July 2013

(Click on any image to see a larger version)


Never shod, strong hoof horn, weak caudal foot, short, choppy stride


Good movement with long stride, stronger caudal foot 


Hanoverian warmblood gelding


November 1997 

Height:  16 h 

Weight:  600kg



Acquired by the current owner at age 4.  

Never shod.  

Good quality hoof horn, no obvious hoof distortions.  Always well trimmed.

Short, choppy stride with a toe-strike, reluctant to canter.

Numerous episodes of severe tying-up after light exercise.

Extremely anxious, spooky temperament.

Diet:  Oaten chaff, copra, V&M mix, 30g magnesium oxide, grassy hay, unlimited pasture (kikuyu, panic, couch)


August 2009

By age 11 Hopper had become increasingly braced throughout his body, tying-up on numerous occasions after light work.  His coat was in poor condition, and temperament had deteriorated to include extreme aggression.  His feet remained unchanged, and his stride was still short and choppy.  He was mostly unrideable and euthanasia was considered as a humane solution to his multiple problems.


Note the sharp 'V' shaped angle at the base of the withers, the steeply sloping croup and straight hind leg.   His preferred posture was to stand leaning over his front feet as shown here.

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra, V&M mix, 30g magnesium oxide, various herbs,  unlimited Rhodes pasture

December 2009

In less than 4 months Hopper's posture had relaxed to a normal stance as shown here.   Note the apparent shortening of the withers and softer angle where the withers blend into the back, the rounded rump and increased angulation of the hind leg. Although he was no longer leaning over his front feet, he still had a short stride, was reluctant to canter and became stiff in the hindquarters after light lunge work.  Hopper had lost all his anxiety and aggression, becoming very quiet, relaxed and sweet tempered.


The major change in management was the addition of magnesium to his diet.

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra, V&M mix, 40g per day chelated magnesium supplement, unlimited Rhodes pasture.

April 2010

Within a further 4 months Hopper had regressed, showing the return of some body bracing, although still quiet and calm.  There was no improvement to his short, choppy style of movement.


His magnesium supplement had been reduced and calcium added, but at the time this was not thought to be significant.

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra, V&M mix, 20g per day chelated magnesium supplement, 20g chelated calcium supplement, unlimited Rhodes pasture.


Although his external feet still appeared to be strong, radiographs taken in June 2010 surprisingly revealed significant bone loss in both front feet but normal bone in the hind feet.  


It was therefore assumed that Hopper’s continuing poor movement must be due to discomfort in the front feet. On veterinary advice he was given a course of Pentosan injections, plus an anti-inflammatory green-lipped mussel extract, with very little improvement. 

Over the following weeks Hopper was fitted with boots and foam pads for the front feet, and then also for the back feet with no improvement to his movement; the stride was still short and choppy.

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra, V&M mix, 20g chelated magnesium supplement, 20g chelated calcium supplement, 100g salt (NaCl), unlimited Rhodes pasture 

 to see more of Hopper's hoof and radiograph comparisons

In September 2010 all supplemental calcium was removed from Hopper’s diet.  Within a couple of weeks his body had started to lose the bracing that had reappeared earlier in the year, as shown on this photo. 


He was still short stepping with a toe-strike, with or without boots and pads.


In October 2010 the chelated magnesium product was replaced by magnesium chloride.  

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra,  60g magnesium chloride, 5g chromium yeast, 60g unrefined sea salt,  unlimited Rhodes pasture.


In April 2011 20g sodium bicarbonate was added to Hopper’s daily feed.  Sodium bicarbonate was also added to the drinking water to raise pH from 5.5 to 7.2.


Within 3 days, Hopper was a different horse, able to extend his step length and confidently land on the heel on all terrain.  Over the next few months Hopper was worked several days each week to build core strength, with no return of the short, choppy stride that had been present most of his life.   There were no further instances of tying-up, and his mild cribbing also disappeared.


The mechanism by which sodium bicarbonate appears to have positively affected Hopper’s movement is not understood, although overall body acid-base balance may be a factor.  See the BICARB subpage under the FEEDS main page for further disussion on this topic.

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra, 60g magnesium chloride, 5g chromium yeast, 60g unrefined sea salt, 20g sodium bicarbonate,   unlimited Rhodes pasture, drinking water neutralized by sodium bicarbonate.

The mechanism by which sodium bicarbonate appears to have positively affected Hopper’s movement is not understood, although overall body acid-base balance may be a factor.  See the BICARB subpage under the FEEDS main page for further disussion on this topic.


The only remaining question was whether Hopper would be exercise tolerant.   There was only one way to find out, as shown below.   Hopper was encouraged to have fun exerting himself to the maximum for as long as he wanted, around half an hour.   There was no sign of any hindquarter stiffness or soreness that day or on following days.   Hopper has had no episodes of tying-up since sodium bicarbonate was added to his diet in 2011.


Hopper’s digital cushion (DC) dimensions changed as indicated on the chart below.   Measurements are in mm, taken from the highest point of the DC accessible externally between the heel bulbs, to the underside of the frog.   Texture improved from a soft gelpad-like feel to a firm-foam feel.   It is thought the improvements occurred after April 2011 when Hopper began moving with a normal step length and heel-landing.

Digital cushion dimensions on Hopper's front feet decreased, likely due to the widening of his heels stretching the DC tissue.


There was a large increase in DC dimensions in the hind feet due to Hopper's change in movement and use of his hind feet, as demonstrated in these two photos of the right hind taken in March 2010 and March 2012.

 to see more photographs of Hopper's digital cushion and lateral cartilage changes

Diet:  oaten chaff, copra, 60g magnesium chloride, 5g chromium yeast, 60g unrefined sea salt, 20g sodium       bicarbonate,   unlimited Rhodes pasture, drinking water neutralized by sodium bicarbonate.

Repeat radiographs in March 2012 showed there had been no further bone loss, and some indication of bone regeneration, ie the distal border of P3 appears smoother and the vascular channels appear less distorted.

 to see more of Hopper's hoof and radiograph comparisons


The improvements to the structure and function of Hopper's feet between 2003 and 2012 have been achieved entirely by diet. There was no change to trimming technique during that period.   The most significant changes occurred from late 2009 onwards at a time when exercise was limited to permanent pasture turnout and very light groundwork.


Supplementation with magnesium, chromium, unrefined sea salt and sodium bicarbonate, plus reduction of dietary elements such as calcium that may inhibit magnesium uptake in the horse, has improved the structure of Hopper's feet and relaxed his body posture. There is no restriction to 24-hr grazing, and little exercise beyond free-choice whilst grazing, yet Hopper is able to maintain these improvements.


Hopper has been consistently quiet and calm, with no spookiness or aggression, since his diet was changed late in 2009.

Hopper's problems did not originate in his feet;  it is thought that Hopper's short stride was primarily caused by the severe bracing throughout his body resulting from long-term magnesium deficiency.  The fast response to sodium bicarbonate being added to his diet indicates the significant P3 bone loss was not the cause of his short step length and toe-first landing.


At the age of 13 he became the sound, happy horse he should have been as a 3-yr old.

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