Understanding Duckett’s Balance Theories Part 2

Last month’s blog introduced Dave Duckett’s principles of hoof balance. This week I review and expand a few of those concepts. If you can grasp the basics of Duckett’s balance evaluation you will be equipped to evaluate your horse’s overall hoof balance. You will also be able to enjoy an informed discussion about it with your vet and farrier.

Duckett was an early proponent of what is common knowledge today regarding “caudal support.” Duckett’s original explanation of this term was that the caudal part of the foot—that portion from the frog bridge to the heels—is designed for weight bearing and concussion reduction. The surface area at the back of the foot must be sufficient to support the horse’s weight. By trimming and shoeing to increase the caudal surface area, farriers can help to keep feet balanced and sound.

An important aspect of understanding balance requires appreciation of the foot in three-dimensional space. Duckett’s presentations and all of his teachings over the past 30 plus years have emphasized evaluating the foot in multiple dimensions.

Following Duckett’s basic concepts, farrier Doug Butler teaches three-dimensional static balance, also called geometric balance. The three dimensions that you can learn to assess include toe to heel proportions, side to side tilt, and side to side mass.

Toe to heel balance is an estimation of how well “under the limb” is the hoof wall bearing surface. This is assessed from two basic views. You can lift the foot and observe the solar surface to check for how much bearing surface is in front of the tip of the frog compared to how much is behind it. This same proportion can be seen in a side (lateral) view with the hoof on the ground. From this view you do not know exactly where the tip of the frog is, but you can see generally if the hoof wall bearing surface is under the limb or has grown too far out in front.

Medio-lateral balance is evaluated by looking at the foot on the ground from two views. First stand in front of the horse and look at the foot straight on to see if the hairline looks the same height from the ground on each side. Then look at the foot from behind the horse. Crouch down to get your eye as close as possible to the level of the heel bulbs. See if the heel bulbs look the same distance from the ground. Also from this view you can check heel height. If you could stick a hoof pick under the frog, then the horse does not have the frog acting to support the foot. This could be either because the heel is too high or the frog is atrophied (sometimes both occur together).

The other aspect of medio-lateral balance is hoof mass, or symmetry. You can check this from three views: solar, frontal, and top-down. Look for wall deviation. Few feet are perfectly symmetrical but balanced feet are close to it. The most common medio-lateral mass distortion is a flare, usually on the lateral side of the hoof. Sometimes feet are flared on one side and bent in, or under-run, on the side. Sometimes asymmetrical feet can be corrected by trimming excess flare. In other cases, inward bent horn is the main distortion and cannot be corrected in a single trimming. This may even out over time, or may need a shoe to be placed where the hoof horn is missing.

In sum, all balance research and opinion discussed today owes some credit to the teachings of farrier Dave Duckett. Some agree, some disagree, some have built on his initial findings, others have independently come to similar or related conclusions. Some have focused mainly on the dot, others on the bridge, others take into account the whole picture as Duckett continues to teach it. Your farrier and veterinarian will be pleased you can understand these concepts. Your horse is more likely to stay sound if his feet stay balanced. When you can notice early warnings signs of hoof imbalance, you can play an important role in maintaining hoof health.

This is the last of my blog series on reading the hoof for health and balance. Come back next week for the start of the next series about acupuncture for hoof and whole horse health.


Copyright © 2012 ~ Dr. Lisa Lancaster DVM, WDAA Blog Author



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