Bringing the Sparkle Back in to Crystal's Life
by Dr. Tomas G. Teskey, D.V.M. ©2006
Hereford, AZ, U.S.A.
email: tomasteskey @ yahoo.com (delete spaces) 520-366-0707
I was recently approached about consulting with a dressage stable
owner and his plans to purchase an eight year old Swedish warmblood mare that
had been diagnosed with navicular syndrome. He was interested in just using
her as a brood mare since she was approaching "middle age" and the
lameness problem was "incurable". I was informed that her fantastic
breeding and records in the show ring would likely make her foals highly desirable.
The previous owner was selling the mare because she was unable to afford the
necessary surgery that the mare needed to remain sound and usable. Her veterinarian
was planning on performing a digital neurectomy on both front lower legs of
the mare and has been in touch with this potential new owner about following
through with the necessary procedure. This stable owner decided to purchase
this unsound eight year old mare at a much reduced price, and has been in
consultation with me from the time she stepped foot on his property. This
was six and a half months ago. He has also been in contact with the referring
veterinarian over this time and has kept her informed of our progress in treating
this mare for her diseased front feet.
One of his original questions for me before I met him or this
mare, "Crystal", was as follows:
He writes in his email, "I'm hoping you can help me out.
I've just purchased a broodmare with navicular. Would it be possible for you
to provide me with some information before breeding this mare? I looked at
the x-rays with the previous vet and she suggesting cutting the nerves on
this mare and didn't understand why the previous owner hadn't done it sooner.
What are the pro's and cons of this nerve cutting? Thank you for your time."
My response to him four months ago was as follows, and with
his permission I am sharing this information with any and all of you who would
like to explore with me what has traditionally been happening with these horses
and why it is high time we reevaluate the way we think about and treat these
very common hoof problems:
The procedure you are referring to is known as a "neurectomy".
It is generally performed on horses that have had chronic pain problems in
their feet, most notably "navicular" problems. The horse is put
under general anesthesia and the digital nerves on both sides of the lame
leg AND the more sound leg are isolated and cut--most often a section of the
nerve on both sides is removed and the ends "capped" with the leftover
nerve sheath. The reason that both legs are surgicated is because most horses
end up quite lame in the leg opposite the originally lame one if it is left
intact. Thus, one can easily appreciate that even though a horse only shows
lameness in one of the forelegs, both are affected in a horse with "navicular"
disease or "navicular" syndrome. The result of the surgery is that
the horse loses sensation from this point downward and is unable to feel the
pain from the diseased foot anymore. Usually the limping that was due to the
pain in the area goes away and the horse can continue to be used. The horse
is thus returned to "soundness". This procedure costs anywhere from
$250 to $1500 depending on where it is done and who does it. It is "effective"
for around one to two years--sometimes not that long, sometimes longer, but
all of these horses eventually regrow some nerve connections and regain sensation
of the area that was originally desensitized. The lameness then returns and
the procedure can be repeated at that time to keep the horse sound. As you
can easily see, this procedure addresses only one thing for the horse and
the owner: the head bobbing lameness.
There are some very real and potentially devastating negative
side effects of digital neurectomies in horses. Often times the raw ends of
the nerves become irritated to the point of developing extremely painful nerve
tumors called neuromas, leading to further surgeries to remove them. Other
times, the digital arteries and veins that lie immediately parallel to the
cut digital nerves become scarred and the resulting stagnation of circulation
leads to foundering of the worst degree. Localized infections, scarring of
tendinous and ligamentous structures and unsightly swellings are also common.
Thus, a procedure designed to provide temporary relief from a widely misunderstood
type of lameness often leads to further pain, loss of use and early death
for these affected horses. Performing these surgeries is severely disruptive
to the horse's lower leg anatomy, physiology and energy patterns, and commonly
leads to irreparable damage.
"Navicular" problems, often referred to as "heel
pain" or "caudal heel syndrome" start presenting symptoms in
horses as young as two and three years old when their hooves are either allowed
to overgrow into a deformed shape, and/or their feet shod at this young age.
The still-developing coffin bones and sensitive inner hoof structures are
surrounded, constricted and over-pressurized by the progressively-deforming
hoof capsules, starving them of vital movement and circulation, yet forcing
them to attempt to function and survive in a physiologically stagnant state.
Older horses are also plagued by what is termed navicular disease and innumerable
other hoof problems when their hooves also succomb to deformities in structure
and stagnation of function. These lamenesses occur after longer periods of
what is traditionally thought to be the "best hoof care possible".
When this "best hoof care possible" consists of infrequent trimming
and/or shoeing, it is no mystery, but rather a highly predictable and physiologic
certainty, that these horses will suffer from hoof deformities and possibly
debilitating lamenesses. "Killing me softly" takes on new meanings
when it comes to the effects of the steel horseshoe on our equine companions.
Given that all of these "navicular" horses can be
shown to have deformities in the outward appearance of their hooves, it would
seem logical to direct our efforts towards improving their abnormal hoof form,
reversing the trends that are causing these deformities and provide for the
horse a situation that promotes good hoof form. Cutting the digital nerves
in these horses provides absolutely nothing that is honestly therapeutic for
them. It is a medically unsound procedure, but it is prevalent in our modern
day "use and abuse" philosophy of keeping horses going--doing this
in a day and age where we now have an excellent understanding of why these
horses end up with "navicular" pain is totally unnecessary and irresponsible--there
are no sound medical reasons to perform these nerve surgeries with the reckless
abandon they are. These procedures are an excellent example of how simple
ignorance of proper hoof form and function allows horse owners and their veterinarians
to perform them. Terms like "salvage procedure" have become widely
used to describe such procedures that prolong the useful life of the animal
strictly for the human's monetary benefit. Addressing the real problems of
the deformities in the feet and how to reverse them with proper trimming and
lifestyle will win out as the only acceptable alternative for these animals
and their human stewards, and the true salvage in terms of the lives of horses
will be realized.
Performing digital neurectomies on heel-sore or foot-sore horses
promotes further degeneration of the entire lower leg and hooves in these
animals, because it disrespects and disallows what the entire animal needs
to achieve a more proper hoof form and normal function. Instead of cutting
the nerves to a part of the horse's anatomy and achieving a completely false
sense of "soundness", we are alternatively able to nurture these
unsound horses and their deformed feet to attain correct hoof form and thus
proper and vital physiologic function. Natural exfoliation, vital mechanical
hoof movements, energizing sensation and exquisite protection are just a few
of the important functions horses' hooves need to have, and this is precisely
what they achieve with proper hoof care. This leads us and our horses on a
direct path to an honest soundness, far outpacing conventional western veterinary
medical techniques and promoting the physical and psychological health of
the entire horse, rather than disrupting a part of the horse's vital anatomy,
which only leads to further deterioration, loss of use and early death.
As it is improperly trimmed and/or shod horses that are the
ones affected by "navicular syndrome", we know that promoting sound,
naturally shaped hooves along with adequate movement on firm terrain is essentially
a life-promoting and life-saving, honestly therapeutic form of treatment--it
is this type of treatment I will prescribe for horses that I tend to, as it
is the only treatment that respects the nature of the horse. Drugs such as
isoxsuprine, nitrous oxide, nitroglycerin, phenylbutazone and flunixin meglumine
do nothing to improve the deformed feet in these affected horses. Eggbar shoes,
reversed shoes, special pads, natural balance shoes, wedge pads, impression
material, shoes with rails and/or frog inserts, or any other artificial appliance
attached to the bottom of the horse, cannot possibly be honestly therapeutic
for horses with navicular problems or other hoof ailments. It is a physiologic
impossibility; they can only serve to further the deformities and damage to
the horses to which they are nailed, perhaps prolonging the development of
further, inevitable symptoms until years down the road, but still furthering
the damage all the while. There is not a single case of a horse with severe
"navicular disease" that has been cured by the application of an
appliance to the foot. Cured, and/or sound, would be defined as a horse that
is able to walk, trot and run at liberty on their own feet in a soft environment
with animation, impulsion and without lameness. It is the promotion of natural
hoof form and thus proper hoof function which allows horses to heal from the
insults previously afforded them by improper trimming, shoeing and/or lifestyle,
and they heal remarkably well if we respect their fascinating anatomy and
it's wonderfully simple physiology. Providing this option to horse owners
when they are faced with whether to pay for a "salvage procedure"
or provide for what their horse honestly needs is what the natural hoof care
movement is about. These are life and death situations for our horses and
it saves horses' lives every day.
It is ironic that honest, well-intentioned people across the
land are spending their hard-earned money on treatments that are making their
horses more unsound and more unusable in the long run. Terms such as "therapeutic
shoeing" or "corrective shoeing" will soon be exposed for the
oxymorons they are, and interested parties such as insurance companies and
horse-leasing operations will soon question such practices, and will not stand
idly by while shelling out millions of dollars to pay for such appliances
and other "treatments" such as neurectomies that only serve to worsen
the conditions of the animals to which they are responsible. Alas, this is
the age we now live in...an age of transition for ourselves as well as our
horses. Our responsibilities are great, the knowledge is there, and it is
coming to an area near you.
Tomas Teskey D.V.M.
email: tomasteskey @ yahoo.com (delete spaces) 520-366-0707
P.S. "Crystal" is walking and trotting soundly (with animation and impulsion) in the last three weeks of her "treatment" that I have prescribed, and is working with an alertness and vitality that a few short months ago was gone from her life. She lives in a large 50 foot by 100 foot turnout on the far side of the boarding stable property with another gelding that she likes to boss around, has free choice grass hay and minerals, receives a variety of other herbs and vegetables daily and will be foregoing her previously planned pregnancies to go back in to the show ring and jumping circuit in the Spring. The previous owner and veterinarian have so far been uninterested in visiting her in her new setting with her new lifestyle, but twenty other boarders are keenly aware of where this crippled mare was four months ago and where she is headed now...these are the people that have been keeping the previous owner, veterinarian and two farriers updated on Crystal's progress. I will now be turning over the hoof trimming duties to her new owner, as he has been an excellent student of the hoof under my supervision and has demonstrated a willingness and good ability to groom her much-improved hooves. There are also several other boarders who will continue their hoof grooming classes with me and be taking care of their horses' feet very soon. He and Crystal will be showing regionally starting in March.
©2006 by The Horse's Hoof. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced by any means whatsoever without the written permission of the publisher and/or authors. The information contained within these articles is intended for educational purposes only, and not for diagnosing or medicinally prescribing in any way. Readers are cautioned to seek expert advice from a qualified health professional before pursuing any form of treatment on their animals. Opinions expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the publisher.
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