Posted in  Understand Hoof Health  on  28 May, 2013 by  Debs Crosoer

Good hoof balance should focus on more than just the feet. The focus should be on whole horse health. A healthy horse has healthy feet. The hooves are constantly regrowing and regenerating, so if there’s a health problem, it’s going to show up in the hooves. While having correctly balanced hooves is important, it’s also important to have a correctly balanced horse.

If there’s a neuromusculoskeletal issue that’s causing a horse to move incorrectly, or load the hoof incorrectly, it’s going to affect the way the hoof grows. Possibly growing flare or causing a crack in the hoof wall.

Flare can be trimmed out easily enough in most situations, but removing flare is never going to release off a tight muscle, calm a nerve problem or loosen up a stiff joint. What’s more, as removing flare can’t possibly correct or improve any of these conditions, it stands to reason that it’s not going to do anything to address the cause of the flare, so the flare will return.

It’s easy to see an imbalance in the hoof, and then assume that is the cause of a problem higher up in the leg. But what if it’s the other way round? In fairness, either scenario is possible, but the truth of the matter is, most horses have their feet rebalanced every 6 weeks, so this is less likely to be the cause of the issue. (Unless of course they’ve been balanced badly, but I’m assuming that’s not the case)

This is why looking at the whole horse is so important. Neuromusculoskeletal problems aren’t the only cause of poor posture or gait abnormalities. Organ health is also a significant factor. Poor digestion can have a significant effect on posture. Ask anyone with a food intolerance, or see how their posture changes when they’ve eaten something that wasn’t right.

Gut discomfort causes the core muscles to become weak, which in turn puts the back muscles, particularly the lumber, under strain. A tight lumber causes tension in the stifles and this reflects in the hocks. Gut discomfort is very common in horses, as their guts are a huge part of them. In fact gut discomfort is so common, the symptoms are often referred to as ‘normal’.

Just because something is common doesn’t mean that it’s normal or correct. It just means that you see it a lot. What’s the normal every day sign of gut discomfort in a horse?

Well sometimes it’s called a grass belly and sometimes it’s called a hay belly, depending on what the horse has been eating. It’s so common it’s thought of as weight that needs to come off; the horse has eaten too much, so often the horse is exercised as a solution.

If a hay/grass belly causes discomfort, maybe even pain, in the stomach, stiffness in the lumber and tension in the stifles, then what would the effects of exercise and ridden work be?

Well it would be impossible for the horse to round it’s back and it’s likely the hamstrings would do extra work to take some strain off the back. Both of these things would shorten the stride of the hind legs, possibly to the point of causing a toe first landing. which would put even more strain on the stifles.

The toe first landing, would cause the toe of the hind feet to be worn short if the horse is barefoot, wear though your hoof boots at an alarming rate if you use them, or if your horse is shod, then the tension in the muscles will increase at a faster rate.

If you fall into the barefoot category, then you might just get away with it on the hoof balance front as interestingly the effects on the posture caused by these problems creates a stance that stimulates the toe to grow faster. Technically that’s balanced hoof wear!!! I’d argue that it’s not a balanced horse though!

Everything about a horse’s health and wellbeing affects their feet, their hoof balance and their performance. All of this is significant regardless of whether or not there’s a shoe on the bottom of the hoof.

I remember a conversation I had a while ago with a lady whose horse had stomach ulcers. I don’t remember it word for word but it went something like this

Her: My horse has really bad feet, because he has stomach ulcers, I’m sure you can imagine. My farrier’s done a great job at improving them with shoeing though
Me: Are you saying you’re expecting your farrier to be able to shoe your horses stomach ulcers better?
Her: Oh my god! Yes that is what I’m saying, it sounds really silly when you put it like that.
Me: Well I’m glad the feet are getting better, but we could probably improve the results and make things easier on your farrier if we addressed the stomach ulcers through diet.

You see she had a great farrier. It wasn’t at all under dispute that the hoof problems were due to the stomach ulcers, yet still it was expected that farriery should fix the problem. For me that’s addressing the problem from the wrong end. That’s sitting in a boat that’s taking on water bailing it out, rather than putting a bung in the hole that’s letting in the water.

As the hoof care professional involved I’d feel like I’d been set up for failure if I were in that situation. Addressing the whole horse is essential if you want to get the results fast. I’m impatient, and a perfectionist. I want things to get better, but I’m not happy about just correcting the hoof balance, then going back 6 weeks later to do it all again.

That reminds me of the bloke in purgatory who has to push the big rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down so he has to push it back up again, over and over again. I can’t remember his name – but I know he had one! Answers below please Greek mythology fans…

Let’s go wild! Let’s address the gut issues, and the related neuromusculoskeletal issues, so we improve the posture, and the gait, the skin and the health, lets do all that and the hooves too. Get better performance and happier owners.

I know that all sounds like a long job, it’s certainly a longer to do list than just ‘shoe horse’. But if it’s an imbalance in the gut that’s causing the hoof problems then surely the easy way to fix the hooves is to address the gut issue.

Here’s the thing, if you’re addressing the gut problem, how important is the shoe in the first place? I don’t mean, it’s not important so don’t use one. I mean, it becomes less important so who care if it’s there or not. Shod horses deserve good health too, but shoes are so effective at covering up problems, you can get away with bad health without the horse going lame.

What do you think?
Put your 2 cents in and tell me in the comments below.


Hoof Health Laid Bare

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About the author

Debs is a practicing Equine Podiatrist with over 15 years experience, author, and educator.

She’s here to show you how to simplify your horse’s management painlessly so you feel in control and have a straightforward system that works for you.

When she’s not working you can find her playing with her own horses, watching geeky sci-fi or baking epic cakes.

  • Thanks Deb for giving that insight to others. I am really going to plan on making my horses gut is not under any stress. Its got my brain ticking…

  • Shoes cause an imbalance in the body,simply because the muscles have to compensate for the unbalancing effect you get as soon as you nail a shoe to the hoof and the avoidance of excessive concussion.

  • Brilliant article!! Especially as I sent my horse hair to a radionics lady who doesnt know him or me from Adam an one of the things she identified was discomfort in the gut and also the feet and hocks. There could well be a connection from reading this.

  • Being funny about being girthed can be a sign of a number of things. 1 of them is stomach ulcers, but also, it can be a sore muscle, girth that doesn’t suit her, saddle that pinches, bad back, to name a few, so I wouldn’t use that as the only symptom.

    Figuring out what’s wrong is a bit like a police investigate. You need to gather as much evidence as possible, and see where that evidence leads to. Sometimes it all points in the same direction. That’s a good day. Other times each piece of information points in a completely different direction, that’s frustrating!

    Touchy being girthed points to possible digestive discomfort, muscle discomfort, tack issues, maybe a learned behaviour (though there’s arguments for and against this one)

    Drinking a lot points to endocrine or urinary system issues, or maybe it’s hotter, she haas more salt in her diet, it’s drier, so she’s not getting as much moisture from the grass, so you’ve noticed an increase in drinking water but it’s normal, among other things.

    Cracked hooves, we’re covering in the cracked hooves series, but in short, nutrition, circulation or neuromusculoskeletal issues.

    Liver problems is a huge subject, I cover a bit in this article

    I hope that helps

  • I would like to know more about this liver problems.
    My mare is pretty touchy about being girthed up, she drinks an awful lot of water now and again and she has cracked hooves.
    Can someone point me in the right direction?

  • Sisyphus was the chap punished for his chronic deceitfulness (thanks Google & Wikipedia!) Thus it came to pass that pointless or interminable activities are sometimes described as Sisyphean 🙂

    Great article (as always). We’ve just done a course of L94 (liver detox for you folk yet to call Trinity) so hopefully Annabelle is belly-pain free! I think the majority of people underestimate a) how many horses are effected and b) the extend to which it will effect their horses and having been a sufferer myself I can vouch for the knock on effect of change in posture and back ache!

    • Awesome! Thanks Katie, I’ve never heard the term Sisyphean before, but I can definitely see me using it now!

      Belly ache = back ache – learning about health 1 issue at a time! 🙂 Been there too

  • Great article Debs.

    I love …”just because something is common doesn’t mean it’s normal or correct. It just means you see it a lot ”

    If only everyone could actually take this in….we could have so many more happy horses.


    SJ x

    • Thanks. I think if we could remember it more we could be happier people too! It’s so easy to forget, but I get to laugh at myself a lot when I remember 🙂

      I do like to play the ‘if an alien landed here right now, what would his assessment of the situation be’ though I think it could use a catchier title!

  • How would you address a “grass belly”? One of mine is prone to it. He has restricted grazing and is a good weight.

    • This is going to sound a little facetious, which I don’t meant it to be – so bare with me…

      You need to address the cause… The problem I have is there’s a number of causes and from this vantage point I can’t see what it might be. (I can see a laptop and a dog – not much use 🙂 )

      The short, simple and most effective answer I can give you, is call Trinity Consultants Not only will they discuss all the options with you, they can provide a high quality solution, if it’s needed.

      I like getting results quickly!

      The longer answer is, figure out if it’s liver, gut balance, circulation, blood ph, allergy, kidney, pancreas, hormone or stress related. Then address that.

      The liver is involved in so many functions and so many bodily systems it’s a good place to start. The truth is, if anything is out of balance, it’s likely to have an effect on the liver anyway, so just sorting that can sort so many problems! Come to think of it, not sorting the liver before you address other issues will impede or possibly even prevent your results anyway.

      It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that if someone were to simply go around saying ‘detox the liver’ in answer to every problem, they’d be right impressively often.

      So if I’m going to take a blind stab in the dark, I’ve got a 90% chance of looking cool by saying it’s the liver. (but the truth is I’m guessing, not going off observations or having any way of backing it up with sound reasoning)

      I kinda have a mental image in my head of pin the tail on the donkey, only it’s pin the liver on the horsey. Yeah – sorry I ramble when I’m tired and can get a little random. I’ll work on that!


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