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Thursday January 27, 2022

Foal Feet and Legs

Written by F. Thomas Breningstall
Category: Essays For Horse Owners
Hits: 4643

breningstall_anvil"If a foal has normal feet and legs, at what age do you suggest having the farrier commence trimming hooves?" asks David Sanderson of Simonton, Texas. "I am concerned that all my babies get off to a proper start with correct foot care. All eleven of my horses are on a six-week farrier cycle."

I like to see foals before they are four weeks old, not necessarily to trim their feet, but to see how they are growing and if they are developing as they should be. Also I like to make sure they are getting handled and know how to stand to be trimmed. If all is well, the first trimming would be from four to six weeks of age, then every four to six weeks thereafter.

Turned-Out Legs
I recently had a foal born at my farm that seems to have his legs turned out at the stifle," writes Lori Whitley of Medford, Oregon. "What would you call this problem? And can it be corrected with proper trimming?"

The closer to the ground the problem is, the better the prognosis is for overcoming it with trimming and shoeing. I mean starting with the hoof, coffin, pastern, fetlock, hock, stifle, and hip joints. By the time we get past the hock joint, we farriers can't do much to the feet that will help straighten them up.

Anything we do must be done as soon as possible and at a young age (under one year old). Trimming the feet shorter on the outside and squaring off the toe may help. Trimming should be done every two weeks to keep the feet turned in. But I must caution you, trimming may turn the hoof in, but not the stifle. If the stifles grow normally after the horse muscles up and gets stronger, the horse will toe in.

The clinical name for this type of deformity (if it's what I think it may be) is a possible rupture of the round ligament. It could be a birth defect or due to overextension of the hind limbs.

Diagnosis maybe reached with an x-ray of the coxofemoral joint--the joint at the pelvis and femur. The round ligament holds this joint together. Prognosis is guarded at best. Then again, the foal just may grow out of it.

Growthy Yearling
"I have a growthy yearling that is 15.3 hands (honest). He is breaking over at the fetlock and seems to be worse after working, which is 15 minutes at a long trot and at a lope," says John Davis of Mooresville, Indiana. "A few of his brothers had the same symptoms and grew out of it, but will still rest with the fetlock broke over. He has a steep pastern. He had a lot of heel when we I got him. Some people tell me to lower the heels and some say to keep him as steep as we can. We have had a reverse wedge pad on and it seems to help, but after working he is very sore. If you have any ideas on how to set him up for the long run, that would be great."

Oh boy, knuckling over. I like it best if the horse just grows out of it, but sometimes we need to help the horse along. First, remove the reverse wedge pad before something rips loose. Then shoe the horse with an extended toe shoe. With each trimming lower the heels a little more. The toe of the shoe should be out in front of the hoof toe about 1". You don't want to force the joint, but to support it. Free-will exercise is better then forced exercise, so let the horse run free as much as he wants to. Hot and cold therapy, massage, and stretching the leg out front may help.

Sorry I can't suggest a magic way to help your horse. When a horse grows as fast as yours, time is the best healer.

Pigeon-Toed Colt
I have a stud colt that is two and a half years old. His front feet are badly pigeon toed," writes Jennifer Frey of Frederickstown, Missouri. "Everyone tells me to put him down, but I just can't do that. If you could give me some advice on his feet, please tell me, 'cause I care for this colt a lot and I don't mind what it will cost, I'm determined to fix this horse."

I'm sorry, but not a lot can be done to straighten the deformed legs of a horse that is two and a half years old. Any correction should be started before a colt is six months old, before the epiphyseal cartilage plates (on the ends of each leg bone) begin to close.

I don't know your horse or how badly he is pigeon toed or if he is lame from being pigeon toed. If he is lame then I agree the most humane thing to do would be to euthanize him. Animals that depend on people for their survival should not suffer pain, just because we think they should or because we care for them. If we really care for them we would not let them suffer.

If, on the other hand, he is not lame and the only thing wrong with him is that his toes point at each other, my advice would be to have him gelded as soon as possible, so there would be no chance of passing on his pigeon toes to any offspring.

Pigeon-toed horses often wear down the outside hoof wall, making them even more pigeon toed. So trim the hooves flat, even, and often--this is most important. If the wear is severe, shoes should be applied to protect the hoof walls.

Many horses go just fine with pigeon toes, as long as they don't stumble and aren't lame. Hey, let them look different. All people are different, aren't they?

F. Thomas Breningstall is an AFA and MHA certified full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column "Hoof & Hammer" appears regularly in RURAL HERITAGE draft-animal magazine, and is reprinted here with permission.

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