Thursday, September 26, 2013

Dr Hiltrud Strasser and Her Holistic Hoof Care Method

Natalija Aleksandrova

Humans have invented all manner of metal horse shoes and their alternatives in their collective never-ending search for ways of prolonging the useful working life of horses, and, still no total success. Problems in the hooves and legs are still the most widespread cause for lameness and death of horses. But... what if a bare horse hoof is able to take care of itself? What if a bare hoof could protect itself even better than any artificial means invented by Man? Is it possible that the bare hoof is able to keep the locomotor functions of the horses' body functioning in health? Not only that but is it possible that a healthy bare hoof plays a very important role in general horse health? Dr Hiltrud Strasser, a German veterinarian and researcher came to exactly such a conclusion some decades ago. By following certain conditions regarding horse keeping and care, the hoof is allowed to function as it was designed to by nature. In allowing the horse a correct lifestyle the hoof stops being in need of artificial mechanical protection. The hoof's pathologies heal, and moreover, healed itself, the hoof becomes a key to the health of the whole body.

We know, that the hooves, amongst their other functions, also function as an auxillary blood pump in the horses' body. Besides this, they are responsible for the work of excreting spent proteins from the blood, using them for the building of hoof horn. Thus, we can imagine, how much the organism is affected when only these two functions of the hooves are impaired — the heart, the liver, the kidneys and the skin are the first to be damaged. These organs are all organs of excretion, if the spent protein cannot be ejected safely via hoof horn it returns to the body cavity and over-loads the internal excretion organs.

Dr. Strasser obtained her degrees in horse husbandry before study and the degree in veterinary medicine from both the Humboldt and Freien Universities in Berlin. She subsequently earned and obtained her Ph. D. from the Freien University. Dr Strasser has been researching horse lameness connected to problems in the hooves, the rehabilitation and the prevention of this, for over 30 years. More than 17 of those years in her own specialist Hoof Clinic in Tübingen, Germany.

In the beginning of her career, she was shocked to learn how many horses were actually euthanized at a very young age. She discovered that most of these horses were put down due to 'incurable' problems in their hooves, such as laminitis, founder, and navicular syndrome. During her years of observing and researching, she discovered that wild horses mostly live much longer than those domestic ones, kept in conditions considered 'common' for them. Her researches led her to an unexpected conclusion: we, ourselves, slowly kill our precious animals by what we consider our 'kindness' to them! The result of her researches, comparisons of life style and hoof shape between domestic and wild horses has become what is commonly is called the 'Strasser Method' across the world. And, what is more correctly called 'Strasser Knowledge', as it is not limited by mere trimming instructions only. Strasser knowledge instructs on proper biologically correct horse living conditions, the living environments influence on the whole body and on the hooves, the functions of the hooves as an important body organ, and the hooves connection to and their effect in the whole horse organism.

1. Dr Strasser during World Holistic Hoof Care Conference, Tübingen, Germany.
2. Dr Strasser teaching her students at the Hoof Clinic.

Dr Strasser says: “The hoof form which we see in equines today has developed over many millions of years and has obviously proven itself. We must thus assume that there is no better possible shape for this organ. Once we accept this, we must try to understand this organ in all its details, since it (like all components of an organism) is in turn connected to the other organs and functions. Therefore, if something changes in the hoof, this change influences and affects the entire organism. Unfortunately, this fact is often forgotten. Organ problems are considered isolated from the rest of the organism, which leads to inadequate diagnoses and even more unsatisfactory treatment results.”

Strasser Method works perfectly in keeping healthy bare hooves healthy through the horse's entire life. As well as working wonders in rehabilitating complicated hoof pathologies when traditional approaches fail. Dr Strasser discovered that when you remove obstacles, often created by the human themself (too long heels, shoes, stabling, etc.), you allow that amazing ability of the hooves to activate self-healing. During her years in her clinic, Dr Strasser watched many cases of complete rehabilitation in horses with serious problems of the locomotor apparatus. Horses who came to the clinic after they were 'prescribed' but not given the last 'medicine' — euthanasia... horses who left sound.

Some horse professionals still might find the Method controversial or even radical. This is usually because Dr Strasser's approach is very different from classic belief — different from what is considered as 'generally accepted standards' and different from what is suggested by many veterinarians and farriers. For example, in a case of chronic laminitis (rotation of 3d phalanx with or without separation), the classic traditional approach is raising the heels. Which is based on the belief that the procedure relieves stress on the deep digital flexor tendon (DDFT) and laminae, caused by rotation of the coffin bone. As Dr Strasser explains, raising the heels only makes the rotation worse through overloading the dorsal part of the laminar corium and reducing the blood circulation in a hoof. Dr Strasser discovered, that when the coffin bone is ground parallel and the hoof is fully loaded, the pulling forces affecting the DDFT, are directed more backwards than upwards. (A recent study led by Glenn Ramsey, a PhD candidate at New Zealand's University of Auckland proved Strasser's observation. The study, "The effect of hoof angle variations on dorsal lamellar load in the equine hoof," was published in the September 2011 issue of the Equine Veterinary Journal). Trimmed in accordance with the Strasser Method, the coffin bone is brought back to the ground parallel position under load. This allows optimal blood circulation to return to a hoof, the load to spread evenly through the coffin bone and the hoof and this in turn, allows hoof horn to be produced at a higher rate and better quality.

It is important to know, that the trimming techniques developed by Dr Strasser could only be applied successfully (or in some cases, its application could be supervised successfully) by a Strasser Hoofcare Professional (SHP). Strasser Hoofcare Professionals are specialists who go through a 2 year long course in holistic hoof care and lameness rehabilitation by Dr Strasser and who receive an appropriate certificate. There are cases known, where trimmers, who tried to use the Strasser Method, without the proper education made horses lame and ill. Applied correctly to healthy hooves by an educated specialist, the Method itself never makes a horse feel pain. But, when proper circulation is restored in a damaged and numbed hoof, and as a result the nerves perceptiveness is restored it is reasonably logical to expect a lameness to appear or to worsen upon application of the Method. A hoof is numbed through shoeing or incorrect hoof care, when blood returns the nerves effectively wake up and report all that they could not when they were numbed. Applied correctly, the Method only reveals the pain from the inner hoof damage and pathologies (different types of contraction, stretched lamina, corium bruising, etc.). Abscesses are not rare during the process of rehabilitating damaged, pathological hooves, as this is the way the body removes big fragments of dead tissue. But most horses, treated by the Strasser Method, receive and show great relief at their first trimming, and their condition steadily improves upon subsequent trimmings.

The horse with acute laminitis just brought for treatment to the Hoof Clinic in Tübingen.

The horse is sound after treatment at the Clinic by Dr Strasser.

Application of the Method is impossible without a deeper understanding of the knowledge and deep involvement in the process of rehabilitation by a horse owner. Those who decide to follow the Strasser Method must comprehend that hooves are part of the whole organism, and cannot be treated without taking into consideration the whole organism. Often a problem with classic western medicine — is suppressing pain symptoms while not finding the real cause of a disease and not considering the whole body. Dr Strasser understood that many health problems seen in stabled and shod horses are often just consequences of an incorrect hoof form and impaired hoof functions. Amongst such problems-consequences are, for example, skin disorders, allergies, chronic respiratory disorders, repeated colics, and more. Dr Strasser discovered that almost always these problems disappear as soon as a horses' living conditions are adapted to be as close to the natural model as possible and a hoof form is brought to a physiologically correct one. Strasser Hoofcare Professionals are educated in finding and removing real causes of pain in the hooves, as well as recognizing how much time a horse will need afterwards for full healing. Some horse owners find it difficult to understand that a horse could feel some discomfort during the healing process, and refuse to allow the horse enough time for healing. In some serious cases it can be a really long time that a horse needs to complete the healing process. Usually, misunderstandings regarding the Strasser Method disappear as soon as a person starts comprehending the principles of the form and functions of the healthy bare hoof, which developed in a process of millions years of its evolution.

A heavy founder with coffin bone protrusion case. The horse is fully sound after 18 months, treated at the Hoof Clinic by Dr Strasser.

The Strasser Method is based on scientifically recognized knowledge in the areas of:

Living tissue
• requires regular circulation
• requires a certain metabolic temperature
• Nerves can only function in an environment with active metabolism
• The coffin bone of an equine must be ground-parallel
• The coffin joint must be over the center of the coffin bone base
• In a horse at rest, the tendons of the extensor and flexor apparatus are in an energy neutral balance
• Tendons are shortened via muscle contractions to produce movement. Continuous muscle contraction (muscle tonus) when standing results in the muscles cramping
• In the leg, blood is pumped upward by the hooves and the joints. This is only possible with movement
• Excretion of hoof horn is linked to the amount of circulation, which is dependent on the amount of movement
• Production of hoof horn at a certain order of magnitude is necessary to relieve blood and body metabolism
• Over 70% of the natural behavior of the horse consists of movement
• There is no day/night rhythm
• Horn production and wear are in physiological harmony
Physics and Mathematics
• Lever forces on a slanted, truncated cone lead to expansion with physiologically correct hoof form, and to contraction with unphysiological hoof form
• The pumping action is only possible with the alternating flattening and concaving of the hoof sole. It is not possible with fixation of the solar vault

For horse owners it is recommendable to read the books of Dr. Strasser on horse's hooves and health:
"A Life Time of Soundness"
"Shoeing — A Necessary Evil?"
"Metal in the Mouth"
"Who is afraid of Founder?"
"Navicular Diseas — No More!"
The books are available in German, English, French, Russian, Norwegian, Polish and Checz languages.

The english editing courtesy by Tamlyn Labuschagne Ennor

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