Archive for March, 2011

The Functional Hoof Conference in Australia

March 12, 2011
Drs Bowker & Pollitt

Drs Bowker & Pollitt

Back from Australia…
I want to tell you about this wonderful conference where I had the opportunity to be one of 17 presenters. The conference was being held at the Veterinary College at the University of Melbourne in Werribee, Victoria.

It was organized by two very competent women who had never before organized a conference. As with any conference, it is a formidable task to see through. Margaret Richardson and her “trimming” partner, Rebecca Scott lined up the venue (plus venues for labs and demonstrations), speakers, program sponsors, meals and catering, lodging for speakers, promotion of the conference and the myriad of unseen logistics. Marg’s husband, veterinarian Adam Richardson ably served as master of ceremonies.

The program was an admirable mix of research as well as practical and applicable knowledge for those of us “in the field,” or as the Aussies used the term, “coalface”  a term previously unknown to any of us “bloody yanks.”

The research came from eminent academicians such as Dr. Chris Pollitt of The University of Queensland, Dr. Robert Bowker of Michigan State University. Their topics focused predominately on laminitis. Research on foot biomechanics, computer modeling and imaging such as MRI and CT was presented by Dr. Simon Collins. Simon, from Great Britain is also now advancing his research by working in Australia with Dr. Pollitt on laminitis and its biomechanical effects.

Rounding out research on the functional foot was Dr. (PhD) Brian Hampson. Brian is currently with the School of Veterinary Science in Brisbane and working with the Australian “Brumby” Project. His presentation and the movie made by he and Chris Pollitt deserves a more detailed description than can be given in this write-up. Suffice it to say that in my opinion, it both confirms value of the desert foot or “wild” Mustang foot as a model for use, and yet at the same time challenges that as the perfect paradigm. They were, e.g. able to show evidence of laminitis even in the desert Brumby.

The study provided an awful lot to think about, but in a nut shell, they were able to move a very poor footed Brumby mare from a lush life in Queensland, to 3000 miles away in the “outback” near Alice Springs. She joined up with a Brumby stallion and his small band. Within 3 months her feet were transformed into the incredible foot of the desert Brumby. Like the other brumbies, she sometimes had to roam so far for food, that she went 5 days on only one visit to a spring. The tracking system that they used showed the mare covering 150 km (nearly one hundred miles) in 7 days on only one watering. How is that for food for thought! The movie will be available on DVD from our website. (The proceeds will go to fund the ongoing research of the Brumby project.)

Drs. Pollitt and Bowker’s works on Laminitis were well balanced by the clinical research presented by Dr. Debra Taylor, Associate Professor, Department of Clinical Sciences at the veterinary college at Auburn University in Auburn Alabama. Her research is helping to validate the use of Barefoot approach to the treatment of Laminitis. She has been able to show consistent value of this approach in dealing with reversal of rotation, increased depth of sole and improvement in soundness. This is an ongoing project, but is already showing much value. Deb is not only a good researcher, she is a superb teacher and gave a great presentation.

Another clinical research effort was discussed by Duncan McLaughlin. Duncan, is a trimmer with a degree in Evolutionary Biology, an active endurance competitor and an upper level dressage rider.  He presented a very thought provoking study using thermography to determine the temperature levels in the foot of shod, unshod and booted horses competing in an endurance event. Like every paper presented, it needs a page of its own. With luck, I will provide more at another time.

If one accepts that the marked increase in temperature of the shod foot is proven to be inflammatory and potentially can create damage, then it is a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the functional foot. It was also noteworthy that the feet cooled much more rapidly post ride in the barefoot or booted horses than in the shod feet  (sometimes 8 degrees Celsius higher temperatures than in the barefoot feet). That is a lot of degrees on the Fahrenheit scale.

Dr. Melanie Quick, a very experienced veterinarian in lameness work, but also as a trimmer and previous to that, a farrier for 15 years (she is also certified in equine chiropractic) presented some cases of amazing responses to barefoot corrective work on seemingly hopeless cases. In most of those cases, euthanasia had been prescribed. Melanie mentors other trimmers and recognizes the many variances that barefoot trimmers are doing. She has an excellent ability to be able to prescribe minor changes that can turn a good trim into a great trim. I think that some of her work is part of the path to advanced trimming for advanced athletic work.  My takeaway is that we need to get Melanie to lecture and do some clinics in the United States. I would like to use my small sphere of influence to get her on other foot oriented conferences.

With no intent to degrade the work of quality farriers, it is my impression, that the barefoot movement is more involved in a whole horse approach to the functional foot that the farrier world. There is much more discussion and study into the role, e.g. of nutrition (including mineral balance), more attention to the role e.g. of saddle fitting and various forms of body work along with Integrative Medicine that have a synergistic role with good trimming techniques. It is also my impression that more barefoot trimmers are acutely aware of the critical functions of the structures in the posterior part of the foot.

With that in mind, we had a good presentation involving the importance of nutrition from Carol Layton. She is an independent equine nutritionist, and recently formally associated with Dr. Eleanor Kellon of the USA. Carol also worked hard for the conference in other ways. She created and managed the Website as well as was one of the official sponsors.

It is also my impression that Australia is a bit ahead of the United States in the Barefoot world. We definitely need more formal trimmer schools in the United States, and more specifically  quality schools that give a very meaningful certification. Hand in hand with that, is the absolute necessity for the barefoot groups with differing ideas to stop throwing rocks at one another and use the good science that is already there and the new science that is coming out to sort out the best techniques. Dogma is already encroaching into the barefoot movement. As I said in discussion with Dr. Simon Collins and mentioned in my lecture, the “the intrusion of dogma into any system creates a closing of the mind and a reluctance to change in spite of new knowledge.”

Todd Jaynes, an excellent trimmer and barefoot clinician, and a part of the “Equine Sciences Academy”, described the mission and function of the school in reference to trimming, but also with reference and teaching of a whole horse approach that I deem so necessary. The academy is also a step in the right direction.

The equine boot industry was well represented by Carol Herder of Cavallo, Garret Ford of Easy Care and an excellent rep from the Renegade company. I sincerely apologize for not remembering his name at the time of this writing.

I should perhaps, mention my role in this conference. I was granted about 3 hours to present information on the subject of Laterality and its effect on the horse, including the feet. By laterality I am talking about what is often referred to as being “right handed” or “left handed.” The Germans refer to this as “Natural Crookedness.” It results in a crooked way of going and is responsible in large part for all the gait aberrations that I see and treat daily, but the very things and patterns that farriers and trimmers deal with on a daily basis. It also sets up horses for so much of what the conventional veterinarian deals with i.e.: tendon issues, ligament issues, joint issues (including the necessity for so many joint injections).

In the second half of my presentation I related limb dominance to the foot and particularly to the problem of high heel/low heel syndrome. My presentations were well received and I believe were found to be germane to the functional foot aspect. I am confident that it opened the door to a different way of seeing horses move for many of those in attendance.

This subject is definitely my latest passion. Christine and I are going to spend a week in Germany in May with Klaus and Gabriele Schoneich. They have been working with correction of “Natural Crookedness” in the horse for the past 25 years and have published an excellent book called, “Correct Movement in Horses” – “Improving Straightness and Balance”. They have a new edition out, but so far it has not been translated.

The venues where I have presented this have generated a fair amount of excitement and appreciation. So, I am feeling very encouraged to develop more information, lectures and workshops regarding its recognition and an appropriate therapy to deal with the problems. I will be approaching the therapies from the point of view of the body worker’s modalities, the acupuncturist, the chiropractor, the farrier, the trimmer and, very importantly, the conventional western veterinary medical practitioner. Moreover, I want to educate the world of the average horse owners/riders, who for the most part, is totally unaware of the problems of laterality and the consequences involved. So many people are unaware that a right or left forelimb dominance is antagonistic to athletic performance.

Let me finish this segment by saying that every good conference leaves you thinking and brings to mind your cases at home. Every research project always brings up ten more questions for every one that it answers. They always end up with “further research is needed.”

Knowledge is power and knowledge is always ongoing. Today’s knowledge is often tomorrow’s misinformation. Stay tuned in!