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Flat, Brittle Hooves
Many New Zealand thoroughbreds are commonly known to have flat, brittle hooves, or flat soles, making the horse conventionally considered unusable without shoes as it is an extremely painful condition for the horse. In New Zealand, flat, brittle hooves are viewed a common trait of the thoroughbred breed and even considered by some as hereditary. In farrier and veterinary texts, flat hooves are conventionally considered incurable:

"A flat foot lacks the natural concavity in the sole; it is not a normal condition in light horses but is present in some draft breeds. Flat feet may be heritable and are much more common in the forefeet than in the hind . . . Sole bruising and the lameness that results are common sequelae of flat feet. No remedy will cure a flat foot."
Adams' Lameness in Horses (5th ed), Ted S. Stashak

"A flat hoof is one whose toe and side walls are inclined very obliquely to the ground surface, and whose sole is on a level with the bearing-surface of the wall. . . Flat and full hoofs {dropped sole} are incurable"
A Textbook of Horseshoeing for Horseshoers and Veterinarians, by A. Lungwitz and John W. Adams

However, by applying the Strasser Method, developed by German veterinarian Dr Med.Vet Hiltrud Strasser, it is demonstrated that flat hooves and/or dropped coffin bones are curable.
According to Strasser, in her textbook "The Hoofcare Specialist's Handbook: Hoof Orthopedics and Holistic Lameness Rehabilitation", there are many causes of flat hooves or dropped coffin bones. These includie laminitis, invasive procedures (such as grooving for laminitis), poor overall quality of the hoof wall due to long-term shoeing or contraction, incorrect trimming so that the horse bears weight only on the sole and certain orthopedic shoes. Basically, flat hooves or dropped coffin bones are caused by a weakened suspension of the coffin bone in the hoof capsule, causing the coffin bone to drop on to the sole corium.
Using the Strasser Method, flat hooves are cured by removing the cause (ie; shoeing/contraction etc), returning the hoof to its correct shape through physiologically correct trimming and giving the horse a natural lifestyle of movement and soaking the hooves in water etc. It is often not a "quick fix"; optimal circulation must be returned to the hoof, so that the damage done to the coffin bone and corium (the soft tissue responsible for growing hoof horn) can be healed. Only then can healthy hoof horn regrow to sufficienty resuspend the coffin bone in the hoof capsule. Depending on how long the cause has been in effect and the degree of damage, this can take from 10 months (one hoof capsule growth) to several years. Time for healing will also depend on how closely the Strasser Method is followed, including proper nutrition.
Curing flat hooves and dropped coffin bones has been demonstrated to have worked in numerous cases around the world, including the New Zealand thoroughbred "Patrick" in the following Strasser Case Study:

Strasser Case Study: "Patrick," Flat footed Thoroughbred
Born August 1992, Gelding, NZ Thoroughbred, Thames, New Zealand

  • HISTORY: Before Strasser Method:
Use: Raced (gallops) from 2 years to 5 years old, then used for general riding, eg; dressage, showjumping, natural horsemanship, trekking etc, to age nine (January 2002).

Lifestyle: Stabled, covered, conventional lifestyle.

Nutrition: Economix pelleted feed, chelated minerals, chaffage (bailed lucerne), hay, grass, chemical wormer every two months.

Hoofcare History: Shod from a very young age to nine years, possibly shod for yearling sales, definitely shod at 18 months for beginning of race training. Never lame with shoes on but tender when threw a shoe, which was often in front hooves. Difficult to keep shoes on front hooves for more than two-three weeks, over-reached, brittle flat hooves, poor quality hoof horn.

Health History: Difficult to condition despite plenty of grass, hay and processed feeds, conventional minerals etc. Rainscald over entire body during any rain, very poor topline, unwillingness to move forward, "fizzy" temperament etc.

Photos: Patrick, January 2002 (when shoes first removed)
(click on images for larger view)

  • Date of going Barefoot:
    January, 2002
Condition of hooves/horse when deshod (Jan, 2002):
Hooves: Measurements January 2002: concavity at tip of frog (after trimming to bottom of dirtline): 1mm in near fore; 2mm in off fore.
Very poor quality hoof horn, brittle, flat, dropped coffin bones in fronts, cb separation in hinds. Front hooves were very tender upon removing the shoes, soles very thin and moved when pressed. Patrick could not walk on any gravel, no matter how fine, or rough surfaces, though okay on grass. Old Mac's hoof boots bought for fronts, but still uncomfortable walking on rough or hard surfaces, even with hoof boots, indicating inflammation of soft tissues (corium) in hooves due to poor coffin bone suspension and incorrect hoof form.

Horse: In poor condition despite plenty of feed and care, always standing under, muscle tightness throughout body, ewe-neck, reluctant to move forward and "fizzed" easily.

  • Details of Barefoot Trim/Method and Holistic Care:
Use: general riding, eg; dressage, showjumping, natural horsemanship, trekking etc.

Lifestyle: Since going barefoot, Patrick has been kept outdoors 24/7, with herd-life, water to hooves daily, no covers etc. Also, Patrick is now ridden in a bitless bridle - previously inconceivable for this horse - with more control than a bit. Patrick is now comfortable and therefore quiet to ride. I am happy to take him to the beach with minimal work and full feed (oats).

Nutrition: Further changes made to his lifestyle since starting the SHP course included proper nutrition, ie; whole oats (2kg per day) with dolomite lime for calcium/magnesium, sulphur and copper, with free choice rock salt and organic seaweed meal. Herbal wormers used, with fecal testing for worms yearly.

Hoofcare: January 2002 - September 2003: No hoofcare professionals available in NZ at the time of removing the shoes, so trimmed using information from the internet and Strasser Basic Seminars. The condition of Patrick's hooves continued to improve despite an incorrect trim (I'd never even picked up a hoof knife before!), and got to a stage where they were mostly healthy, but the horse was still very tender on gravel with flat soles and continued to stand under. Many very bad abscesses in the first 1.5 years, in all four hooves to remove dead tissue damaged by previous shoeing/incorrect hoof form. Ongoing abscessing for many months in the white line of front hooves from damage to the laminar corium caused by toe clips of shoes.

September 2003, I started the Strasser Hoofcare Professional (SHP) one-year course and through implementing a more correct trim and lifestyle according to the Strasser Method as a student, Patrick's hooves improved 100%. By about half way through the SHP course, Patrick's coffin bone suspension in the hoof capsule improved dramatically, and he became sound on gravel (even to the point of galloping over heavy gravel in gateways while chasing other horses!) and happily weighting his heels on all terrain. As at August, 2004, Patrick's suspension of the coffin bone in the hoof capsule is now healthy, no inflammation evident, no further abscessing, boots no longer required, standing under improved dramatically.
Measurements August 2004: concavity at tip of frog (after trimming to bottom of dirtline): 8mm in near fore, 9mm in off fore.

Health: Due to the Strasser Method, natural lifestyle, lack of hoof pain, and a change in riding style, Patrick is much calmer and relaxed, shows excellent health and is sound on all terrain.

Ongoing Rehab: Though some muscle tightness has been released from balanced hooves, rehabilitation work has begun to improve his topline, ie; riding in the Chiron style, head-low, cavalletti etc to build back and neck muscles. Although muscle release work has been ongoing, chiropractic will be looked at also to improve topline.

Photos (after): Patrick, June 2004
(click on images for larger view)

Author's Note: The progress of healing the flat hooves in Patrick's case was slowed as no Certified Strasser Hoofcare Professional was available in New Zealand when the horse was taken barefoot. The correct Strasser Method and trim was not applied until July 2004 when the author became a qualified SHP. Though Patrick has been sound for some months, further progress is expected now that the Strasser Method is more correctly applied.

Case Study by Patrick's owner, Teresa Ramsey, SHP.

For a brief overview of the Barefoot Method: click here
For Strasser Hoofcare Professionals in your area, go to the Natural Hoof Trimmers page
For more detail about the Strasser Method, her book "A Lifetime of Soundness" is recommended. Available now at the Natural Hoof shop

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Disclaimer: Natural Hoof reserves the right to change or edit any part of all articles and case studies submitted to this website. Natural Hoof does not take any responsibility for the content of any articles and/or case studies and/or any misapplication of the information presented in any articles. Natural Hoof presumes readers consult a professional for more information about any topic covered in any Natural Hoof article.

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