How often do you walk your horse up and really look at how they’re moving? I think most of us do it when we see a problem. It just doesn’t seem important enough to ask someone to walk our horse up unless we think there’s a problem.
You probably walk them up when they’re trimmed or shod, but you don’t get to see how they’re moving, your hoof care practitioner does.
It’s really important to know how your horse moves when they’re sound, when there isn’t a problem. Know what their ‘every day’ gait looks like. All horses move differently, just as people do. No horse has perfect movement, so you need to do gait analysis regularly to know what normal is for your horse.
I did quick google of stride phases so I could make sure I was using the most common terms for the phases of stride, but it seems, sadly that not only is there little agreement on the terminology, but the definitions differ too. No wonder things get murky!
For the purposes of this article, there are 4 phases of stride. Swing, when the leg is moving; landing, when the hoof lands; stance, when the hoof is stationary; breakover, when the hoof is pushing off.
How the legs move has a significant effect on the hoof balance. The landing phase of the stride causes the most wear and impact, which stimulates the growth. How the hoof lands is strongly affected by how the limb is moving.
Horses’ legs move a lot like pendulums far more so than our leg movement. The horse doesn’t decide where to place his hoof until the final moment before landing. If you watch them moving you can see this.
(When it’s less muddy I’ll see if I can take a video of my horse JD for you. She’s a very deliberate mover; you can see the moment she decides exactly where she wants her hoof to go. She’s more aware of where he feet are than any other horse I know. Right now she’s just a mud monster though, so you wouldn’t see much beyond that!)
If there’s something tight on the inside of the leg, it will be drawn to the centre of the body during the swing phase. This means when the horse decides where to place the hoof, they need to move the leg back out to the side as they land. This can create all sorts of problems.
You get much more wear on the outside wall than the inside one. You often get more impact, and thus stimulation to grow on the inside wall. You also get forces going across the hoof from the outside to the inside. This is a problem because the hoof was designed to deal with forces going from back to front.
The swing phase has a massive effect on the balance of the hoof (because it determines how the hoof lands), it’s the ‘movement’ part of the stride and mostly determined by the condition of the body. Muscles, joints, nervous system, lymphatic system, other soft tissue and conformation all effect how the body moves.
The balance of the hoof however doesn’t have a huge effect on the swing phase. Yes a long toe will mean the hoof lifts later, a short toe will make the hoof lift earlier, but the hoof capsule isn’t actually interacting with anything during the swing phase.
For this reason I’d never trim a hoof with the intention of changing the gait. I’d always look to the body to improve the gait, and often when trying to improve hoof balance.
Here’s the thing on fixing hoof balance with trimming… Assuming you have enough hoof to work with, you can get the hoof capsule balanced with 1 trim (the hoof capsule, not the internal soft structures) and it stays in balance, give or take a little growth.
If it goes out of balance again, it’s not the hoof capsule (that was in balance), it’s the movement that’s out of balance. So when your horse goes lame, expect the hoof to change shape (and don’t blame you hoof care practitioner! I think I’ve spent more of my life defending farriers than trimmers on this point!!!)
If you’d like a simple set of questions to ask yourself when doing gait analysis on your horse, you’ll find the Hoof Geek Health Checks useful.
Do you know what your horses ‘normal’ gait is?
How often to you walk your horse up to check?
Do you know what you’re looking for?
Do you keep a record, or do you rely on your memory?
Tell me about it in the comments below…