Monday, July 25, 2016

Horse Health 3 - correcting hooves, stress points, muscle soreness

(Click on pictures for larger images)
** Since writing this post, Jax has been diagnosed with PSSM (n/P1).  Click the PSSM Label to the left to see more **

We'll start this post with some hoof images, as without proper hoof form and comfort, the muscle work and ridden work wouldn't help (as has been the case for the last year or so with Jax).

If you've read the horse health one and two posts, you already know the myriad of problems Jax has had in the past year, that most of those issues can now be attributed to hoof form and imbalance, and that I've taken over trimming him since early May 2016.

Here's some pics to show some of the changes so far (see horse health two for more).   Some additional posture type problems Jax was beginning to develop before I started trimming him were cowhocked (always had this to a degree but getting severe), toed out, left front no longer straight (turning out at the knee and looked crooked?), and more base narrow than usual (he's always done this a little).  Also, he has a tendency to tight-rope walk in the fronts, but it was getting much worse, and his hoof boots were wearing on the outsides only - perfect tread on inside while outside tread was gone!

After just the first trim, leveling the heels and taking the toes and quarters of the hoof wall back to the white line, Jax was no longer standing toed out, but was still base narrow.  You can see by the first pic how close his feet were, by the second pic his legs are more vertical.  Also note in the first pic that he is pointing his right toe and standing with it more forward, indicating this foot is painful.  Note: the scooping of the quarters looks severe in the earlier pics, but less severe in later pics.  As his heels and toes start to take on a more appropriate shape, so do the quarters.

contracted heels, central sulcus thrush, horse inside heel higher
May 23, 2016, fronts a couple weeks after I started trimming Jax.  Notice some heel contraction, deep central sulcus up to hairline (thrush), and right front seems slightly sheared (inside heel longer on all 4, but much worse on right front).  At this point, I didn't know anything about contraction or sheared heels.  Rasping heels down to just above live sole was all I knew, luckily it helped.  By the time the next pic was taken, I could see the problems and was better equipped to handle them.

contracted heels, sheared heels, horse medial heel higher
July 20, 2016, fronts.  Central sulcus much better, feet have spread out and heels no longer contracted.  Front right still having some contraction/higher heel bulb on the inside, seems to be relaxing more with each trim.  Note this right foot is the same that had the atrophied shoulder, the huge frog bruise, and other issues (see horse health one and two)

It's extremely important to note: I did not trim Jax in an effort to fix his posture, his posture reflects the health of his feet.  When I bought him (Aug 2011) as an untrained four year old, he was toed out and base narrow.  With my barefoot trimmer (Jul 2012 - Jul 2014; Jan - May 2015) he had lovely straight legs and feet.  When I noticed his poor posture around April 2016, I knew it was all due to the pasture trims.

More before and after pics:

Right front:

long toe low heel, crushed heels, underrun heels, coronary abscess
June 3, 2016 - Right front, coronary abcess, crushed heel, forward toe

horse lameness caused by thrush, frog shedding
June 3, 2016 - Right front, thrush extreme enough to be a potential lameness issue

white lightening thrush treatment, healing abscess, horse corrective trim
July 15, 2016 - after White Lightening thrush treatment, abscess closed up and almost halfway down hoof capsule (extremely fast growth!), heels almost back to where they belong, and flare growing further down to the ground

Left hind:

horse lameness caused by negative coffin bone angle, bullnose
June 3, 2016 - Left hind with crushed heels and bullnose shape.  This shape is often associated with negative palmar/plantar angle, meaning the coffin bone is tipped back and lower in the back of the foot.  Can cause extreme lameness and lumbar soreness.  Usually is caused by crushed heels.

corrective trimming, correcting long toe low heel, hoof bruising
July 18, 2016 - Left hind with heels supporting better, flare growing down, and no bullnose shape.  There is a slight crack with some thrush/white line issues in front still but it is growing out as well.  Also a giant bruise on his heel bulb from dinking around in the pasture.  You can see that about 1/3 of the way down some pink shows through the hoof wall.  This is bruising that has faded since I've been trimming but is still present.  The more translucent yellow hoof wall on the upper part of his hoof seems far healthier.

Correcting long toe low heel and it's associated lameness
July 15, 2016 - Left hind with a gorgeous thick frog and some sole needing to exfoliate.  All his frogs are beginning to look like this except the right front, it still has some thrush issues and bruising.

Muscle stress points


I've tried to help Jax with his sore muscles ever since the first time I found them, but he really was never comfortable enough for me to touch him, let alone prod him.  The chiropractor seemed to give him some relief, but it was short lived (due to foot pain causing more body bracing).  I found a reference to the book above online, so decided to get a copy on Amazon.  It's a very quick read, and easy to understand, and I decided to start trying some of the techniques.

If you've read other parts of this site, you may already know that I'm having some health issues of my own, namely, torn up tendons in my arms affecting my right arm the most.  Opening a soda bottle is difficult without Ibuprofin, so the idea of massaging and trimming my horse seemed a little daunting.

Fortunately, it's the tendons on the top of my forearms, leaving me quite capable of lifting feet and using a rasp.  But, my hands, thumbs, and fingers are also affected so massaging Jax has to be done in small increments.

Lucky for me, the basis for this book is "stress points," small areas of spasm and adhesion in the muscle that need to be broken apart.  It lays out exactly where those points are, and exactly what you need to do if you find a knot.  I was able to do specific segments each day (points 1-13 on day one focusing on neck and shoulder, 14-20 on day 2, 21-25 on day 3, then start over or retouch some of the worst spots).  The book also stresses the importance of working the horse after the massage to help loosen up the muscles even more, and states that ridden work when appropriate is one of the best tools to use.

I started working on stress points with Jax on July 19, 2016.  Keep in mind, by this time his feet are decent and shouldn't be adding any stress to him.  On July 23, 2016, Jax was feeling great, and I took him to a trail close by for a pretty long ride.  He did amazing!  He usually gets back sore during the trailer ride, and I'm guessing it's from vibration on his feet causing him to brace up.  So, this time I put his hoof boots on him for the trailer ride and it seemed to help.  He had some slight soreness over his lumbar when he came off the trailer, but a couple seconds of touching up stress point #13 (spot in withers that affects the entire back) loosened it right up!

He did great through the ride, was a bit strung out but at this point he has no real muscle so I wasn't surprised. No stiffness, no leg hitching or twisting, but because he is weak in his stifles he did "slip out from under me" with his hinds a couple times at the beginning of the ride.  After the ride, no lumbar soreness, some soreness around his glutes (which have been atrophied, so that's not surprising) and overall in very good shape.  After the trailer ride home, he was a bit shaky but walked out of it in just a minute or two.  Overall, a very good training/conditioning ride for him.

The next day, I went out to check on him, and while he's a bit tired, Jax is fine.  I touched up #19 (spot just above tail head, seems to be the worst spot on him) and a couple others.  No back soreness, no glute soreness.

Horse standing under, camped under, pasture trims, sore heels
Remember this pic from Horse Health 2?  This is a typical stance for Jax since mid 2015, just after he received his first "pasture trim" - front legs pulled back under him, back legs pulled up under him, and muscles rigid.  Also, toed out and base narrow in fronts and hinds, and cowhocked in the hinds.  This is a typical stance for horses with painful heels.  It causes lumbar soreness and stiff hindquarters, and can be caused by heels being left too high.  Usually the pain is in the front legs, the hind legs are forward to take weight off the fronts.

Corrective trimming to fix toed out, base narrow, cowhock issues
July 20, 2016, right after the first session working on stress points, I was only able to do neck and shoulders during this session.  His shoulders were horribly tight with multiple stress points.  Compare this to the photo above - he now stands with legs vertical, hinds straight down where they belong, with nice, loose muscles.  This would never last if his feet were still in pain, and one of the points made in the book by Jack Meagher is that foot/lower limb lameness contributes greatly to stress points.  Since I hadn't worked on stress points behind his shoulder yet, this posture indicates that my theory is probably correct, his right front caused most of the problems.

I had no idea when Jax started having health problems a year ago that it would all lead to hoof form.  Jax has specific postural and mechanical features that help his feet get out of sync, such as the tight rope walking and slightly base narrow stance which can cause the inside heels to grow taller.  He's also a heavy horse (just under 1,200 pounds).  During his 2nd - 4th year, he was in a situation where his feet weren't kept on a trim schedule, and bad hoof distortions during this age may have attributed to his weaker hoof form as an adult.  Whatever the cause, the main points I want to make with these posts:
  • become knowledgeable about hooves - they can make or break your horse.  If your farrier thinks long toes, crushed heels, and flares are not a problem, GET A DIFFERENT FARRIER!
  • also, weak hooves can be helped by a (GOOD) barefoot trim - crushed heels and long toes with weak laminar connections are not just "how the cards were dealt for that horse."  It can be fixed, and until it is, your horse may not be capable of anything you ask, causing not only physical, but also behavioral problems.
  • barefoot trims can be done by competent farriers or competent barefoot trimmers.  It's not about whether the person can nail on a shoe, it's about whether or not they can do a balanced trim.

Want to know more about hoof shape and how it can affect horses?  Start with Pete Ramey ( if you want to try trimming your own horse.  He will help you understand hoof form and function, get some decent first trims on your horse, and make very clear the areas you need to leave alone! Barefoot For Soundness ( is also great for learning, as is  The more you learn from these sites, the more you can start searching other methods (there are many variations on "barefoot trims") and specific problems, but make sure you have a VERY solid base first, there is a lot of misinformation out there.  I had to seek out other sites to figure out the bars and soles a little better, but the links I've put here seem to have only good information so you won't have to weed out the bad.

See Horse Health part Four for our rehab plan, tack to help sore muscles, and to see how quickly correct hoof balance and stress point work has put Jax back into work!

About the Artist:

horse artist, equine artist, PSSM horse
Since starting my art business in 2004, I have been on a roller coaster ride that's taken me from art, to house flipping, to legal assistant, to horse trainer, and a full 180* back to my artworks.

I'm thankful to get back to my art, and also for the life experiences I've gained.

Things in life that matter the most!  Jen, husband Jared, and Jax

Thanks for reading, I hope you've enjoyed my website!  Feel free to comment, like, or subscribe!

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