Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Headache in the Foot

Pie's feet were very broken up before his trim last Friday - he'd grown a lot of hoof wall - he usually does between trims - and there were big chips and splits.  So our trimmer, I think, took a little too much off the fronts in cleaning things up - I need to do a better job of between-trim maintenance so Pie's feet don't get quite so long.  The other two horses do well on a 6-week trimming schedule, but Pie grows too much foot, and our dry and hot conditions, with lots of flies, can lead to problems for him.  The trimmer did the best job he could, but Pie's fronts ended up shorter than I'd like and than the trimmer usually does him, and there were several hoof-wall divots from chips and cracks where the foot was even shorter than the trim.  The trimmer did leave the sole and frog almost entirely alone, as he always does.

But after his trim on Friday, and all day yesterday - I checked both a.m. and p.m. - he had no digital pulses in any foot, although he looked just slightly short-strided in front to me.  I rode him only at the walk yesterday, and only briefly, and he seemed fine, including over some pretty challenging surfaces.

Then this morning, when I went early to turn him and Red out into the pasture, Pie had very strong digital pulses on both sides of his left front foot - this is the foot that was more chopped up pre-trim and looked too short to me after the trim, and where he'd had some slight sensitivity when turning tightly on a hard surface after his trim, although he was walking and standing normally.  The other three feet had no digital pulses.

Here's how I check for digital pulses - there are different methods and this is the one that works for me. I place my palm over the front of the pastern joint, fingers down.  I feel for the suspensory ligaments - they're the cords that stand out, running from the pastern joint, over the sesamoid bones - the little bumps - down both sides of the pastern, angling towards the front.  Just behind the suspensory ligaments, and just below the bulge of the pastern joint, on both sides - inner and outer - there's a hollow - this is where the blood vessels and nerves travel.  I rest my thumb on one hollow and my other first couple fingers on the other - not too hard, just slight pressure.  A faint digital pulse can be felt by this method and any digital pulse at all, in most horses, is a cause for concern. I find this test much more useful than feeling the temperature of a hoof - that can vary a lot by time of day or for other reasons (although if 3 feet are cool and one is hot, you may have an abscess).  If there's a strong pulse like the carotid artery pulse in your neck, that's a strong pulse - that's what Pie had - and indicates that blood flow to the foot is restricted due to inflammation - which can be due to a variety of causes.  A strong pulse probably feels to a horse like a pounding headache feels to us. If the horse is having trouble moving or is obviously very sore footed, that's cause for serious alarm.

A side note on shoes - putting shoes on a horse with sore feet can conceal the symptoms without solving the underlying problem.  The absence or presense of digital pulses is a better indicator - putting shoes on a horse with an underlying metabolic problem due to feed/grass may allow the horse to appear sound.  This is not to say that a sore horse should be forced to be barefoot, and any barefoot horse, particularly one transitioning from shoes, should not be forced to walk or work over surfaces he can't tolerate.  Boots can be very helpful for horses that need some extra help, and it takes a long time - perhaps as long as a year - to grow a complete new hoof capsule.  And also keep in mind that a barefoot horse with sore feet may appear sounder on a hard surface like concrete than on a soft arena surface - the soft surface puts more direct pressure on the sole and frog - this is the same reason a shod horse may appear sounder.  As with all horse health issues, remember that treating causes is more important than masking symptoms, although making the horse more comfortable may be necessary in the short term while causes are being addressed.

Anyhow, Pie had a strong pulse in only one foot - none in the others.  He was standing and walking normally, although just a little short-strided, which meant he felt a little sore. This made me suspect - although it's not definitive - that the problem wasn't with the grass but rather due to the trim.  I gave him 2 grams of bute, to reduce the inflammation, and turned him out with Red, crossing my fingers (and toes) that it wasn't the grass that was the issue and that moving around in turnout wouldn't make him worse.  He and Red cantered off into the distance as usual.

When I came back at 11 to bring Pie in, he was walking and standing normally.  I put him in his stall under his fan, rather than in the paddock - the paddocks are very dry, hard, have no shade and lots of flies, leading to stamping.  He seemed perfectly comfortable, and when I felt for pulses, there were none in any foot.  Now, the bute was surpressing any inflammation, so he may still have an issue - it'll take a few days to be sure.  He'll get another gram of bute this evening, and then one more a.m. and p.m. tomorrow and then only one gram the day after.  We'll see if the pulses/sensitivity reappear or not as he's weaned off the medicine.  If it's a too-short trim, every day he should be improving.  If it's the grass, he won't improve.

I'm betting for the too-short hoof theory and hoping things improve over the next day or so . . .

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