Maintaining your horse at peak health and performance starts with knowing its normal resting temperature, pulse, respiration rate and other vital signs. Similarly, the more you know about your horse’s feet, the more prepared you’ll be to identify and avoid a variety of potential problems.
Establishing baseline digital radiographs of your horse can be enormously useful in this regard.
Through radiology of the equine hoof, we can better manage any balance and alignment issues the animal may be experiencing. Radiographs also allow us to more effectively assess for a range of foot diseases, including laminitis, third phalanx fractures, osteoarthritis (ringbone), navicular disease and extensive hoof-wall separations.
How farriers use digital radiographs
Your farrier will benefit from having access to digital radiographs when trimming and shoeing your horse. Taking advantage of the additional information provided by radiography, farriers are able to trim more precisely for better alignment and place shoes more accurately for better biomechanics. The improvements achieved in hoof balance can increase comfort, prevent injury and give your horse an edge in sporting competitions.
Working closely as a team, your veterinarian and farrier are able to leverage routine radiographic imaging to give your horse the best odds of enjoying good hoof health at every stage of life.
What we can “see”
CONFORMATION OF THE FOOT:
- Good conformation of the foot is essential for your horse to engage in normal activities. No matter how good the conformation of other areas, a horse with a weak foot is not a useful animal.
- The three bones in the foot are essentially the same three bones that make up your finger. Ideally, they line up in a straight line, angled approximately 45 to 50 degrees from the ground when viewed from the side.
- When we talk about “hoof-pastern” axis, we are essentially referring to how well these three bones line up.
- The pastern axis, as viewed from the front and side, is an imaginary line passing through the centre of the pastern. This line should divide the proximal and middle phalanges into equal-sized parts, from both views. The foot axis, as viewed from the side, should be continuous with the pastern axis and should follow the same angle. In other words, the slope of the pastern and the slope of the dorsal surface of the hoof wall should be identical when viewed from the side.
Common problems with hoof-pastern axis
If the foot and pastern axes are too sloping or too steep, pathological changes may occur:
- Long toe – low heel conformation: “BROKEN BACK” hoof-pastern axis. In this conformation, there is usually less than a 45 degree angle to the hoof wall. A long toe will cause the foot to delay the breakover, since it acts as a long leverage point. Longer toe length increases the strain on the flexor tendons (and navicular apparatus), suspensory ligament and proximal sesamoid bones.
- Short toe – high heel conformation: “BROKEN FORWARD” hoof-pastern axis. In this conformation, there is increased concussion through the bones of the foot, which may lead to the development of ringbone, navicular disease and traumatic arthritis of the fetlock.
Ideally, a horse will have perfect alignment of the three bones comprising the foot. How the foot is trimmed and shod can go a long way towards achieving this balance, and the bio-mechanical advantages that come along with it:
- Lower the heel too much and you strain the tendons and ligaments at the back of the limb and foot.
- Raise the heel too high and you can produce coffin and pastern joint pain.
The veterinarian’s job is to produce high-quality images of the foot, allowing precise measurements to be made in order for the farrier to accurately align the three bones in the foot and set the breakover of the foot.
When perfect balance of the hoof-pastern axis and of the breakover of the foot are achieved, the horse is well set up for peak performance and long-term soundness.
Whether the focus is assessing for disease, treating injury, preventing injury or improving performance, digital radiography is an important tool in your equine veterinarian’s diagnostic toolkit.
In our practice, we’re happy to team up with your farrier to develop a comprehensive hoof-health strategy for your equine friend. Good communication between veterinarian and farrier can only benefit the health of your horse, and that’s the whole point.