by Larkin Greene
One of the most pleasing sights to any hoof care practitioner, when looking at the bottom of a horse’s foot, is the presence of a healthy, functional frog. Chances are, if the frog is healthy, well developed and in contact with the ground, the rest of the foot will be relatively healthy as well. When the frog loses its relationship with the ground, a host of potential problems are set into motion, including lack of protection, contracted heels, reduced capacity for absorbing concussion, and greater stress on the internal hoof structures. Furthermore, a compromised frog often provides the environment for fungi and bacteria to set up shop, complicate treatment, and lead to thrush. That list should be enough to make folks want to take care of it, perhaps even revere it.
Historically, restoring frog function has been problematic, especially when a loss of overall mass puts it a considerable distance from the ground. The challenge, in addition to treatment for pathology, is to redistribute load bearing on the bottom of the foot. This raises three questions: how does one redistribute load evenly, how much support is the right amount, and how can it be applied consistently? In the early days when horses were largely utilitarian, applications were more experimental, with mixed and unpredictable results. Typically, the choice was a leather pad with various combinations of packing including, pine tar, venice turpentine, oakum, straw, and cotton. Unfortunately, these applications provided neither uniform support, nor reliable protection from debris and sand ingression. Thankfully, today there are a number of material choices and methods that appear to be effective and consistent, including steel and aluminum heart-bar shoes, synthetic shoes, frog support pads, dental impression materials, and urethane pour-in products.
In the late 1990’s, Vettec introduced EquiPak, a fast-setting liquid polyurethane that could be poured into the bottom of a healthy foot for both protection and varying degrees of support. It allowed farriers and vets to create a uniformly supportive, flexible pad made from a material that was known for distributing load and dampening concussive force. EquiPak was an important development in modern materials because it also had everything a user could want; it was really quick, bonded well, lasted well, and many variations grew from the imagination of those who used the product. It was the first product that bonded reliably to the sole and frog while keeping out debris (urine and manure) throughout the shoeing cycle. Not only did it effectively protect and support the bottom of the foot, users reported that it often restored concavity and increased sole thickness as well. The variations and additional materials that grew out of this basic application include frog pours, stepped pours, combination pours when different material consistencies are required in the front or back half of the foot, even layering to create soft materials against the solar surface, and more durable materials against the ground. Today, over twenty years later, there are many ways to create a pour-in pad, and an abundance of products that can be combined to support healthy frog development and function.
This article is from The Natural Angle Volume 18, Issue 1. For more Natural Angle articles and tips, click here.