Taking Back Hooves

If you’ve had a Thoroughbred, you’ve known the tragedy of their feet. After just a few months with Thoroughbred Number One, my poor mother, who wrote the checks, already knew the term “Crappy Thoroughbred Feet.” Not scientific, perhaps, but it has described the lots of so many owners struggling with their OTTBs. Thoroughbred Number One, incidentally, was put down due to chronic laminitis in 2009.

They try so hard, on feet so crumbly and flat. The racetrack practice of cultivating absurdly long toes and tiny, contracted heels puts a genetic skid into a practical tailspin. The blacksmiths that can amazingly do two shoes and two trims in ten minutes for forty-five bucks – there’s a reason for that bargain rate, kids. Onto all this mess, a cocktail of DNA and poor practice, a light shoe is tacked on, and the horse runs on, doing his job as best as he can.

By the time he’s gotten to you, he hurts. He is damaged. And he’ll keep going for you – that’s the astonishing part. That’s what makes a Thoroughbred a Thoroughbred.

To fix an OTTB’s sad feet, in most cases, you need patience, dry ground, a hoof angle compass, and a rasp.

Patience, because you can’t trim a new foot overnight. Dry ground, because all those nail holes and that stretched out white line are letting in every fungi and bacteria the ground has to offer up. A hoof angle compass, because matching their hoof angle to their pastern, whether it’s too upright or too slanted, is key to figuring out where to rasp. And the rasp – well, perhaps I should have mentioned gloves, and a comfortable surface to sleep on and rest your aching back after you’ve been filing down hooves.

Final Call, bless his little heart, has mis-matched hooves.

Left not too bad here, the right is quite long.

The left front is a round, tall hoof, with an angle that is just a little too upright for comfort. The culprit is those tall heels and wide quarters, which will need gradual rasping down, a little each week. The right front is the more typical flat, low-heeled look, although fortunately not too drastic!

I hadn’t wanted to trim his hooves for the first time alone. I do most of my work alone, though, and saw no way out. I didn’t want to climb underneath him until I thought we had a relationship, and I couldn’t build a relationship until we could work in the round pen together, and I wasn’t going to work him in the round pen until his hooves were in order. There was nothing for it.

He found my pony tail very intriguing through the whole process, and got quite snippy with me when I held up his right front longer than he found appropriate. But all in all he was pretty easy – as a horse who has had his feet done every few weeks for the past three years ought to be.

Thoroughbred racehorses – they come to you knowing how to wash, clip, load, hold up their hooves, have their blood taken, have their mane pulled, stand tied in a box stall for hours on end – honestly, what’s not to love? How easy can it get?

If only it were that simple. . . !



Filed under Hooves, Training Diary

18 responses to “Taking Back Hooves

  1. Sigh. Indeed. TWCF.
    It’s a rule.

    We bred that into them too, but the ongoing damage sure sends it forward quickly too.
    By that, I mean we are learning that current physical damage can lead to current genetic damage, which can be passed on.

    Glad your pony-tail survived.
    Do I get to gloat, really?
    I thought wordpress was all mature, like.
    FIRST, anyway:)
    Great post!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I’ve read that sentence a few times. I’m not sure I follow.

      “Current physical damage can lead to current genetic damage, which can be passed on.”

      So – if a horse is given flat hooves, due to poor trimming practices, that becomes part of the horse’s genetic feature?

      OR does the fact that the horse’s hoof is so willing to displace and rotate to a bad angle indicate that the horse already had a poor genetic disposition towards flat-footedness?


      • Also puzzled. Physical changes imposed on an organism CANNOT change the genotype. Docking tails will not result in their offspring have shorter tails. You can do anything you want to an organism surgically or cosmetically (heck, in humans you can change their genitalia to appear to be that of the opposite gender and they’re still the XX or XY they were born with) and it STILL doesn’t change what genes they’re carrying. Genetics does not work that way.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        I wouldn’t think, but if you read down to GoLightly’s post, there may be studies that suggest otherwise. Of course then you have to define “stress.” Is a one-time deal like docking a tail “stress”? Or does it have be repetitive, like years of poor shoeing?

  2. I have two mares – one is an OTTB and the other is a TB/warmblood cross. Interestingly enough, the TB has really excellent feet, big, round and with lovely angles – but then she has wonderful sound legs and is very sturdy and well-built overall – many people are surprised to hear she’s a TB. The TB cross, on the other hand, has terrible feet – we’ve been working to improve them for years – she has very flat feet, extremely thin soles and a tendency to pancake and have flares and low heels. I’m not sure if she got the bad feet from the TB side or the warmblood side – I’m suspecting TB for many of the reasons you mention.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Genetically, I suspect the Valid Appeal line has done a lot of harm to TB hooves. I currently have two Valid Appeal-bred mares, both with appalling hooves. One I have largely corrected through corrective trimming. But the other one appears to be post-laminitic. She had a filly that was by a Valid Appeal stallion (3×3 to Valid Appeal!) And that filly had thin walls and soles as well. I refuse to allow any more Valid Appeal into my breedings. I have no proof, but enough experience. I have had good luck with Northern Dancer, however, with big strong hooves, and that was one of Final Call’s bonus points.

  3. My Mom’s OTTB had horrible feet (and was a total loon). She decided to breed that mare one day and crossed her to a quarter horse. That was an interesting decision. The resulting offspring had crappy feet and was a total loon. Go figure.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Sooo… what did you end up doing with the offspring?

      • Well he was chronically lame and downright dangerous to ride due to the looniness. My Mom tried to sell him, but he came back when they couldn’t get on him. I could get on him, but after an accident he figured out he could get me off by rearing and falling over backwards. I stopped riding him after that. He ended up getting euthed at age 10 I think. Worst breeding decision ever.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Good heavens what a dramatic story!!

        I guess at least it was euth and not downward spiral to kill pen, right?

        I knew an old guy with all these crazy stories. Told me about this demonic bronco that no one could ride, and finished the story by saying that he knotched his ear and sent him to a sale. I asked why he knotched his ear and he said it was to mark him for slaughter.

        I’ve never heard of that practice before or since.

      • It taught me a valuable lesson about breeding, that’s for sure. That one definitely would have had an ear knotch.

  4. That’s the gist I gestalted from a science magazine I read. Something I’ve been wondering about for years.
    It kinda makes sense, since your environment plays a huge role in how you develop.
    It’s like smoking while pregnant. The damage done can carry over.
    Hmm, it’s like stress changes things.
    I truly believe that the early narrowing of the gene pool, and the un-natural stresses placed on some racehorses, leads to a never-ending cycle of poor feet. No, they aren’t ALL like that. But Tad, for example, was kept in a stall for a long time.
    He may not have been born with bad feet.

    The study was done with child-abuse victims and DNA.
    Paraphrasing “The idea that stress changes how genes function, opens a new window on therapies”.

    Do European TB’s have bad feet?

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Wow, that makes it a whole new ballgame, doesn’t it? A little deep in biology for this English major, but still something to think about.

      Bonnie is English on top, but Valid Appeal on bottom. Anyone else have experience with a European TB?

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        From Facebook…

        “could it in anyway be related to the fact that American racing is on dirt?”

        “Hmm.. are European turf horses shod with shorter toes? I hadn’t thought about that.”

        “and polytrack?”

        What we need are some photos that show us hooves of some European turf stars… like Goldikova.

  5. I would guess both types, and the way the individual deals with those stresses.
    A docked tail has long term applications to the horse.
    I would classify a horse’s hooves grown up on grass &/or with free exercise as less stressed than ones that have grown up on concrete/less exercise.
    It just makes intuitive sense to me, but I could be wrong.

    I’m totally guess-trapolating.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I think the docked tail stress might encourage horses to grow LONGER tails. The stress is lack of tail, not excess of tail. The stress is felt in sensitivity to insects.


      I do know that sandy/soft ground will encourage a horse’s hooves to flare, because there with nothing to grind them down naturally, the hooves flare out as they grow longer in order to prevent the horse from stilt-walking.

      A-ha! So a horse working in deep track/living in deep straw/walking only on dirt shedrows NEVER touches hard ground! By jove I think we’ve got it! We’ve cracked the code!

  6. “Physical changes imposed on an organism CANNOT change the genotype.”
    If that’s true, how did evolution occur? Or it did not? Aren’t we still evolving, or are we not? I think we are, and horses will continue to evolve, by our whims, I’ve noticed.
    Does an Arabian horse’s foot flare on sand?
    Horse’s feet “were?” born to grasslands. They are not often born there, anymore. Seems to me, I could be totally wrong, Probably am wrong.
    I’ve been right about these types of gestalts before, is all.

    My Dad was exposed to lead paint in WW2. Being an un-coordinated chap, he wasn’t a good painter. More paint on himself, I can imagine. His first child had asthma and was a celiac(sp)and allergies and asthma, his second hyperthyroidism, his third Crohn’s, his fourth, well, she got lucky, she just needs glasses, so far. I don’t believe that isn’t interesting to my point:)

    Thalidomide was kinda tough on the old genotype. Again, just my old mostly confused opinion.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Is that the genotype? Or is that the genetic code? Or are they the same thing? I don’t know. I got a C in high school biology. And skated through the liberal arts gimme classes in college. Husband is biology major, five year old son is headed in same direction. It hurts my head.

      Is evolution the same thing as breeding? Selective evolution. Human selection. That makes sense.

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