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Equine lameness rehabilitation and barefoot

I don't think my horse can go barefoot because he is crippled when he loses a shoe.

Most of the horses who come here have poor feet. They have had long term foot problems and often "can't cope" out of shoes. We use our tracks, which have conformable surfaces including deep pea shingle, to allow horses to move comfortably even when they have weak feet. This provides stimulus and over time encourages the growth of a healthier, stronger, more supportive hoof - leading to a sounder, more capable horse.

If my horse improves after rehab, will I need special facilities at home to keep him sound?

No; we aim to send horses home in a normal level of work and able to cope with a variety of terrain including roadwork. Provided you can exercise your horse consistently you shouldn't need conformable surfaces or tracks. You can read more about rehabilitation here or on the blog's Rehab FAQs page.

I've been told my breed of horse [eg: TB] can't cope without shoes.

No horses are born with shoes on. Its a common misconception that particular breeds "need shoes" but former Rockley rehabs include several TBs, warmbloods, Andalusians, ponies, cobs and everything in between. Its true that some horses have suffered such severe injuries that their performance may always be affected, but its not true that this is breed-related. In fact some of the most dramatically improved rehab horses have been the ones who arrived with the "worst" feet.

What sort of foot problems is rehabilitation able to help?

Most horses come here with lameness which blocks to the back of the foot. On x-ray they often have changes to the navicular and pedal bones and those which have had an MRI typically have damage to the deep digital flexor tendon, collateral or impar ligaments.

Some horses have additional problems (like pedal osteitis, sidebone, laminitis) and many are also described as having external foot imbalances, thin soles, under-run heels and long toes or flat feet.

We also frequently see horses with hind limb as well as front limb lameness (eg: suspensory ligament damage or bone spavin).

If you search the blog for horses with any of these issues you will find photos and footage showing how their feet can change.

I've been told that my horse needs remedial shoes and will get worse if I take them off.

If your horse is sound or improving in remedial shoes, why change? However, if that's not the case, you may want to consider an alternative approach and you may be surprised by how how dynamic hooves can be.

We've found that horses are incredibly good at growing themselves a healthier hoof if we provide the right conditions. The great advantage of allowing the horse to do this within its own hoof capsule, rather than by shoeing, is that a healthy hoof tends to alleviate strain on tendons and ligaments and have great medio-lateral balance which supports the limb from the inside out.

Will my horse be back in full work when he comes home?

Most horses are in a moderate level of work when they go home but there are of course no guarantees where horses are concerned. Typically, horses are capable of a reasonable amount of roadwork and are hacking out for about 4 hours a week when they go home. Most will be starting to work in the school and should be building their strength and soundness as they grow better feet. It takes on average 5-6 months to grow a full new hoof capsule so generally horses will have another 2-3 months after they go home when they should continue to improve. Whether a horse goes back to work at the same level or higher than before he was injured depends on many factors and although most do reach this level, there are some who don't.