Tequila’s Hoof Makeover
By Hans Wiza
Tequila is a Thoroughbred mare that I was asked to shoe a couple of months back. She stood splay-footed, was badly over at the knees, and her hind legs were quite sickle-hocked. Her feet were smashed, flared, chipped, and cracked. She was just the kind of project that I wanted to do a “hoof makeover” on – I do love a challenge.
Tequila’s owner wanted to show her in hunters. The hunter ring calls for a horse with a rhythmic, flowing way-of-going without too much knee action, and a forward-moving canter capable of making the distances, along with nice round self-carriage.
This is Tequila on our first meeting. She is over at the knees and hollow at the withers. Her front feet are in front of the break in the withers and behind the scapular hinge. She has an exaggerated slope to her croup and is severely sickle-hocked. Her posture shows that she has difficulty standing with at least one hind leg in a vertical position. Both hind legs ought to be able to stand in a vertical position or at least in a nearly vertical posture. This enables the weight of the horse to be borne by the boney column as was intended, rather than being held up in a sling comprised of back and gluteal muscles.
To achieve this, Tequila was going to need better posture. Her knee action was exaggerated to the point that she left her front legs underneath herself and was just heavy on the forehand. Her canter was simply a rough, plunging, porpoise-like wave, not the nice linear lope called for in the hunter ring. She would also break into a four-beat canter when she lost impulsion. The left lead (the more upright foot) was very difficult for her to pick up and almost impossible to reliably depart on.
Tequila’s hind legs looked like they were trying to play catch up to her body. The old time carriage drivers referred to this way-of-going as a horse whose hind legs were left under the buggy. And she forged. This was going to be fun.
Notice the nearly horizontal hairline, and the up-arc in the hairline. Up-arcs in hairlines indicate a hoof joint surface that does not load correctly and does not allow for a congruent alignment of the limb.
Both front feet were cracked, chipped, flared, flaking, bent, broken, hyper-expanded, peeling, and irregular in shape. The hairlines at the coronary band were irregular in their slope from front to back with a serious up-arc just above the navicular joint, and the hooves lacked a uniform taper from front to back. The cannon bones were hanging behind the hoof. The hoof joint, the front of the carpus, and the scapular hinge weren’t in vertical alignment. The carpus was unable to lock at rest, and the mare’s neck and withers were quite hollow. The carpus needs to be locked in order for the stay apparatus to be brought into equilibrium. The knee needs to lock during the stance phase of the stride, albeit momentarily during the stride phase where the weight passes over top of it. The test to see if the carpus is locked is to swing one’s leg very lightly and bump just behind the horse’s knee. It ought to remain locked and there should be a rebound of your foot. (If you try this remember to swing very lightly as if you were pushing a kitten out of the way while you had an armful of hay.)
Tequila after her first shoeing. Her front legs are much straighter. A vertical line through her hoof joint lines up with the front of the carpus and the scapular hinge.
Tequila also has a history of being a shoe picker and has had shoes glued on which lasted only a maximum of ten days before she banished them to the “shoe trolls.”
Traditional hoof trimming is predicated upon the excavation of the soles and frogs. This secures adequate purchase for the nippers to bite off a chunk of hoof, and then provides sufficient wiggle room for a hoof rasp to render the ground surface of the hoof wall flat enough to receive the horseshoe nail. It is the hope of every owner and farrier that this will suffice the horse’s needs and that everyone is satisfied with the job. Most of all, the goal is for the horse to not limp and to keep the shoes on for a suitable period of time.
BEFORE: Tequila’s near fore, showing high heels and broken out quarters.
Notice how the hairline is beginning to level out and how there is a uniformity to the taper of the hoof from heel to toe. The boxy appearance is gone and the cannon bone is fully supported by the hoof.
The near fore, shod for second time at 27 days.
BEFORE: Tequila’s front legs are splayed. The heel flares on the off fore contribute significantly to that posture. AFTER: Now Tequila’s legs don’t turn out as drastically as in the barefoot photo.
The off fore hoof after it lost its first shoe. Notice how the outside wall is not as pulled away at the heels and quarters as it was originally. The owner’s thumb shows a nice leathery toe callous resulting from the contact of the hot-fitted horseshoe, which enabled the sole to bear weight without compromising the horse’s comfort after the shoe came off.
Off fore nicely and conservatively dressed according to the H.A.N.S. Trim protocol. Effective flare management does not require the entire hoof to be over processed in order to hit the key target points. The H.A.N.S. Trim is a very minimalist approach to hoof trimming as you can see by the photos.
The off fore trimmed and reshod.
See how the yellow and red lines intersect. They cross just below the chestnuts. The red line shows the slope of the cannon bone. Notice how far the red line extends up the neck showing the extent of the unsupported portion of the forehand. The blue line denotes the placement of the heel in relation to the vertical axis of the cannon bone. The yellow line shows the position of the toe relative to the break in the withers.
Notice the intersection of the yellow and red lines, which intersect at the chestnuts showing an increase of support.
The boney column of the leg is now entirely within the blue and yellow lines. The slight forward slope of the forelimb supports the withers and the scapular hinge (star). This stance is a power posture enabling crisp departures and transitions. The hind legs are in a more vertical posture and this in turn creates more engagement of the hind quarters while allowing the front legs to stretch out.
Now the yellow and red lines intersect and cross at about the same height as the point of the elbow. The entire boney column of the leg of the horse is now within perpendicular lines. The hoof is directly under the withers and the front of the carpus is vertically aligned with the scapular hinge. This stance enables total and complete support of the forehand of this mare.
This is where it gets interesting. The visualization and the vector geometry calculations required to make all this happen are staggering in their complexity. This is the reason so many shoe jobs fail – because the traditional approach and the dogma that surrounds it simply does not work. Hoof trimming is almost universally taught from a two dimensional aspect and the hoof is very obviously three dimensional. The need to have congruent alignment of all the bones and joint surfaces is paramount to the horse’s safety, health, and comfort. A nice way-of-going naturally follows if these criteria are met. It is built into almost every horse, but sometimes it just needs a little coaxing.
I followed the H.A.N.S. TRIM protocol (H.A.N.S. is an acronym for Hooves Are Naturally Strong) which took about 20 minutes for the front feet with a couple of stops to take pictures, and another 25 minutes to shape up the shoes and tap them on.
I developed the H.A.N.S. Trim method to provide a consistent technique of assessment and hoof trimming methodology. I had acquired a big beautiful German Warmblood who was also over at the knees, and through him I first learned about shifting the fulcrum on the bottom of the hoof to bring “over at the knees” back to straight. The results have been nothing short of astonishing.
The whole posture of this horse has now changed for the better. She now looks athletic and strong. Her neck set is finally where it ought to be, low and relaxed, not sticking up and hollow. Her forearm has a nice congruent slope to it in relation to the cannon bone. Her feet are under her withers and the hoof joint and carpus and scapular hinge all line up beautifully. Both hind legs are capable of weight bearing without undue reliance on the musculature. Although the cannon bones are not yet vertical, the hooves are nicely under the hocks and just behind the point of the stifle. She exudes grace and athletiscm (and she needs a bath!)
There are literally hundreds of different styles of horseshoes, all of which are used to enhance specific geometries or at least mitigate damage to the hoof. The foundation of every shoeing job is the trim, barefoot trims included. All too often overlooked are the potential ramifications of preparing the hoof without a mechanically useful outcome in mind. The large number of hoof deviations and permutations often leads people to believe that certain hoof types are the result of disease.
In fact, the hoof shapes themselves are the main contributors to many a lameness diagnosis. A healthy hoof shape is almost invariably a sound working hoof and the restoration of good hoof geometry leads to the rehabilitation of many horses. In the immortal words of Jessica Rabbit: “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way.”
Today, Tequila is showing well.
This article was originally published in the August 2015 issue of Canadian Horse Journal.
Photos courtesy of Hans Wiza