Pain in your horse’s feet affects every part of his body as he alters his movements to avoid the discomfort. Since horses are masters of disguising weaknesses and pain, it is vital to be able to recognize the subtle signs of soreness in your horse before irreversible damage occurs.
By Helle Maigaard Erhardsen
You should never let your horse become foot-sore, says Equine Sports Massage Therapist Lauren Hazelwood, because your horse will change his posture and movements to avoid putting weight on the sore part of his feet, and this will create problems up through his body.
“I’d say in at least 70 percent of the horses I treat, who have developed poor posture or muscular imbalances, it is directly related to hoof issues,” Lauren said, who has been practising equine therapy professionally since 2015.
As such, whenever Lauren sees a client, whether it’s a regular client or a new horse, she wants to see the horse move before addressing possible problems and from looking at the condition of the horse’s hooves, it is likely where she will find the cause of most issues in the horse’s movement. Foot soreness in a horse is often a result of unbalanced and poor hoof trimming such as:
- Hoof trimming that leaves the horse’s toes too long or one longer than the other
- Hoof trimming that cuts away the horse’s protective callus at the toe
- Hoof trimming that leaves the horse’s heels out of level
- High/Low hoof syndrome that isn’t being treated correctly by a qualified hoof care professional and equine physiotherapist
In the following, we will look closer at a few of the most common causes of foot soreness in horses that impact other parts of the horse’s body, and learn how you as a horse owner can help prevent hoof soreness and avoid other subsequent bodily issues caused by compensatory patterns.
Lauren at work helping 8yo Jack release tension in his shoulder. Many hoof issues that have impacted the horse further up his body require cooperation between a hoof care professional and the horse’s bodyworker to be helped most effectively.
Sore Hooves will lead to Poor Posture in your Horse
Imagine you’ve got a blister on your one heel. This will inevitably make you try to avoid pressing your heel down and rub the blister further. Then you compensate by stiffening your ankle and landing on your forefoot, which will put pressure on your knee, put your hips out of balance, make you pull your shoulders up and result in a bad posture.
In most cases people don’t mind limping around and show they are in pain till they get to take their shoes off and put a band-aid on the blister. Horses, on the other hand, being a prey animal, survive on not displaying any signs of weakness and will do anything to disguise the pain till it’s so severe they can’t avoid showing it.
By the time a horse’s pain becomes obvious, chances are that the stress on the compensatory body parts have become an issue as well as what was causing the pain initially. And often the horse becomes so good at compensating, that the aftermath is what’s noticed first:
“Generally, if you notice a muscle bulge somewhere on the horse, it is likely to be caused by compensating for something else. For instance, some horses will develop these massive bulging hamstrings as a result of sore front feet, when the horse comes into the habit of leaning back to take the weight off his front,” Lauren explained.
Hoof Thrush can make your Horse sink onto his Heel Bulbs
Lauren Hazelwood is located in Tasmania, Australia, where she runs her own small business Lauren’s Equine. Apart from being an ETAA certified sports massage therapist, she’s also an equine tissue mobilisation specialist and produces her own horse immune defence booster-supplement and is a stockist of hoof boots from Scoot Boots.
One of the most common hoof related issues Lauren comes across in her work is something so well-known and yet so often overlooked: Thrush. Thrush infected hooves become very sore and will make the horse sink backwards onto his bulbs to avoid loading weight on his frogs. This leads to overextension of the horse’s knees and puts pressure on the ligaments along the backside of the leg.
As such, thrush in the horse’s hooves should never be ignored and needs to be treated daily for as long as it takes to clear up. Using hoof boots during recovery from thrush can help make the horse more comfortable and lessen the horse’s urge to avoid loading weight on his frogs. Loading of the frog stimulates the tissue and encourages new growth, which is just as important as helping your horse get rid of the infection itself.
“It is really important to keep your horse comfortable and moving while he recovers from thrush. I would absolutely recommend using Scoot Boots to protect his feet and add extra pads inside the boots if needed,” Lauren said.
Lauren and her beloved OTT thoroughbred Thunder. She uses Scoot Boots both for riding and rehabilitation and has found Scoot Boots to be the perfect aid allowing all her horses to be barefoot.
Correct Trimming is Imperative to Keep your Horse Moving Comfortably
Imbalanced hoof trimming is another issue that will make your horse adjust his body and movements to compensate for the imbalance in his feet. Hooves that are trimmed to a flat plain such as in a classic pasture trim, are most often left with the toes too long. Long toes on a horse will delay the hooves’ natural breakover and make the horse land on his toes, which over time creates a multitude of problems:
“Apart from the damage toe-first landings can do to the horse’s feet internally, it puts a lot of stress on the flexor tendons, his knees and his shoulders. A horse that lands with his toes first can’t collect from the rear and you’ll often find that your horse will end up falling in on one side to let his stronger side carry most of the pressure,” Lauren explained.
Toe-first landings in horses can also be caused by different types of caudal heel pain and needless to say; horse owners should investigate the cause and initiate treatment immediately to avoid lasting damage. Depending on the cause of the horse’s heel pain, the horse will eventually need to rehabilitate his caudal heel strength and that will require stimulation of the frog as well as in the case with thrush.
Hoof boots from Scoot Boots are an excellent aid to help the horse be comfortable enough to land on his heels again and relieve the stress from his flexor tendons. However, do keep in mind that in order for any hoof boot to work as an aid in rehabilitation, the underlying cause of the horse’s discomfort must be treated and if caused by unbalanced trimming, this must be gradually corrected by a qualified hoof care professional.
Toe-first landings can be the result of many different types of heel pain in the horse such as navicular, contracted or underrun heels and delayed breakover due to poor hoof trimming that leaves the horse’s toes too long.
Learn the Signs of Discomfort in your Horse when he’s at Rest
According to a scientific evaluation of the Benefits of Equine Massage Therapy, a good equine massage includes a focus on equine anatomy and physiology, pathology, and the impacts of movement and exercise on these systems. A competent therapist should be able to understand the horse’s behaviour and normal and abnormal responses to pain.
“The end goal of a massage, no matter if it’s an elite performance horse, a retiree or a rehabilitation case, is relaxation. You work to identify and release any blockages and tension in order to improve muscle health and motion, and this can only be achieved when the horse is relaxed,” Lauren said.
A good place to start practising being able to see if your horse is in pain, is by watching him rest. You want to see a nice, drooping underlip, lowered neck, ears drooping to each side and the resting of one hind leg.
“If a horse isn’t able to rest comfortably, you know something is troubling him. If his tummy is tugged up, his lower back and hind end is tugged in, he’s shifting his weight between his legs, or his neck is tight. So be mindful, learn what your horse looks like when he’s relaxed and comfortable and pay attention to the small signs of discomfort,” Lauren recommended.
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About the author
Helle Maigaard Erhardsen is an investigative journalist specialising in environmental issues. Her devotion to the outdoors includes a life long passion for horses of which she has three: An off-the-track Thoroughbred, a paint horse and a Shetland pony, who are all bitless and barefoot. Helle is born in Denmark, where she graduated from the Danish School of Media and Journalism in 2015. Her work is characterised by comprehensive research and she was nominated for the special media award Bording Prisen for her investigative reporting with the newspaper Ing.dk. She later obtained a Master’s degree in Journalism, Media and Communication from UTAS, when she relocated to Tasmania.