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An introduction to the effects and consequences of unbalanced hooves

Other Symptoms
Hoof imbalances can cause a variety of other problems too, many of them seemingly unrelated.

  • Most people recognize cracks as symptoms of an imbalance, although they are frequently misunderstood even by some professionals.

  • Many cases of seedy toe and white line disease originally start with an unbalanced foot stressing the laminae.

  • Front leg problems can often be traced to unbalanced hind feet.

  • More stoic horses cope with imbalances, but will compensate to protect themselves. This often shows up as non-specific low-grade lameness, muscle soreness, or attitude/training problems.

  • Many cases of navicular, ringbone, etc., are directly related to hoof imbalances.

  • Asymmetry in the horse’s back and hindquarters can also be directly related to hind feet imbalances. A particularly common symptom is one hip higher than the other, often accompanied by an uneven stride, however subtle, as well as a low shoulder. If this is a problem of long standing, the horse may need bodywork as well as hoof rebalancing, and also some remedial riding.

Of those local farriers I met when first rebalancing Cimarron’s feet, very few were willing to work with me to effect the changes required. Convinced that these balancing techniques would help Cimarron, I committed myself to learning the hows, whys and wherefores of the rebalancing. In doing so, I witnessed many horses whose movement and/or soundness was improved more than many people felt was possible. And I have developed an understanding and intuitive grasp of when and how to effect these changes both in my own horses and in other horses (I started to successfully shoe my own horses but now prefer to leave them barefoot). Along the way, I also learned about biomechanics (how horses use themselves) which in turn helped me to understand how to help a horse improve his posture, and how to train a horse without the use of force…

Effects of Re-Balancing
You might be interested in some of the side-effects of Cimarron’s rebalancing.

  • Previously, I had to use the softest brush I could find when grooming him because of extremely sensitive skin – now I can use a firm brush and he leans into it;

  • His low right shoulder is now level with the left shoulder, so he is now able to eat off the ground comfortably without having to spread his forelegs (always the left one forward, right one back);

  • This has also made it easier to fit his saddle correctly, and he now bends to the left easily;

  • He no longer suffers from abscesses of obscure origin;

  • The constant back pain that had previously required massage sessions several times a week soon became a thing of the past;

  • He no longer carries his tail to one side;

  • Always eager to please while under saddle, even minor resistance became a rarity – what a pleasure…;

  • While shoeing him Cimarron’s shoes wore very little, and what wear there was was always dead centre, but he can also go barefoot now;

  • In his younger years, warm-up took at least 20 minutes; once his feet were more correct he was usually supple in five minutes…

  • His trot became much smoother, and his extended trot “sittable”! Yes!

Recovery from a Longtime Lameness
There are many horses other than Cimarron that I have seen helped through precision balancing. One Appaloosa mare, 16 years old, had been sidelined for two years due to a severe lameness. She was able to move freely in her paddock and on the longeline, but under saddle and asked to trot she would refuse to put weight on her left front leg. One vet diagnosed problems from an old shoulder injury, another diagnosed ringbone and both pronounced her unrideable. Unwilling to write off the horse, her owner agreed to having the horse’s feet rebalanced. After only one shoeing, the mare immediately moved on all four legs even when ridden. After another shoeing she was completely sound, and was put into training. Over the ensuing six years or so she was worked regularly, competed successfully in dressage schooling shows, and the lameness that sidelined her for so long never returned – and this without any painkillers or other medications. She was retired due to blindness.

The Importance of Correct Shoe Placement
Sometimes, the farrier may trim the hooves correctly, but place the shoes a little out of position. Again, the balancing may only need a small adjustment. Here's an example. One horse I used to see frequently consistently required extra padding under the right front section of the saddle, and demonstrated, among other things, more difficulty leg-yielding to the right than to the left. One week, a few days after being shod, the saddle no longer fitted correctly, and we found that now the left front section needed the extra lift. In addition, the horse now demonstrated more difficulty leg yielding to the left… At the same time, the horse’s loin area—immediately in front of the hips—suddenly became quite hollow. Well…coincidence, you might think. However, while the hind shoes appeared well placed, on close examination they were actually slightly out of position, and further, they did not adequately support the heels and bulbs. (Many people, however, would have considered it an excellent shoeing job, and in most respects it was.) Correct riding by the owner helped the horse compensate and the hollowness over the loins improved somewhat, although the asymmetry remained reversed. A few days after the next shoeing, this time giving more support to the bulbs of the feet, and taking more care in the placement of the shoes, the saddle again needed refitting—once again requiring the extra lift on the right side, and yes, the leg yielding changed back too…and the loins filled back out. Another coincidence? Not in my experience.

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Last updated October 17, 2003

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