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Spring into hoof health

Fri, Mar 18th, 2011
Posted in The Great Outdoors

As spring arrives with its gentle breezes, warm temperatures, and promises to eradicate winter from our memory, it also can bring unpleasant issues to the farm, especially where horses are concerned.

More often than not, someone has either heard of or witnessed a horse suffer laminitis or its chronic cousin, founder. "While there are exact mechanisms by which the feet are damaged remain a mystery," says the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), "certain precipitating events can produce laminitis. Although laminitis occurs in the feet, the underlying cause is often a disturbance elsewhere in the horse's body."

Laminitis is defined by the University of Minnesota Extension as "The disruption (constant, intermittent, or short-term) of blood flow to the sensitive and insensitive laminae." These laminae secure the coffin bone to the hoof wall within the foot and such an inflammation may permanently weakens the structure and interferes with the wall/bone bond. It is possible, if untreated, the bone and hoof wall can separate entirely leading to the painful and dangerous rotatation of the coffin bone within the foot. The condition typically occurs in front feet jointly, but can affect one or all feet.

The University goes on to note, that the terms laminitis and founder should not be used interchangeably. "Founder usually refers to a chronic condition associated with rotation of the coffin bone, whereas acute laminitis refers to symptoms associated with a sudden initial attack."

There are several triggers to these conditions. Any one or a combination can put horses at risk. Several are predestined to be a part of springtime cautions including digestive distress due to excessive grain or abrupt changes in diet, sudden access to lush forage before the horse's system has had time to adapt, and various foot conditions such as hoof abscesses and thrush, both of which can be produced by bacteria such as that lounging around in muddy springtime pastures. "All of the causes are unknown," indicates Tom Stoval, certified journeyman farrier, "But once laminitis occurs, the changes within the foot are fairly well-documented."

Should you notice abnormal behaviors in your horse this spring, The University of Minnesota lists signs of acute laminitis as noticeable lameness (especially if a horse is turning in circles), heat in the feet, a reluctant or hesitant gait, A "sawhorse stance" (the front feet stretched out in front to alleviate pressure on the toes and the hind feet positioned further back than normal to bear more weight). Further indications include an increased digital pulse in the feet and pain in the toe region when pressure is applied with hoof testers. Visable signs of chronic laminitis may include dropped soles or flat feet, dished hooves (resulting in an "Aladdin-slipper" appearance), and a thick, "cresty" neck. Further inspection of the hoof may show rings in hoof wall which become wider from toe to heel, bruised soles, and a widened white line, commonly called "seedy toe," with occurrence of seromas and/or abscesses.

Once the condition is recognized, and the sooner treatment can begin, the better the horse's chance for recovery. Treatment can and will depend on specific circumstances. Due to laminitis generally being caused by an underlying problem within the horse's body, proper diagnosing may need to be conducted by a trained farrier and veterinarian.

Simple treatment may include "A modified diet that provides adequate nutrition based on high-quality forage and without excess energy, routine hoof care, including regular trimming, a good health-maintenance schedule, including parasite control and vaccinations to reduce the horse's susceptibility to illness or disease, and possibly a nutritional supplement formulated to promote hoof health."

More invasive measures may be taken for horses with severe cases such as treating with mineral oil, via a nasogastric tube, and the administration of fluids and/ot drugs, such as antibiotics, antiendotoxins, anticoagulants and vasodilators to reduce blood pressure while improving blood flow to the feet.

Once chronic founder is discovered, the University notes that cooperation between the owner, veterinarian, and farrier will be likely. The information about the horse's condition may be based on x-rays showing how much rotation of the coffin bone has occurred. Techniques may include corrective trimming, frog supports, and therapeutic shoes or pads.

One non-invasive treatment of founder, which is still gathering research, is the Nolan Hoof Plate. Mimicking the natural design of the horse's hoof, the small, metal plates claim to offer immediate support to the hoof structure by stabilizing the forward movement of the hoof wall. According to their own research, the plates "bring the hoof wall forward into the support structure, freeing up pressure on the inflamed laminae, increasing blood flow and giving the laminae an opportunity to begin healing. Through rapid growth of the hoof capsule from the coronary band downward, the hoof capsule begins to grow in a way that realigns with the coffin bone."

However, the Nolan Hoof Plate is a topic of ongoing controversy, but it may offer some value, even to skeptics. As research continues, experts such as Dr. M.W. Myers, resident veterinarian for the Farrier & Hoofcare Resource Center are indicating some success using this type of plate when treating laminitis because of the philosophy to stabilize the hoof capsule.

A typical Nolan plate treatment for founder includes a 16-20 week period where the plate remains attached the front of the hoof, in addition to a traditional horseshoe, with the two cinched together. A review is established and check-ups are conducted prior to the removal of the plates at the conclusion of the treatment period.

Farriers must be certified in the application and use of the Nolan Hoof Plates. Minnesota has a total of three certified farriers and Chuck Potter, of Donkey Hill Farm Farrier Service, is the only farrier in southeastern region. Potter is not taking new clients for regular farrier service at this time, but is willing to see and treat horses with therapeutic situations should it be deemed necessary.

"There is no there is no single, 'best' method of mechanically treating founder," warns Stoval. The same goes for acute laminitis. Owner awareness and animal health are key, especially as we leap into a very welcome spring.

For more information on the treatment involving the Nolan Hoof Plate, go to www.nolanhoofhealth.com or contact Chuck Potter at (507) 450-4168.


1. American Association of Equine Practitioners

2. Dr. Jim Brendemuehl (May 20, 2005) University of Illinois Extension

3. Tom Stoval, Mechanical Treatment of Laminitis and Founder: The Farrier Resource & Hoof Care Center

4. Nolan Hoof Health: www.nolanhoofhealth.com

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