04 January 2015

The silver lining of white line disease


    It's an education, to watch a horse move (while being ridden). I won't say I'm an expert, far from it. It takes many years to really absorb the gestalt of the motion of a horse. Veterinarians and farriers both need that ability to see a horse move without knowing the horse. I will readily admit that when I massaged, I would ask to have a horse walked/trotted out, but I won't admit that I always knew what I was seeing when I saw it. 

 I will never be the level of a dressage judge, someone who is able to see the most minute of actions, one who seems able to to see the slightest hesitation or disobedience, or the proper collection.

    Such fine discernment is, for the moment, beyond me.

    But I'm learning, and it comes from watching Raven move.

    He's off and on lame these days. The vet diagnosed arthritis in his left fore and he's now on Adequan, a monthly medication that seems to be working.

    But what else seems to be working is Matt The Farrier's work.

   I've written about Raven's hoof woes earlier. We realize, now, that Raven has a case of white line disease, and has had it for a while. Why we didn't see it earlier, I don't know. Maybe because neither Sue nor I had ever seen it before? 
It appears that it's not a bad case. As is usually the case with veterinarians, ours refuses to definitively state it is 'white line'. Matt the Farrier "thinks" it's white line and gave us the recipe for the hoof goop to doctor it. We've talked to other folks who've 'had' white line, they've looked at Raven's feet and scratched their heads and said, "I dunno, it could be, what does the vet say?"

   So we're operating on the assumption that it is white line, and are doctoring accordingly. 

   That stuff WORKS. Again, it's a 60/40 blend of Venice turpentine/iodine, applied to the outside of the hoof no higher than the shoe nails, and on the sole of the hoof. Try not to get it on the frog and for god's sakes DON'T get it on the coronary band.

   It's working, especially in our winter climate of rain and never ending dampness.

   What also is working is Matt's trimming of and building up the crumbling hind feet. He trims out the 'garbage', as he terms it, then applies an epoxy of some sort (god help me, it smells like Bondo, but I know it's not, but it is similar in texture and action). Then he nails on the shoe and we keep Raven in his stall for 24 hours until the bondo (let's call it that) cures and hardens.

   It's working.

   Yesterday we rode bareback, as it was so very cold. Sitting on a nice warm, fuzzy horse keeps you nice and toasty. The other person sits on the mounting block, wrapped up in Raven's blanket. While Sue rode, I watched. (as an aside, a few months ago, she was riding and asked me if she was crouching in the saddle. I said, "I dunno, I was watching Raven". What! You were watching the HORSE?   (laughing))

   I noticed that he is trotting more comfortably now. He's picking his hind feet up now, whereas before, with his too tight shoes, he would drag them. In fact he'd drag his hind feet so much that the hoof wall was burnished from the sand in the arena. He seems to be a lot happier now, now that his hoof angles are being changed, with every trimming, to something more normal.

   I can't help but blame the old farrier. Bless him, he meant well, but...Sue's been using that farrier since 2009. Hence, Raven's feet have been slowly but relentlessly 'forced' to into an unnatural position and form. Again, this isn't malfeasance by the old farrier. 

    If you've ever been foolish enough to attempt to give yourself (or someone else) a haircut, you know that, unless you know what you're doing, you botch the job. You take a little too much hair off here, so you have to take some more off on the other side to balance it, take off a little too much there and before you know it, you or your poor victim is either bald or butchered.

    Like any other craft, farrier is a combination of art and science. Once you've learned it, you don't have to relearn it..but you really do. Science, research and understanding of how hooves grow has mushroomed in the last ten years. We know so much more. There's fads, such as 4 Point Shoeing, or "natural shoeing",  that neglect to understand that a mustang that doesn't grow a fabulous hoof doesn't live long. Domestication has changed the horse in many ways, to include the feet. You cannot expect a horse with a thousand years of domestication behind it to have feet like a mustang. 

   But fads have their place in expanding the entire sphere of understanding. Incorporating new information, i.e. fads, into the base of the science, is what makes for better farrier science.

    Farriers, when they learn and hone their trade, are going to go down a certain path of knowledge, empiricism, and experience. Like the old saying, sometimes you can't teach an old dog new tricks. I was guilty of that close mindedness as a massage therapist. I learned how to massage a horse a certain way, and when I see someone else massaging a horse, I immediately go into Professional Mode, thinking, "Why is he doing it THAT way? I wouldn't have started there, I always start on the brachycephalicus...". I have to stop myself with a mental admonishment...like riding, there's many ways of massaging a horse. The end result is what is important, not how you got there. 

    Did it ever occur to me to go back to school? Why? When I knew my way around a horse so well I could (and did) massage horses in the dark? The idea never occurred to me. Now the point is moot, as I've permanently retired from massaging horses. My shoulders just cannot handle it anymore. I don't have the upper body strength anymore. 

    Even so, I was wrong. Perhaps going back to school after 16 years of massaging would have been beneficial to me and my clients.  I learned this from my decision, at the advanced age of 49, to go back to college to finally get my degree in Biology.

   I was born a biologist, studied biology for the love of it, throughout my life. I absorbed it like a green leaf absorbs sunshine, and have never not loved it. I thought going back to school was merely a formality, merely being able to legally put BS after my name. I thought going back to school could teach me nothing I didn't already know. And yes, much of it was merely refreshing what I already knew. However, biology has exploded in the last twenty years.  I learned a ton of new information, new elucidations of things I'd never thought of. I learned a LOT of Biology that I didn't know I didn't know. 

  Perhaps that was the problem with the old farrier. He'd always trimmed that way. He knew Raven's feet from years of trimming them. He knew his work. He didn't have to relearn how to trim a hoof. Nor, to give him the benefit of the doubt, did he have time or the money to stop working to go back to farrier school. One, there aren't very many farrier schools left. No one is teaching anymore. Two, trimming and shoeing horses is the way he makes his living. Being self-employed is a bitch of a way to live-everything depends on you working. Your bills need paying, your family needs to be housed and fed, everything depends on your working. You don't have the luxury of taking six months off to relearn a few things.

  Hoof trimming/shoeing is an art. A farrier is a combination of barber, sculptor and machinist. In all three fields, one changes the shape or appearance of a substance by removing large parts of it.   

   That's what hoof trimming is. You have to remove parts of the hoof. The hoof has grown back since the last trimming, faithfully traveling the path you gave it when you trimmed it last time.  A little error from the  last trimming is compounded now, because if you take too much off, then you have to balance it on the other side..and there you have it. For better of worse, the hoof is going to grow in the path you've chosen for it. Sometimes that path is the wrong one.

   Shoes must be forced into a shape that approximates the sole of the hoof wall. Steel, being unforgiving, is going to force the hoof to grow to suit the shoe. Thus you have two competing forces: the living biological process of growth meeting the unyielding plate of steel. 


   So it was for Raven. The old farrier could only trim the way he'd taught the hoof to grow, and shoeing it was the capstone of the process. You have to make the shoe fit the hoof.

  Consequently, Raven's feet weren't shod 'correctly'. By the time we realized his hooves were really bad, it was very  late in the game. 

  Where did he pick up white line? Who knows. 

   In a way, perhaps the white line was a blessing in disguise. Seeing hunks of hoof come away with the removal of the shoe is never a good feeling, but by removing the deformed and diseased hoof, it gave Matt the opportunity to begin remodeling the hoof. Artificial hoof (i.e. the bondo) will hold a shoe and still allow the hoof to grow. Bondo doesn't give a damn that the steel shoe is unyielding. It's as artificial as the steel. It allowed the hoof to heal and regenerate.
   Feeding him supplements to improve hoof growth, working him regularly and gently, and keeping his feet as dry as possible, has helped.

   Finally, I'm tickled that I've developed a better eye for how a horse moves. That's the icing on the cake.


Anonymous said...

Hope Raven's feet continue to improve. It is so difficult to make suggestions to the farrier - especially if he's been doing a good job for you for years. Had to bite the bullet and change farriers with Aly - feel present chap could be doing a bit better for Pom but he's close to retiring and fear a new one could be worse! White line can look terrible but grows out quicker than you think!

Khutulan said...

Thanks for the advice! He does seem to be growing out of it quickly. As I said, we couldn't figure out where he contracted white line until the thought hit me this morning: it came off a farrier's tool. I don't believe I've ever seen a farrier disinfect his rasps, nippers, etc between horses.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that was something I wondered, but at the time, I read as much as I could about WL cases in English and French and the concensus seemed to be a bacterial infection from the soil... For an environmental scientist maybe there's a doctoral thesis to be written there!!