|In memorium: I am incredibly saddened to have to announce that my beloved Per went over the Rainbow Bridge on Oct. 22, 2008.
Please visit his memorial page here.
|My Personal Journey with Peregrine|
|Peregrine is my own off-the-track thoroughbred (OTTB). It was he who got me started on the path I am now on, and I guess we have each other to thank for a lot! He is my longest case study.
I bought Per when he was 5. He had raced for 2 years on small tracks in OH and WV, and hadn't particularly distinguished himself. He had been off the track for 6 months, and turned out for the most part when he came to me. He was shod in front only, and was "sound," in that he was not lame in shoes. However, when I pulled his shoes a short time later (I was learning about barefoot and what I had learned appealed to me), Per began having problems almost at once. Many people (my dressage instructor included!) were of the opinion that this meant that he "needed" shoes. I saw it completely differently, however, and came to believe that if a horse cannot be "sound" on his own 4 feet, can he REALLY be said to be "sound" with shoes on?
|Initially, the problems Peregrine had were heel pain (indicative of "navicular syndrome," although I never had him x-rayed), and abscessing and bruising (due to extremely flat soles and toe flares). Other than one period during the first summer, when the ground was hard and he was still in transition, Peregrine was never truly uncomfortable--I made sure of that. I rode him in front boots (first Boas, in photo at left, and then Easyboot Bares, which I prefer) on all footing for 2-3 months and on the trail for about 6 months. After that he no longer needed them.
|Flat as a pancake!|
|Peregrine's feet were abnormal in a number of ways. He was probably first shod as early as 18 months of age, long before his hooves had fully developed. Like most former racehorses (this is the "fashion" at the track), his heels were long and underrun, pushing his weight forward onto his toes instead of back where it belonged, over his heels. His toes were long and stretched forward. His feet were severely contracted, with poor, weak frogs, and to make matters worse, the concavity of his sole was almost nonexistent.
|Schooling dressage in Boa boots early in Peregrine's transition.|
The sole is supposed to be concave. Lack of concavity means that, to some extent, the coffin bone has dropped inside the hoof capsule. It is dangerously low to the ground, inadequately suspended in the hoof capsule. The sole is unable to assume a concave shape, mirroring the cup-shaped bottom of the coffin bone. There is little or no sole callus (the hard, extra thick part of the sole just in front of the frog apex).
|In the pictures below, the lack of concavity in the BEFORE shot (LEFT in each pairing) is evident. Look at the area around the apex (tip) of the frog. In the photos on the left, there is NO concavity at all. Peregrine's entire sole contacted the ground with every step. The front 1/2 of his frog had to be kept trimmed almost level with the sole, since ground contact with the frog apex was uncomfortable.
In the photos on the RIGHT of each pairing, you can see that the sole is now cupped. This indicates that the coffin bone is back where it belongs, pulling the sole up with it. Peregrine now contacts the ground with his heel and rolls forward to his toe, contacting the ground with the walls and the outer part of the sole only with each step. His frog is now fatter and firmer, giving his heels a solid, supportive place to land.
|Contracted, pinched, and poor: Peregrine's heels|
|Remember that Peregrine was shod early. When horses are put in shoes this young, the coffin bone (the main bone within the hoof capsule) and the digital cushion (the material above the frog that helps provide shock absorption) are unable to develop normally. Although that is doubtless the case with Per, who may never have feet as beautiful as a horse barefoot his entire life, much of the damage has been repaired with a performance barefoot trim and the right lifestyle, and his feet are, at this point, exceeding my expectations.
In the photo below on the left (before), you can see a crack running all the way up the back of the foot. A result of contracted heels and lack of digital cushion, this is a common problem in horses coming out of shoes, but this was a very serious case. Although the foot is supposed to move and flex, a deep crack like this (I was able to get the entire blade of a hoofpick into the crack!) allows too MUCH movement, and consequent discomfort in the heel area. For the first few months of Per's transition, the contraction and heel crack did cause intermittent ouchy episodes, particularly on hard ground. He was fine in turnout, but to make sure he was comfortable, I rode him in front boots on all terrain for 3-4 months and on rocky trails only for another few months after that. By the time he had been barefoot for a year, Per was trail riding on any and all terrain, including gravel and rocks.
|Double Whammy: contracted heels AND lack of concavity|
|Per's case is especially interesting (and was especially difficult), because unlike many horses with contracted heels who have almost too MUCH sole concavity (when the heels contract, the excess sole goes UP into the hoof capsule), Peregrine had contracted heels AND flat soles. In other horses, when the heel begins to widen, you can expect to lose some concavity, but since there is plenty to start with, this doesn't represent a problem.
In Peregrine's case, however, there was no excess concavity at all, and hence, his heel expansion took longer than it might have in another horse. Whenever he developed any concavity at all, it disappeared again when the heels widened even a small amount. Over the course of 2-1/2 years, however, not only did the heel slowly begin to expand, but concavity developed to a degree I never really expected.
The photo series below shows, from still-shod to just recently, the gradual widening of the central sulcus (declivity in the center of the frog). On the far left you can see that not only the frog, but the heels themselves, are very narrow. The entire foot has a long, oval shape, with the narrowest part being the weak heel bulbs. The red arrow points to the tight, pinched central sulcus.
In the center photo, 1 year into his transition, Per's frog is wider. The crack is still a crack, not a groove, however, and we were still fighting white line stretching (from the tendency of the foot to migrate forward towards the toe, stretching the connection within the hoofwall).
|Finally, in the photo on the far right, you can see that Peregrine's heels are not only wider and his frog stronger, but the central sulcus is now OPEN. New, healthy frog is coming in now at a faster rate than ever before, and the entire back of the foot is wider, stronger, and more supportive than it's ever been in his life. Compare the overall SHAPE of the foot on the far right to that of the foot on the far left.|
|A firm foundation|
|[NOTE: The photos below really ARE all of Peregrine. He greyed out very quickly.]
Finally, below are side views from before Peregrine's shoes came off (left) through the present time (right). Unfortunately, the first photo was taken at an incorrect angle, so the extreme forward position of Peregrine's heels is not as clear as it would be otherwise. But compare, in each photo, the amount of heel that falls BEHIND the white line. Increasingly, there is less foot behind the white line (the true back of the foot, and the heels are increasingly closer to the ground, where they can support the horse.
The yellow lines in the 2nd and 3rd pictures indicate flare. In the 2nd picture, a line drawn along the hoof wall as it comes out of the coronary band (top of hoof at hairline) and straight to the ground does not stay on the edge of the hoofwall. The stretching forward of the white line causes flaring, so that the hoof closer to the ground has a poor laminar connection.
In the 3rd picture, the yellow line stays on the hoofwall all the way down to the ground, indicating that the connection between layers is tight all the way down.
|More to it than just the trim|
|It's important to realize that Peregrine's success relied, as does that of any horse transitioning to barefoot, on more than just a good trim. Lifestyle is just as important.
I readily admit that Peregrine's progress was slower than it would have been had I put him on 24/7 turnout and removed all grain from his diet from the start. But I was transitioning, too, and it was hard for me to believe that a thoroughbred could thrive in a natural setting. Once I embraced the natural lifestyle, Peregrine progressed much more quickly. As animals who are adapted to function on relatively low-quality forage, horses do not react well to feed that is high in certain types of carbohydrates or that is high protein. They are also animals of movement, and when confined in stalls, their feet (as well as their digestive tracts and their minds) suffer.
There is more information on what a natural lifestyle entails HERE. It's important to see that natural hoofcare is entirely holistic; without all parts in place, the results will be less than ideal.
|The End of the Story|
|The sad ending of Peregrine's story is that he passed on in 2008. He developed neurological problems whose cause was very hard to diagnose--eventually it turned out that he had melanoma (not uncommon in grey horses, but usually not life-threatening to this degree) throughout his whole system. Peregrine's memorial is HERE.
Hopefully, Peregrine's story will inspire others with OTTBs to take the plunge. It is rarely an easy road, but the rewards are endless. To give a horse back the feet he was born with is a rare and priceless gift. Per gave me a gift, too--the knowledge that even the worst feet can be improved by a good barefoot trim and a natural lifestyle.
|Back to the Main Page|