It’s that time! Baby Z just had his feet trimmed for the first time. Dr. Scott Morrison is the farrier that trims all foals and yearlings at Lane’s End. He is a veterinarian who specializes in podiatry, and he was kind enough to write this piece explaining the importance of foot management in young horses. Thank you Dr. Morrison!
The Horses foot provides several functions such as support, shock absorption, traction and proprioception (ability to feel the ground and negotiate limb position). In the foal however the foot also plays an important role in limb development.
At birth the hoof is covered with a soft, feathery unpigmented tissue called the perinychium. This tissue forms a soft covering to prevent the hard hoof capsule from piercing or damaging the mares’ reproductive tract during gestation and the birthing process. This tissue quickly dries out and is worn away during the first couple days after birth.
The newborn hoof is fairly soft and pliable compared to a mature horses hoof. But over the first month it dehydrates and matures to more closely resemble that of an adult horses hoof. The newborn hoof is also perfectly symmetrical at birth. Over time the hoof changes shape in response to the forces above. Limb conformation dictates the shape of the developing hoof. The foal’s hoof goes through various shape changes during the first several months of age. These shape changes closely follow changes in limb conformation and posture.
The hoof is designed to serve as a protective barrier for internal sensitive structures as well as provide a base of support and leverage for proper bone, tendon and ligament development. Therefore the shape and integrity of the hoof can have a significant effect on the development of these structures. The relationship between limb conformation and hoof shape plays an integral role in the conformational development of the growing horse. Therefore, maintaining a healthy hoof and intervening with special foot management when necessary, is important in the development of the young horse’s limb.
Routine, proper trimming is the most important element of the foal foot management program. Maintaining a healthy balanced foot is the goal. Simply preventing a foot from breaking up or becoming misshapen or distorted will go a long way in promoting proper limb development. However some foals, in spite of routine proper hoof trimming will have a tendency to develop a crooked limb. In these instances shoes or extensions can be used to provide additional support and influence the forces on the growth plates and encourage straightening of the limb.
The first trim is usually done at one month of age. But the foal’s feet should be handled and cleaned daily; this will make the first experience with the farrier less stressful. Typically trimming at 3-4 week intervals is sufficient for most foals. If there is a tendency for the limb to grow crooked or with an angular deformity, the hoof may need to be trimmed more often to prevent the hoof from developing a distortion or adverse shape in response to the abnormal forces, often a 2 week trim schedule is then recommended. Various shoes can be used to help a hoof support various developmental abnormalities such as: club foot syndrome (contractures), weak tendons (laxity) and angular deformities.
-Scott E Morrison, DVM