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Knowing Your Horse - Inside & Out


The University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine (UTCVM) and the UT Extension Service offered the annual horse owners educational conference on March 15, 2014 at the Knoxville, TN campus. The morning session began with Dr. Karen McCormick speaking on “Rocks and Rolls: Causes of Chronic Colic in the Horse.” Next, Dr. Melissa Hines covered “Coughing and Inflammatory Airway Disease” in “The Hoarse Horse.” Finishing the morning sessions was Dudley Hurst, resident farrier at UTCVM, asking “Who You Gonna Call? Myth Busters of the Equine Hoof.”
Afternoon sessions covered: Equine Color Genetics, by Grey Parks; My Mare is Pregnant – Now What? By Dr. Lew Strickland; and Emergency First Aid for the Horse, by Dr. Meggan Graves.

After the break, Dr. Bridgett McIntosh spoke on “Improving Health and Performance Through Nutrition.” Dr. Melanie Adams addressed Geriatric Horse issues: “Teaching the Old Horse Owner Some New Tricks.” Dr. Steve Adair finished the lecture sessions, discussing “Advances in Equine Rehabilitation.” After the lectures, attendees toured the new UTCVM Performance and Rehabilitation Facility.

Dudley Hurst emphasized the importance of a good working relationship between veterinarian and farrier. “No hoof, no horse” is a common truism, and hoof care is one of the most common services to the horse. He debunked some of the myths that horse owners have about the equine hoof.

He went over some common hoof issues horse owners face and how to determine when you have a hoof emergency. For example, pulled shoes are generally not an emergency unless they affect the soft tissue. However, any shoe that is not properly placed or does not complement the hoof is a detriment to the hoof. For a puncture wound, call the veterinarian immediately. If you can, leave the object in place. If there is a danger of it pushing further into the foot, remove it, but first mark the object for depth and mark the entry place on the hoof. Use a bright red magic marker!
He discussed the two kinds of abscesses, some of which blow out at the coronet band, and warned to “be careful about anything repeating in the horse’s hoof. This is not normal. When the feed break down in the same location often, call you veterinarian to diagnose why this is happening. What is going on in the foot?”

He discussed laminitis: the differences between severe/acute laminitis and chronic/metabolic laminitis. Chronic laminitis comes on gradually, sometimes over years. Here’s where radiographs are helpful in showing more about conformation and what’s going on inside the hoof and pastern. This is an issue where is it important for the farrier and veterinarian to work together to solve the problem.

Hurst explained the basic elements for a healthy hoof:

(1)    Conformation: “everything structurally that makes the horse who he is.”
(2)    Environment: parts of Tennessee are rated as deciduous rainforest, so that means that moisture in the environment has a great impact on hooves.
(3)    Nutrition: Contrary to popular belief, supplements don’t change basic hoof conformation. Hurst believes that farriers should not make nutritional recommendations. That said, imbalances in minerals do have a negative on hoof conformation. Hurst suggested talking to a feed nutrition specialist from any of the major feed companies for advice. The most important nutrient is water, Hurst emphasized. Other factors that affect hooves: starvation diets, obesity, and high stress environments all have negative impacts on hooves.
(4)    Work: the horse’s job. Horses need routine maintenance to take care of hoof growth and how hoof growth affects limbs.
(5)    Farrier service: complements the hoof for the work the horse is doing. Hurst said he’s been shoeing horses since he was 14 years old.

What makes a good hoof? Density of the tubular horn that makes up the hoof capsule and hoof wall. Hurst showed slides that showed in detail how the kerotinized tubular horn grows downward from the top and hardens when it leaves its base of origin to form the hoof wall. The frog is non-kerotinized tubular horn and one can judge frog health to see how the environment is affecting the hoof. The laminar junction is “like Velcro” holding it all together. The periople regulates moisture in and out of the hoof. And the white line is the most densely packed horn of the hoof.

Hurst emphasized the importance of regular hoof trimming and the damage that occurs when hooves are not trimmed regularly, e.g., tendon damage. “Excessive overgrowth creates significant inbalance and changes in conformation structures,” he said. “In a balanced foot, you can see even concentric growth rings. It’s all about getting the hoof under the leg to protect the structures that allow the horse to get around well.”

“Why trim regularly?” he asked. “To take care of the break down and maintain the balance of the leg. Understanding basic hoof function and anatomy are important parts of farrier service. Think of the whole horse! Feet are always a symptom of conformation”

Each presentation was in-depth and detailed so that participants could clearly learn about their horse from the inside out. The topics were clearly defined and illustrated with diagrams and photos, then solutions to issues were offered, as well as what horse owners can do to maintain their horses in better health.

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