Farriery & Foot Imbalance

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How closely does your veterinary surgeon work with your farrier? In my opinion this relationship should be very close indeed.

Part of my responsibility as a vet in the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (many years ago!)  was to ensure that the qualifications of the Army farriers were in line with those offered by the Colleges thus ensuring that the Army Farriers could gain the Dip.WCF and higher qualifications which would allow them to practice farriery as a civilian . This gave me a close working relationship with those in the forge at Melton Mowbray and thus a high regard for these highly skilled craftsmen.  I taught the trainees the veterinary aspect of their job and in doing so gained a better understanding of foot anatomy and general limb biomechanics. 

Now 25 years later, when reviewing  not only claims and problem cases but also Vet’s Certificates at purchase I am struck by the number of times I see a vet’s comments that “The toes are too long”, ”there is a medial/lateral imbalance” or “the shoeing needs attention”. Today alone half of our claims were for lameness and of them half again were related to foot balance. In numerous cases of coffin joint, navicular syndrome or other foot lameness if there is a veterinary certificate available I will check this out of interest.  In about half the cases I see a note on the certificate that there was a foot balance problem. In some cases there has been an initial exclusion applied which has been lifted six months later with a vets report that the feet were now adequately balanced. So what has gone wrong? What should a balanced foot be like? And what consequences are there for not having a correctly balanced foot?

We are all aware that horses are athletic animals. They are evolved as flight animals and carry all their weight on their central toe. The hoof is the equivalent of the finger nail- the carpus (knee) the equivalent of the wrist and our finger joints are represented by the coffin, pastern and fetlock. In the hind limb our heel is the equivalent of the horse’s point of hock. This anatomy has the advantage of very little muscle or weight at the bottom of the limbs, thus allowing easier and faster movement. For the most efficient movement there must be least strain on all the joints. The weight is taken by the horn tubules in the hoof and the minute interdigitations of the laminae which give both strength and a large surface area on which to weight bear folded into a relatively small space. On hitting the ground the foot will expand slightly aiding shock absorption along with the lateral cartilages, frog and digital cushion. For maximum strength the horn tubules must be parallel (try bending a bunch of drinking straws- first held together with an elastic band at both ends, then with a band just at one end). The laminae and horn tubules form along the pedal bone in the foot from the sensitive laminae or “quick” in human parlance. In addition to this the deep digital flexor tendon inserts onto the pedal bone via the navicular and the force of the tendon pull is effectively anchored by the laminae.  (In laminitis cases where the laminae are weakened there is rotation of the pedal bone and flattening of the feet at least, penetration of the sole at worst.)

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