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Today begins a new excerpt from Equine ER, the nonfiction book from Eclipse Press by Leslie Guttman, about Sid, a young colt who developed a severe case of clubfoot syndrome.
Sherri Wilson bred her Clydesdale mare to a champion New York Clyde using artificial insemination several years ago, but the birth was problematic, and the foal died thirty-six hours later.
In 2006, Wilson said what the heck, and bred the mare to one of her Friesian stallions. In July 2007 Sid was born. He came out brown like a Clyde, but more refined: a smaller head, finer bones. He had one white stocking on his left hind leg. He’d never be graded by the Dutch breeding associations like some of her other Friesians because he wasn’t purebred, but he became Wilson’s frisky prince, her favorite lawn ornament. He was reminiscent of Scooby-Doo in his clumsiness.
Sid had one of the worst cases of clubfoot syndrome the hospital had ever seen.
Sid, by his owner’s admission, was spoiled: He used to lie in her lap as a foal and wander around loose in her indoor arena as he grew. He liked to come up on the deck, and wait for her outside the house like a dog.
Wilson loved to watch the little guy kicking it up, running around. But her husband, Don, kept watching Sid, by now six months old, and saying, “I don’t know if he looks right.” Because the colt has the Clydesdale feathering covering his hooves, by the time they figured out a couple of months later that he was running on the tops of his toes like a ballet dancer en pointe, it was almost too late.
Wilson had read about Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in one of her horse magazines. From various articles, she knew Dr. Scott Morrison, the hospital’s head of podiatry, is one of the top people in the country when it comes to equine feet.
Sid had one of the worst cases of clubfoot syndrome that Morrison had ever seen, but he tried not to show his surprise as he examined the colt in front of Wilson during the initial evaluation. The colt was also the first clubfoot case involving both front legs (bilateral) the vet had seen at the hospital. Grading on a scale of 1 through 4, Sid’s condition was at grade 4+, the most severe. With grade 4+, the anterior, or forward part, of the hoof wall is at a 90-degree angle or more.
Without treatment, Sid’s hooves eventually would start to turn over. Once they went beyond vertical, the growth process would lose a counterforce and problems would snowball. In six months he wouldn’t be able to walk, and he’d likely develop laminitis, and sores and holes in his pastern.
Clubfoot syndrome, also called ballerina syndrome, happens when the tendons of a horse’s legs are contracted and don’t stretch as fast as the long bones grow. It can be congenital or developmental, and ranges in type and severity. In humans, clubfoot is congenital; there are some similarities to the equine version but many differences.
Although Assault, the 1946 Triple Crown Winner, was dubbed “The Club-Footed Comet,” he actually got the odd shape of his right front hoof (and subsequent limp at a walk or trot, but not a gallop) from stepping on what was believed to be a surveyor’s stake as a foal. His foot became infected, and part of the hoof had to be cut away and replaced with a special shoe. He didn’t have true clubfoot syndrome like Sid, and it’s rare for any Thoroughbred with a severe case to become an athlete because the stress is too much for its legs and feet. (But some humans born with clubfoot have been known not only to overcome it, but also become unforgettable athletes, people like Olympic soccer star Mia Hamm and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman.)
Next: Could Sid be saved?