Foal Conformation – How Important Are The First Few Months Of Life?

The first few months in a foal’s life are incredibly important, with good hoof trimming the foundation to a bright future and can even be the decider between good and faulty conformation.

Bringing up a foal successfully requires special knowledge, especially when it comes to hoof care. Early care can influence the young prospect’s future in many ways and shouldn’t be underrated.

Good foal hoof care will affect the adulthood of the horse and can decide over an athletic career, value, and ‘simply’ overall soundness.

Foal Angular Limb Deformities and Hoof Care

When a foal is born, the hooves are covered in a soft, rubbery coating commonly known as foal slippers. Their purpose is to avoid damage to the mare’s uterus when foaling. Foal slippers begin to harden up almost immediately after the foal is born. As the foal finds its feet, the slippers are gradually worn down in a process that usually takes 24 to 48 hours.

At first, the foal’s hooves are pointy, especially in the front. According to research, these pointed feet become a liability once the foal is born. Due to the shape of the hoof, foals will have difficulty rolling over at the toe when moving. This causes the flight path to break to either the outside or inside (most common) of the point, which can cause the foal to become toed in (pigeon toed) or toed out (splay footed).

Foals have evolved to be able to stand and move within a couple of hours of being born. This is their natural instinct, as in their natural environment they may have to flee from predators soon after birth. Initially, the new-born foal will appear to be ‘all legs’, but don’t be too critical in the first few days, as minor abnormalities often disappear once the foal starts to strengthen and exercise.

If a foal is developing correctly, the first hoof trimming should take place at around the age of 4 to 6 weeks and their hooves should be lightly trimmed frequently rather than trying to remove too much horn at once. Depending on the season, where the foal lives, and its hoof and stance development, maintenance trimming should then be performed every 6 to 8 weeks.

Occasionally, however, one or more of the foal’s limbs deviates either towards or away from midline when viewed from in front or behind and may require treatment, a condition known as angular limb deformities (ALDs).

The degree of deformity present at birth (congenital) can range from very mild to severe. Angular limb deformities may also develop during the first few weeks and months of a foal’s life (acquired). Congenital and acquired angular limb deformities can be complicated by rotational and flexural limb deformities and so a full and proper assessment should be made before treatment is instigated. If left uncorrected, persistent moderate to severe deformities can affect the long-term soundness of the adult horse and its ability to function as an athlete.

Confirming Angular Limb Deformities in Foals

Whilst angular limb deformity is diagnosed by watching the foal stand and walk, radiographic (x-ray) examinations may be required to confirm the site and severity of the angulation, whether the growth plate (epiphysis) or small bones of the knee or hock are involved and what is the best form of treatment. Long x-ray plates are often used, so that straight lines can be drawn through the long bones to confirm precisely where the deviation occurs and by how much (angle).

Treating Angular limb deformities in foals with FormaHoof

Case 1: Wylie by Joel Brown

Wylie’s new balance!

4th June 2022
Wylie is a 3-week-old colt, bred to run, set up with medial extensions by FormaHoof for the angular limb deviations.

Photo 4 highlights the asymmetrical bearing surface of the hoof to the limb, the key to “seeing” where the ideal hoof needs to support the limb.

A couple of weeks exercise in his yard is next, he had some great yawns and big stretches as he unloaded his strained suspensory.

26th June 2022
Wylie’s in his 2nd setup at 21 days, his foot width has added 1/8”, foals can average .43 mm/day in growth, using 3 weeks as his goal for a new setup.

A couple of weeks exercise in his yard is next, he had some great yawns and big stretches as he unloaded his strained suspensory.

9th July 2022
Wylie is 2 months old, set up in his first FormaHoof medial extensions on June 4.

We have built a custom set today with added caudal support and added bearing support for his off fore.

He responded well to the added length, improved in standing under himself.

He’s landing flat as he moves out, though his asymmetrical fore is a work in progress. Alignment predisposes an upright near fore; as the compensating posture camps his off fore out, with his toed out deviation.

22nd July 2022
Wylie’s 7-week progress

He’s run through a couple of foal hoof extension set ups, he’d popped his off fore and needed rebalancing as his lateral toe deviation is truing up.

Really building tone and muscle as his posture and balance are improving from his feet up.

Quite a bright future ahead as we continue on. He’s just about 3 months old, an early start has really benefited his progress.

8th August 2022
What’d you do in 9-weeks?
June 4-August 8
Wylie built a new front end.

Though his abaxial carpus rotation in his off fore is congenital, his toe is now trued to his knee as the rotational deviation of his hoof has improved, setting his toe to his knee as a key component in his treatment ladder. He’s been through a few setups from his first FormaHoof as he’s changing EVERYTHING.

He’s approaching 4 months of age as he steadily improves.

Awesome to start on his future so early on, Kudos to Wylie’s guardian for seeking out qualified farriery assistance. He’s going to have a bright future, that boy.

22nd September
16 weeks – June 4- September 22

Wylie was 3 weeks old, when we met up
He’s come along well, Sept. 22 is his first image. He’s been out of any foal extension for 3 weeks, allowing his feet to expand and just be turned out and be a colt, it’s treated his feet well.

As to laterality (balance through his midline) quite pleased in his overall balance of his musculoskeletal presentation through his pectorals and brachiocephalicus muscles, what I witnessed and recorded shows particularly the asymmetry of his near-fore chest in mass and volume

With the abaxial carpus rotation and fetlock valgus built into the equation, time and regular maintenance will do wonders in building the feet to fit his upper structures.

A few weeks will determine if added medial support is needed with his near fore. Time is your friend in a rehab, he was 3 weeks old when we set him up, he’s a different (bigger 😂) colt and has been very patient with no sedatives throughout, thanks for your patience Wylie.

June 4 – October 28 (21 Weeks)
Wylie is now on a 5 week barefoot trimming cycle as he was weaned and transitioning to his big move to Idaho.

He’s moved into the gangly colt stage, he’s been out of any supportive modern material set up for a couple cycles. His MLHA (mediolateral Heel Axis is set on 2 planes of balance on his near fore, building a peripheral view thru the HLPA; of a long axis, level volar plane as his carpus valgus set him up with a bit of balance issues, it all comes out in the feet.

At 21 weeks, it’s just steadily making progress. He didn’t add much toe length is his cycle, but added lots of sole depth and hoof mass w/ just the usual lateral flaring of theses ALD cases.

Hopefully, we can visit him again, he’s a high bred western performance ☝️ in his case; really all cases.

Proactive care is crucial to setting a 🐴 up for a life worth living.

Case 2: Thoroughbred foal with club foot by Lucie

1st February 2022

The 8-month-old TB foal is currently supported by a FormaHoof Toe Extension after developing a club-foot with resulting tendon issues. The young filly is bred for racing and has a bright future ahead, once this issue is solved.

3rd May 2022

The now 10-month-old TB filly could overcome her problems within 2 application cycles and is now walking off into a bright future.

From left to right, the toe and the heel of FormaHoof Foal Extensions are expertly designed to assist with many different conformation issues in foal hoof and limb development, giving experienced equine professionals the tools needed to support the foal’s legs and feet through its early development period and put it on the right track towards straight, strong limbs for life.

Many cases of angular limb deformity in foals will respond to good farriery, but others will require and benefit from treatment with an appropriate hoof extension.

A selection of hoof mould shapes are available to assist with a wide range of different conformation issues and it’s easy to select the best option according to your own foal’s conformation and limb development challenges. Safe to use in the herd and field, FormaHoof foal extensions are quick and easy to apply, can be easily removed without damaging the hoof capsule, and the low curing temperature means there is no discomfort to the foal.

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