Sunday, February 8, 2009

Healing Henry!

This is Handsome Hank! (His latest new name.) He came to us on Sunday, February 1st. A fellow hoofcare professional emailed me about a big handsome gelding, suffering from navicular syndrome and scheduled to be put down the following week. She couldn't take him and couldn't stand the thought of terminating his young life.

I had to investigate! The next day, I proposed to his owners that she could pay me to take him home and offer him a second chance rather than pay to have him put down and hauled away. That sounded like a fair deal for the life of a lovely young horse and we wouldn't be financially penalized for trying to save him, if shortly after he arrived here, it turned out that we couldn't.

I didn't know anything about him when I agreed to take him, except that he was between 8 and 10 years old. I'm no equine dental expert, but judging from his Galvayne's groove I'm going to call him a 10 year old.

He's lame and had been diagnosed navicular, however no rads were taken to make that determination and I don't know who made the decision for him, but when they did, they handed Hank his eventual death sentence. (A sad, but all too common scenerio for way too many horses.)

We still don't have much information on Hank's background. I wish we did. I'm going to have him checked for a chip, but then again, it concerns me that I might be opening a Pandora's Box if I dig too deeply. I don't need another controversy like we had with Spencer's rescue.

But I'll share with you what we do know so far.

Hank is a (well-bred from what I've been able to descern) quarter horse, and was used for team penning and/or cutting. He's had a great deal of training - one quote was "about $10,000" worth of training - but as near as I can calculate, most of his training would have happened by the time he was 3, maybe 4 years old. So if I'm correct, that's a lot of time on a young horse's back and joints (not unusual I realize especially for quarter horses) and in all likelihood, he's been shod since then.

I contacted the previous owner (to the folks who sent Hank to us) and was informed that Hank was purchased for $5K...or so, by this owner, and I'm not sure how long Hank lived with him before he given away (to a friend) as a five year old, roughly. That friend is where he was when he was brought to my attention.

During his cattle penning days, Hank was going by the name of Bart and Bart's owner and his sons were having a great time working cattle with him. That family really enjoyed Bart with his charismatic personality. And I was told that he was a great ride. Awesome!

So he may have had 2 previous owners before he came to be known as Bart to this possibly 3rd owner. This owner gave Bart to his friend because as he was getting out of the cattle/horse business and he knew his buddy "Bart" would be going to a great home...which was true. He had a wonderful home (well, except for that part about being put down due to his chronic lameness).

When Bart arrived at that new home (about 3 years ago) his name was changed to Henry. Henry, it seems, came up lame not long after. And at some point was labeled navicular. I'm not sure what happened with his feet over the past 3 years, but I'm sure there were all sorts of attempts to help him.

When I went to see Hank for the first time, he was happily hanging out with about 6 other horses, most were Mustang rescues, (so beautiful) on about 80 acres. He was the boss of all the smaller horses and he was lying down when I got there so it was fairly easy to pick out which horse was Henry, the navicular gelding.

He got up and moved around and played with the other horses, you could tell he was not real comfortable, but not completely crippled either. All the horses followed us around the field and Hank would have been in our back pockets if he could have fit. I liked him right off and didn't want to see him put down without at least trying natural hoof care.

When I brought him home he was wearing these contraptions.

Very scientific! Standing the coffin bone on it's end, putting pressure in an area of bone not intended for carrying the horse's entire weight. That's what I'd call treating a symptom, (typical of any type of corrective shoeing) rather than fixing the condition.

This is only my second time pulling these babies off a horse, but it was such a wrestling match with the darn things, I was mad, sweating, muttering and swearing that I would take my rasp to the next person who nailed these flipping things onto another horse that I had to remove them from! But I've since calmed down. (Deep Breath and Smile:0)

So I got them off his feet finally and trimmed what was left. He has long toes, underrun heels, (common) and he has a definite toe-first landing, indicating that he does have pain in the back of his hoof - possibly navicular.

Heel pressure is just what his feet need really, along with shorter toes and some other corrections. But we have to give his DDFT's (Flexor Tendons) time to relax out of those high-heeled things. Also, his front feet are mismatched. One is slightly clubby while the other is a bit flat. But nothing we can't correct for the most part, over time.

Here's what horseshoe nails do for hooves. Nowadays, it blows my mind how accepting we are of damaging a hoof in this manner. One of these nails had been driven into Hank's sensitve laminae.

How did I know that's where it was? He exploded when I removed it and continued to shake his head for several minutes. Poor guy. It must feel kind of like yanking a tooth out sans novocain. A nail hole in the dermal laminae means all kinds of bacteria can find its way into the internal structures of the hoof. That's not a fun thing for a horse.

But back to now. Here is what I suspect started Hanks problems. Even before removing the plastic covers he was wearing, I was wondering if I would find this. Look closely at the heel area. (Bottom of the picture.) Can you see it?

You can see it a bit better now that I've rasped the hoof.

It's a rupture from an old subsolar abscess. These abscesses can cause crippling lameness. But it's temporary crippling lameness. Temporary crippling lameness that can become long-term chronic or sporadic lameness if the hooves are locked up into shoes and not allowed to release the necrotic tissue left behind by the abscess, under the sole and bars.

In shoes, the pain becomes chronic, rather than temporary as it would be if we had pulled the shoes and allowed the abcess to run its course, which even unshod can last for many months. I've actually seen barefoot horses deal with the same subsolar abscess for over a year. My draft-cross, Forrest, was one who did. And Spencer is another one who is at this time suffering from multiple subsolar abscesses.

The discovery of this abscess doesn't mean Hank isn't navicular or that this diagnosis was wrong. It just means, that maybe (hopefully) it was an incorrect assumption. By the way, in the Washington State, it's not legal for anyone except a licensed veterinarian to formally diagnose conditions such as founder and navicular syndrome. If we hoof care professionals suspect something of that nature is going on, it's best that we recommend to the owner to have a vet check the horse.

So now all Hank's hooves have received their first natural trim and his front feet are booted to keep him comfortable. For transitioning hooves from neglect or shoes, I like to use Soft Ride Comfort Boots .

After a few days in the boots, he seems to be doing pretty well.

The boots have been off for a few days and here he is running around a muddy paddock with Scrunchie the curly coated cattle dog! Stay tuned for more on Hank's progress!


  1. Oh Pat, he's beautiful and so lucky to have another chance. I can see why you fell for him. He even has the most perfact "kissy" spot on his nose. He has heart as only these horses can have.
    That was some kinda strange looking crap he had on his feet. No wonder it hurt when you took them off. Well, if anyone can get him back, I know you can! He's in my favorites so I can keep track of his improvements.

  2. Oh, now that is GOOD to see! He definitely sounds like he would try his darndest to take advantage of that second chance. I'm so glad you decided to try to help him.

    I grimaced after your description of the nail in his laminae and how it must have hurt him. My guess is that humans would be far less forgiving of that kind of chronic owie.

  3. What a good-looking guy, Pat! Here's to steady improvement in your care, and an active, pain-free life ahead of him!