Hoof Distortions Clinic

An extreme example of a distorted hoof; the bones have been deformed.  The front of the leg is to the left.

On Friday I attended a clinic on hoof distortions put on by the Equine Lameness Prevention Organization (ELPO).  ELPO is a non-profit whose mission is “to provide hoof care and equine care guidelines that are based upon research and the practical experiences of successful equine care professionals from around the world.”  A few years ago I missed a three-day workshop ELPO put on in my area for people like me who do their own trimming.  It got such great reviews that I vowed I wouldn’t miss another.  Though Friday’s clinic was targeted at farriers and was pretty focused, I still got a lot out of it.

The clinic began with a presentation on hoof distortions.  I have seen flares and long toes and high heels, but I had never seen some of the extreme examples that were displayed.  The best part of the slide show was a series of time lapse photos showing how the weight bearing surface of the hoof changes between trimmings.  Mike Sussex, a farrier from Torrington, Wyoming, explained that Mother Nature wants to trim away distortions, and she often does it in a big way, though usually only to the sole.  Chips and breaks in hooves are examples of Mother Nature’s attempts to deal with distortions.

Shooting a radiograph of the horse’s foot after the hoof was mapped.

The next session demonstrated the hoof trimming technique that ELPO advocates.  The clinic was held at a stable, and the owner brought in a gelding who was very patient with both the crowd of onlookers and the trimming job that took longer than usual because of all the questions from the audience.  What I found most interesting about the hoof trimming technique was that it’s focused on locating the coffin bone and trimming the hoof in relation to it.  This made so much sense:  shape the hoof to support the structures above it.  A veterinarian attended the clinic with his portable radiograph.  He shot pictures of the horse’s hooves and confirmed the accuracy of the technique in locating the coffin bone.  When this result is combined with information from ‘natural hooves’ of mustangs, for instance, farriers are better able to shoe horses in ways that help.  The ELPO literature observed that farriers advocate their own technique and often disagree with techniques used by others.  Now, with research that demonstrates the correlation between this technique and the underlying structure of the foot, it’s ELPO’s hope that farriers can all do their work in ways that truly benefit the horse.

Dave Herring, a farrier from Mead, Colorado, was doing the demonstration and said that he’d started forty years ago.  For the first twenty five years he was just nailing iron on hooves, but for the last fifteen years since using ELPO techniques he’s having fun.  A young farrier in attendance said she’d moved to Colorado to attend farrier school but shortly after she got out she felt that implementing what she’d been taught made horses worse not better.  She went in search of something that made sense, met Dave Herring, and now feels she’s able to help the horses she trims and shoes.

I came away from the clinic with a greater understanding of the world of farriers and of the hoof distortions they sometimes face.  Having a scientific background myself, I also greatly appreciated the effort ELPO made to demonstrate the efficacy of their technique by bringing in the vets and the radiograph.  I have a lot more to learn about the technique and how to put it to use in my herd, but seeing the demonstration and listening to the reasoning has motivated me to review all the material I brought home and keep my eyes peeled for the next trimming clinic in my area.

© Jenifer Morrissey, 2012

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Breeder of Fell Ponies, teamster of work ponies, and author of Feather Notes, Fell Pony News, and A Humbling Experience: My First Few Years with Fell Ponies. Distributor of Dynamite Specialty Products for the health of our planet and the beings I share it with.
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