When a horse is lame, often the first port of call everyone thinks about is “REST.”
“We need to make sure they don’t hurt themselves more, their (soft tissue/laminae/hoof) is weak.”
“The horse is uncomfortable, let’s make sure they aren’t moving too much to ensure they’re as comfortable as possible.”
I get it, I really do! When we have an injury ourselves, we typically rest it. If we have a broken leg, we put it in a cast. I tore some ligaments in my hand a few years ago, and my doctor required me to wear a splint because I kept trying to use my hand despite him telling me not to.
That being said, lameness and injury we come across in horses is rarely “all of the sudden,” unless there has been a specific traumatic incident. That means many injuries we see are a result of repetitive strain and improper use. The logical response to these kind of injuries is akin to physical therapy in people.
We need a more “physical therapy” approach to hoof related pathology in many cases!
Nic Barker of Rockley Farm has said countless times that it’s not movement that damages, but it’s INCORRECT movement. Correct movement, like physical therapy, builds up strength and allows healing. So how do we know if a horse is moving correctly, and how do we keep them moving that way?
For hoof related pathology, I approach a horses and assess their hoof landings. I look to see if they are landing heel first and on both heels evenly on a flat surface at a brisk walk. This is what we can call dynamic balance: that in movement, the horse is landing balanced. Often, if there is any lameness present, this isn’t the case. The horse might be landing toe first or harder laterally or medially. This puts extra strain on the soft tissue and joints, and can perpetuate injury rather than rehabilitate it.
I love talking about dynamic balance and ways to get there. So how do we influence it? To start – ensuring the horse has a diet that allows the healthiest laminae connection to grow, making sure the frog is supportive and comfortable enough for the horse to land heel first, and making sure whatever we do to the feet isn’t compromising their comfort.
This might feel like a lot to unpack, but I love talking about this subject! I interviewed Krista Jones, ESMT and owner of From the Ground Up rehab, and Steven Leigh, hoofcare practitioner in the UK, about how to best assess your horse’s movement and use proper movement to your advantage.