The RockFoot Concept

Thinking Outside the Foot
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Shoeing and trimming should involve a group of equine professionals all working in one direction: to achieve a balanced, sound horse, together with an informed and contented owner.

As a farrier of some 38 years I have long had a problem understanding the constant search Farriers, Vets, and others seem to have for references WITHIN the equine hoof that HAVE to relate to the external form in order to produce a ‘balanced’ foot.

Internal pointers that can be seen and measured in dissections, on x-rays and through scans which help identify generalities in relation to connective tissue, are extremely important when it comes to understanding anatomy and internal function, but often cloud the issue when it comes to the biomechanics of an individual animal.

All movement and shape, external or internal, to the horses’ foot are relative to the compromises the animal has to make, including the wearing of a shoe.

I have seen far too many dissections taken from deformed and damaged feet of shod horses -especially those with caudal problems - being labelled as ‘normal’ to realise that it is not a good place to start when looking for accurate references.
What worries me more is that the information gained from such dissections is then often acted upon, when commercially producing shoes or setting a ‘Standard’ within farriery.

The information I am looking for is right in front of my eyes. it requires no x-rays, no scans, no sagittal, distal, palmer, caudal sections with more lines on them than Paddington Station - telling me that if I take a line from ‘here’ it will often, but not always prove a reference point ‘there’.
If you want to know where to start when it comes to reference points, look at the feet of a horse living in the right conditions, eating the correct diet, and is free from human foot management.

I encountered these types of feet in the 1970’s when I worked in Canada, but always put the high quality of their feet down to the dry, hard environment they lived and worked in.

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Note the high head cartridge of the horses going over the rocks!

These feet had no cracks, stretched flares, collapsed heels, or great deviations. The horn grew from the top to the bottom in a straight line; the sole was concave with a calloused sole boarder, showing no sign of white line separation, and with a healthy frog and digital cushion. What’s more there was no adverse affect on the horse’s conformation. Add to this the lack of ailments like: Navicular, Corns, Brushing, Overreaching, White line disease, Sidebone and many other problems that are connected with the domestic animal. And all this while living to a good age.

So what is it about shoeing/owning a horse that can, and often does, change all that? What I had not realised was that a horse can produce feet that will cope with it’s own environment if it is given the correct diet, conditions, workload, and trimming, even when it is living in the wetter conditions found here in the UK.

The best feet I have ever seen were not being managed by anyone. So it follows that diet and condition must be the biggest influence in creating good feet.

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As a Referral Farrier most of my work is with horses that have had some kind of previous hoof treatment that has not been successful. When working with my clients I adopt the NCT rule, Nutrition, Condition then Trimming.

Barefoot is not about taking the shoes off and letting nature do her thing!!! If there are to be reference points to establish hoof balance, the two most important are visible from the outside of the foot. and they are:

My research (and others) shows that at the point of production the dorsal wall will try and stay parallel with the pedal bone (p3) for as long as it can even in times of great stress!

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The stress on all parts of this foot are reflected in the quality of the wall
Fig 1. Yellow line: showing the position of P3. Red: showing flared wall under stress
Fig 2. Same horse: stress shown in wall quality

If the TDWA is sympathetic to the whole wall there is less stress on the dorsal and terminal laminae….. either in the shod hoof as in Fig: 3a & 3b.

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Or barefoot: Fig: 4

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To assess the TDWA I invented the Rockfoot Hoof Gauge. This will enable the user to obtain the TDWA at the point of production and refer it to the palmer surface to assess true brake-over. Fig 5-6. More details on products page.

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The Heel area should be assessed by:

  • The health of the sole tissue at the seat of corn
  • Length of horn at the bar terminal
  • state of the frog, bars, digital cushion and upper region of the lateral cartilages

All these can be observed from the outside. See Figs 7-8.

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By assessing the sole tissue at the seat of corn it is possible to see how much heel and bar tissue
MIGHT be removed, and how much controlled concussion the frog, digital cushion and bars need depending on work and conditions Fig 9.

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This horse had been shod 6 days before this picture was taken; the frog, digital cushion and bars are not going to have any contact with the ground, hence the reason for the tissue being soft, split and useless.

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Fig 10. A foot going through transition before trimming
Fig 11. Healthy self trimmed heel of hard working endurance horse.

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Fig:12 Referred to me because the horse could not stay sound - ‘No, really?’
Fig:13 This pony was starting to find walking difficult!

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Although the reference points that I need are on the outside, an understanding of anatomy is crucial when assessing a hoof before trimming.
You must know where, why and how tissue is being produced before you inflict an effect on the new growth. For example:

  • If extra sole tissue is prevalent around the point of the frog, where has it come from, why is it there?
  • What is attached to the weight bearing areas of the hoof that are affected by trimming?
  • What lies beneath the frog that enables it to produce a different type of tissue from its surrounding parts and why?

This knowledge means that you can start to read the foot better from the outside

I do not believe in the concept of a pre-determined trimming or shoeing method that can apply to every horse’s foot.

There are as many ways to trim a barefoot as there are people doing it! I have no intention of saying one way is better than another or that there is the perfect way. But I will say this to anyone going near a horse’s foot with any tool that can remove tissue. Look, think; learn from the horse’s foot before you remove anything. Do you know why a foot is the way it is, what is the foot telling you? If you can not answer those two questions then put the foot down, stand back and think again. You will not regret any time that you spend trying to understand and learn the langauge of the hoof.

Successful trimming means having to do less!

There are many learned people researching into barefoot, from herds of horses in Australia, and the USA, to rehabilitation centres like Rockley Farm (Nic Barker) here in the UK. Yet I can’t help thinking that if the same effort was going into the effect of shoeing upon horses, then we would start to look less at treating ailments and more at not creating them! I firmly believe that a horse has the ability to produce feet that can deal with the environment it will be living and working in. In my own practise the work I do with Dartmoor ponies has helped me realise that all horses have to be managed if they are not in the right environment.

In my professional career I have been very lucky to have met some amazing people who have inspired and encouraged me, far too many to name them all, but I would like to single out one or two:

William Watts, Ian Washbrook, Richard Parsons, Trevor Whitbread, Chris Pollitt, Rick Redden

I have found the World Wide Webb an amazing source of information on barefoot and equine nutrition and I would recommend any of the following:

Jamie Jackson, Pete Ramey, Clare Mc Cloud, Chris Pollitt, Joe Camp, Robert Bowker,
Nic Barker, Cole Henderson, Clare MacLeod

Insulin resistance: http://www.balancedequinenutrition.com/IRArticle.html

Some You Tube sites that are worth looking at too:

But I have learnt much, much more from the horses I have treated, so to all of them I say,
Thank you