FOAL HOOF DEVELOPMENT
I thought it would be interesting the keep a photographic record of the hoof development of our foal Seren. She is the first foal I have trimmed that has been kept on a track system, and the resulting development of her feet has been a little different to the foals I trim who are kept traditionally in fields/stables. The soundness of an adult horse is largely due to the correct development of its feet as it grows. Many lameness’s and injuries are contributed to by incomplete internal development of the hoof. The longer I've been involved in hoof care the more convinced I have become that much of the damage is being done to our horses hooves long before a shoe is nailed on. I hope the following will highlight the importance of environment and movement in the critical early days, months and years of hoof development.
To see the environment Seren is being raised in go to the "management" page and take a look at our track system.
2 days old and a qick snap of her right fore.
At a recent lecture here in the UK Brian Hampson (of the Australian brumby research centre) talked about his GPS studies on the movement of horses. He had placed GPS collars onto his own foals and found that in the first few weeks of life his domestic foals travel about the same distance as their dams, but most of their movement is done at speed. This was certainly true of Seren who spent a lot of time galloping, bucking and broncing around the field. Brian explained that this early activity is essential to the foals physical development at a critical stage of ther lives, and that the practice of keeping foals safe in stables for the first few weeks of life may be detrimental to the adult horse.
In the foal foot the pedal bone lacks a palmar process which develops as the horse grows. Also the lateral cartilages, which extends from the palmar process into the back of the foot, are very small. The digital cushion is above the frog and between the lateral cartilages and in the foal foot is small and composed of fatty tissue. In the following photos notice the gradual development of the area highlighted by the green box.
Above: By 6 weeks Seren was happily allowing her feet to be handled, so I had the oppertunity to get photos without stressing her. Notice how the foal foot is an inverted cone - wider at the coronary band and narrower at the ground surface. This is the opposite to a healthy adult foot.
Above: The paler section of hoof wall nearer the ground is the horn she grew in the womb (known as the foal tip), so it grew without ever bearing weight. The darker upper section is horn that has grown since she was born.
In drier weather her hooves were more or less self trimming, with the heels staying level with the frog. In the sole view her heels are already wide and the frog large.
Below: Here I have compared Serens’ foot with another foal, also 5 months old, and of similar type and expected adult size. Seren has been living on our track system for about 3 months with a section of hard core road and area of gravel, and never stabled. She had been trimmed every few weeks (generally just a light touch with the rasp) to ensure her heels did not grow too long and reduce the frogs contact with the ground. The one on the right is a foal that has been living on a field with no hard ground or gravel and has not been trimmed until this photo was taken. She has never been stabled, but she was born late in the year. We had a very wet winter and therefore she lived on soft ground. Her heels and bars had overgrown, preventing her frog from making proper contact with the ground. And her toes had become long and flared. It is important that foals have hard ground in their environment so that the hooves expand fully when weight bearing. Without this the hooves become contracted. Its also important that they are trimmed frequently to keep the frog in contact with the ground.
Above: The hoof is now wider at the ground surface than at the coronary band. In periods of wet weather her hooves didn't wear as much.
Below: Here I have compared Seren (at 7 months) to the soft ground foal (at 8 months and this photo is taken at her second trim). Note how much narrower the hoof and heels are. This external appearance is an indication of poor internal development of the digital cushion. Also note the corns (black areas in the seat of corn) caused by pressure necrosis from the previously overgrown bars.
Below: The soft ground foal foot is still narrower at the ground surface than at the coronary band.
Compare back to the top of the page the difference in the highlighted area.