TO H & L
The following summary statement has been issued by Tia Nelson DVM, who served on the panel at the recent Tufts conference on hoofcare. The panel was asked to evaluate Dr Strasser's presentation on her program of natural horsekeeping and barefoot hoof management.
Statements published are the opinions of the author listed and do not represent any position of Hoofcare Publishing or its employees.
Dr Tia Nelson's statement:
I applaud Dr. Strasser for acting as a catalyst bringing hoof and horse care issues into public discussion and debate. Her position is not only about hoof care, but about the living conditions we impose on our horses.
Another factor driving the Strasser controversy is frustration on the part of the horse owning public with farriers and veterinarians involved with equine lameness and performance problems.
The points she makes about "natural" environment need to be heeded. We are not doing our horses any favors by stalling and blanketing them, feeding on such rigid schedules and having little to no variety in their diets.
Horses can do well barefoot, but two main factors need to be considered. The first is genetics. The second is environment. These two factors are irrevocably wed to each other.
Genetics dictate the size, quality and conformation of the hoof. The environment--and this includes the work of the hoof care specialist--influences the amount of wear the hoof receives, the rigidity, toughness and angle of the hoof.
There are many areas of overlap between genetics and environment. For example: The quality of the hoof is governed by genetics, but strongly influenced by the environment by way of nutrition, amount of moisture, type of soil and amount of work or exercise the horse receives.
Dr. Strasser's absolutely rigid assertions about the front feet needing to always be set at 45 degrees of angle and the hinds at 55 degrees are not borne out by my observations of domestic barefoot horses. I followed about 20 domestic barefoot horses, in hard use, for from two to four years. Each horse developed a tidy short-toed foot with little to no flare and no cracks.
These horses stayed sound in hard use with no foot care. The environment was arid and often rocky with decomposed granite for footing. The degree of angle on both front and hind feet varied with the season and use but was never less than 53 degrees. Front and hind feet were often at the same degree of angle. Occasionally the hind feet would be up to 2 degrees steeper than the fronts. The breeds represented in this group of horses included Quarter Horses, Thoroughbreds, Morgans, Arabians, Paints and grade ranch horses. Hoof color did not appear to be a significant factor.
Dr. Strasser also insists that horses be walked after trimming, regardless of the level of lameness. A trimming or shoeing modality that causes great discomfort is, in my opinion, wrong. Pain is a signal that something is amiss. While circulation is important to the healing of the foot, forcing a lame horse to walk causes more damage inside the foot. If a horse is too lame to comfortably walk after trimming or shoeing, especially a laminitic horse, then it should be put in a sand stall or on blue-board slippers so there is adequate support of the weight bearing structures. This support will assist circulation. When the horse is comfortable, it may be walked to enhance healing. I can't imagine a circumstance where forcing a very lame horse to walk would be beneficial.
The emphasis for many years has been on the horse's shoes. Most farrier competitions are based around types of shoes, how well they are forged and the time involved with forging and applying them. The shoeing is judged on appearance, nail placement and fit. There is little discussion about what is done to the hoof before the shoe is applied.
We need to start understanding what we
are doing to the foot before we decide what--if anything--will be applied
to it. To understand what we are doing to the hoof, we need to
appreciate what the horse does biomechanically to its foot in its
My observations of domestic barefoot horses do not agree with Dr. Strasser's statement that the hoof wall is the main weight-bearing structure of the hoof. Many of the domestic barefoot horses I followed had little or no hoof wall touching the ground, except at the heels. The bars were well developed and the frogs were robust. The soles were well-calloused across the toes and neatly cupped out at the quarters. The weight-bearing structures of the hoof appeared to be the heels, including the bars, the frog and the sole.
Radiographs of these feet show the dorsal border of the coffin bone to be parallel with the dorsal hoof wall and the palmar/plantar border to be rotated away from the ground surface by at least 3 and not more than 7 degrees. No domestic barefoot horse that was radiographed had a palmar/plantar surface parallel to the ground surface.
Dr. Strasser has some valid points to be considered about the environment we impose on our horses. However, her recommendations and absolute assertions about the trimming of hooves need to be deeply questioned. I agree with her concerns about what we do to the noble beast we love and care for, but I disagree strongly with her trimming protocol because of my own observations of sound domestic barefoot horses.
Tia Nelson DVM
Copyright 2002 Hoofcare
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