote healthy circulation to the hoof. Most veterinarians recommend conventional pain management with phenylbutazone (aka "bute"), but this is not particularly well-suited to long term use owing to its inclination to produce stomach ulcers and cartilage thinning.
People caring for laminitic horses (in cooperation with their vets) are well advised to seek alternatives for the longer-term management of the disease. Herbs that are useful for managing chronic pain include some varieties of mint (Mentha spicata), turmeric (Curcuma longa), devil's claw (Harpagophytum procumbens), meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and white willow (Salix alba). You can also offer herbs with a circulatory effect, including cayenne pepper (Capsicum annuum), ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) and dandelion (Taraxacum officinale).
THE FAMOUS RACE HORSE SECRETARIAT HAD TO BE PUT DOWN AT AGE 19 [AVERAGE AGE IS 25-30 FOR HORSES] BECAUSE OF LAMINITIS - Keith Hunt
Know better, do better
Like many things in contemporary horse management, conscientious hoof care is not as simple as it used to be. An increased knowledge and awareness of hoof biochemistry and structure has perhaps confused our thinking about what's best for optimizing form and function. But our elevated understanding can lead to overall better hoof care for our equine friends. ©
Dr. Wendy Pearson is an Assistant Professor of Equine Physiology in the Department of Animal Biosciences, University of Guelph. Her research focuses on developing an advanced understanding of musculoskeletal inflammatory disorders in horses, and the role of nutritional and nutraceutical interventions in improving clinical and physiological outcomes.
THE LAMINITIS QUESTION
EQUINE METABOLIC SYNDROME AND ADIPOSE TISSUE
The precise mechanism by which laminitis develops is an uncomfortable question mark for scientists, since they still struggle to understand its pathogenesis. However, there are a few theories out there, a major one being a link to equine metabolic syndrome (EMS). EMS is a complex syndrome in horses characterized by obesity, insulin resistance, and frequently, laminitis. This is a rather fashionable area in equine research, and most of what we know about this syndrome has been learned within the last five years. While the pathogenesis of EMS is, in many ways, as mysterious as laminitis itself, adipose tissue appears to be part of the problem.
Adipose tissue (or "fat") is actually an organ, like the liver or brain. It produces hormones (adipokines) that behave a bit like Cortisol and produce clinical signs similar to Cushing's disease. Adipose tissue also produces a chemical called "resistin" that encourages cells to "ignore" the presence of insulin. Insulin is essential for transporting glucose into cells; if cells cannot detect the presence of insulin, the body tries to compensate by making even more insulin. As insulin levels go up, and glucose levels don't go down, the perfect storm for inflammation of the hoof laminae is created.
Some scientists believe that insulin itself is the reason EMS horses tend to develop laminitis. So to control the laminitis, it is necessary to keep insulin levels as low as possible. Thus, feeding a diet that has a "low glycemic index" (i.e. produces a small insulin response) is necessary to prevent laminitis in these horses. A diet like this might consist primarily of hay that's soaked to deplete sugars, beet pulp and a vitamin/mineral balancer.
It can also be very useful to include feed ingredients that normalize insulin signaling. The most studied of these are fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) and cinnamon (Cinnamon sp). Fenugreek has the added benefit of reducing feed intake in horses, which is always a good thing for our "fluffy" equines!