We have a bit of the ice crust going here with the recent bout of snow followed by a warming sun. I had fun watching my corgi/beagle mix as she would trot happily on top of the crust only to have a hind leg or two slip down into the snow on occasion. Slowed her pace and brought my attention to her hind feet.
“Damn, I forgot to trim her dewclaws again.” TC has big, prominent dewclaws. I remember reading that high-speed video has shown the dog’s dewclaw comes into action when it is running at top speeds. The theory is that the claw helps grab the ground for increased traction or helps stabilizes the ankle.
Relating everything to the horse is an easy leap for me. Naturally, I started wondering about ergots. I think of them as the dewclaw of the horse. Ergots are described as just a vestige of a finger no longer used–– or is it? Does the ergot play a part in stabilizing an ankle in snow, muck or deep footing? Does a jumper with an ergot (because the flexion is going to take that ergot all the way to the ground) have less or more injury then a jumper without one. Does an ergot have any impact on the speed going around a jump course? How does the ergot affect a horse sliding? It might slow it in competition, but in real life, would it help the animal navigate a slippery slope? Here are some high-speed videos of a race horse, polo field and sliding cow pony. As you watch the flexion think about what a prominent little nub at the back of the ankle might do.
These polo ponies don’t have ergots, but what if they did, how would it affect their movement when their fetlock is touching the ground? Would it have any affect on the hind foot hitting the front pastern?
And what about the effect of the foot sliding, would an ergot dig in and slow the action down?
We don’t work with our animals the way we did a hundred years ago so attributes that we don’t see come into play we don’t see a function for. These little dried up twigs at the back of the horse’s ankle aren’t particularly attractive either.
The majority of horses entering a show ring will have the ergots removed. My own two boys have feathers that cover the ergots so I’m pretty much oblivious to them. But I do wonder about them and if they still might not have an effect on the horse’s movement. Ergots have become very curious things for me.