Hall of Fame equine veterinarian Al Kane remembers him simply as “Bob,” a neglected pony who proved that sometimes it pays to rely on the basics to help a horse that can’t go anymore.

Kane stays on top of the latest hoof-care techniques as an advisor to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro program in Fort Collins, Colo., a farrier and author of the Research Journal column in American Farriers Journal. But he told attendees at the 2006 International Hoof-Care Summit that Bob’s case serves as an example of what Kane calls “a low-tech, old-fashioned solution to the kind of horse that we see nearly every day.”

One To Remember

Kane was doing post-graduate studies at Colorado State University when Bob was brought anonymously to the university and the attention of Steve Mellin, the university farrier and instructor, and students at the veterinary school.

There was no history available on the large pony, who had been left behind on a ranch recently purchased by a celebrity. The new owner and the property caretakers knew nothing about horses but recognized that something was wrong with the horse.

“It seemed depressed, and the crest of his neck had fallen to one side because he was so obese,” Kane remembers. “It just kind of stood around, didn’t seem to have much personality and was reluctant to move.”

The horse was 20-some years old and extremely fat, weighing more than 800 pounds, about 150 to 200 pounds too heavy. A physical exam showed the horse’s temperature, pulse and respiration to be normal. His heart and lung sounds were muffled by fat.

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BACK TO BASICS. Equine veterinarian and farrier Al Kane says that despite the availability of new shoeing products and techniques, there are times when fundamental methods can be used successfully for therapeutic shoeing.

Check-Up Completed

The exam revealed no other significant findings, except that Bob’s feet were badly overgrown, misshapen and appeared to have founder rings on them.

It was believed that the horse probably had “a history of chronic laminitis that he’d probably had for years, just judging by the appearance of his feet,” Kane says. “This is probably the most common type of foundered horse I used to see in my private practice.”

The university team worried about a possible underlying metabolic cause, such as Cushings disease, hypothyroidism, hyperinsulinemia and hyperglycemia, but blood tests and other procedures all produced normal results. “The only thing we could figure is that the horse was too fat just from being overfed,” Kane says.

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Figure 1. The hooves of “Bob” when first brought to Colorado State University.

The treatment plan was two-fold. “We addressed the diet. We didn’t starve the horse; we put him on a grass and alfalfa hay mix, along with corrective shoeing.”

Options Weighed

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Figure 2. Initial radiographs show the rotation in the front hooves caused by neglect.

Mellin and the students discussed quite a few shoeing options, including sole support with heart bars and dental impression material, pads, hospital plates, cast materials, frog support pads and even deep digital flexor tenotomy.

“They certainly were all options for this horse, but we went with straight-up, regular shoeing,” Kane says. “We reset the shoes every 4 to 6 weeks, in part because this a shoeing school and we wanted to show the students that not every horse needs a multi-thousand-dollar treatment to fix. And also because we thought it was most appropriate for this horse.”

The team had one advantage not always present for farriers, Kane notes. “Even though he was fat, he was a small horse, and those are a little easier to work on when they’re foundered than a big, heavy horse, just by virtue of physics,” he says.

At the time of the first radiographs, Kane says, “The feet were badly overgrown and neglected, with quite a bit of rotation, whether you ascribe to the principle of comparing the anterior surface of P3 to the dorsal hoof wall or whether you ascribe to the theory of looking for an axial line down P1, P2 and P3. This horse had them both.”

Basic Shoeing

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Figure 3. The hooves after the initial trimming and shoeing.

The team shod Bob with plain steel horseshoes with a rocker toe, with the toe dressed back as much as possible. Looking at radiographs taken just after the first shoeing, Kane says the toe probably could have been dressed back even further.

“But that’s the farrier’s call, not mine. He has to leave something to nail to. I’ve seen a lot of horses crippled by cutting off too much, and this horse had been living with those feet for many, many months or a few years, so better to progress slowly and not increase the shock,” he says.

After the first shoeing, the horse was not sore. “He looked a little laminitic by the way he was standing, but the horse wasn’t crippled,” Kane remembers.

Several months later, after the third reset with plain steel shoes, flat leather pads and rocker toe, the hoof axis was almost parallel to the pastern axis, though there was still some rotation in the left foot.

Proceeding Carefully

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Figure 4. Radiographs of the two front hooves after the first trimming and shoeing.

The radiograph showed remodeling in the third phalanx, particularly on the left foot. “If you had wanted to put heart bars on this horse and positioned the bars for support and included some soft sole support material, you might have been OK,” Kane says.

“If you tried the old approach of drawing the shoe down and applying pressure, you would run the risk of crippling a horse that’s not very lame because you’re liable to either fracture off or injure the tip of P3. So we took the conservative approach,” he says.

By the time of the next shoeing a month later, the team had faced setbacks with abscesses in the left foot, and so had performed a superficial resection. The team also reconsidered doing a deep digital flexor tenotomy, but again decided against it.

“If we’d had owners there pushing us to make the horse comfortable more quickly, we might have leaned toward doing the surgery. But this was a 20-some-year-old horse that was so obese that I would have been afraid to lay it down for surgery. So we moved conservatively,” Kane recalls.

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Figure 5. Nine months after the first trimming, radiographs show essentially sound hooves.

At 9 months after the first trimming and shoeing, the resected area had grown out. No patches or fillers were used; the horse was just kept in a dry stall and shod with plain steel shoes. “The leather pads were an on again, off again thing, depending on if he was sore,” Kane says.

“The horse went home essentially pasture-sound. He could have been used for light riding,” he says, “but you could never put a kid on him. That’s all he could carry, given his size, but you’d have to be an expert rider to stay with him because by this time he was full of himself; extremely energetic, bucking, running. You had to know what you were doing just to handle this horse.

“He went home with a different personality entirely,” Kane says, “fixed with just a good, basic shaping-of-the-foot approach to shoeing.”