Relationship of Hoof Form to Metabolism & Cresty Necks and Founder

Hoof Care For Your Horses
by: Heather Smith Thomas
February 01 2006
The Horse Article # 6757


Many foot problems stem from the hooves not being in balance (due to incorrect trimming and shoeing, unevenness, or not enough wear), according to Tia Nelson, DVM, a farrier and veterinarian from Helena, Mont. Treating imbalance consists of bringing the foot back to balance with the horse’s conformation–limb conformation is important in determining foot balance. For example, a horse with a crooked limb and a symmetrical foot will be sore because the hoof needs to be asymmetrical in order to land flat.

Feet must be balanced from front to back and side to side. A common balance problem is long toes and short (often underrun) heels. If the foot is not balanced side to side, there will be stress on joints, collateral ligaments, tendons, etc.

Bringing a problem foot back to balance (for that foot on that horse) is the first step toward soundness. A problem foot often can be corrected by putting a shoe on it, but balancing the foot itself is key. “I get frustrated with the idea that we can put a shoe on a foot to fix it if you have not first corrected the balance,” says Nelson.

It’s Not Always Simple…

“People usually don’t recognize that there are only two factors affecting the foot–genetics and environment,” says Nelson. “The footing, the farrier, the food the horse eats, the ability to utilize the nutrients in the food, etc., are all part of the environment. These things are intertwined, and it can be hard to separate them.”

She says some of her cases looked like they were insulin-resistant (with cresty necks, prone to founder, etc.), but weren’t. When she was able to get their feet comfortable so they could get regular exercise, their glucose and insulin levels came down and their feet got better–without medical treatment.

“Fixing the mechanical cause of pain in feet that led to stress–that raised their cortisol (a “stress hormone”) levels–resolved their problems,” she explains. “When a horse gets painful feet, the cortisol levels go up, probably due to the stress and the ulcers that develop due to the stress. Stress hormone levels go up in any horse that’s in pain. If his feet are out of balance and the stress on them starts to lead to founder, he’ll be in pain.

“There are some horses, however, that are truly insulin-resistant,” Nelson says. “It is our job to learn how to balance feet and get the horse comfortable again and to run bloodwork to check for these things.

“A lot of this has to do with giving horses diets appropriate to their species (forages rather than concentrates) and paying attention to what they’re eating compared to what they’re doing (exercise),” she says.

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