Tuesday, July 19, 2011

For the Want of a Hoof

Something I know many horse owners fight with is bad hooves. Particularly thoroughbred hooves. Dante has sometimes had good feet, but more often, he has had problems. Here follows the tale of the terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad feet.

Winter 2007: I purchase Dante at the very beginning and he comes to me with ok feet. I immediately put him on a hoof supplement as a precaution. However, current barn farrier is Not Very Good, something that I naively don't realize as a first time horse owner. After all, why would my barn use a Not Very Good Farrier? Not Very Good Farrier tells me my horses hooves are too hard and I need to condition them. Every day. So I do. Dante's feet proceed to fall apart, chunks flying off with constant thrown shoes until it looks like tiny grenades have exploded beneath them. I continue to put on hoof conditioner every day, thinking that it is simply terrible thoroughbred feet.

Autumn 2007: Dante and I move to Maryland, where we make the acquaintance of Awesome Farrier. Awesome Farrier takes one look at Dante's feet and knows exactly what I've been doing to them. He tells me to never ever condition this particular horse's hooves again, because they are too, too, too soft. Excellent Farrier is forced to glue on shoes until Dante's hooves have grown back. By the time they have, Dante has been on hoof supplement for a full year and there is a noticeable difference in his hoof quality. By the time we leave Maryland in early 2008, Dante's hooves finally look fantastic.

Summer 2008: At this point, Dante has been shod by Excellent Farrier several times and his hooves continue to look great. But the summer humidity takes it's toll, as well as a two week vacation away from him where he went with his hooves unpicked, and 3 of the 4 hooves contract thrush. Upon my return, Dante feels Not Quite Right. Vet 1 examines him, says he has a neck problem. Upon 1 month of rest, problem is apparently unresolved (although I am not sure it's in his neck) and a bone scan is recommended. I am aware of the thrush and have been trying to treat it, but not taking it terribly seriously. I am also relatively poor, so before a bone scan, I decide to get a second vet's opinion. Vet 2 diagnoses thrush causing the horse's heels to hurt. Sure enough, after a thorough regiment of soaking his hooves in copper sulfate and vinegar solution. The thrush seems to go away.

Summer 2009: In early summer, at CO Horse Park, I realize Dante has been stacking his shavings under his heels and leaning forward to put his weight on his toes. I have recently noticed the thrush is back and have been very religious about picking his feet. He continues to do this through the summer and his heels are contracted at this point. After Maui Jim, I call the vet and we decide to x-ray, which reveal coffin bones at a slightly different angle than the foot. Excellent Farrier puts risers on his shoes that allow me to still pick his feet and treat the thrush. The contracted heels continues to secrete some gunk even after the thrush is gone, which I assume is just part of contracted heels.

Summer 2010: During the winter, Excellent Farrier puts a bar on the hoof riser as a result of Dante's contracted heels. Then, as summer returns, so does Dante's thrush. The gunk has never gone away, even in winter. Dante still stacks his heels. He is Not Quite Right for most of the summer, but for some reason, I never twig onto the fact that it was probably thrush. Then as fall finally brings cooler temperatures, he finally feels comfortable...just in time for him to suffer an injury.

Winter 2011: Dante feels great, but still has gunk, still stacks shavings and puts weight on his toes in his stall. I assume he just had Terrible, No-Good Thoroughbred feet. He gets full blown pour in pads right before Florida on recommendation of the vet and Excellent Farrier.

Spring 2011: Dante seems more and more uncomfortable throughout the show season. I only see it in retrospect, something I regret very much. His coffins bother him towards the very end, and in the end, we are spun from the final jog at Jersey. In retrospect, his heels hurt him enough to make his coffin bones hurt, and I never saw it. At this point he has been somewhat sensitive on his contracted heels for two and a half years. I figure this is something that I cannot change because that was just the way his feet were. I know the Texas humidity doesn't help, but I'm unable to do anything about that until I graduate.

Summer 2011: I begin to bring Dante back into work in July, and while he is behaving very well, he feels once again Not Quite Right, particular to the left. The vet checks him out 100%...except for his heels. Which, once again, have thrush. We decide to remove the pour-in pads to just the simple risers again in order to access the thrush. The day the pads are removed, Dante is noticeably lame on his left hind. He has never been actually lame before, only short or not quite right. This lameness includes head bobbing. The second day, he seems to lunge ok so I hop on...and he's lamer than the day before, very obviously to the left and on the hind leg. He kicks out strongly when I try to pick his left hind hood. I soak it in copper sulfate and vinegar. The vet comes out the next day. Dante is not lame on the left hind anymore. Instead, he is slightly off (not lame) on the right front. We strongly suspect the thrush at this point, but block his right front to be sure. He is then sound on the right front, but lame left front. The only sound foot is his right hind, which never contracted the original thrush, and remains healthy and perfectly formed with wide heels to this day. Vet recommends copper sulfate/vinegar soaks every other day and gives me a dry cow treatment to put in his heels once every day. I begin thinking very hard.

One Week Ago 2011: I begin Googling sulcus thrush, and find a plethora of information. Most of all, I find out that the dry cow treatment Tomorrow is strongly recommended, so I order a box. I do some more research and discover that I have been relatively wrong about assuming his contracted heels caused thrush. Well, they do. But the thrush very likely caused the contracted heels in the first place. By causing his heels to hurt, the thrush caused Dante to put his weight on his toes by stacking his shavings. As a result, his heels began to contract because they had no weight on them. Also, his coffins had a changed angle due to the fact that the horse was distributing his weight incorrectly. The thrush is a fungal infection, but it also allowed the gunk to begin. The gunk is a bacterial infection that has NEVER gone away. Many, many of this horses problems stem from this thrush, including the fact that he feels like he could easily move uphill, but often moves down hill.

And now I feel tremendously awful and relieved in one go. Relieved, because this is very fixable. I need to be ridiculously religious about his copper sulfate soaks and the Tomorrow treatment until his heels are fully healed, and possibly even continue them occasionally as a preventative. Hopefully, he will become more willing to put weight on his heels, the heels will spread out, the coffin angles will return to being correct, and the thrush will have no where to live. The reformation of the hoof might take a long time. If it doesn't happen by the time I graduate, I will pull his shoes to hopefully ease the process. He'll be getting 8-12 months off at that point anyways while I begin my career, so it would be a good time for that.

I've been doing this treatment for about five days now and already the Tomorrow has made a huge difference. The gunk is noticeably less, and much drier in nature. His heels are distinctly tougher and much less sensitive. I have hope.

(Dante's smiling face while I patiently soak his feet. Ironically, his right hind had a tiny bit of thrush in it tonight, so I jumped right on it.)

I feel awful because all of these issues could have been prevented if I had been vigilant and obsessive about it in the first place. Unfortunately, it is much easier to learn things in retrospect. My poor, saint of a horse has been suffering for all this time and yet has performed amazingly well all this time, never some much as thinking about not jumping. That shows me how much he loves to jump and how much of a giant heart he has.

You've held up your end of the bargain, big guy. It's time to hold up my end.