More Topics about Barefoot Horses by lonyoo


									           More Topics about Barefoot Horses
On this page:

      -- Fungus infection in hooves
      -- "Navicular syndrome"
      -- Healthy hooves for foals
      -- Colts starting in work
      -- Hoof damage from carrying rider's weight?
      -- Trimming donkeys and mules
      -- "Club foot"


In wet climates or the wet season, we are seeing quite a lot of fungus
infections in the frogs of domestic horses. It seems to be similar to
"athlete's foot" (tinea pedis) and yeast infection (Candida) in humans.
Horses in dry climates rarely get it.

Fungus is what people in wet climates call, "My horse's frogs seem to shed
every year."

Difference between fungus and thrush: If you swipe a hoofpick deep into
fungus-infected tissue, it will smell "cheesy" like a yeast (Candida)
infection. The back half of the frog peels off in deep layers, and the frog
never becomes a wide, healthy triangle. The diseased tissue may be light
gray in color; healthy frog is medium gray.

By comparison, thrush has a nasty, rotten smell, the tissue is black and
slimy, and it tends to begin along the collateral grooves. Thrush is another
wet-season problem. In wet areas, people use Kopertox daily in the
grooves of their horses' feet but it is a nasty environmental poison. Thrush-
buster which uses Gentian Violet is also effective.

Some "white line disease" seems to be caused by fungus. There will be an
area where tapping on the hoof wall makes a hollow sound. However, I
think most of what people are calling "white line disease" is just a very
stretched white line; it does look strange. Among several hundred horses, I
have yet to see a true case of "white line disease."

Fungus is found everywhere in the soil. Since plenty of horses in wet
climates don't have fungus, I believe the ones that do must have a
weakened immune system, and/or that the infection is systemic, similar to
Candida in humans. Therefore we need to strengthen the immune system
as well as treating the infection locally in the hoof. Herbs, balanced
nutrition (vitamins and minerals), acupuncture / acupressure, and
homeopathy are some ways to do this; the treatment should be tailored to
the individual horse and to lab analysis of your hay and feed.

Fungus is not thrush and must be treated differently. Treating for thrush
(Kopertox, Thrush Buster, etc.) will make the fungus worse, because the
fungus feeds on the dead thrush. Fungus has only recently been
recognized as a problem, so we need to figure out what works in treating it.

                         Here is my mare's front foot before treatment,
                         showing the typical crease between the bulbs and
                         poor frog growth between the heels. Her frogs
                         looked like this for several years, no matter how I
                         trimmed the feet.

                         After treatment with borax and Calendula, the frog
                         is healthy, with a wide-open central sulcus. The
                         heels have gained over 1/2 inch (13mm) in width.

I began to experiment with treatments for fungus in my own horses in May,
2002. By July there was 1/2 inch (13 mm) increase in width between the
heels in all their feet. In October there was no longer a crease between the
heel bulbs and there was substantial new frog growth on all feet. In
December, the frogs were beautiful and some of the heels had expanded an
addtional 1/4 inch (7 mm). The hoofprints were round (were oval before)
with excellent frog contact on the ground.

Trim away all "shedding" or peeling frog material with a sharp hoof knife --
sharp so that you can cleanly cut away the diseased part. You will see
deep, black cracks; trim till all the black is gone and all remaining frog is
open to the air. This will let the soaking solution get to all infected areas.
Be careful, some of the deeper cracks may be tender. Your horse may be
sore in the heels for a few days, but frog grows back really fast when the
fungus finally gets treated.

Treatments for fungus:

Clean Trax is a chlorine-related treatment that kills both the fungus and its
spores. It is the treatment of choice in difficult cases and where the fungus
has invaded the white line higher in the hoof capsule. Clean Trax is
expensive and takes a very long soak which is hard to do with horses that
don't stand still easily.

Clean Trax is available from KC La Pierre, 508-248-4444, from (click on Hoof Care/Repair, then click Hoof
Medications), and possibly elsewhere.

Clean Trax is applied by soaking the horse's feet for 45 minutes in a gallon
of solution; then you wrap the feet in plastic bags for another 45 minutes to
keep the fumes in. A severe infection may need more than one treatment.
Gallon soaking boots are available from KC La Pierre. You can make a
good boot from about half of an inner tube with one end tied off.

Fungidye and Tea Tree Oil were not successful in my trials, though others
have reported success with them.

Borax cleaning powder (a laundry product, such as "20 Mule Team Borax"
or "Boraxo"), is available at hardware stores and old-fashioned grocery
stores; overseas at the chemist. Borax works by changing the pH (acidity)
of the frog to a more alkaline range so that the fungus is unable to
reproduce. I found Borax to be successful, easy to deal with, and
inexpensive. For typical cases, borax is my treatment of choice.

Put water to cover the hoof in a bucket with a heaping tablespoon of borax
powder; or water in a soaking boot with half-a-teaspoon of borax. I also
added half a dropper of Calendula drops -- an herb that helps with skin
conditions, available in a dropper bottle at the health food store. Soak the
feet for 10 minutes, up to 10 times in tough cases, over a month or two.
With my horses I soaked four times over several weeks; on in-between
days I put some solution into the frog crease with a cotton ball. You can
stop soaking when there is obvious new growth in the center of the frog.

People in the UK are using Zinc sulphate (sheep foot rot treatment) which
can be soaked for a short time daily or even kept in a permanent foot bath
that the (sheep) walk through daily both for treatment and prevention.

In my opinion, since fungus is likely a systemic infection, half the battle is
to build the horse's deficient immune system; really healthy, unstressed
horses don't seem to get fungus. I would suggest several or all of the

      -- Add half a dropper of Calendula drops daily in the horse's dinner,
      also add to the soaking solution; use until the bottle is empty.
      Calendula is an herb that supports healing of skin tissues; hoof and
      frog are "skin." Other herbs may be available in other countries.

      -- Give 30,000 units of vitamin A daily for several months. This is
      approximately the amount in a very large carrot, or in a flake/leaf of
      alfalfa hay. For horses with dietary restrictions, you can use vitamin
      A from your health food store instead of carrots. Vitamin A is
      important in healing skin tissues and for overall immune system
      health. It's important to supplement with Vitamin A in the winter, or
      any time the horse is not getting a substantial daily amount of green
      in its diet (grass, leaves, or hay that is quite green).

      -- Dr. Ed Sheaffer, a naturopathic veterinarian, notes that an iodine
      deficiency is strongly implicated in all fungal infections, including
      rain rot and fungus in the hoof. A good way to include iodine in your
      horse's diet is to provide free-choice kelp meal, or any other
      seaweed you can get. Along with iodine, seaweed contains all the
      trace minerals because it grows in the ocean. Horses tend to eat a lot
      of it for the first few days to catch up on mineral deficiencies; then
      they nibble on it in much smaller amounts as needed.

      -- There are many other herbs that boost the immune system. I
      recommend you talk with your local herbalist, as herbs vary around
      the world. With some of them, be careful how long you give them; for
      example, Echinacea is a strong immune system builder, yet begins
      to deplete the body if used more than about a week. There are many
      "weeds" that support the immune system, including common ones
      like dandelion and plantain. If your horse's pasture is lacking in a
      variety of weeds, find a weedy spot elsewhere and do some
      occasional hand grazing there.

      -- If there is a toe flare, this contracts of the heel, squeezing the frog
      together, so that the central sulcus becomes a crease where fungus
      lives easily. Keep the toe well backed-up so that the heels can de-

There are areas where we keep horses, such as the northeastern and
northwestern corners of the U.S., the U.K., and others, where the climate is
so constantly wet that horses are always fighting off fungus infections. In
these areas, at the wettest times, it may be more important to stable a
horse overnight so its feet can dry out, than to keep it on pasture 24/7.

The conventional veterinary point-of-view is that "navicular syndrome" is a
somewhat mysterious disease process in which the navicular bone is
attacked by something. The pain is thought to come from disease in the
navicular bone. In fact, the navicular bone has no pain-reporting nerves
and cannot feel pain.

Conventional treatment is to make the horse comfortable enough, by using
"therapeutic" shoes and eventually by cutting the nerves to the foot, so
that he can be ridden "as long as possible." When pain control no longer
works, the horse is put down. There is no expectation of actually healing
the foot.

The barefoot point-of-view is profoundly more hopeful. "Navicular
syndrome" is seen as a simple mechanical problem with a mechanical
solution: we trim the foot to the natural (wild horse) shape. The goal is the
complete recovery of the foot with a return to true soundness.

Talking with Gene Ovnicek, there appear to be two reasons for "navicular"
pain: 1) painful squeezing of internal tissues due to long, contracted heels
and 2) chronic inflammation of the impar ligament, which holds the
navicular bone in position, due to incorrect hoof shape that results in the
foot landing toe-first. (More discussion on Trim page.)

When the toe, due to improper trim, has pulled forward from the coffin
bone, the hoof tends to land toe-first. If we back up the toe and shorten the
heel, the hoof is able to land heel-first and does not aggravate the impar
                                     Here is a photo from Gene Ovnicek, showing
                                     a hoof that lands toe-first and has been
                                     diagnosed as "navicular." The bottom would
                                     look like the left drawing, above.

                                     Another hoof, trimmed similar to the one
                                     above. Looking from behind, we see very long
                                     heels with a narrow frog; the toe has pulled
                                     forward, and the hoof is full of chalky,
                                     overgrown sole.

The wild-horse trim, as shown on the Trim page, changes the balance of
the hoof so that it can begin to land heel-first. Pain is often reduced
substantially after the first wild-horse trim, with full soundness occurring
gradually over several months, as the feet land more consistently heel-first,
and inflammation in the impar ligament subsides.


Foals are born with perfect, tiny hooves. If they are given living conditions
similar to what a wild horse has, their feet and legs will develop with no
problems. But most foals in captivity live in conditions quite different from
what their feet actually need.

It appears that the first hour of a foal's life is critical to hoof health. In the
wild, the mare moves the foal quickly away from the place of birth, because
predators are attracted to the afterbirth and of course to the foal as well. So
the soft foal feet, consisting mostly of raggedy frog tissue with a lot of
proprioceptive (tells the brain about limb position) nerve endings, get
about an hour of movement on hard ground before the foal ever nurses.
Gene Ovnicek believes that this hour of movement is a "window of
opportunity" which gets the hoof started towards a lifetime of correct
shape and function.
In order to develop healthy hooves, foals should not be on soft bedding at
all. Instead, from "day one" they should get 10+ miles (15+ km.) of daily
movement on hard, uneven ground (not pavement). This could take the
form of following along with their mother, who should also be going 10+
miles per day for her own health and hoof care. If you can arrange that they
move around a lot in their 24-hour turnout, which takes some careful
thinking and planning, you wouldn't have to ride/pony the mare for all of
those 10 daily miles.

Foal hooves are nearly cylindrical at birth. It takes a lot of concussion on
hard ground (which horses are designed for) to spread the hooves out into
the shock-absorbing cone shape of the adult horse. In soft footing, and
especially in bedding, the feet just sink in without flexing. Many foals soon
develop a very contracted foot where the base is actually smaller than the
coronet -- the walls are "inside the vertical." This is extremely difficult to

Wild foals run with the herd on hard and often rocky ground. Wild horses
move 20 miles (30 km.) or more every day, just getting food and water.
Foals are "precocious" young, which means they are born able to keep up
with the herd (different from human, cat, kangaroo, etc., offspring which
must be carried by adults or hidden from predators).

Bone alignment in the leg depends on having sufficient movement on firm
terrain. The pasterns are nearly upright at birth. They need lots of
movement so that the pastern bones align into the harmonic curve which
gives shock absorption in the leg.

The ligaments and tendons in the legs, as well as in the upper body, can
only become as strong as the work they do every day. The toughest
ligaments and tendons come from plenty of daily movement on hard or
rocky ground. A horse raised this way will be able to handle the athletic
demands of an equine sport without breaking down.

Dr. Strasser and Gene Ovnicek both note that the "problem" legs that some
foals are born with, generally align themselves correctly within 2 weeks,
without veterinary intervention, if the foal gets sufficient movement and is
not kept on soft footing. A foal at my friend's farm gained good alignment
and leg strength in this way within about a week.

Here is a foal's Right Front at about 6 weeks. She runs around in 24 hour
turnout, but the ground is soft in our climate, so her feet don't wear much.
The "after" is close to what her feet looked like at birth.
         Before trim                  After trim           Sole, after trim


A horse's feet continue to get wider until the horse has reached its full
adult weight, at about age 5. The hoof gets broader as the horse gets
heavier. The coffin bone reaches its adult size and shape at age 5.

When a young horse is shod, generally at age 3 when training begins, it
restricts the growth of the feet. The coffin bone is no longer able to grow
into its correct shape, because the "wall of nails" around the edge of the
shoe interferes with further widening. Shoes also begin to contract the
heels. The coffin bone grows in a narrowed shape, and the heels curve in
towards the frog.

I hope that people raising young horses will decide not to shoe them. The
horse that stays barefoot will be more confident because, as it learns to do
its job, it is able to feel the ground and know where its legs are. A horse
raised barefoot is graceful. Its movement is glorious to behold. I believe
that once we begin to see some adult horses, raised barefoot, we will
realize what we've been missing in our athlete friends.


When riding any horse, the guideline is not to ask the horse to carry more
than 15% of his weight, though stocky-built ponies seem to be able to carry
more than this without difficulty. Wild horses add 20% to their weight each
fall, in preparation for winter. Mares in foal carry 15-20% extra weight.

In a barefoot horse, the weight of a rider makes the hoof flex a bit more.
The tough yet elastic hoof materials absorb the extra concussion.

If you think about it, it's the shod horse that has more trouble with the
rider's weight. In a shod horse, the hoof doesn't flex, therefore the horse
loses 70-80% of his shock absorption. Instead, the concussion travels up
the leg, putting extra wear-and-tear on the joints.

Horses that have completed the transition to barefoot have beautiful, tough
feet, unlike anything we're used to seeing, and they carry a rider with no
trouble over any type of rough ground.


There are two photos "after trim" in Pete Ramey's book Making Natural
Hoof Care Work for You. There are also several pages about donkeys in
Jaime Jackson's Horse Owners Guide to Natural Hoof Care, with one photo
of a wild donkey foot. Both available from Star Ridge Publishing,, phone 1-870-743-4603.

Here is a webpage with a drawing and photo of a well-trimmed donkey foot:

The donkey and mule foot is similar to the horse, except that the frog is set
farther back behind the hoof wall, and the entire hoof is longer and
narrower, sometimes even pinched inwards along the quarters. It is this
shape because the donkey is a dry-rocky-terrain animal and this shape
gives them the best traction on this type of terrain.

The principles of trimming a donkey foot are the same as for a horse.
Scrape out all chalky layer of exfoliating sole (there can be a lot if they
haven't been trimmed in a while), till you get to the hard sole. Then trim the
hoof wall, including heels, down to the edge of the sole.

In my experience you really only need to mustang roll the toe area, but you
can experiment with how far to continue the roll around toward the heels,
and on rocky ground they will probably round it off themselves -- I live
where the ground is soft and that's really difficult for donkey feet. If you or
the donkey doesn't put on a mustang roll, the toe very easily starts to flare
forward and goes into the curled-up-slipper-toe situation.

Because the foot is small and narrow like a pony foot, it will "look" more
upright when trimmed to the edge of the sole. Reason: The coffin bone of
all equines is the same height, but spreads out wider in a bigger, heavier
animal. So the heel bulbs in a donkey will be about the same actual height
as a horse's and this will make the small hoof appear to be more upright
overall. Just trim wall length to the edge of the sole and it will be correct.

The bars slope way down into the deep concavity, so trim off everything
that is longer than the adjacent sole. If you have shortened the heels a lot,
make sure you trim the back part of the bar to be a little below the level as
the wall (no ground contact).

If the hoof was very overgrown, the frog may need some cleaning up. Trim
any nasty-looking diseased frog, and any loose tatters.

The frog will get in much better condition when the heels are kept short
enough, because it has stimulation from the ground. If conditions have
been wet, donkeys can get fungus just like a horse, and it's worth soaking
with borax (laundry powder in some water) several times over a week or
two. Then the frog can grow plump and happy. A happy frog is important
because it contains proprioceptive sensors (they tell the brain "where this
limb is") that let the donkey know when the foot has touched the ground,
which they need for surefootedness on uneven terrain.

In New England, where I lived for a while, the ground is soft and wet but
there are miles and miles of old, uneven stone walls -- the "stock fences" of
white settlers before wire was invented. I recommended to several donkey
owners that they move their fence to the outside of the stone wall, so the
donks would have something rocky to climb on. If you don't have stone
walls, I'm sure donkeys living on soft ground would enjoy a dump-truck
load of rocks and/or gravel in their paddock and it would be great for their

The main challenge in trimming donkeys is not the trim itself, but that many
of them don't get enough groundwork to be good about picking up their
feet. A little time reviewing some "natural horsemanship" with a donkey will
go a long way in gaining his helpfulness and make trimming much easier.

Donkeys are very survival-oriented, with a slightly different "flavor" than
horses. If they have had a more or less wild or non-working lifestyle, it's a
really big deal for them to give up their feet to you -- the feet are their
means of escape. Be respectful that they aren't being pigheaded, it truly is
scary for them. Show them clearly and politely that "I mean you no harm
and I make sense." Especially, give an immediate release of pressure in
your request signal, every time they even think about doing what you
asked. They are fast learners when you are clear and precise with your

I haven't lived around donkeys but have been told that once they decide
you are benign, sensible, and truthful, they really like having a "good
leader" and will be very helpful for you.

What I understand about club feet from talking with farrier Gene Ovnicek:

There are two kinds of club foot:

      1) A human-made kind where either the foal wasn't trimmed at all, or
      wasn't trimmed early enough to keep the heels short; or in an adult
      horse the farrier lets the heels get a little longer on one foot at every
      trim without noticing, and when he finally notices the difference, he
      says "That's just the way that foot is, it's a club foot and I can't
      change it."

      We can recognize a human-made club foot because the heels are
      often contracted, and especially, the bars are generally curved and
      "laid-over" somewhat onto the sole.

      This kind can be returned to a normal shape fairly easily by scraping
      out the accumulation of chalky excess sole in the seat of corn and
      shortening the heels to the level of the hard sole. With the heels at
      ground level, one can often see that the toe has pulled forward -- this
      is hard to see when the heel is long. If the toe is forward, back it up
      with a vertical cut and/or apply a toe rocker (see Trim page). This will
      allow the hoof capsule to re-shape itself, and the curved bars will
      straighten by themselves.

      2) A "true" club foot becomes long-heeled as a compensation for
      some kind of injury, often soft-tissue injury in the shoulder. When
      the range of motion of the leg is restricted by an old injury,
      apparently the horse's body "prefers" that that leg have an even
      stride with the other leg, rather than have a perfect hoof, so it grows
      a longer heel to make that leg reach as far as the un-injured one --
      even though the long-heeled foot is potentially less sound.

      This "compensation" type of club foot has a strong heel structure
      with upright, straight bars -- the heel looks like a fortress. The sole
      thickens in the heel to a level that works for the horse.

      This kind of club foot should be respected for the job it's doing for
      the horse. Don't try to shorten it, other than keeping up with normal
      growth (wall getting longer than the sole in the seat of corn).

      It can be worthwhile to get some regular massage sessions for the
      horse, with extra attention put on the shoulder area of the club-
      footed leg. If the soft-tissue injury is able to loosen up and give
      better range-of-motion, then the foot will "tell you" to shorten the
      heel, by gradually retracting the sole, and you can follow the sole
      down to wherever the horse now needs the heel length to be.
My gelding came with a "clubby" foot and a "platter" foot -- the one he
weighted as much as possible because the "clubby" one was pinchy in the
heels. During the first year while I figured out how to trim, his feet became
nearly identical. The club foot got wider and shorter-heeled, the platter foot
got a little taller and narrower. I didn't know you could do this, I was just
trimming his feet the way they seemed to need, and they "got alike" with no
special intention on my part. Once this happened he was able to stand
squared-up while eating, resting, etc.

If a club foot has some flare (often near the bottom), take it off with a
vertical cut (or rasp it to match the upper part of the toe wall if it's just a
local flare at the bottom). Gene Ovnicek mentions that a club foot often has
a pulled-forward toe; a toe rocker will back up the toe and put breakover at
the right time so that the foot can land heel-first. (See Trim page.)

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