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In this second of a four-part series, Dr Gerd Heuschmann continues his exploration of how the horse works with a focus on feet.
THE HORSE’S TOE
Now let us look at the toe of the horse. Most people know about the bony structure of the hoof, the cannon bone, first, second and third phalanx, the navicular, and the sesamoid bones in the fetlock area. Then we have to look at the apparatus that is carrying the fetlock, divided into the suspensory which is fixed at the cannon bone and fixed at the sesamoids, and the distal ligaments. This system supports the fetlocks, if you cut it, it all falls down – you sometimes see it with old broodmares when they sink down in the fetlocks and the hock is straight and the stifle is straighter.
THE DEEP FLEXOR TENDON
Now we need to look at another system, the deep flexor tendon going around the sesamoids behind the fetlock, going down the navicular and it is fixed at the third phalanx.
COMMON SHOEING PROBLEMS
Once we have an idea of these systems then we can look at what seems to me a very big problem with our sport horses in Germany – and that is how they are shod.
First another question. How do we want to divide the horse’s weight? Evenly. What do we need to have the weight distributed evenly? Flat even feet. When the horse walks, the foot has to hit the ground with the toe and the heel at exactly the same moment so the weight is distributed evenly.
What happens when you start to alter that balance? Many farriers do orthopaedic shoeing without knowing that is what they are doing, because they don’t look, they don’t care. Without thinking, our farriers cut the heels and make the foot very flat – what happens to the deep flexor? There is more pressure on the navicular, the deep flexor gets more stressed, there is more pressure and the fetlock is pushed forward, and the suspensory becomes loose.
But more often the farriers in Europe raise the heels. So the deep flexor is without tension, the navicular has no pressure, the whole tendon is rather loose, and all the weight is on the suspensory. Many people accept that the farrier takes the horse out of the stable, takes off the shoes, cuts the hoof, puts on new shoes and goes home again. He didn’t look for one second how the horse sets down its foot. It is so important if you have a healthy horse to have the weight evenly distributed through all the structures, and that is only possible when you see how the horse moves.
If you have a horse with suspensory problems, it doesn’t help to raise the heels. Sometimes you find veterinarians who recommend that you raise the heels for a suspensory problem, I don’t know why, but they do.
To understand the horse’s toe a bit more, let’s look at a longitudinal cut through the toe. In the hoof area you have a small capsule. The hoof looks different to the hoof in a living horse – you see there are many things inside. The phalanx, the navicular, the flexor tendon, the digital cushion. What is the function of the digital cushion? It is a pump that circulates the blood and this relates to the weight-bearing phase of the hoof action. For this you need a good digital cushion and you need a very well developed hoof.
Let me tell you a little story of how I started thinking about this… Because who is interested in the hoof? I wanted to concentrate on riding but I discovered that a mountain of problems came out of wrong hoof management, and it was so easy – nearly as easy as riding – to manage a good hoof. When you have every part of the hoof hitting the ground at the same time, then you get ideal pressure on the frog – and from the pressure on the frog you get the pressure on the digital cushion, it widens the hoof in the area of the heel and keeps the hoof healthy.
IN CASE YOU’RE INTERESTED:
Gerd Heuschmann’s course: ‘Equine Biomechanics: Head and Neck Position’ is available for purchase in the store. Find out more at this link.
You may also be interested in a course: Anatomy of the Equine Hoof. Find out more at this link.
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