In the final analysis, data will likely show that the purpose of effective hoof care is to mimic, and primarily limit ourselves to, the best effects that optimal feral environments could provide hoof form as a function of time. It is a conservative effort that respects the need for native mass, native balanced mass and an understanding that the hoof is an extension, and thus support of, the biomechanics that produce it. The hoof has evolved to be and do wonderous things at both the individual and species level and has existed in its current form for approximately 15 million years. To disrespect the biological potential of the hoof, the how and why of what it is, how it functions to be well, its inherent capability and vitality, is a direct violation of medicine, science and our personal and professional ethics. Our human priority as professionals must be the keeping of our ethical, scientific and medical agendas accurate in the presence of financial structure. Our human priority as an owner is to do the best we can for the beings under our care.
We have as our most urgent current needs: 1) understanding cause and effect and 2) prioritizing wellness above all other medical practices.
Thoughts (t), counterthoughts (ct), examples (e), questions (q) and answers (a)
t: my horse needs shoes
ct: No species but the horse is asked to stand and move on the surface of the planet via a static metal rim. If there was any medical or functional value to this process, humans and other animals would have static metal rims applied to the bottom of their limbs. The interface between a body and the planet has evolved to 1) absorb energy of impact and otherwise protect biological form as it transits through a life cycle 2) participate in efficient, productive and healthy translation of energy from a kinetic, to a potential, to a kinetic form in order to produce lift and propulsion in the cycle of movement and 3) interact with all biological systems (immune, circulatory, nervous, muscle/ligament/bone, endocrine) to produce vitality and the miracle of the absolute depth, quality and possibility of life. Non-deformable static and immobilized intermediary surfaces (metal rims) destroy all 3 functions.
In human orthotics, we are delving into the potential of human design to produce healthy biomechanics and our best life. e: Runners are currently working in the spectrum of complete barefoot to deformable orthotic with a nod to “cross training” to produce a better body, mind, soul, and life. We have an emerging body of knowledge that indicates that many forms of movement, yoga, high intensity, weight lifting, walking, running, sport, social and independent activities, maximum relaxation of non target body materials in the context of targeted use, neuromuscular 4 dimensional training, not just within a body but between bodies and between bodies and the environment, are required to produce the symphony of the human body. This knowledge is an understanding that IQ, EQ (emotional and ethical) and PQ (physical) are all interrelated and that our native potential is the key to many of our current medical challenges (e: immune system utilization to fight cancer instead of a “pill” fighting cancer, e: human touch, social bonds, breathing and yoga to reduce pain, chronic stress biochemistry and fatigue instead of a “pill” reducing pain, chronic stress biochemistry and fatigue). We have overindulged in symptom based medicine and are hopefully entering an era of systems based medicine with humans. Horses deserve the same ethical enlightenment and thus medical agenda.
t: chips and cracks in the hoof wall is what tells me I need a shoe
Feral horses living in different environments have different hoof characteristics. This is a wonder of native design. In essence the question is: how does a protenacious sheath at the end of a limb that continuously grows allow equines to survive as individuals and as a species in vastly different physical environments over millions of years? The general answer is that the protein sock is harder or softer dependent on the abrasiveness, moisture content, and harder/softer/physical material characteristics of the environment it finds itself in so that wear and growth can be balanced and yet still achieve biomechanical excellence (ie the need for a cusorial animal to move effectively and without overt pain over terrain in search of food and predator escape). Thus, the obvious observation is that chips and cracks are a normal component of wear in softer environments. This is not pathology but vitality.
Unfortunately for the horse, when brought into domestication, what the human saw was a correlation between chips and cracks and loss of function. Loss of function has nothing to do with chips and cracks but instead loss of appropriate use. If you lock a human in a closet (same approximate space to mass ratio as a horse to a stall) you will get what you produce, horrific loss of function. So too with the horse.
t: how my barefoot horse responds to contact with stone tells me I need a shoe
For approximately 180 million years, we, like the horse, engaged in a cusorial lifestyle barefoot. We successfully hunted other cusorial species that cover large distances with speed, like antelope, without projectiles. This type of vitality is hard for most of us to imagine. And the lack of our ability to image this is one of the reasons why we are unhealthy of mind, body and spirit and are struggling societally, ethically, scientifically and medically. The fact of the matter is that we are but a shadow of what we are intended to be. We are intended, biologically, to be well and vital through the very gift of what we received at birth, indeed at conception, ie our natural design potential.
e: I have no memory, before age 45, of running barefoot. I have always jogged, but had, based on how slow and difficult running was for me relative to many athletes, just assumed I was built more for potato farming (which is true) than running. And then I tried running barefoot on city running trails (asphalt) and everything, and I mean everything, has changed. Why? Because the natural design of integration of nervous system information and running form is intact under these conditions. I fly. However, this does not mean I can pound away at the pavement without regard to my limitations. It is easy to hurt yourself in the absence of common sense and I have all the physical limits of domestication. I am not “African Plains” ready, nor do I want to be. I seek barefoot conditioning but I also enjoy deformable orthotics. Why? Because I want to be as healthy as possible AND retain the domesticated benefits of deformable and removable foot wear.
e: Take off your shoes (deformable non-fixed hoof boots) and walk across gravel. You look like your horse might barefoot and encounters stone. Are you lame? Do you need a metal rim at the end of your limb?
If I were to affix a metal rim at the end of your limb, you would now be able to walk across the gravel without variable, exaggerated steps. Why? Because you have artificially elevated the nervous system off the ground. This metal rim is not protection. Instead, it is a guarantee that you will have many future physical problems related to violating the evolved function of the physical interface between body and ground (The interface between a body and the planet has evolved to 1) absorb energy of impact and otherwise protect biological form as it transits through a life cycle 2) participate in efficient, productive and healthy translation of energy from a kinetic, to a potential, to a kinetic form in order to produce lift and propulsion in the cycle of movement and 3) interact with all biological systems (immune, circulatory, nervous, muscle/ligament/bone, endocrine) to produce vitality and the miracle of the absolute depth, quality and possibility of life.)
Protection, instead, would be a combination of conditioning (ie strengthening or enhancing the athletic character, and thus quality, of the system that is the equine hoof and body) in combination with unfixed deformable orthotics when use might exceed condition level.
Exaggerated steps protect you from damage as you weight yourself appropriately on a surface you are not conditioned for. It is an expression of vitality, not lameness.
t: My horse's hooves are fine but my vet tells me that other body issues, sprains, altered bone deposition and chronic intermittent inflammation of soft tissue all can be treated with shoes (metal rims at the bottom of the limb).
This is medically impossible. Try relating to yourself. What if a doctor were to apply a metal rim at the bottom of a human limb in response to those issues as a medical solution? How would the human fair and what would be the legal consequences for the doctor? What we have done with horses is confuse the passing of time (and the propensity of a biological system to both heal and change over time), with the human being busy, ie “doing something.” Without an understanding of cause and effect, which is gained from basic scientific inquiry, it is easy to think that what we have done is affect the horse with our actions. If the horse gets better, we think our actions contributed. If the horse gets worse, we think we have done “all that we can” and that it was medically impossible to treat the horse.
However, without basic scientific inquiry it is impossible to know if our actions have neutral, positive or negative effects on the horse whether or not he heals or is engaged in cyclical or intermittent health issues. This is precisely why we have such disastrous metrics for vitality for horses in domestication and the observation that these metrics for the population are not changing for the better despite the use of “modern medicine” and “the best in care.” It is arguably the most important component of medicine, ie, how populations and individuals respond over time relative to any action that proposes to “help” the horse.
q: “What is the best in care?”
a: As I just eluded to, “the best in care” can only truly be determined by comparing outcome (a life time analysis) relative to changing variables. However, we can apply common sense.
If you were to attend a zoo and enter a building with 10 x 10 or 12 x 12 boxes with a hippo in each box whose feet were immersed in a mixture of bedding, urine and feces, you would be appalled. You would not be surprised that the hippos suffered from physical issues. You would inherently understand that the hippo is in an unacceptable environment.
Imagine if your goal were to produce a healthy human, let alone a healthy human athlete. Imagine housing that human during birth, development, and training in a 6 x 3 ft closet (similar area to mass parameters as stall to horse). Imagine having someone else dictate how the human athlete moved (forced reactive biomechanics (the definition of indirect push/pull – however subtle – biomechanics) as opposed to inspired natural biomechanics) when the athlete was outside of the closet. Would you be surprised that the athlete lacked vitality, health, and specific physical, mental and emotional quality?
Now imagine if the person responsible for housing the human athlete in the closet suggested that the athlete kept in the closet “loved it” and was receiving “the best in care.” Evaluating whether or not something "loves" something because that is all they know, much like a prisoner who commits new crimes after release so that he re-enters prison because that is what he knows, is not reasonable or valuable.
t: "You have a data section without math or modeling. That means the data is soft or of lesser quality."
ct: This is precisely why academic science is in such dire straights. The financial structure has severely perverted what we consider to be science in numerous ways. Here is one small example.
Let's say we use force plate analysis to identify components of the equine gait. We love to relate points on the body to other points on the body, or points on the ground, for estimates on relative angles within a body and parts of the body relative to the ground, for understanding body part interrelationships and angles and velocities of travel. Ok. So let's pull a horse's head to get him started moving across the force plate. You have already destroyed the value of the work if your goal is equine health regardless of how much modeling (pseudomathematical and limited description of reality) you engage in and how many "Nature" articles you publish.
Why? Have someone attach a halter to your head and lead you around with a lead rope. You are engaging in reactive biomechanics. You will be sore and have introduced lameness soon which will be compounded over the course of a life time. Further, you will develop muscle memory that teaches you to walk and move in an aberrant fashion (relative to what is inspired by natural, or inspired, movement (which has a qualitative scale based on the 4 dimensional degree of sophistication and relative content of evolutionarily-appropriate species behaviors engaged in)).
So what do you get when you study crap? An understanding of crap. And that's what we know about, and is generally published, mathematically, substandard and detrimental movement of the equine guaranteed to reduce the quality of his life if engaged in. We have the same problem in human medicine...we are obsessed with disease states and not health so that what we know and live is disease states and the guaranteed maintenance of substandard living. Thus, just like the horse, we are not doing well. We are not well, and thus we struggle to produce wellness in that which we purport to love or those we have under our professional, personal, or medical care.
I would love to engage in basic kinematic study of the equine as it relates to my work and others - the title would be "relative mathematical relationships to understand posture and movement changes in response to efforts to improve healthy biomechanics." Fund me.