How do I know if my horse's feet are hurting? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 24 Old 08-04-2014, 02:33 PM Thread Starter
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How do I know if my horse's feet are hurting?

Some background to help answer my question below:

My half draft has been barefoot her whole life. She's 12 now. I've had her since January and so far she's not had any problems with lameness or foot pain and I'm not aware of her having problems before with her previous owners.

She's been on soft ground almost all the time and worked in a sand riding arena or ring. Lately, though, I've been taking her out on trail rides on hard surfaces with either ashpalt or gravel mixed with grassy/weedy areas.

During the winter months and when she's only worked sporadically in sand, she needs a trim about every 4 weeks. But now that I've been working her 5x a week and going on 1-2 trail rides per week, it's been 4 weeks and she doesn't need another trim at all. She's self-trimming very nicely as far as I can tell. Her sole is concave with some false sole flaking off and her hoof wall is just slightly longer than the sole, except at the toe where it's almost the same level.

Today on our trail ride (after one yesterday too, mostly on asphalt), it seemed like maybe she was sensitive. She tripped a little and ... I don't know. Her gait seemed more ...hesitant or something. It might have just been my imagination, though.

I'm not experienced enough to know when she's having a problem, so I was hoping you all could give me signs to look for.

After our ride, I checked her feet. They're hard as rock and she has some false sole flaking off in some spots. The edges of the hoof wall are rounded and there are some small chips in them.

Question:

Is there anything I can do to test her feet? Anything I would notice when riding?

FWIW, I have some Easycare boots (Easyboot trail or something like that) that I can use if necessary. The reason I didn't use them so far is I wanted to try and toughen up her hooves, and my trail rides are pretty short. I go for about an hour, mostly at a walk, a little bit of trotting. Today our trotting was mostly just in grass. Yesterday there was about a total of 3 minutes of trotting on hard surfaces.

“When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. ” ~ William Shakespeare
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post #2 of 24 Old 08-04-2014, 07:22 PM
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The sort of symptoms you describe could have any number of origins, so you are on the right track with wanting to assess her hoof function. But you cannot stop there, you must also see if she is favoring joints, has back pain, or even if her symptoms are neurological.

If you can post some good photos of her feet we might be able to help you assess whether she is having hoof balance issues. She could have feet that are short enough and healthy and still harbor imbalances that might affect her gait.

Your farrier can come out and use his hoof testers and assess various parts of her feet for pain. Your vet and/or chiro can assess your horse for other sources of pain if her feet pass inspection.
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post #3 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 03:44 AM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by greenhaven View Post
The sort of symptoms you describe could have any number of origins, so you are on the right track with wanting to assess her hoof function. But you cannot stop there, you must also see if she is favoring joints, has back pain, or even if her symptoms are neurological.

If you can post some good photos of her feet we might be able to help you assess whether she is having hoof balance issues. She could have feet that are short enough and healthy and still harbor imbalances that might affect her gait.

Your farrier can come out and use his hoof testers and assess various parts of her feet for pain. Your vet and/or chiro can assess your horse for other sources of pain if her feet pass inspection.
Thanks to this forum, I'm well aware of the need to check all issues. This thread's question wasn't really about that, but FWIW, I've had the chiro out twice, once when I first bought her and once last week. The first visit she had issues, the second she received a 100% clean bill of back/neck health. All the stretches, exercises and massages have paid off! Her teeth were floated recently, the vet has given her a checkup with no issues, no lameness at all, she shows no signs of ulcer, etc. etc. etc.

I simply want to know how I could tell if her feet are hurting, and this is based on my desire to do more trail riding. I want to do what I want to do with my horse, but I also need to be sure she's comfortable and healthy while she's doing it. :)

I will get some photos today!

“When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. ” ~ William Shakespeare
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post #4 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 06:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ecasey View Post
I simply want to know how I could tell if her feet are hurting, and this is based on my desire to do more trail riding. I want to do what I want to do with my horse, but I also need to be sure she's comfortable and healthy while she's doing it. :)
My 2 cents from my experiences. If she's not lame and not refusing to go, I doubt she's hurting.
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post #5 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 07:10 AM Thread Starter
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I have this feeling that my girl would keep going, even if in pain, just because that's the kind of horse she is.

I've read posts from people who could tell their horse was in pain, but they didn't say how they know. I'm hoping someone will reply to this thread with that info.

“When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. ” ~ William Shakespeare
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post #6 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 07:38 AM
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As with many things and horses, it is a feel. You know your horse and how she travels normally.

My Arab is a forward going horse. When he is off, he is wee bit less forward. For example, had him out last weekend on a trail ride, was hosing him off, and he had blown an abscess. Never gave me a lame step.

I felt like a jerk when I saw it. And after thinking on it over a cold beer while I hand grazed him, I realized he didn't really want to go up hills at the canter, which is his normal modis operandi.

So, it is a feel.

My opinion anyway.
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post #7 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 07:40 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you! Very helpful. I just had this feeling with her, but I couldn't tell if it was her reaction to all the crazy things happening on the trail (new sights and sounds and racing stallions) or her feet.

“When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk: he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it; the basest horn of his hoof is more musical than the pipe of Hermes. ” ~ William Shakespeare
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post #8 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 08:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PaintHorseMares View Post
My 2 cents from my experiences. If she's not lame and not refusing to go, I doubt she's hurting.
Quote:
Originally Posted by ecasey View Post
I have this feeling that my girl would keep going, even if in pain, just because that's the kind of horse she is.
If she isn't telling you she is hurting then you may never know. You can either have a farrier assess her feet or you can assume she is always hurting even when she is not showing signs, or you can choose to believe she is "telling" the truth when she shows no signs of lameness.

Sarahfromsc felt bad about her horse, but one of two things happened for her: he was telling her and she did not hear him or he wasn't telling her. Plus, some horses can process abscesses with little or no pain. The first is not a criticism, my own mare is a very stoic horse and often does not let on about things until it is critical.

So I guess, in answer to your original question, signs your horse's feet are hurting could include (but are not limited to):

-reluctance to move about on her own
-unusual stance, like leaning back away from forefeet or constantly shifting weight from one foot to the other, or pointing one foot more often than the other while standing.
-heat
-swelling
-response to a farrier's foot tester
-"walking on eggshells" on very hard or rocky surfaces
-reluctance to pick up feet for cleaning, especially if a horse has already been trained to do this properly.
-shorter strides than normal
-changes in gait with a rider on vs. no rider
-abnormal changes in attitude, like "depression" or crankiness
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post #9 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 10:48 AM
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I know that I can have some pain in my own legs without limping - I believe the same is true for horses. I liken it to shivering from the cold - you will feel chilled long before you actually start to shiver.

Normally, you will see a change first in their footfalls if there is pain in the limb. Toe first landings usually indicate pain, and heel first landings mean that the foot is functioning as it should. Engaging the frog, stimulating the digital cushion, and supporting the bony column of the limb within the hoof capsule while offering relief to tendon tension.
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post #10 of 24 Old 08-05-2014, 10:57 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ecasey View Post
Is there anything I can do to test her feet? Anything I would notice when riding?
Yes! Hand walk and hand trot her on a gravel drive. Some horses just have sensitive feet and my Vet taught me this many decades ago to detect a lameness, which will exaggerate on this surface. Your barn's driveway is probably gravel. Try to do this on hard gravel with big, golfball size gravel. Pea gravel is softening, and a lot like sand, and can get lodged in the sole of the hoof, so it isn't a good surface to use for this.
Some horses with sensitivity just do better with "corrective" shoeing, and are best shod for 9 months of the year, giving them the chance to go barefoot for the coldest months of the year.

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