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Running interference: Dobbin needs a front-end alignment

by Stephen E. O'Grady, D.V.M., Article donated by the mane points horse resource center.

Forelimb interference is a gait abnormality that occurs when the shoe or hoof of one limb strikes the opposite limb anywhere from the coronet to the knee. It can occur at various gaits, but is usually noted at the trot. Continual interference can lead to a decrease in performance and often results in wounds and soft tissue swellings that have potential for infection.

Forelimb conformation which dictates the flight pattern of the hoof, changes in riding or training that may accentuate a given gait, and improper shoeing are among the various causes of interference that have been documented.

The conformation often associated with forelimb interference is toeing out with a narrow chest. The leg is straight but the limb rotates outward at or above the knee. This conformation forces the horse to breakover on the outside of the foot and land on an inward arc toward the midline. Break-over is defined as the phase of the

stride between the time the horse's heels lift off the ground and the time the toe lifts off the ground.

There are several approaches to preventing interference in the fetlock area, the most common area for interference. Horses that tend to interfere will breakover on the outside of their front feet rather than the middle of the toe. The point of breakover can be detected by examining the wear on the hoof or how the horse is wearing the shoe at the toe.

Picture of man looking at horse through a scope

The hoof-flight pattern of a horse that toes out may be widened to some degree by your farrier, who will lower the outside hoof wall and rasp off any flares, especially those on the inside of the hoof wall. Shims or wedges may be placed between the shoe and the hoof in extreme cases to increase the distance between the limbs during movement. Keep in mind that such changes to the feet only manipulate the timing and direction of the gait rather than changing the gait itself.

The breakover can be shifted toward the center of the toe by using a square-toed shoe. Lateral (outside) support of the toe at the moment of breakover can also be achieved by using a lateral extension-toed shoe. Shoes used on horses that interfere should be smoothed so there is no sharp edge to cause damage if the horse strikes the opposite limb.

There are several other types of interference. Knee-hitting, also called knee-knocking is rare in performance horses. It occurs when the inside of the front foot strikes the knee on the opposite limb. The cause of knee-hitting is basically the same as described for fetlock interference except that, in addition, the foot twists at the moment of breakover. Besides the prevention or correction that is used for fetlock interference, jar calks welded on the heels will hold the foot on the ground at the moment of breakover and reduce the amount of twisting.

Elbow-hitting is interference between the heel of the shoe and the elbow of the same leg. Again, this form of interference is rare. It is mostly seen in horses that work at speed or gaited horses. Continual elbow-hitting can cause a shoe boil to develop. Reducing the weight of the shoe and increasing the hoof angle may correct horses that hit their elbows.

Many horses hit their elbows because of excessively long pasterns. Bandaging the fetlock with a light bandage during work will eliminate this type of interference.

The best approach for correcting a gait fault is to examine the animal's conformation and foot-flight pattern. The forelimb conformation should be assessed with the horse standing squarely on a hard surface. The position of the horse's feet, whether the foot turns in or out, the presence of a wide or narrow chest and the direction the knee faces should be noted. The horse should be observed walking and trotting directly away from and toward the examiner so he or she can observe the flight pattern and the manner in which the foot strikes the ground. The information gained from this brief examination will allow the examiner, usually your farrier, to formulate a plan to correct the particular gait abnormality.

Most cases of forelimb interference can be prevented or improved by corrective shoeing. For occasional interference or interference encountered during certain phases of training, protective boots are often more helpful than changing shoes or hoof angles. Changing riders or riding techniques can improve many limb interference problems. Some horses cannot be completely corrected while others will improve only temporarily.

Fatigued horses commonly interfere. A lighter shoe such as aluminum may be of benefit.

Look before you leap. All types of interference can be detrimental to peak performance in the horse. It is important to look for this potential problem during a prepurchase examination.

The examiner should look for scars or fibrous thickenings along the inside of the horse's leg. Strict attention should be paid to the animal's conformation and observing limb movement on a hard surface. Often it can be determined whether a horse has interfered in the past or if it is inclined to interfere when placed in strenuous work.

Ground control

Dr. Doug Butler, a well-known author and farrier, says stumbling is also a form of interference of the hoof with the ground.

"Stumbling is often blamed on laziness or on a hoof that is long and in need of trimming," observes Dr. Steve O'Grady. "Although the long toe can be responsible in some cases, it may be the exception rather than the rule."

He explains that shortening the toe of the foot and increasing breakover should correct the problem if hoof length is the cause.

"A more likely cause of stumbling is heel pain. This will force the horse to land on its toe to avoid the discomfort in the heels and promote stumbling," notes the veterinarian.

"A thorough lameness examination including diagnostic anesthesia is used to confirm or rule out heel pain."

Another remote possibility for subtle stumbling is a neurological disease such as EPM.

Read the next horse shoes article on Glue Horse Shoeing with Weak Hoofs.
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