Monday, April 15, 2013


Well, apparently my repeated associations of Sherman and Clip Clop, the young horse in the children's book of the same name, have proven prophetic.  Just like the dancing bay horse in the book, Sherm is awaiting the appointment to get his first set of shoes.

The vet was out on Friday for spring shots for the BBW, and after inoculations were administered, evaluation and discussion turned to Sherm's current condition.  After last summer's grass-induced Morganpotomus weight gain, Sherm isn't looking too bad, actually.  But the pastures have just now turned green and started growing, so fat is on its way.  We discussed dry lot turnout and grazing muzzles and proper management of the calories going in, and then moved on to the work we've been doing to burn up the calories.  She turned her attention to Sherm's feet-- hoof wear, pastern & fetlock angles, and hindquarter muscling.  She's said it before, but said it on Friday with greater emphasis, "He's really going to need shoes."

She's right; I know she's right.  She's not the only one who has said it.  The trainer we're clinic-ing with next month has said it.  The farrier has said it; the other vet in the practice has said it.  We've avoided it being, if not urgent, then at least seriously necessary, to this point because we've not ever before been working this hard.  But now we are, and before we set him up for injury, we've really got to do the right thing.

You see, Sherm's lower leg conformation is...well... crap.  He's got his dam's long pasterns and upright hooves, particularly bad in the hind legs.  She suffered for a long time with overtaxed suspensories, and was ultimately euthanized because they were giving out on her, and she could not stand on one for the farrier to trim the other.  Sherm's hinds look just like hers, and he is big (even when not overweight), bigger than she was, so the strain on those suspensories is great.  In addition, his left fore is toed-in significantly, enough to affect the breakover on that foot.  His feet alone are nice-- hard, solid, well-suited to work, holding their shape nicely between trims-- no chipping, splitting, or any sort of consistency issues.  But the surrounding skeletal issues put too much strain on the ligaments holding it all together.  He is actually wearing down the toes of his hind hooves as he drags them and is currently landing rather toe-first.  According to everyone who has ever had a serious look at his conformation, he needs orthopedic sneakers!

So, he's got issues at the front and rear, issues which need addressing.  The vet wants to do a "natural balance/eventing" shoe, set back from the toe on the hind feet, which would leave a portion of shoe trailing out behind the heel 1/4-1/2".  This would, effectively, move his base of support back slightly to underneath that over-extended fetlock joint and offer some support to the suspensory.  The shoe also has a more square toe in the front, which combined with being set back from the toe of the hoof is supposed to allow the foot to break over "naturally" in a supported fashion.  Similar setback plan for the front feet, without the trailers, in order to facilitate proper breakover, particularly of that toed-in LF.  

We discussed the tradeoffs of having him shod before the clinic in three weeks, which will ask him to do a lot of hard work, harder than we've been doing thus far this spring, and in deeper footing than he normally works.  Do we try to get him shod and used to his new feet before the clinic, in order to head off any injury that stress-load will cause?  The entire point of the clinic will likely be to get him to begin to carry his weight more conscinentiously on those hind legs, so if they need protecting, they need shoes.  But do we have enough time to get him shod and used to new feet between now and then, or are we just asking for injury by rushing into it?

And I, of course, am having a panic attack about this.

I don't know anything about shoeing, about owning and managing a horse with shoes.  And you know what?  The internet is not exactly the place to try to educate yourself about shoeing horses.  There's a holy war going on out there regarding horseshoeing, and it's very, very difficult to sort out fair and honest sources of information from the hyperbolic anecdotes on both sides of the issue.  

So I spent a confused Saturday reading a lot of stuff.  As I tried to narrow down the searches to address just the needs we're trying to meet-- poor conformation and suspensory support-- I of course found out all about DSLD-- Degenerative Suspensory Ligament Desmitis, which I then immediately diagnosed in Sherman.  I know better than this, but once you start "web-MDing" your horse, well, he's got everything, you know.  Of course that's what happened to his dam; that's why we lost her, and now it's going to happen to him, but before he even turns 7!

I literally broke down in tears at the thought of losing him before he lives to the ripe old age I'm planning for him.  At that point, I got off the internet and texted the vet, asking her to call me back at her convenience to talk further about shoeing.  And then just felt sick all the rest of the weekend.

Still waiting for the vet this morning, I called a friend who has been a lifelong horse owner, and whose working horses have been shod for much of the time she's owned them.  She mentioned last week that she just put shoes on her senior horse again, after 2 years without, because the rocky, hilly terrain at her new farm was giving him some trouble.  The instant improvement in his carriage was demonstrable, and she'd said last week that she was quite happy with the return to shoes.  She gave me the lowdown on her life with shod horses, and made me feel much better.  The fact that the farrier she used for many of these years was the farrier I'm currently using allowed her to give relevant advice and reassurance.

While I was on the phone with her, the vet called on my cell phone (isn't that always how it goes?), and we got to have the thorough follow-up conversation I needed.  First and foremost, she reassured me that  while Sherm has skeletal conformation issues that predisposes him to suspensory ligament stresses, he is not of a breed that likely carries the DSLD genetics that will allow his tissues to "turn to goo" and give up on him.  His is a mechanical issue that can be assisted and improved with mechanical and nutritional support.  So, okay, his legs are not going to fall off.  That was good.  

She went on to assure me that the farriery will be working on changing the shape and structure of his feet to improve them for the job they need to do; this is not a fixed situation that we can only hope to maintain from here on in.  Corrective farriery to help Sherm build and develop hoof where he needs it while I'm allegedly building strength and balance throughout his body to help him use it most efficiently.  So it's not the end-of-the-world, last-ditch effort to save him/keep him sound that it might have seemed like at first glance.  He needs assistance, but not a wheelchair just yet.

Finally, I spoke with the farrier, who agreed that this horse's conformation has those issues, and that we can work to improve him.  He was on the road when I called, so I'm waiting for him to call back when he's got his book and we can set up our appointment for Sherm's new shoes.

Wish us luck.  Let's hope Clip Clop is dancing around on happy feet very soon!

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