Consider this – Sound, correct movement of the horse relies on all of the components of its highly sophisticated musculoskeletal system working together in synergy.
Now, consider this
What is the most obvious way to throw a spanner in the works and disturb the fine balance of this system?
Look down – it’s hoof balance!
Many horse owners these days are incorporating various natural therapies, supplements and professional treatments into their horse’s routine care in order to manage various musculoskeletal problems and optimise performance. However, many owners also simply accept a trimming or shoeing job on face value unless something is quite obviously wrong.
What does this mean?
Being aware of the more subtle problems that can occur in hoof balance empowers horse owners to recognise a small issue and work with their farrier or trimmer to have it corrected. Why is this important?
Those seemingly small problems can have a very big impact, and if the hoof is not corrected, all the therapies in the world won’t do a thing except relieve the symptoms and blur the cause. This post aims to raise awareness of some of the common body issues stemming from incorrect hoof balance, and inspire owners to educate themselves a little more on what they should be looking for.
What actually happens?
Incorrect heel height will affect the angles of every joint in that limb. For example, a lower heel on one side will extend or open the joints, causing that whole limb to become straighter. In the forelimb, this will effectively shove the entire shoulder out of place. Now, the horse’s foreleg is only attached to the body by muscle, so how might this cause problems elsewhere?
The altered positioning of the scapula is characterised by visible asymmetry, as the scapula will look more prominent on this side. If this is not addressed, the muscles will adapt by building up, increasing the asymmetry.
Now that we have a crooked horse, we also have a crooked saddle…which means the rider is going to exacerbate the problem by being thrown off balance, and the poor saddle fit is going to create asymmetrical pressure points on the spine and surrounding muscles. One obvious symptom is a horse who compensates by leaning on one shoulder. A good rider compensates in turn by correcting the horse as much as possible, but that, once again, treats the symptom rather than the cause. Feeling this? You should be checking for asymmetry.
What about the hind feet?
Low heels in the hind feet cause plenty of problems without even getting on to the effects if asymmetry becomes a factor! As described, low heels open the angles of the joints, straightening the leg. In the hindlimb, this causes generalised strain through the lumbosacral and sacroiliac regions, predisposes the horse to stifle problems, and disturbs the entire posture of the horse.
The take-home message?
Hoof balance is too large a topic to examine every possible consequence, but I hope this post is a catalyst for riders to become more aware of the effects a “tiny hoof-balance problem” can create. We want to keep our horses as comfortable as possible, but we should always attempt to identify the root cause of pain symptoms.
A final note from the author
Rehabilitating a serious hoof problem can take a long time if the hoof quality or growth is poor. I cannot recommend the Donnybrook hoof care range
highly enough in this regard. Donnybrook has never failed us yet as a helping hand in establishing and maintaining good hoof quality – a healthy hoof is much easier to work with.
Cat provides remedial and sports massage therapy to horses in Adelaide and surrounds. Cat is passionate about improving and sharing her knowledge in the fields of equine therapy, rehabilitation and training for soundness, with the firm belief that as horse owners we never stop learning. You can read more about her and the services she offers.