lowering heels gradually

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lowering heels gradually

Postby tkaiser on Tue Aug 29, 2006 7:41 pm

My horse has high heels. I read on the Internet that if you lower the heels all at once, my horse will go lame. Is there any way to gradually lower them?

It is important to understand why it is necessary to lower the heels in the first place. The coffin bone (the bone inside of the hoof capsule) is designed to be ground parallel. This means that the bottom edge of the bone is parallel to the ground. This is the horse’s foundation; all the bones of the skeleton are in their proper alignment when the coffin bone is ground parallel. When heels are allowed to grow too long in relation to the toe, the coffin bone becomes elevated in the back. This incorrect alignment of the coffin bone reduces circulation to the hoof, overstresses the laminae in the toe region (the connection between the coffin bone and the hoof wall) and the stay apparatus (the system of ligaments, tendons, and muscles that enable the horse to stand with minimal muscle energy consumption) is consequently misaligned. To compensate for the incorrect skeletal alignment, the horse must use muscles it wouldn’t normally use and ultimately it moves in a compromised way. The longer the horse has had to compensate for the incorrect alignment at his foundation, the more likely that the fascia (connective tissue around the muscles), ligaments, tendons and joints have adapted to the situation.

In cases where there is no or minimal adaptation, it is more beneficial to lower the heels to the height required to bring the coffin bone to ground parallel. In this example, realigning the coffin bone does not cause lameness. On the contrary, in many cases the horse’s gaits will improve.

In cases where there is adaptation to fascia, ligaments and tendons, it is necessary to work within the limits of the adaptation, to place just enough tension to stretch these adapted areas. Lets take a look at a common example from human physiotherapy, a broken arm that was put in a plaster. After six weeks, the joints become adapted to the lack of movement, and stiffen. In order to return the original range of motion, your physiotherapist will recommend that you perform exercises daily. These exercises will hurt since they push the range of motion. But unless these exercises are performed, the range of motion will not improve.

With a horse that has joint adaptation, trimming the heels shorter in stages can accomplish this. The goal of the first trim is not to achieve a ground parallel coffin bone in one go, but rather to trim the heels low enough to start the stretching process. The ultimate goal is still to achieve a ground parallel coffin bone and with each trim it may be possible to lower the heels a little more. This process can be uncomfortable for the horse but with lots of movement on firm, level terrain the adapted areas will stretch. In these cases it is very important to have complimentary bodywork done, i.e., massage, myofacial release, chiropractic, cranial sacral, etc. This type of therapy can make the horse more comfortable and unlock the body.
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