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Building a Foundation of Foot Care in Foals
Stephen E. O'Grady, DVM, MRCVS
Among the many factors that determine the success of a foal as a sales yearling
or a mature athlete are management decisions about its feet and limbs during its first four months of life. Because a solid foundation for performance in the
future begins with foot care in the foal, many leading breeding farms use
programs that combine the skills of a veterinarian (with an interest in
podiatry) with the skills of a farrier. This joint venture allows an earlier
and more accurate diagnosis, treatment and prognosis of foot problems. Although
this type of preventive program may be time-consuming, if it corrects a foot or
limb problem and increases the athletic potential of even one animal, it is a
Evaluating the foal
Careful observation and record-keeping begins at birth and continues throughout
the foal’s development. The physical appearance of a foal’s limbs and feet at
birth should be recorded, along with changes that occur as he or she grows.
When examining the feet and limbs, an imaginary dot system works nicely.
Starting at the ground surface of the foot, an imaginary dot is placed on the
toe, coronary band, fetlock, top of cannon bone, knee, top of knee and top of
forearm. By connecting these dots with an imaginary line, it is easy to see if
and/or where a deformity exists. In the ideal situation, the dots should form a
straight line when viewed from the front.
Next, view the foal from the side. Check to see if the coronary band is level,
or, parallel with the ground, and if the hoof and pastern angles are the
same--not broken forward or broken backward. Also, any swellings of the limb or
joints should be noted.
Finally, watch the foal walk toward and away from you. Because this can be
difficult, as they seldom walk straight, walk the mare along a fence or wall and
let the foal follow. This part of the examination checks for any lameness that
may be present, the arc of the foot flight, how the foot breaks over at the toe
and especially how the foot contacts the ground. Foals should be observed
walking each time their feet are trimmed.
Trimming the foal
Unless your veterinarian suggests otherwise, foals should have their first trim around one month of age and remain on a monthly schedule. In these first few
months of life, more attention should be paid to the structural integrity of the
foot (its size and mass) than to its cosmetic appearance. The goal is to
promote the growth of thick, durable hoof wall; ensure maximum sole depth to
protect the white line and coffin bone; and establish a strong heel base. These
three factors—strong hoof wall, adequate sole and solid heel—are vital for
In most cases, all that is necessary to trim foals that are kept on a monthly
schedule is a hoof pick and rasp. The frog is left untouched to serve as a
protective mechanism, absorbing and dissipating concussive forces. Since the
sole in a foal is extremely thin, it is also left untouched to provide
protection to immature developing structures in the foot. Removing as little
hoof wall as possible and simply shaping and smoothing causes it to become
thicker and more durable.
The objective in trimming foals is to achieve balance, that is, to encourage the
foot to land flat, or contact the ground evenly. Careful thought should be
given before using corrective trimming procedures on a foal with a limb
deformity. Since the problem is generally a conformational deformity of
structures above the foot, changing the balance of the foot may lead to other
problems. Careful examination of a foal’s limbs at birth and throughout its
first few months--along with accurate record-keeping and a good working
relationship between you, your veterinarian, and your farrier—are the keys to a sound, athletic horse in the future.
Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Equine Practitioners