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casting

If you’ve been looking at photographs here, you’ve seen some casts on horses feet. Casts can serve many purposes in hoof rehabilitation, such as:

  • creating a false wall to nail into
  • limiting hoof mechanism when managing sheared heel syndrome
  • safely covering abscess holes, resections and surgery sites to keep them clean
  • protecting thin soles
  • offering a very sturdy way to hold in hoof packing of any type
  • protecting a foot when we’ve had to trim it particularly short
  • holding the hoof together to help limit the direction tubules are bending towards after a major distortion
  • a quick fix when a shoe has come off and the wall has torn into the soft tissue
  • laminitic horses after they are stabilized

They are also convenient for a primarily barefoot horse who may occasionally become a little tender but there’s no pathology and shoes are not warranted. We find that when used for the correct application, most horses are instantly sound after being cast. This gives them an advantage over many modalities including shoes, which cannot always be applied to a painful horse or a horse with little foot to work with.

The casts we use on horses are the exact same casting material used for human hard casts but cut into different sizes. Size choice is based on how large the hoof is and what we are trying to accomplish. For example, Mike is nailing into a cast, we trim together, determine shoe placement and then Gayle casts the horse according to the pathology we are dealing with. Mike then nails the shoe as if the cast were not there. The size of cast is based on how much fake wall we are trying to create and how much cast Mike can nail through.

A cast should never be applied over a hoof that is not prepped correctly, with the exception being a rim cast that is intended to fall off within a few days. Otherwise the procedure is as follows:

  • trim foot
  • do either a White Lightening or CleanTrax treatment
  • dry on clean shavings for at least two hours
  • freshen trim
  • lightly sand outside of foot
  • apply Equipack if using
  • glue outside of foot and sole if necessary
  • carefully apply cast
  • wet cast thoroughly
  • wrap in plastic wrap tightly
  • allow to cure for 15 minutes
  • if shoeing, shoe now
  • remove plastic and ideally horse stays in stall for a few hours or overnight

Proper tension is critical when casting, along with never going over the coronary band or heel bulbs. Too loose and the cast will not stay on, too tight and it will potentially cut circulation off. Casting is like a lot of things, the concept is simple but the actual application is tricky.

Because we trim and disinfect the foot before applying the cast, and then glue it, the hoof is now clean inside of it and mostly waterproof also. Most casts will stay on 3-4 weeks. Longer than that is not ideal, as the foot is not wearing at all inside of it while being stimulated to grow rapidly. Casting is usually the quickest way to grow foot as fast as possible.

Horses usually handle the casting process well. Once the foot has been glued and the cast is being applied there are only a few moments to finish up and get it wrapped before the cast begins to set, so the horse must allow that work to be done without pulling their foot away. The plastic wrap makes a predictably creepy sound so we make sure they are ok with that first. The water hitting the foot sometimes startles them. If there is any concern at all about a horses ability to handle this it is best to mildly sedate them so we don’t waste a lot of casts trying to get one on. After the first one or two most horses pay no attention to it at all.

Like a good shoeing job, a cast should look natural on a foot and not be bulky or uneven. They can be rasped after being cured but that may affect the integrity and strength of the cast so we try to not do that unless absolutely necessary.

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Case Studies

balance

This horse has been a long term project. She presented with thin soles, contracted heels, no appreciable walls and her feet were packed solid with overlaid bar and lumpy sole material. She also had a negative palmer angle behind of 5 and 6 degrees. Her foot problems were mostly blamed on her being a Thoroughbred, but she is growing in a high quality new foot with thick walls and good sole depth.

We started by pulling her shoes and trimming out as much of the impacted bar as possible. She was on stall rest in a deeply bedded stall during this part of the process and rapidly grew sounder while we revisited her trim every week. Each week her feet changed dramatically as they decontracted. We did not get pictures of this stage unfortunately. When they stopped changing dramatically we cast her with Equipack, one front foot at at time, to see how she would handle frog support. She did well and we were able to do her second foot a few weeks later. Then she was able to start getting hand walked.

Fast forwarding to this trim and shoeing cycle, she is back to work and sound but her rehabilitation is far from over. Now that her foot has grown about half way down it’s time to start looking at how her upper body and joints were affected by being out of balance for so long. We will update this case study as it proceeds.

Very grateful to good clients, barn management and training for doing their part in getting this nice horse sound again for her young rider.

Not perfect but so much closer!
We check for balance from all angles. At this point, we are very happy to see this foot much better balanced laterally and the heels beginning to decontract.
Mike wasn’t thrilled with this clip set up but Gayle snapped the photo anyway so she could get out of his way.. to show off that this horses dorsal (toe) wall is finally straight. You can see the line about half way down where her new foot is growing in at an entirely different angle from the old and that her heel is pushing out and relaxing. We get asked a lot why the toe is over the shoe.. it’s because the shoe is set back to the correct position to support the bony column. This puts her breakover at a better place and stimulates the correct part of her foot. She is in steel with a leather pad and pink (soft) Equipack under, carefully poured from the point of frog to the back of the foot.