In our last blog Dr Sue Dyson highlighted the importance of correct front feet for long term soundness in horses. In this article, we chat to another of our Equine Conference 2024 speakers, Dr Simon Curtis, farrier, author, lecturer and horse hoof-care expert.
Simon has been a farrier for over 50 years. He has spent most of his career and is probably best known in the industry for his work with foals, studying their conformation and how farriery can be used to aid them and put them on the right path. What Simon doesn’t know about the equine hoof isn’t worth knowing, he is a world authority and has even written a book about it – Farriery Foal to Racehorse.
“I regret the title of this book a little,” laughs Simon. “I should have called it Foal to Adult, as the information is relevant to all breeds of horse.”
Simon retired from shoeing three years ago, but he admits to picking up a rasp to do a trim every now and again. His main focus now is to write, he also has his own podcast and hosts webinars four or five times a year aimed mainly at trimmers, vets, farriers and horse owners.
The title of the talk Simon will be giving at the Horses Inside Out Conference is - The types of Angular limb deformities and common developmental issues. How and when to intervene.
“Horse limb deviations fall into three categories - angular deformities, rotational and offset,” explains Simon. “Whatever people tell you; offset and rotational problems don’t appear to be fixable by either trimming, shoeing or surgery,” explains Simon. “However, angular limb deformities which are far more common are extremely fixable. During my presentation, I will show the audience lots of very dramatic improvements to foals’ hooves.”
Farriery helping foals
There are also other developmental orthopaedic diseases where farriery can help –one that is seen often is where the foal gets some tension in a tendon which causes the heel to go up. This goes unnoticed and eventually the result is a club foot.
“No horse has ever died from having a club foot but it undoubtedly reduces value, performance and makes them more likely to lameness issues which costs time and the owner money,” Simon says. “I believe that if the owner, vet and farrier all do their job no horse would get a club foot.”
The formation of a club foot often goes unnoticed because many foals’ feet aren’t seen by a farrier early or regularly enough – “Foals should be seen every month from the age of one month old. This is already done in the Thoroughbred world, so many of them are being caught and corrected. This practice is now being done more often at warmblood yards too.
“In the last 25 years at the yards I have worked at I’ve not seen a Thoroughbred with a club foot.”
As well as regular farriery visits, owners can look at the foal on a hard surface, whether that's tarmac or concrete. It is almost impossible to see things in a paddock, not just because of the grass but because they're not level.
Lots of foals and youngsters are turned out at an early age and stay out. Again, one of the advantages in the thoroughbred industry is all foals are usually brought in at least once a day and changes in the hoof get noticed.
The formation of a club foot
It can be a very subtle change in tendon tension in the leg that starts to pull the heels up. We’ve probably all seen a picture of a foal with ballerina syndrome, standing on its tiptoes. This is the extreme and not the norm. The norm is when the heel is up by just a couple of millimetres, and this won’t be spotted unless the horse is on a hard surface. In this position, the horse is in suspension and this can’t sustain that forever, so the foot adapts by the heel growing down, distal phalanx starts remodelling around its tip. The foot changes shape from the bottom and those shapes become unchangeable as the horse gets older and that’s how you end up with a club foot.
Club foot affects the front feet and it manifests itself in one foot usually in 75% of the cases it’s the right foot. This directly relates to posture and laterality and how the horse uses itself. What happens is that in the end the horse protects one leg and makes the other leg worse and that's why the horse ends up with just one club foot.
“It’s pretty rare to have club foot in both front feet. I must have looked at 20 to 30,000 foals in my career and only seen club foot affect both front feet once.”
Observing the Horse
Something we should all take time to do is video our horses - just in walk. It is easy to assess and spot things in walk. Sometimes it is hard to differentiate what these conformational faults are and they are exactly the same as you see in mature horses.
"The reason I like foals is everything is exaggerated and this means you can see them easier and you learn the principles better," says Simon. "The way I examine foals for their conformation is exactly the same way as I would for a mature horse. So even if you don't breed or own a foal. I hope people will learn some simple ways of looking at their own horses from my presentation."
Join us at our Conference
The Horses Inside Out Conference is two-days of amazing guest speakers who will be presenting the latest research and thinking connected to the growth and development of horses. You can join us in person or online - book before 31 October 2023 and save on ticket prices with our early bird discount!