Thursday, October 11, 2012

Equine Education 101

Because this was expensive
I often find myself wondering why it is I bust my butt working in a barn for minimal compensation and am constantly just squeaking by financially. I mean, I have a college degree and am perfectly employable. Even in this economy, I could get a "real job" and make more money and have a easier life.

And then things like the last few days happen. I swear, it's like getting a whole new college education while never leaving the barn.

Farrier Work 101 

Cuna's feet have been a mess since I first met him. Since he is now officially mine (yay being more poor!), I finally got to go with a farrier I had a little more faith in. I called him kind of last minute, but after I assured him Cuna was easy and all, he agreed to come out.

He looked at Cuna's feet. He mumbled. He looked at Cuna's feet again. He mumbled a strong of four letter words. Finally, he looked at me and said, "You should ask the last guy what the h*ll you were paying for."

He explained that Cuna's frog was fusing with his sole. He pulled his shoes and pointed out that his hoof wall thickness, especially in the front feet, was completely uneven. At the front of his front hooves, he had less than an 1/8" of hoof wall. His frog was overgrown and folded over and despite the bone-dry weather we've had for the past... months, there was decay in the frog because it could never be cleaned or dry out.

We went over and looked at another horse he does in the barn, and he explained more what the bottom of a hoof should look like--a foot, instead of weird lumpiness. We talked about the balance of the hoof a little bit and how Cuna is growing unevenly.

By the end, he and I made a plan to try and rehab Cuna's feet to a point where the heels can decontract and the hoof wall can grow and they can return to a much better balance. Whew.

Farrier Work 201

Our BO (who I like a lot) was a vet tech for many years and has lots of useful knowledge to share. As we discussed Cuna's shoe job, she explained to me how to see balance in a hoof. Start by looked straight at the hoof from the front. The hair line should be parallel to the ground. A line dropped through the center of the fetlock should bisect the hoof.

From the bottom, the heels, quarters, and toe should be equally divided. It is important to look at the hoot in a natural position underneath the horse, not step to the outside for an easier view. It is more stable for you, but it stresses the horse's joints and shows the hoof at an odd angle. Trimming in this position frequently contributes to off-balance hooves because the farrier isn't seeing the horse's hoof as it is used.

When watching the horse walk on a hard surface, it should move heel-toe-midsection-breakover. Any deviation should be noted.

Hoof supplements need to contain biotin, copper, and methionine. These supplements can be fed in crazy high doses because they don't build up in the liver, but are instead dispersed in the urine. Thus, the horse can get as much as possible out of them without causing any residual damage.

Chiropractic 102

Yes,  he's been worked on
My favorite "chiropractor" was out this morning. I put it in quotes because I don't think that's what he'd call himself. He practices receptor-based therapy, using the electrical (nervous) system of the horse to reset muscles and joints in a holistic way that addresses the whole horse. While an accredited DVM, he practices concepts that western medicine frequently lacks. As he pointed out, western medicine tends to focus on one issue. A sore back, a tendon problem. They fail to address a horse with a sore back, and thus miss the root problem.

He feels his way along the spine of the horse, looking for electrical problems. Instead of trying to manipulate with force any joints or muscles that are "out", he focuses on gentle motion interacting with the nervous system to in essence, tell the nerves to reboot themselves. After all, muscles just do as they're told.

He points out that when we interact with horses, 90% of what we do hopefully doesn't harm them, while 10% might actually help. He's always refining his methods to try and keep reducing down to just that 10%.

The most important issues with horses is symmetry, which the human eye is naturally drawn to. In order to detect lameness or tightness, watch the entire horse with a soft eye and see what isn't symmetrical.

As we watched one horse walk by, I noted that it moved it's right hind quicker. He looked at me and asked, "Is it that, or is the left hind slower?"


Sometimes pain manifests as a muscles being held high and tight. Sometimes it's lower. The presentation can be unique to the horse, so it is critical to be in tune with the animal and deal with the entire horse, not just one sore spot.

Jumping 111

And we capped the morning off with a lesson. Cuna felt amazing after getting his new shoes. Seriously. The last time I felt this much difference was when I first started riding him after his hock injections. Regardless, we we in for a fun time today.

I'm not really to the point in my riding that I need to jump angles, but because Cuna is a rockstar, I get to anyways. We talked about how the reason we jump perpendicular to the face of jumps is because of our depth perception. We see one take off point and so does the horse. Jumping at an angle can be dangerous because it leaves a lot of room for interpretation and altars our depth perception.

Amazing diagram
When approaching on an angle, it is important to visualize basically an extension of the jump that is perpendicular to you. In my diagram, the jump on the left is a normal jump. The rider focuses on the center of the jump and goes straight over.

The jump on the right is being jumped at an angle. The blue line is still the jump, but the rider must visualize the yellow line to keep the takeoff spot consistent. Otherwise, the horse's legs (especially hind) may be too far apart and therein lies the danger.

It's kind of a trippy thing to visualize, and it's difficult to ride when your horse is leaning left and you pull on him, which disengages the hind end. Oops. We got ourselves sorted out and he was brilliant, though.

In Summary

I may be poor and and constantly  behind, but this kind of education is worth every minute. While I enjoy riding, this holistic focus on the entire spectrum of hose care makes me so much more confident and informed as an owner. There's really no comparison.


PS Sorry for the lack of pictures... I'll insert a gratuitous cute Cuna photo to make this post more palatable to the average reader. In fact, I'll sprinkle several throughout the post. You're welcome. ;)


  1. What, don't you even READ my blog? ROFL, j/k. It's all important stuff to learn and pick up over time. I have to do all that AND go to work, LOL.

    1. Dang, I was hoping for ninja....

    2. You might be, but I wouldn't see you if you were.


    3. So can you see me or can't me? Ahhhhh, is it a trick question or isn't it? *insert mysterious music*

    4. We interact on the internet, but I've never actually seen you. The jury is out on your ninja-hood.

  2. I love all the non riding stuff. It's so fascinating to learn about all your horse's bits and how they impact everything else.. I love me some rides, but figuring out feet/muscles/supplement/whatever is just so damn gratifying.

  3. The Natural Angle has some good articles on how to spot a good trim/shoe job and what to look for. For a 'hands on' feel of the difference being balanced from the ground up- slip a pair of good orthotics in your own shoes. It makes a world of difference.

    Cuna is a lucky horse!

  4. Awesome post. I recently was worked on by a doctor specializing in osteopathic manipulation, and the stuff she did sounds a lot like what your chiropractor did.

  5. I wish i could spend all day at the barn i love picking the brains of the ferriers, chiropractors and massage therapists every chance i get im out there asking hundreds of questions but alas... as a single mom trying to afford a horse habbit lol its 2 jobs for me :)

    Thanks for posting all the great information!

  6. I have a "real" job and as such, have not even met my farrier let alone chatted with him, didn't meet the equine dentist who did my horse, and surely missed other opportunities with chiros, etc. I get everything in quick phone summaries while I'm staring at my horse's feet and body later in the day/week. I'm blessed with a trainer who coordinates all this, but I really would prefer to meet these people myself and be able to ask all my questions. Grass is always greener I guess.

  7. He sounds like a really good farrier. Glad he's getting Cuna's hooves better. "No foot, no horse" is totally true.

  8. Can you explain "heel-toe-midsection-breakover" better? I'm having trouble visualizing how the heel can touch and then the toe and then the midsection..... so confused! I LOVE learning about hooves. I'm glad your farrier is rehabbing Cuna's feet. :D


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