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Reversing Laminitis Damage with Wood Clogs

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Laminitis is an insidious and baffling disorder that wreaks havoc on horses and their owners. Just when you think you have all the answers and your horse is sound and comfortable, some new wrench gets thrown in the mix and she’s lame and hobbling around in agony again.

Our First Experience with Laminitis

Rescue number 40-something presented Swingin’ D with our first insulin-resistant horse, which also gave us our first experience with chronic founder. Anastasia came to us from the kill pen with feet that looked like striped slippers. Every deep groove represented a bout with laminitis and the slow destruction of the bones and ligaments that form her very foundation.

She was so lame when we picked her up at the kill pen, we took her straight to the vet where we were certain she’d recommend immediately putting Ani down. 

Once we all saw Anastasia’s magical spirit and will to live, euthanasia was no longer an option. We had to figure out how to help this amazing animal heal – in body, mind and spirit – and live a healthy, productive life. 

Suffering in Pain

Horses like Ani with metabolic issues are susceptible to laminitis, which – without getting too technical – is an inflammation and degradation of the fragile tissues that hold the hoof together. Each episode has the potential to pull the coffin bone away from the hoof wall and push it toward the ground, or allow the entire hoof skeleton to sink through the soft sole, or both.

When Ani has a flare-up, she can barely walk on her front feet. She stands or lays in one place, avoiding movement except to shift her weight from side to side. The less she moves, the less her blood circulates, and the more damage is done. 

I’ve made therapeutic boot inserts that definitely help, but they don’t repair Ani’s feet. They’re more like a band-aid.

Nothing brings relief or promises to reverse the damage of laminitis like the wooden clogs we started using a few months ago.

Wood Clogs Offer Comfort and Hope

Take a look at Ani the night she got her new designer clogs. This was after a week of depression, stillness, pain and suffering. Daily doses of dangerous Bute, foot soaks and hoof wraps are no way for a horse to live.

We spent thousands of dollars on literally everything trying to help Ani. Nobody spends money like a woman with a horse suffering from laminitis.

We went through four farriers trying to find someone with the right mix of aggressiveness and caution. We finally settled on a farrier who works hand in hand with a local veterinarian – the one we only called for emergencies because we can’t really afford him.

When he came to treat another horse’s emergency injury, we walked past Ani’s pen and I told him about her feet. He proceeded to show me an old-fashioned photo album with dozens of x-rays showing coffin bone rotation much worse than Ani’s, then x-rays showing the same coffin bones de-rotating to the point where you’d never know the horse had chronically foundered. He cautioned, it wasn’t a cure. The core issue of metabolic malfunction had to be addressed, but he believed he could get us back to Ground Zero.

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Photo courtesy: iamcountryside.com
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Photo courtesy: farriery.eu

How did they do it? Wooden clogs designed by Oklahoma veterinarian Mike Steward offered not only pain relief, but reversal of the damage that for decades meant death to most chronic horses. The vet said he and his farrier had used Steward’s clogs to help rehabilitate even the most hopeless of horses over 20 years, and he believed Ani was a good candidate.

But he wouldn’t even consider seeing Ani until she dropped enough weight to show him we were committed to her recovery.

When the vet and farrier showed up at the rescue with little boat-shaped plywood wedges, dental putty, a drill and screws, I thought they’d lost their minds; but within about an hour, Ani had a new pair of designer clogs. It wasn’t long before she was running around like a normal horse. 

Weight Distribution, Circulation and Break-Over

Like the inserts I made for Ani’s boots, the clogs relieve the pressure on the painful toe area, where her coffin bone was sinking through her soft and thinning sole. 

The Steward Clog is angled at the base of the heel and toe, like a boat, allowing Ani to stabilize her foot at any angle without causing pain. Three layers of wood offer shock absorption and further pain relief, enabling Ani to keep moving and keep her blood circulating. The wedge shape of the clog causes Ani to continually adjust her foot angle, redistributing her weight on her coffin bone, sole, hoof wall and laminae, relaxing her blood vessels and increasing blood flow to previously choked-off areas.

Dental impression putty packed into the back of the hoof redistributes weight from the more painful areas of Ani’s hoof so that the blood vessels in her toe can regenerate and heal. The increased blood flow allows Ani’s sole to thicken – lending more support to the coffin bone, thereby correcting rotation and lifting the whole bone structure.

Once wrapped with plaster cast, the clog also acts like a cast to a broken bone – holding and supporting the hoof’s internal structure and allowing new growth to gravitate toward the hoof wall where it can re-attach and re-fortify.

The clog also aids in break-over at Ani’s toe. The wedge pulls the break-over point further back, decreasing tension on the tendons at the back of her foot. The rocking motion of the clog makes it easier for Ani to move through a stride without the need for so much weight on the toe.

The Steward Clog takes anywhere from two months (two applications at $250 a pair, plus x-rays) to a year for maximum effect.

Is this the answer to Ani’s hoof problems? Time will tell; but after two months, she was doing so well, we had clogs applied to two more horses. They’re thriving as well. Keep an eye on our Facebook page and website so you can see their final x-rays and decide for yourself whether the wonder clogs really do work wonders.