Monday, January 23, 2012

Millwater's Farriery: Bute...

bute: Phenylbutazone. A non-steroid, anti-inflammatory drug and painkiller usually administered in oral form to horses. Although legally restricted to veterinary prescription, this drug is widely available and often improperly used to mask lameness which could be corrected at the source through appropriate farriery.

   Bute has been around in the horse world for a very long time.  Despite being a prescription drug, almost everyone has a jar or few tubes of the stuff handy.

   Sometimes I'm convinced the introduction of bute was one of the worst things to happen to horse care in America...  No need to deal with the actual cause of pain when you can just give the critter a bit of the wonder drug and make everything all better...

   Except that it doesn't.  

   Pain is Nature's way of telling Dobbin something is messed-up, and he shouldn't go stomping-around until it's better.  This is especially true in laminitis, where the mechanical stress of walking around can rip the compromised laminae and cause the progression into outright founder...

   It's hard to see our animals in-pain...  But that's what makes them lay down and keep still, which is just exactly what they need to do until the initial laminitis attack runs its course.

   Not only is masking the pain a bad idea, but bute itself may make the laminitis worse.  Laminitis isn't just a foot thing.  It's systemic.  And bute stresses a number of organs, and may enhance the autointoxication aspect of the laminitis attack.

  Then there are abscesses.  Encapsulated infections that sometimes cause intense pain until they are drained or rupture...  But using an anti-inflammatory like bute tends to slow the infection coming to a "head" and prolong the agony.  Bute can turn what would have been a rough couple of days into a chronic problem.

   Navicular and other arthritic/bursitis problems are one place where bute can be a help or a detriment depending on how its used.  Giving a sore horse bute to keep him going as he is will facilitate further damage...  But, once all mechanical adjustments possible have been made to prevent further injury, bute can be used to enable the horse to engage in restorative exercise.  (Especially useful if lack of mild daily activity was a causative factor in the lameness to begin with.)

   It's a bit troubling to me how many horseowners think bute is some sort of first aid...  Bute does not fix anything!  It's like giving a kid with a broken leg some whiskey and telling him to "walk it off". 

   Worse yet are vets who prescribe it so freely...  I suppose you can't blame 'em.  Horse is in pain or limping, and the client wants Doc to DO SOMETHING.  But temporarily feeling better isn't always conducive to actually getting better.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Millwater's Farriery: K.I.S.S.

   Hey! Hope everyone has had a great holiday season, and good start to this New Year...

   Now back to business. ;)

   There was a time, not all that long ago, when horseshoeing in many parts meant pulling a plain shoe out of the keg, opening or closing it a bit, hooking the heels in, nailing the sucker on, and lopping-off whatever hung over the edge...  If you wanted to get fancy about it, you could stick a sheet of leather or plastic between the shoe and hoof before nailing-on, or maybe even put the shoe on backwards for a 'bar shoe'...

Yes...  The 'good old days' kinda' sucked.

   The last quarter century has brought us to the opposite extreme.  Some farriers pride themselves in turning out hand-forged horseshoes that are gorgeous works of art.  Others love to use the latest modern products to assemble high-tech horseshoe packages worthy of Star Trek.  A lot of guys do a bit of both.

   Horseshoe fabrication skill is a wonderful thing.  And many of the newer products and materials can be very useful in some situations.  But I do think we sometimes have too much of a good thing.  Especially in times like these, it may not be wise to go with fancy (and often expensive) alternatives just because we can.  Especially when simpler approaches may work as well or better.

   I was using glue-on shoes back when that meant riveting a rim pad jig-sawed out of a polyurethane sheet to an aluminum or steel shoe, then using a paint-stripper heat gun to weld tabs around the perimeter to be affixed to the sanded hoof with glorified crazy-glue.

   Fortunately, both the shoes and adhesive applications have improved since then.  They can be quite useful in some cases...  But they are expensive and time-consuming to apply.  They also have functional drawbacks, either being prone to easy pasture loss (especially in muddy conditions), or encapsulating/sealing far too much of the hoof wall, preventing it from "breathing".

   Despite having the glue-on option in my arsenal, I've learned over the years that it is possible to securely affix shoes to some of the most disastrous looking hooves with good old-fashioned nails.  Maybe having glue-on shoes handy has kept some of the newer guys from developing the particular skills it takes to hook solid nails through 'wishful thinking' hoof wall.  But a lot of the hooves that prompt folks to say "there's no way you can nail a shoe to that" wouldn't even be a challenge to some of us graybeards. 

   On a related note, we have modern hoof repair products like Equilox and Equithane, which sure are an improvement over the auto body and wood filler putties we used to resort to.  These newer adhesive/repair materials are often used to glue on shoes these days.  But again, they are expensive, and can be a bit of a hassle to employ, especially in less than ideal field conditions.  And sometimes they work too well... Sealing-in bacteria that turn into nasty infections.  Deft nailing technique, and a willingness to let the foot be a little rough-looking until a damaged bit grows-out, often make hoof fillers unnecessary. 

   A cousin to the modern hoof repair materials is the pour-in pad approach that is all the rage these days.  Must admit that it is kinda' nifty, and has practical application in a few cases.  But I'm not a huge fan of pads in general.  When they are called-for, conventional pads (Shock-Tamers are my favorite) with Sole Pack will do the job beautifully with less fuss and expense... And you don't have to worry about Dobbin' taking a foot away before the goo sets-up!

   Another "new" product that we were using many years ago is synthetic shoes, both polyurethane and rubber.  These actually worked just fine, and aren't outrageously expensive or troublesome to apply.  But, unless you plan to ride or drive on pavement a lot, they don't offer significant advantage over conventional shoes.  And replacing a single lost shoe can be a problem, especially if the horse is away from home at the time and the horseshoer who has to pinch-hit doesn't stock unorthodox shoes.

   That problem also applies to really exotic shoes like the Slypner system, which I used quite a bit of when they first came out twenty years ago...  Composite stainless steel "base plate" horseshoes with removable urethane wearing treads that could be changed by the owner.  (Flat, calked, and studded versions for different activities and conditions.)  They certainly look modern, and work okay.  But are a bit pricey and can be a real PITA to apply, especially if the horse has off-pattern hoof shape or tricky walls.  (You have to use the provided nails, which can be hard to 'steer' through the wall.)  Most clients didn't find switching Slypner treads to be much easier than switching threaded stud calks.  Frankly, must jumpers and lower level eventers do well in concave shoes with jumping-type welded jar calks, which don't need to be removed for turnout or casual riding.

   One thing I'm bound to catch a bit of flak for is my decision to focus on 'down-and-dirty' practical horseshoeing techniques and illustrations rather than high craftsmanship handmades in Millwater's Farriery...  Trust me, it's not because I'm unable to forge pretty specimen shoes.

   Like a lot of guys at the time, when I first started making bar shoes, I just used a keg shoe a couple sizes bigger than what the horse normally wore, turned the heels in 'til they overlapped, and forge-welded them together.  Since keg shoe stock gets wider and thicker as you go up in sizes, this made for excessively heavy bar shoes.  It also resulted in the nail holes being too coarse and too far back.

   These problems were solved when I started forging all my bar shoes from bar stock.  Got pretty good at it.  Had a lot of horses going on my fullered, hand-forged bar shoes there for a while...

   Then, late one Summer evening when I was wrapping up a long stretch of shop work, the wife came out to tell me that a mare I was supposed to reset the next week had lost one of her eggbars in the pasture where it was unlikely to be found.  Since this mare would trash her thin-walled hoof if left shoeless any length of time, I knew I'd have to get to her the next day, despite the busy Summer schedule.  But I certainly wouldn't have time to forge her a new pair of shoes in the field, and I was already worn-out for the day and didn't feel up to turning the shoes from stock that evening.  So I just grabbed two pair of #1 St. Croix Rim Lites, cut the toes out of one pair, then turned 'em around and jump-welded them across the heels of another.  Presto! Eggbars.

     The horse certainly didn't care.  She went as well as ever.  In fact, the conversion shoes were a little lighter than my handmades.  I wondered what the owners would think of my little "cheat", or if they'd even notice...  Turns out they did... And thought the new shoes were prettier than the handmades I'd been using!  (Bit of a blow to the ego, it was.)

   So, if the horse was happy, the owners were happy, and the job was a bit easier on me, why in the heck would I go back to using handmades?  To impress other farriers?  Heck, I don't work for them!

   While all the fancy shoes and materials are great options to have, and can be literal life-savers in some cases, the most practical and effective shoeing solution for the widest array of corrective and therapeutic problems is actually a correctly fit, conventional horseshoe, properly applied to a well prepared hoof.  

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