Sunday, February 12, 2012

Deformity in Motion: Neglected Hooves Respond in Ireland

Johnny and James are two otherwise anonymous donkeys in Ireland who have been lucky enough to be rescued and find some kind people at The Donkey Sanctuary there.

Horses and ponies and donkeys with overgrown hooves are not uncommon to find. We routinely see photos of them when they are rescued by agencies or brought to farriers and vets for care.

But Johnny and James are different because these are not still shots, these are videos. You can see not just how overgrown they are, but that these strong, adaptable donkeys can still get around. They've had to adapt their gait a bit, perhaps, but they're still on the move.

We are always taught that the hoof wall bears the horse's weight and that the weight is transferred down the bony column of the limb. But nature obviously has a plan B, so that the horse can transfer its weight to the heels.


Another thing we're taught is that the toe is the strongest part of the hoof and the heel is the weakest and most deformable. And yet in these donkeys and so many other neglected equines, the heels are standing up to the job. The foot doesn't collapse, the heels don't rupture.

The second video shows that Johnny began to recover once his feet were under him again. The sanctuary mentioned that the hooves were radiographed and that the trim would be fine-tuned over the weeks to come until his weightbearing and gait could be normalized.

The hoof has to be one of the most adaptive structures in nature, yet we always try to make it conform to our ideal--whatever that may be. Surely there is a sweet spot for every hoof, a place where that foot finds optimal function.

The trick is to find it, to find it before it is too late, and to keep the hoof shape and position under the limb within a range of that spot throughout the animal's life.

Visit The Donkey Sanctuary web site to learn more about the charity's work on behalf of donkeys in Ireland--and everywhere.

$176 + $11 P+H US only; ready to ship: Tel 978 281 3222, fax 978 283 8775, email:

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