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Horse health: Farriers discuss favored products
By Denise Steffanus
From nails to supplements to colorful glitter hoof polish befitting the Kardashians, hundreds or even thousands of hoof products are available in tack shops, from farrier supply houses, and through online vendors.
Most farriers shake their heads and back away when asked about all the hoof products out there today.
“I have a policy not to recommend products,” said Adam Whitehead, former head farrier for the University of Florida and now in private practice with Advanced Equine Podiatry in Ocala, Fla. “Basically, the hoof-care product industry is highly unregulated as to the product having in it what it says it has or doing what it says it will do.”
Whitehead is just one of several highly respected farriers we persuaded to divulge what they have in the shoeing boxes they use every day because they know the products work.
Because Whitehead focuses on therapeutic farriery, horses in his practice require specialized shoes and orthotics. He relies heavily on Sigafoos Series glue-on shoes, developed by Rob Sigafoos, the now-retired lead farrier for the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center, and available through Sound Horse Technologies.
Dr. Ric Redden’s Advance Cushion Support, a two-part putty elastomer that can be used to support the arch of the sole in laminitic horses, is another staple in Whitehead’s toolbox. The elastomer also can be formed into a custom mold to provide a shock absorber for horses with sore feet or placed under pads to distribute the load and absorb concussion.
Another of Whitehead’s favorite products is Equi-Thane.
“Equi-Thane is a silicone padding material that you pour in the bottom of the horse’s foot,” he said. “It goes in as a liquid and sets up as a gel. Equi-Thane can do multiple things, from absorbing the ground-reaction force to transferring the load away from structures that you don’t want to be weight-bearing.”
Ada Gates-Patton, who in 1978 became the first woman in North America to obtain a license as a Thoroughbred racehorse farrier, looks for the science behind products. On the top of her list is the supplement Farrier’s Formula, one of several products consistently given a thumbs up by farriers we spoke with.
Dr. Frank Gravlee developed Farrier’s Formula 35 years ago when he linked poor hoof quality with certain dietary deficiencies. After his formulation was introduced into the horses’ diet, Dr. Susan Kempson at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, used an electron-scan microscope to analyze their hoof structure. Her results showed marked improvement and confirmed the formulation worked.
“Farrier’s Formula is a product that I have a lot of faith in,” said Baton Rouge farrier Dick Fanguy, who specializes in problem feet and therapeutic shoeing for horses that have had hoof trauma from accident or disease. “But you have to understand that it doesn’t work instantly. It takes time. It takes eight months to grow out a foot on a horse, and you have to heal it from the top.”
Gates-Patton now owns Harry Patton Horseshoeing Supplies in Monrovia, Calif., named after her late husband, who was a member of the International Horseshoeing Hall of Fame. In her store, she regularly hosts hands-on demonstrations presented by Vettec, which manufactures urethane products that are applied to the sole of the horse’s foot via a special cartridge and mixing gun. The products have a wide range of applications.
“Vettec does wonderful clinics around the country,” Gates-Patton said. “People can actually use their products, get them in their hands, start squirting them out of the gun, and learn how to use them. Since they cost anywhere from $20 to $50 a cartridge, people are afraid to use them and make a mistake. So they come to the hands-on demonstration, and it’s free, and they can practice how to use them. It’s a very beneficial program.”
Another demonstration that is a favorite of her clients is the Blacksmith Buddy, an anatomically correct farrier-training device developed by longtime California racetrack shoer Wes Champagne. The Blacksmith Buddy is a prosthetic horse limb mounted on a hydraulic lever that simulates the weight, angle, and texture of a horse’s foot. Until now, farrier trainees worked on – and risked injuring – live horses, or they used cadaver limbs that had to be obtained from dead horses.
“You can put the Blacksmith Buddy between your knees like you’re doing a horse,” Gates-Patton said. “And if you cut it, blood will come out – of course, it’s not really blood – so it’s great for teaching.”
Thrush Buster and CleanTrax were the most mentioned products for drying up popped abscesses, crevices, or holes where dirt has gotten trapped.
Steve Norman, who has shod a number of the sport’s best stakes winners, said, “I have a little squirt bottle of Thrush Buster in my box all the time. If I find anything where water gets in and starts to separate and deteriorate the foot, I’ll squirt that Thrush Buster in there and dry it out.”
Norman said if he uses Thrush Buster to resolve small problems, he has a good chance of preventing them from turning into big problems.
“So possibly, I’ll be able to get more aggressive the next month and cut out those areas or possibly just trim them out at the next trimming,” he said.
Dr. Bryan Fraley is the affiliate podiatrist for Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky. He routinely uses CleanTrax, a powder that is mixed with warm water to create a chlorine foot soak for fungal infections.
“It’s wonderful to soak a foot once an abscess has ruptured or to soak a foot with a puncture wound once we establish better drainage or for white line disease,” he said.
Whitehead alternates CleanTrax and White Lightning, a Grand Circuit product for white line disease, in his treatment regimen.
“Both of those come in a single-treatment bottle,” he said. “So I’ll do one treatment with one product and then the next treatment with the other one. The interval between treatments depends on the individual case.”
White Lightning was developed by Michael Wildenstein, the resident farrier at Cornell University’s veterinary school from 1991-2010 and the only American farrier to be certified in North America, England, and Denmark.
“You can read his research paper on it,” said Whitehead. “There’s actually some science that went into it.”
The paper is posted at www.grandcircuitinc.com.
Richard Mansmann, V.M.D., was the longtime director of North Carolina State’s Equine Podiatry Center. When the school closed that center a few years ago, Mansmann founded his Equine Podiatry & Rehabilitation Mobile Practice in Chapel Hill. North Carolina is often in the path of Atlantic seaboard storms, so horsemen there have to cope with a lot of soaked hooves.
“Keratex hoof hardener helps many of our wet North Carolina horse hooves,” Mansmann said.
Ray Amato has been shoeing top racehorses for 62 years. He and his son Ray Amato Jr. exclusively shoe for Racing Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Their first Kentucky Derby winner was WinStar Farm’s Super Saver in 2010, and they hope to have another one May 2.
“Todd has four or five really nice 3-year-olds,” Amato said.
Amato, an 82-year-old New Yorker, sticks to tradition, both in his shoeing methods and his preference in hoof products.
“We use Koppertox on horses’ feet that have a disease of the frog,” he said. “I still use it today. Also we use Blu-Kote, like when horses get a cut on their leg or the pastern. It’s been around forever. For some horses, if you have a problem getting a horse’s foot soft with clay that you pack the horse’s feet with, sometimes we’ll recommend Reducine instead of the clay because it gets the feet softer pretty quick.”
The younger Amato is responsible for glue-on shoes and the new technology that goes with them. He uses Equilox to build and fortify hoof walls.
“It’s like a plastic or a fiberglass, and it’s a really great product,” Amato Sr. said. “We use that on quite a few horses if they have walls that aren’t correct. We fix them up right away, and my son does a great job with it.”
Whitehead uses Equilox as an adhesive for glue-on shoes.
Gates-Patton recommends “that black sticky stuff” for packing hooves. It’s called Magic Cushion, by Absorbine.
“You scoop it out of the jar, slap it on the bottom of the foot, then stand the horse on a brown paper bag, and cut around the bag,” she said. “It will just stay there, but you can wrap the foot with Vetrap if you want. It draws inflammation and pain out of the foot. It’s great for just a one-time treatment. You can also pack it under pads and leave it in there for a four- to six-week shoeing cycle. It was developed by Dr. Ron Riegle in Marysville, Ohio.”
Fanguy relies on 3M’s Animalintex for packing hooves and drawing soreness out of legs. Long used by horsemen, Animalintex is 100 percent cotton wool with a plastic backing. It is impregnated with mild boric acid antiseptic and tragacanth as a natural poultice.
“It’s a great poultice to take soreness out,” Fanguy said.
Fraley is a fan of Burns Polyflex Shoes, designed by Curtis J. Burns. The glue-on shoe is an alternative to the aluminum racing plate. Made from a hardened, hybrid polyurethane, the shoe is molded around an encapsulated wire that enables it to be shaped to fit the individual foot like an aluminum shoe.
The shoe reduces concussion and allows for the natural expansion of the heels while under load forces. Because the Polyflex shoe eliminates the use of nails, it encourages a stronger, healthier horn growth.
Gates-Patton said Concave shoes sell big at her farrier supply store.
“It’s a creased shoe, like a rim shoe, with a crease from heel to heel,” she said. “It gives traction to the horse, and horses like them because horses don’t want to slip. They’re made in England and gaining popularity here.”
Equicast clogs combine the ingenuity of farrier Dave Richards of North Carolina and Dr. Michael Steward of Oklahoma. In the late 1990s, Steward began outfitting laminitic horses in his practice with homemade wooden shoes. His clogs were so successful he made them commercially available as the Equine Digit Support System. About that same time, Richards began to develop a fiberglass polycloth that could be used to create a cast that would temporarily support a horse recovering from hoof trauma. Richards now combines his Equicast with Steward’s clogs.
Gates-Patton likes the simplicity and logic behind Equicast clogs.
“The smallest part of the clog is on the ground, and the thickest part is up underneath the sole, so the horse can just roll over and move whichever way he wants,” she said.
Boots made for walking
Fraley and his colleagues developed a way to change the bottom of a therapeutic boot to fit the individual horse’s need. Then, they pitched the concept to Garrett Ford, the founder of EasyCare Inc. in Durango, Colo. The result is the new Therapy Click System for EasyCare boots.
The farrier can choose whichever boot is most comfortable for the horse, then attach the bottom that provides the best therapeutic angle. The boot and bottom can be changed throughout the recovery process to keep the horse comfortable while providing the best angle for that stage of recovery. The new product is expected to be released mid-2015.
“It has five different attachments that you can snap onto the bottom to treat different things,” Fraley said. “That’s why I like that boot so much – because it’s not just one boot. It’s like five different boots.”
Soft-Ride boots are an industry favorite because of their versatility and durability. They can be used as therapeutic boots for acute or chronic conditions, specifically laminitis, as well as protective boots for travel. In 2006, Coolmore began outfitting its shuttling stallions with Soft-Ride boots during their extensive travel.
“Soft-Ride boots have been lifesaving to many of our patients,” Mansmann said.
Fraley uses Jack’s Whirlpool Boots for his patients, and he’s one of several podiatrists evaluating the prototype Soft-Ride spa boots.
“Jack’s are the old yellow whirlpool boots with an air compressor to circulate the water. If we have an abscess, we’ll use them,” he said. “Those whirlpool boots haven’t been improved upon in years, and now, Soft-Ride has come out with their new ones that are worth a look.”
The Soft-Ride spa boots enable ice therapy that circulates through the orthotic sole piece, as well as providing cold therapy to the lower limb. They have a portable, lightweight circulating system and waterproof zippers for easy on and off. Soft-Ride also is incorporating other improvements suggested by podiatrists worldwide who are evaluating the prototype. The spa boots are expected to be on the market this year.
Norman said the question he is asked most often is how to grow more hoof or grow it faster. He tells clients that if a horse is healthy and getting proper nutrition and adequate exercise, it should not have anything to worry about.
“It’s when those horses go off feed, when they get a temperature and they’re not feeling too good, or when they have a change of climate or atmosphere, then I think the body itself slows down,” he said. “Biotin might be the No. 1 thing for the foot, and now, it’s in most of the horse feed that you buy.”
A biotin deficiency will manifest most noticeably in dry, flaky skin, poor hair coat, and brittle hooves. Because biotin is manufactured in the digestive tract, intestinal disturbances could inhibit natural production of biotin. These include any condition that causes an imbalance in the intestinal microflora, the beneficial bacteria that digest food and keep the intestinal tract healthy. Fever, diarrhea, antibiotics and other medications, and colic may cause a disruption in digestion.
The pH of the gut also has an impact on the production of biotin. If the horse is fed a high-grain diet such as some racehorses require, the resulting acidity of the gut may inhibit or even prevent synthesis of biotin.
Redden recognized the need for a supplement that provides an adequate amount of biotin to support the horse while it is growing hoof wall. Fifteen years ago, he formulated his Extra Strength Biotin 100 for use in his podiatry patients. One ounce per day provides the horse with 100 milligrams of biotin and 50 milligrams of the amino acid DL-methionine, the proper ratio for hoof growth.
The most exciting product for hoof growth to be introduced to the horse industry over the past decade is the vibration plate.
“I’ll tell you what will grow some foot is that vibrating plate,” Norman said. “You stand your horse on there for five or 10 minutes every day. It’s just amazing.”
Norman admitted using a human vibration plate himself at home.
The vibration plate was developed for the space program in the 1960s to promote bone density in astronauts to offset the effects of weightlessness in space. The concept was adapted to promote bone density in horses, but those who used it discovered it had a profound effect on hoof growth.
Prominent California trainer and bloodstock agent Mary Knight, trainer Carl O’Callaghan, and top owner Bill Casner were among those who first noticed that standing horses on the vibration platform enhances hoof growth.
Casner reported the 2009 Dubai World Cup winner Well Armed grew one inch of new hoof wall during 6 1/2 weeks of vibration therapy. Knight’s horse Super Strut, who started vibration therapy with hoof problems, grew 1.34 centimeters of hoof in 30 days during the winter, when hoof growth typically slows to half its normal rate.
O’Callaghan claimed he could not have trained the 2010 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner Kinsale King, who had quarter cracks in three of his four feet, without the aid of vibration therapy.
Hoof growth most likely is related to enhanced circulation. If so, low-level vibration therapy also could benefit horses with chronic laminitis and other persistent hoof problems.
Two companies manufacture equine vibration plates. EquiVibe’s platform creates vibration with an up-and-down movement. TheraPlate creates vibration with a smoother, circular motion.
Very informative article! Appreciate your providing it to read and ability to keep current with new /innovative techniques. Fred and Joan.