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Club Foot Surgery

Lauren Horn <> said:

>I know some people who sent three of their horses (home raised) to get
>surgery on the horses club hoofs. Range from very mild to moderate. Is
>this surgery a cutting of the tendon? These horses are from 3-5 years
>old. What are the performance aspects after healing? The bottom line:
>Does it work and is horse 100% usable for hard work?
I wrote a very long post to Ridecamp on club foot several months
ago that answers most of your questions:

See also several short follow up posts under the "Pastern Angles"

The surgery is called desmotony (severing) of the inferior check
ligament.  This is a ligament about 1/3 of the way down on the
inside of cannon bone that attaches from the cannon bone to
the deep flexor tendon.  Its purpose is to prevent the deep
flexor tendon from hyperextending.  (I.e., the horse lands
heavily on its hoof and the deep flexor tears and stretches,
collapsing the hoof and pastern to where the horse eventually
comes down on its fetlock).

3 to 5 years is very, very late to have this surgery.  At *most*
severing this ligament gives about 1/4" of "give."  This can
be enough to make a difference.  My filly had it at age two.
Before surgery you could see a crescent on the bottom of her
foot that was the rim of the coffin bone (grade III club foot).
After surgery, the crescent had disappeared (grade II club foot).
But by no means did she become a sound, square-moving, using
horse.  She was lame before, and lame afterward.  Just a bit
more comfortable.

The thing is, every structure in these horses' legs has grown
since they were sucklings to accommodate the rotated coffin bone.
Snipping the check ligament will not correct these adjusted
structures.  It may relieve some tension on the deep flexor,
but everything else is going to stay pretty much the same.
They were club.  They will stay club.

"100% usable for hard work" is a very high standard. I know
of two studies done on the long-term soundness of horses that
have had check ligament surgery.  There was the original study
done at Washington State back in the mid 80s whose publication
popularized the surgery in America.  As I recall, some 15 horses
of various ages and severity had the surgery and something like 12
of them were being used for *something* two or three years later.
Pretty vague.

The other longer term study was done recently on Standardbred foals
that had check ligament surgery to correct contracted tendons.
Again, the numbers were fairly small, less than 50 horses.  Of
those 50 horses, no foals that had check ligament surgery after
6 months of age ever started a race.

Ultimately, people do the check ligament surgery on older horses
because it is the only thing they can do that might make the
situation a little better.  But it does not work miracles.

Linda B. Merims
Massachusetts, USA

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