Carpal Valgus in My Newborn Foal

by Tina Burton

Breeding from my mare was something I always wanted to do one day. After 11 years of having her to myself, competing in all disciplines, last year I decided it was now or never. Bella is a Dales-cross, 14.2hh with a fabulous temperament and good conformation; she was a maiden.

I decided that with my first foal - I plan to have two - I wanted to have something similar to the mare but with lighter bone and more height. As this was her first foal, I also did not want to put her to a large stallion. I was keen to improve on her paces as in dressage she was not achieving more that 8’s for the walk and trot, and even though a high level dressage and showing judge had said her canter is exceptional for a native-bred, she hasn’t always shown this as she has a tendency to become hot and tense between the boards. She enjoys lateral work and has also won at jumping, jumping leagues and cross country, so has been a fabulous all-rounder.

I decided that I would look at the Spanish breeds as she had long reminded me of an English version, but I wanted a dark bay/black stallion with exceptional movement, who could not be long in the back or heavy in type. After much searching, I found Romero XXV (photo below), bred by Hros de Manuel Gonzalaz de Estrada in Spain, and now standing with Margaret and Geoff Shawcross at Gazaro Stud in Liss, Hampshire (www.gazarostud.com). He is bay (AaEe), 15.3hh, born in 1995, by Urano II out of Romera XVII.

Romero has had an unrivalled show career, being placed first by over 35 Judges and winning over 15 show championships. He has been the UK National Champion Stallion for 2 consecutive years, and the UK Movement champion.

Romero

He has won all the prestigious shows in the UK, including BAPSH, Royal Richmond, Royal Windsor and Suffolk County, and was the first horse to be entered into LIMPRE, the Spanish Book of Merit, by winning in the UK.

In 2002 he was the UK Supreme Male Champion and unbeaten in every show he entered. His ridden career started at the age of 7yrs, and continues under the patient guidance of International Dressage Judge, Barry Marshall, with sights firmly set on Grand Prix level and he continues to amass showing successes under saddle, taking the Iberian Ridden Champion, In-hand Iberian Champion and Foreign Breed Supreme Champion at Alton Show and being the Iberian Ridden Champion & Foreign Breed Ridden Champion and Movement Champion at Dorset Show this year.

Romero XXV

Equinox, known as Echo, was born 13th June this year and I am very pleased with the result. Bella has thrown a lighter boned dark bay/black filly who is showing a fantastic natural over-track with a balanced and light canter. However, getting to the point where I could confidently make this statement has not been straightforward, as Echo was born with Carpal Valgus, a not-uncommon angular deformity in foals.

Angular Limb Deformity (ALD) is described by the location and the direction of the angle point - lateral (outward) or medial (inward) deviation. The angle point of most limb deformities is associated with a joint; the carpus (knee joint) is, by far, the most common joint affected, and the fetlock (ankle joint) and tarsus (hock joint) can also be affected. More than one leg is often involved but in Echo’s case, just the near fore was affected, albeit quite seriously and for a long period of time. The terms ‘varus’ (bow-legged) and ‘valgus’ (knock-kneed) are used to describe the direction of the angle point in the carpus (knee). For example, if a foal had a knock-kneed angular deformity involving the carpus, this would be referred to as a carpal valgus; if the foal was bow-legged at the knees, this would be referred to as carpal varus.

In my research I found that ALDs occur in foals of all breeds. Foals can either be born with deviated limbs or develop the problem later during their first year of life when rapid changes are occurring in the bones and joints. Echo's near fore on one side of the long bone was growing faster than the opposite side. This occurs in the growth plate near the joint resulting in deviation of the limb. This asymmetric growth may develop as a result of abnormal weight-bearing on the limb such as with a lameness, inflammation of the growth plate (physitis), excessive body development in relation to bone/joint development, or injury to the growth plate. This may also be due to a congenitally deformed bone, and to ligaments of a joint being too weak to maintain proper alignment of the limb.

echo photo 2

Right:
As she was quite weak, the vet recommended box rest and after day 5 she was much improved but with the near fore still showing a deviation

echo photo 3

Left: The vet then said to turn out, short periods at first and increase time every day. Week 2, we moved to 24/7 turnout with other mares and foals but within the first week could see the leg getting worse

Right:
A different vet recommended restricted exercise and a periosteal strip operation. Periosteal stripping and transection involves lifting the covering of the bone (periosteum) just above the growth plate on the “short” side of the long bone. The surgical procedure is used to enhance the growth on that side of the long bone (such as the radius) that is slower, in the hope that it will ‘catch up’ with the other side.

Luckily my yard owner had a stable available for me to use, and I only turned Bella and Echo out when I had to muck out; I also restricted mucking out to once a day. As the surgical procedure seemed quite a radical intervention, I researched more into treatments, and after gaining advice from people that had dealt with the same problem, I decided to try remedial farriery first.

I located a remedial farrier who was experienced with these conditions. He trimmed Echo’s foot every 8 days or so, basically trimming more off one side of the hoof to encourage bone growth on the other side of the long bone. I was astounded at how quickly this made a difference.
Echo at 8 weeks old - 5 weeks of remedial trimming, and now starting to leave trimming to every 2-3 weeks

Echo 4
Echo 5

Left:
9 weeks old - farrier now to extend trimming to every 3-4 weeks. At weekends, a few hours’ turnout was allowed, to help us monitor progress.

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Echo 6

Right:
13 weeks old and she finally has a normal trim as she is straight! At last she and her mum can go out!

I’m delighted to say that she now enjoys life and her freedom exactly like any other foal. The remedial farriery has made a remarkable difference and has been completely non-invasive - I’m very pleased I didn’t rush down the surgical route.

I am already well on the way to making stallion choices for Bella for 2010 and this time I am tempted by a warmblood!

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