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Barefooting

Written by Kim F. Miller

ComfortStall therapeutic flooring is part of dressage prospect’s path back from distressing distal limb issues.

Dressage trainer Hannah Croteau had been intrigued by Haygain-related success stories for a long time, never suspecting that her FEI prospect, Leopold WF, would become one of them.

On April 2 of last year, “Leo” was diagnosed with navicular, a dreaded condition involving inflammation and damage in the hoof’s navicular bone and surrounding tissue. Injections and anti-inflammatories can help manage navicular, but a cure doesn’t exist. It’s often a career-ender for high performance horses that the 12-year-old Hanoverian was clearly on track to become. Before the diagnosis, Leo had competed at Fourth Level dressage and enjoyed a little jumping.

To make matters worse, Leo didn’t respond well to traditional navicular treatments. At the outset, his lameness was graded as a 1 on a scale of 5. After the effect of the initial injections wore off a few months later, his lameness grade escalated to 3. It was discouraging news, but with the help of a supportive vet, Hannah wasn’t giving up. On she went in search of more information and ideas to make her horse comfortable again.

An MRI in August revealed a more complex case: severe arthrosis of the fetlock and damage to the deep digital flexor, suspensory, medial and collateral ligaments. Nerve blocks determined that 90 percent of Leo’s pain was coming from the fetlock area. It was a multi-layered case that called for a multi-layered approach.

After extensive research, Hannah decided to pull Leo’s shoes and keep him a carefully-trimmed barefoot. Barefoot benefits include increased blood circulation throughout the hoof capsule and better ability for the frog to do its job of pumping that blood up through the lower leg. Blood flow is the body’s best healer and Hannah wanted to fully harness it.

A risk of barefoot life is discomfort or bruising from spending too much time on hard surfaces. Hannah and Leo live in Maine, so right now the ground everywhere is hard because of freezing temperatures. Even in regular weather, unforgiving terrain lurks everywhere in the horse keeping environment.

Here Comes Haygain

Here’s where Haygain came into the picture with a contest for a free stall of its ComfortStall Orthopedic Sealed Therapeutic Flooring. The unique flooring system can be quite affordable when priced out over a year’s time, but the upfront costs were not in the cards for Hannah with the immediate vet bills she faced. When her name was chosen in a Haygain USA Facebook contest last fall, she was thrilled.

Leo was already responding well to being barefoot and spending his in-the-barn hours on ComfortStall enhanced the progress. “I noticed a difference in his frog: it was more robust,” says Hannah of his body’s response to the innovative flooring. During each phase of his gradual return to work that is now up to 20 to 25 minutes, Hannah expected the arthrosis would manifest as mild soreness along the way. She’s happy to be wrong about that. “He’s been fine. I think being able to stand on his ComfortStall is playing a big part in that.”

ComfortStall provides softness and support, and a degree of “give” that’s especially good for barefoot horses who benefit from extra frog stimulation. And, the tiny muscle movements required for the horse to maintain its balance stimulate proprioception that is critical to recovering from everything from regular exertion to rigorous work-outs, surgeries and injuries.

The flooring system also alleviated one of Hannah’s major concerns as Leo embarked on the barefoot path. “One of my biggest worries was that everything is hard: the ground when it’s so cold and even his previous stall mats.” Along with plenty of turn-out time and outdoor exercise, ComfortStall has freed Hannah from that concern.

Leo’s long-term health and comfort are Hannah’s biggest priority. While pursuing that, he has recovered so beautifully that the USDF Bronze Medalist is optimistic about his ability to return to the show ring.

He’s looking good, he’s back to his old self” -- with one significant exception. During past stretches of time-off, Leo made a habit of bucking Hannah off at least once during the return to work, always at the canter.  This time around, there was no resistance whatsoever at the canter. “He offered it to me. When he’s happy to offer it to me, that tells me there is no discomfort.”

Whether or not a return to show ring happens as hoped later this year, bringing Leo back to his happy, pain-free self is ample reward for Hannah and she’s grateful for ComfortStall’s role in this ongoing journey.