Category Archives: General



You are probably asking ‘Now what does floating the horse have to do with the farrier?’ I shoe a lot of horses from my home property – most of my clients bring their horses here and some arrive very late, citing the same old problem that the horse wouldn’t load, and consequently arrives still in a distressed state, which makes shoeing it less than desirable. There is also the danger involved in loading an untrained horse that jumps sideways off the ramp and splits its hooves or pulls a shoe off, or various other injuries which all add to the drama.

So what is the problem with training the horse to load properly?

There are many and varied ways of training your horse to load, and training the handler to train the horse is the first step in almost all methods, or should be. I agree with any method as long as it is peaceful and doesn’t waste time. Horse owners spend great amounts of money to learn to ride correctly, but float training seems to be way down the list.

So often the handler leads the horse up to the float, the horse hesitates, so the handler pulls on the lead rope (which lifts the horse’s head up), then the horse resists some more, the handler pulls a little harder and the head goes even higher.

The rule to remember is that the horse will never go where he cannot see what he is expected to step onto. You wouldn’t either, so can you blame the horse!

The solution is a lunging rein – nearly every horse owner has one in their possession, and this can be an excellent aid to float training your horse. Simply make a loop in one end, big enough to fit comfortably over the horse’s rump and to rest just above the hocks. Pass the other end through the lead ring of the halter. Now lead the horse to the float ramp and apply pressure on the rump rope while at the same time releasing the pressure on the lead rope.

You will see the horse lower his head to look where he is about to put his feet, then he will walk straight up the ramp. The handler has used logic and the horse has responded.

So then lead the horse all the way into the float, and use the rump rope (sometimes referred to as a breeching rope) to tie him where you usually secure the lead rope. Then you can go back and secure the tail bar and ramp.

The reverse of this process will often cure a horse from rushing out when unloading, and needs only to be repeated a few times for both handler and horse to reach a peaceful understanding about floating.



A letter in a magazine article regarding floating problems when the horse was on the driver’s side but not when on the passenger side caught my attention and prompted me to respond. My own observations have been gathered over forty-nine years as a competitive horseman, colt breaker and Master Farrier.

As a colt breaker I used to wonder why some colts mouthed better on one side than the other – was it because of something I was doing? I would change my methods with that particular horse, spend more time on the slow side, but still they behaved differently and were uneven to control.

Then as a farrier, I noticed when shoeing these ‘uneven’ horses for the first time that about 99% of them were always half a size different in their front hoofs.

So, relating that back to their initial mouthing tendency, there seemed to be a pattern emerging that the colt which was slow to yield on the near-side rein nearly always had his off-fore hoof half a size larger. It was exactly the reverse for the colt who was slow to yield on the off side rein and was larger in the near-side front hoof. The same pattern followed diagonally on the hind foot sizes.

That was about 1970, and by then I had been working with horses for around fifteen years, quite happily ignorant of how they really worked.

From then on, every horse I came into contact with either as a breaker, a rider or as a farrier, I closely observed the relationship between hoof sizes and what I call ‘athletic tendencies’, and they could be separated into three groups – left handed, right handed or ambidextrous.

I used to subject owners and riders of horses I was shoeing to a quick quiz. After establishing my own opinion of their horse’s tendencies, I would ask them if the horse worked better one particular way than the other. Their answer always consolidated my theory.

When the horse’s hooves were identical in size, upon my quick quiz, these horses proved to be not only balanced in either direction but also good at whatever they were tried at, and obviously ambidextrous.

So, going back to the original breaking-in procedure, I was now able to work out a young horse’s tendencies, even before putting him into any mouthing gear, and I could adopt different mouthing techniques to allow for his left or right handedness. It was also possible to anticipate which way he would turn if he decided to buck, even in a panic situation.

Further long term observation has shown that foals as young as three weeks old already show hoof size differences, and it is quite possible to detect a left handed or right handed or ambidextrous trait even then

To return to the letter, Robyn’s experience in floating her horse and noting that it was OK on the driver’s side, and terrible on the passenger side, would indicate that her horse is simply right handed, and needs to spread his near hind (his dominant hind leg) past the point of his hip to balance in the float.

So when her horse is put into the passenger side, his near hind (which is his strong hind) is up against the outside wall of the float, and he cannot spread his leg out as wide as he needs to balance, hence panic and scrambling occurs.

Full credit to Robyn for achieving a solution to her problem, now she can also understand the origin of her horse’s behaviour – he is a right handed horse which will only ever be comfortable on the driver’s side or floated at a forty five degree angle.


Life for the farrier is a constant tug of war.

A client phones to book a horse in for hoof care and I am told in conversation that the horse is 17 hands high, has an eight inch wide hoof, wears a seven foot six inch rug, weighs 450 kilos and has a four foot eight inch girth.

The next one has minis, their height is measured in centimetres not hands, so now I know how far my knees are off the ground and their vital statistics all seem to be metric.

Then someone is on the phone with a lameness issue, describing the horse’s legs as being the left front or right front or the left hind and the right hind, so before we can begin to understand each other, I have to ask the question, ‘are you standing looking at the horse or are you going the same way as the horse’ – it really makes a difference when resolving a lameness issue.

What happened to the standard where every horse and pony was described in hands high? Plus we have always described their legs as being the near fore, off fore, near hind and off hind, the near side being the side nearest the kerb whether it be a saddle horse or a carriage horse, and we should forget about following America, as our horses still speak Australian – their horses even have ankles where our horses still have fetlocks, plus only in America do they have aluminum race plates.

However like most older farriers I still measure a hoof in inches to cut a length of steel to make a shoe which now measures for example 12 centimetres wide.

In the normal leg (Pic 1) viewed externally, generally if the hoof pastern angle is parallel an x-ray will show that all the bones from the fetlock joint down, namely P1, P2 and P3, are all in alignment.

However, note that I said ‘generally’ because I often find that people talk of ‘P3 rotation’ in the case of a club foot where the front of the pedal bone is not parallel with the front of the hoof wall but P1, P2 and P3 are still aligned correctly. (Pic 2). It is not P3 rotation but simply a long toe and high heel – visible even in the x-ray.

Another x-ray often interpreted as having P3 rotation is when the heels are too high which forces the P2-P3 joint forwards and it appears that P3 has rotated at the tip. (Pic 3). However when the high heels are lowered correctly P1, P2 and P3 are all aligned correctly.

Yet another change in terminology seems to be describing the Side Bone on P3 as being ‘spurs’ and being ‘normal’, hence not considered as a reason for intermittent lameness. (Pic 4). In the days when horses were used as delivery cart horses and spent all day working on hard paved streets, they ended up with Side Bone from concussion on hard roads, as can still be seen throughout Europe on the carriage horses used for tourist duty on the cobbled streets.

We don’t usually see a lot of Side Bone now in our pleasure horses, but over the past six months I have seen four cases with obvious side bone in the x-rays which was not commented on in the search for a cause of intermittent lameness. Maybe it is just another old fashioned thing that the modern vets and farriers do not consider. Maybe this is all just being part of the 21st century, however in the quest to resolve any hoof related lameness, it is important to look at all the evidence, and to use correct terminology.



Horses don’t have hands of course but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a dominant side. And this left or right-handedness is an important concern for farriers, trainers and riders.

If a horse is right handed, when you look at the off fore hoof closely you will notice it is bigger than the near fore hoof. And conversely, if it is left handed, the near fore hoof will be bigger than the off fore hoof.

The reason for this is that from day one of the horse’s life, its brain dictates that it will use its naturally stronger foot, and so it develops bigger. Sometimes the difference is so small that the only way you can tell is to feel the width of the coronet band (ie the hairline at the top of the hoof) and then compare this with the opposite foot in the same manner. Your fingers will notice the difference.

In my opinion right- and left-handed horses are in equal proportions, and an ambidextrous horse (ie both feet exactly the same size) is around 1:1000 and is brilliant at anything you ask him to do.


From the farrier’s point of view it is important to be able to recognise right or left handed tendencies. Many years ago, working as a colt breaker and farrier, I noticed that most young horses seemed to be more tractable on one side than the other. Later on when the time came for their first shoeing, it was notable that the fronts were different sizes, and that the larger shoe corresponded with the more tractable side.

When trimming or shoeing, always start with the larger foot, then aim to keep the smaller foot as close in size as possible to the larger foot. This is because we want to make the horse as feel as ambidextrous or balanced as possible. When we have finished the large foot, we can then measure it and trim the small foot much more sparingly to end up as close in size as possible to the large foot.

When I was fifteen years old, Old Joe, my mentor who was then eighty, always taught me to shape up the shoes in matching sized pairs in order to see right away if there was any difference in the horse’s hooves.

At that stage I never thought to ask why there was a difference and he never volunteered the information unless I asked the question. Many years later when I realised the value of the information, I made a point of observing the tendency of every horse and have spent the past thirty years studying this relationship of hoof size to natural athletic tendencies.


The first observation was born out of my own need for self preservation, and I noted that if the young horse bucked, it would always go to the side of its largest hoof. Quite a useful piece of information for any handler. This was also his most tractable side during the mouthing (bit training) process.

As a farrier, I began asking every client or horse owner what they used the horse for and how did it perform, then also noted any difference in hoof size. It soon became obvious that there was a predictable pattern of behaviour. A larger near-fore worked easier to the left while a larger off-fore worked easier to the right but where both fronts were of equal size, the horse was easy on both sides.

I was born left handed but over time have learned to be about 90% ambidextrous. In my shoeing techniques, I have tried to achieve as near as possible equal sized and shaped fronts on every horse, together with the owner’s cooperation in schooling the horse a little more on his weak side.

Sometimes there was an improvement for a period of time, and appearance wise they looked better with even sized hooves; but their natural tendency was still to favour the side of the natural strong hoof. Some horses become quite frustrated if we pressure them to work on their weak side.

To reinforce this left and right hand study, I practised recognising the different hoof size as they walked towards me for shoeing, and tested it by telling the owner in advance how the horse would favour or resist accordingly and the accuracy was amazing.


For the thoroughbred horse, racing anti-clockwise favours the right handed horse. Conversely, in other countries or in some states of Australia which race clockwise, this is to the advantage of the left handed horse.

The larger and stronger front hoof is balanced by the opposing larger and stronger hind hoof. While practising roll-backs on my left handed polocrosse horse, I noticed that he took half a step more to do a left rollback than a right rollback; thus he was left handed because to do a rollback, he would always pivot on his stronger hind which for a left handed horse would be the diagonal hind, in this case the off-hind.

On the polocrosse field it was beneficial for me to recognise the weak side of my opponent’s horse. It would obviously be of great benefit for riders of competitive horses to be able to identify these natural left and right handed traits. And similarly for rodeo horses coming out of a chute.

Many horse buyers purchase horses at auction, and look to a veterinarian for guidance on the horse’s health and soundness, while overlooking the fact that the horse may be totally unsuitable for the purpose for which they require it simply because of its natural athletic tendencies.


Working on a thoroughbred breeding, training and racing stud, I was able to observe that foals as early as twenty one days old were developing a difference in hoof size, and by the age of weaning, without the influence of any humans, were already noticeably left or right handed or ambidextrous.

As foals they were handled only briefly then allowed to grow up in the paddock, haltered every six weeks for hoof inspection, and by yearling preparation time they were definitely in the groove of their natural tendencies.

During the breaking in and the mouthing process, again the young horse wants to favour its natural born athletic movement, giving to one rein much easier than the other. My observation over this long period of time is that horses, like us, are born left or right handed, with only about one in a thousand born ambidextrous. So often I have heard horses criticised for not racing kindly clockwise or anti-clockwise when, in reality, they are running against their natural dominant tendency, and if they are given a chance to race the other way, their performance will improve.

Many clients and horse owners who are unaware of left and right handedness in horses are initially dubious that such a condition even exists. When shown how to recognise this, they have found their horses much easier to work with and understand.

Over the years I have taught many students to recognise this natural born trait in horses, as well as how farriers, by using consistent standards of shoeing, can help the horse and rider maintain a higher level of natural ability.

I receive a lot of queries relating to this. One query concerned a horse that when lunged to the off-side at a trot he was stepping short. He didn’t appear to have any soreness in the shoulder of legs and there was no injury to his hoof. He didn’t dip his head when trotting. The horse was obviously a very left-handed youngster. I suggested giving him plenty of room when lunging to his off-side, letting him start off in bigger circles until his confidence built up, then gradually over days or weeks asking him to try smaller circles. He will learn to become more flexible to the off-side as he gets stronger, but may always be predominantly left-handed.


Very few farriers, trainers or horse riders think seriously about the left and right handed tendencies of the horses in their care.

It is a very interesting study, and when understood it has a huge influence on us and the way we may work better with the horse, to achieve far better results.

From the age of one month it becomes obvious in their hoof development, that in left handed foals the near fore will be slightly larger than the off fore; it can often be seen visually or it can be felt with your fingertips at the widest part of the coronary band. (Practise this and you will find that the fingertips can pick up even a slight difference and give you a great advantage in fine tuning your hoof care.)

Obviously the right handed foal will have the opposite tendencies while the ambidextrous foal will be even on both hooves.

This same difference is also applicable to the hinds and will be diagonally opposite to the fronts. So that we can understand the working tendencies, it is important to know that the left handed horse’s near fore and off hind are the dominant legs and thus have the larger hooves. The right handed horse has dominance in the off fore and the near hind. The ambidextrous horse will be even all around.

Moving forwards, the left handed horse will be easier to mouth on the near side; it will be able to turn in smaller circles to the left at the walk, trot and canter, but at the gallop on a race track it will be able to rail better in a clockwise direction with its strong leg on the outside. Galloped anticlockwise, its strong leg will cause it to drift out on the corners and also in the run under pressure to the line.

However, in the case of the left handed horse doing rollbacks as for cutting or camp drafting or polocrosse, they need to move slightly backwards first to engage their hind quarters, and they will spin much better to the right, as it is their stronger leg.

The exact opposite describes the athletic tendencies of the right handed horse.

Unless we really understand that the horse is born with these natural athletic tendencies, we may start going wrong from the very first time we put a hand on the young horse. So, before starting the mouthing process, it is very important to be able to identify the left or right hand tendencies and you will then be able to avoid causing resistance on the weaker side by simply understanding that this youngster needs more room to move in bigger circles on its weak side than on its dominant side. We often hear of a galloper needing a lugging bit to stop it from running out on the turns, when all it needs is to run in the opposite direction so that the strong leg is on the outside.

The well informed or observant trainer or rider or competitor will have already worked out that their horse performs better one way than the other but they also need to convey this to their farrier, who should then be able to work towards reducing the stress on the larger hoof and allowing the small hoof to develop and become closer in size to the larger hoof. It is so easy to get it all wrong by starting on the smaller hoof first and un-intentionally over trimming the hoof.

The correct sequence for hoof preparation on a left handed horse must always be NF, OF, OH, NH. And for the right handed horse it must be OF, NF, NH, OH. This system will result in us always dressing the dominant hoof first each and every time and will also give a better chance at getting all hooves even, as the aim is to achieve even hooves so that the horse will feel like it’s ambidextrous.

This recognition of left and right handedness can be seen in every form of horse activity, even at rodeos, where depending on which way the chute gate opens, the horse has to jump out to the left or the right, but when its fronts hit the ground, the left handed horse will buck to the left and the right handed horse will buck to the right, always to their strong side.

The truly ambidextrous horses are few and far between, but their hooves are all exactly the same size, they invariably have good conformation and correct leg alignment. They will usually be confident and competitive at anything you choose to set them to – however be aware that if they do buck they can do so very well either way.

There is always one exception to every ideal principle though – I have only ever found one horse which had the two big hooves on the same side, in this case it was the near fore and the near hind; it was a pacer and I still can’t fathom any reason why it was so for this horse.



I would like to like to direct the attention of all competitive horse owners to the importance of correct hoof balance and alignment. Having recently attended a major country show and camp draft event, I was somewhat dismayed to see so many horses (about 90%) standing cow-hocked and splay-footed, patiently waiting to go into the led-in ring or hack ring, with no chance of success before a judge who has to look not only at conformation, but also movement and correct stance.

Then onto the highly competitive arena of the camp draft where I saw gifted horsemen and women riding stockhorses with more natural cow sense than any good kelpie, but again the horses were standing cow hocked, with long toes, low heels, splay footed and worst of all, wearing flat shoes which have no grip for executing fast turns etc.

The expense of time and money to bring these horses up to this high level of competition is enormous, but completely futile unless their feet are correct.

Time and again watching the camp draft I saw disappointed riders leave the arena, disqualified because the horse could not keep up with the beast and turn it before the fence. Sure some of it is just bad luck; the rest of it is lack of the correct preparation of the horse’s hoof. I casually viewed the feet of fifty horses before they competed and of those I only saw two which were shod correctly.

Consider this basic principle: the flight of a hoof will travel in the direction of its longest point. Long toes and low heels slow down the break-over or forward speed of the hoof and subsequently the horse. (To understand this put on a pair of long toed boots yourself and try running!) If you then add to those long toes and low heels a hoof which is longer on the outside wall, you then have a splay footed hoof, which causes the horse to paddle and slows down his movement sideways, and this is only the front half of the problem.

Viewing the horse from behind, if he is standing cow-hocked, his toes are pointing out, and the hoof will move forward on an inside arc, often hitting the opposite hind pastern causing pain and injury, and it will land with its toe pointing out, slowing down his movement sideways, as well as forward.

More importantly is what all this is doing to the mental attitude and confidence of these potentially brilliant horses, and their riders. Adding to the dilemma is the fact that all these competitions are run on heavy loose surfaces, again slowing the horse down.

The basic principles of correct hoof preparation are as simple and unchangeable as the ABC, and when applied will allow the horse to move in any direction freely and with ease. (See diag.) Then follows the selection of horseshoes, for which the guideline is that a shoe should be as light as possible to allow the horse to perform his task. Flat section heavy shoes do not help camp draft horses; it would be like asking a ballerina to perform in hob nail boots.

If we are going to compete on soft heavy surfaces, a good light concave shoe is vitally important. These concave shoes are designed to drop any soil as it is picked up, thus maintaining a good free grip for going forward and turning. If shoeing is not a problem why not fit a set of concave aluminium shoes, just for the competition days, and if you think it won’t make any difference, try running one hundred metres in your work boots, then change into your joggers and do it again.

Competitions now are very fine tuned and hotly contested, and it is my belief that you can be at least fifty percent more competitive and have stronger healthier horses if you are prepared to work on your horses from the feet up. Information and practical help on shoeing is always available, no matter where you live; just don’t hesitate in your quest for knowledge, you owe it to that beautiful horse I saw you riding.



Teaching horseshoeing to ringers on a West Queensland station recently, my youngest pupil was Henry, a very determined three year old who was quite adamant that he was going to trim his own pony, and would I just please tell him how to do it. We had the same battle when it came to shoeing the pony, and for the sake of the pony, I won that battle, and Henry had to be content with nailing the trimmed offcuts to the fence posts. I put a tiny pair of aluminium racing plates on the front feet, which really impressed Henry no end.

A week later I had an email from Henry’s mum Prue, to say that Henry had won the local mini-camp draft against seven and eight year olds, and that it must have been my good shoeing. I don’t take credit for that at all; with that sort of determination everyone should watch out for Henry in another ten years.

Kids starting out this young need a bomb proof horse, as do kids of any age, to let them build up their confidence and skills. So what should we look for? Firstly we should look at their origins.


It is interesting to note that there are no indigenous Australian horses. Seven horses landed with the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788. But what about ponies? Their origins vary from state to state.

In South Australia we are fortunate to have the Coffin Bay Pony, which I believe should be the true Pony Oz. Their ancestors were the 60 Timor ponies bought by Captain Hawson from the Rajah of Sumatra in 1839, to be used for breeding horses for the Eyre Peninsula. You will remember in The Man From Snowy River, where the stripling stranger made an epic ride on a part bred Timor pony.

In January I ran a course at Mount Pleasant in South Australia, where we were joined for lunch by the local pony club kids on their Coffin Bay ponies and I was treated to a display of bareback riding and acrobatics.

After completing a teaching schedule around the length and breadth of Western Australia, I finished with a course at Cummins on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia and was treated to a tour of the Coffin Bay Ponies new habitat (known as the Brumbies’ Run) by Milton Stevens, President of the Coffin Bay Pony Preservation Society. This really was a treat and should be added as a star attraction for horse-oriented tourists along with other SA treasures. I am an oyster addict, and SA oysters including Coffin Bay oysters should be on the list of national treasures.

The majority of the Brumbies’ Run is scattered limestone outcrops with sparse topsoil, difficult for an old fellow like me to even walk across in places, but these ponies run with gay abandon over the lot. When we got close enough, I could see their legs and hooves were in perfect condition, foals and adults alike.

The CBP Preservation Society now maintains a herd of one stallion, 20 mares and foals at foot. The herd has now bred down to a hardy, strong legged surefooted 12 – 14 hand sturdy pony, mainly brown in colour, with very hard hooves and a constitution able to utilise a wide variety of hard sparse feed plants.

The Coffin Bay yearlings are auctioned each year on Easter Saturday in the centre of beautiful Coffin Bay. During summer the yearlings are removed and removed to handling yards where the Society registers every pony, then runs them through a horse handling ‘school’ where they are well handled, brushed, taught to lead, have their feet picked up, taught to float-load, branded and generally prepared for auction.

(UPDATE: In 2010 a new stallion was introduced from the Oxley Heritage Brumby group, also the name is now Coffin Bay Brumby Preservation Society Limited as the offspring are higher than the 14 hands limit for ponies).

In general, what else do we need to look for when buying a pony? For the sake of your farrier, please look at its legs and its hooves. I get countless emails from people who have just bought a horse, pony or whatever, and firstly the picture accompanying the email shows the horse/pony in grass up to its knees (I don’t have X-ray vision) and secondly the horse/pony is now home and it has a boxy hoof, or a slightly clubby hoof, or it has foundered at some stage or it has conformation problems BUT it has such a lovely eye and it will be easy to correct it wont it? You all know the answer to that, which is ongoing high maintenance for life.

Do choose a pony with a good temperament, as long as it also has good straight legs which means it will have good hooves. As with any horse, don’t buy it sight unseen – the referral system in the horse world gives you a bit of an edge, as people generally wont recommend a pony with a bad temper or poor conformation, but the final choice really must be yours. Give your kids a great introduction into the world of horses on their first pony.


This is a study of the movement that I have observed which occurs during preparation of the hoof for either shod or unshod purposes.

Many farriers or hoof carers get the blame for having got the levels wrong when trimming the hoof, which then caused the horse to either paddle or dish. The possibility could be that he trimmed the hoof correctly but just put the shoes on too soon. Now if that sounds like a fairytale, then let me explain.

The desired aim in any preparation is to achieve a balanced symmetrical hoof and even heels. Viewed from the rear of the pastern there must be a T-square across the heels and a level plane to the toe.

After trimming, and especially in cases where the hoof wall has been greatly distorted, the horse must be allowed a few minutes to weight bear on the hoof to allow it to settle into its new plane. Assuming you have already achieved the T-square in the back of the hoof, when it is re-examined you may see it is no longer level or the ground bearing surface has moved. This is not a case of your eyes playing tricks with you. The larger and or heavier the horse the more movement there will be; some will actually move out of level three or four times before stabilising.

To explain this movement which occurs in the bottom of the hoof more fully, we need to understand that the pedal bone (or P3 which is the bottom most bone of the horse’s leg) is attached to the hoof capsule by soft tissue or laminae, and when the hoof capsule is allowed to grow or to wear unlevel for any length of time, these flares stretch the laminae on one side and compress it on the other side, while P3 still remains central under the knee joint.

Very few horses have perfectly correct straight legs, but those that do will not develop any distorted re-growth between maintenance periods. For the majority, however, there is a continuing need to restore balance in the hoof. Whenever the cannon bone is offset on the knee joint, there will be a resulting flare in the bottom of the hoof. So often this flare causes the pastern to become turned in or out, as seen in foals. Corrected early enough the majority of deviated pasterns will straighten up.

The prime objective must always be to achieve the T-square at the heels so that they will land evenly; even if the horse is turned in or turned out both heels must land at exactly the same moment.

We understand that in the foundered hoof the pedal bone has a tendency to rotate downwards at the tip, so we must also be aware that in the hoof which has a lateral/outside flare the pedal bone will move to the inside/medial to align itself within a position of balance under the upper leg, and with an inside/medial flare the pedal bone will move to the outside/lateral position within the hoof capsule.

Having corrected the flares and prepared the hoof within balance, leave two or three millimeters height in the hoof wall all around then allow the horse to bear weight for a few minutes. This will give the pedal bone time to settle into the corrected plane of the hoof capsule. Then re-inspect the lateral/medial balance and the T-square of the heels and re-correct any distortion which has occurred because of the pedal bone movement within the hoof capsule.

To reiterate, the greater the correction and the heavier the horse, the more movement will occur and the more delay should be given between dressing the hoof and fitting the shoe if we expect to achieve a correct leg action.


At last year’s Royal Adelaide Show I had a couple of clients with their horses to attend to, and it was an eye opening experience to observe the mini- dramas of others unfolding around me as I worked. I wonder why there are so many complications in competing – the whole scenario was a comedy of errors.

Most of the problems seem to stem from measuring for the respective height classes, and it is my opinion that the whole traumatic situation could be avoided very simply by putting common sense back into the rule book for measuring.

Any competent horseman knows that if a pony or galloway or hack measures 3/8” to ½” over its currently dictated height it still doesn’t belong in the next height class, and any competent judge can see that. This lack of common sense latitude in the rule book causes huge problems all down the line, and ultimately they end up in the farrier’s lap.

These horses have been shod or trimmed comfortably and competed all season and qualified to get to a major show, then because of this archaic measuring system we farriers are expected to reduce their height by an extra ½” and still maintain their action and soundness – what a ridiculous situation.

The horse owner is forced to ask the farrier to fit ultra thin shoes for measuring then remove them and fit the correct shoes for showing – this double working of the horse’s fragile and sensitive hoof should not be allowed.

Countless owners and riders from local and interstate were pointing out that their horses had measured OK at competitions all year, but now suddenly they had been measured over height – surely not every measuring before was wrong. So why not go back to the rule book and update it to allow for good old fashioned horse sense in the measuring procedure.

Perhaps the powers that control the rules might seek the farrier’s view; they would then realise that nature controls the hoof growth rate, and it speeds up and slows down four times a year, so how can any horse or pony measure exactly the same all year? That is why there must be a tolerance regardless of shoes.

Curiosity got the better of me at the show and I decided to go check out the official measuring area. This area from the horse’s perspective is totally claustrophobic, outdated and suitable only for pit ponies. The majority of our show horses nowadays are very expensive and live in bright airy stables so when they enter this cramped measuring area they will naturally stand tall, as their flight instinct demands it.

With a rule book which must be obeyed and a tense horse it was no wonder that the line up of competitors was long and painfully slow, with up to a three hour wait. This would all disappear if the rules were up dated.

Then for completely different reasons, I had owners approach me after their horses were rejected for their required category because they exceeded the height. ‘I can’t understand it, it has always easily passed,’ one said. On checking the hooves for her, I found them too long in the toe and with a good 3/8” available to be removed. ‘But I only had him shod last week,’ was the next indignant comment. After cutting back and reshoeing this horse, they passed their height test with ease. But what had the farrier been thinking when he shod it last week? And who paid the bill?

While waiting for my clients to return so I could remove the shoes, I saw horse after horse standing cow-hocked and splay-footed. Also, many were shod with thick, heavy working shoes that were invariably far too heavy for the framework of the horse wearing them. Horses in competition need the advantage of light shoes to enable them to move lightly and increase agility. I saw show jumpers still shod with flat shoes that have no grip compared to modern concave shoes. It is the old comparison of a ballerina wearing working boots to dance Swan Lake.

I was asked to inspect yet another horse that had come up sore after shoeing. The farrier had cut back too hard, and the hoof wall had then separated and abscessed – traumatic for both horse and owner at such a critical time. Fortunately I was able to poultice the hoof and reconstruct the hoof wall and all was sound in time for the event two days later.

I had one woman tell me that I needed to leave her horse long in the toe ‘as he is always shod like that.’ I asked if the horse had any problems – ‘Oh yes, he abscesses at the heel all the time, and we are always getting the vet as he has shoulder problems.’ This horse had no shoulder problem; his problem was poor shoeing through being left too long in the toe. I reshod him all round while she waited in trepidation. After the first shoe, she was already amazed – she could see the difference, and his altered movement after reshoeing had her beaming.

086So after setting out for an anticipated three hours at the show, I ended up being there for two days until 8pm and I could have worked around the clock if I had felt so inclined.

For many events, after a horse is measured, the shoes can be removed. Unfortunately, only about 1% of owners can remove a shoe yet it should be a requirement of being an owner. A twisted shoe can result in a nasty hoof injury, and nails can puncture the hoof. A farrier is not always available, and most won’t work out of hours.

It would seem that the standards for presentation of juvenile colts and fillies also need to be looked into; one breeder insisted his yearling Clydesdales had to be shod to keep up with all the other competitors, which were shod. Whoever started this fashion should be banished to Siberia; shoeing such immature hooves is ridiculously unnecessary. I have trimmed these youngsters since birth and they have perfect shape and alignment with a natural bare hoof and that is how they should be presented to the judge. If the judge is serious, any juvenile horse wearing shoes should be asked to leave the ring.

I realise that it may be difficult to change the standard of our measuring system, so let’s all give it some thought for the good of the horse and the sport.


Have you noticed the change in your horse’s hooves over the past couple of months?

While we have a range of climatic extremes at present, from the flooded Queensland areas to the drought stricken lower states, geography seems to have very little or no determining influence in what is happening in the bottom of the horse’s hoof right now; the four or six weekly trim is revealing an enormous amount of sole and frog build up, which is not exfoliating naturally.

So in the dry states of Australia the hoof just gets taller and taller depriving the frog of ground pressure all of which results in a proppy action in those horses. (Pic 1) During the summer months the sole and the frog have built up a thick hard crust to protect the sensitive hoof from bruising, so the hoof wall has also maintained a higher profile in relationship with the sole and the frog.

I interpret this retention of the sole and frog to be natures way of protecting the hoof in a dry year like this, but the confusing thing is that nature seems to be working at cross purposes with what we and our domesticated horses require, because when the sole eventually drops out it leaves a very tall hoof wall which is unstable and unprotected. Then if we don’t get to trim it very quickly, it breaks away in all directions causing more problems.

One issue is the great difficulty in removing very hard sole – home made water boots used overnight (Pic 2) will help greatly though even using for a couple of hours will make it easier. A sole chisel (Pic 3) is essential for removing rock hard sole at this time of the year.

The danger in not correctly removing the excess sole is that we can then easily miscalculate the correct level when balancing the bottom of the hoof. Then when the sole is removed, the unlevel hoof becomes apparent (Pic 4)

In the wet areas of Australia this same retention of the sole and frog is also happening but with very different results; the hoof is still growing at an enormous rate but because of all the wetness it is spreading out in all directions, giving the appearance of a convex sole with the hoof flaring out risking wall separation and cracking. (Pic 5)

The farriers’ dilemma right now is how best to solve this nature-generated hoof change; it possibly wont happen again next year so be aware that this is something quite out of the ordinary.

Judging by the number of emails I have received on this subject, the horse owner feels that the farrier probably didn’t do a good enough trim on the bottom of the hoof last time, while the farrier knows he did and in some cases only four weeks back.

So hopefully if both owner and farrier read this article you can now relax and just go with nature’s request. Its just that nature didn’t expect us to put a fence around the darned paddock so now we need to do to the bottom of the hoof that maintenance which we have stopped nature from providing.

1. Trim out all the excess sole and unstable bars

2. Trim the height of the hoof wall to suit either a shod or an unshod level

3. Dress (ie get rid of) the outer hoof wall flares.

Now that you have cleaned it all out, if you look at the shape of the white line/laminae (this should be your road map) in the bottom of the hoof, you will see that the real shape is still there. (Pic 6)

A couple of helpful ideas for the future could be for the horse owner to notice these changes early and call for help, disregarding the regular six week date. In the dry areas allow the horses more regular access to ground moisture to keep those hooves from totally drying out, and in the excessively wet areas try sealing the hoof with stock tar etc or hot shoeing to seal the bottom of the hoof wall which will help keep most of the moisture out.


For the past 10 years I have traveled Australia teaching Hoof Care clinics to cattle stations and to groups of horse owners. Starting in late August 2007 I had scheduled a series of eight clinics around Queensland and New South Wales – planning for a series like this takes around four months to organize suitable venues, promote the courses and take bookings.

I had just driven 3,000 km to North Queensland to run the first course when my wife Anne rang to say that Equine Influenza (EI) had hit in Sydney and that I should head back home immediately as all hell was breaking loose.

In the Outback with no TV, and a car radio that was rarely in range, it was impossible to make any judgment myself, so I rather dubiously accepted Anne’s judgment and turned the car homewards, while she unraveled the courses, the bookings and the deposits. As I passed through areas with more radio contact, I could hear the news bulletins which were getting worse by the hour as more and more horses were quarantined. By this time I was thoroughly alarmed myself, and I drove through the night and got home in just over 24 hours.

The immediate impact on me was the loss of income from those courses. But it certainly wasn’t lost on me that I was at home, that I had no horses to worry about, and that I was one of the lucky ones. I had driven over 6,000 km for nothing, but that was a mere token compared to problems facing those in quarantined areas.

Competitors at the FEI World Cup Qualifier in Warwick, Queensland, were stranded when on the first day six horses were identified with EI. The area was quarantined and ultimately the Queensland Government declared it a disaster area with 253 horses, 100 people and 30 children in lockdown until a month after the last horse recovered – and every horse there ultimately became infected with EI.

The States immediately affected by EI were Queensland and New South Wales, with Purple, Red, Amber and Green zones immediately implemented for all areas, approval required for transporting horses, and for bringing horses together for any reason. In South Australia where I live, no horses were affected by EI, however immediate rules were brought into effect across Australia to ensure that the spread of EI was contained.

After a complete shutdown for two weeks or so, rules were relaxed in SA and farriers could then go onto only one property per day, and had to thoroughly disinfect all tools and wash all clothing after that one visit. The effect of this was that farriers then became very selective of their clients, choosing the ones with large numbers of horses and ignoring the owners of just one horse. The effect was much greater in the affected states and has caused an ongoing problem within the farrier industry, with many farriers deciding that farriery was too much of a gamble with EI on the cards, and moving to other trades or jobs and just doing farriery as a part time job or hobby; this will ultimately also affect the standard of farriery.

As President of the Master Farriers Association in SA, I was contacted by the Government Department handling the rulings on EI for SA (PIRSA). The department wanted all farriers contacted and made aware of the new rules, and it was an eye opener for them to be told that no such list of ‘all farriers’ existed. Membership of SAMFA is not mandatory, furthermore there are two associations in most states, the other association being the Farriers and Blacksmiths Association (AFBA), and then there are many farriers who don’t belong to either association, plus many many ‘backyard’ and part-time farriers who are not listed in the phone book, work only for cash and many of these have no formal training in farriery. Not to mention the barefoot trimmers.

As time passed, it became obvious that many of these backyard farriers were not adhering to the new rules, and that the horse owners were actually encouraging them as they were so desperate to get their horses’ hooves attended to. Human nature unfortunately always shows its initiative in tough times. To get around rules forbidding horses on floats, some owners even used furniture vans to transport horses. However some owners were so concerned for their horses that they made their farriers park at the gate and walk in – an excellent idea which probably should have been part of the rules anyway.

So I had a very light workload for September and October, as well as canceling more clinics in Canberra for October, as that area was still in lockdown, plus another two clinics at home because interstate participants were from lockdown areas! I more projected income during this time, but was able to capitalise in other facets of my business. And to have a rare break.

In the quarantined areas, many farriers went to work for the mining companies, as a general farrier cannot exist on the income from working at one property per day. Initially this was a temporary measure, but the money is good and many of them have stayed on. This has impacted on horse owners and given more work to backyard farriers doing substandard work.

Cancellation of equine events caused heartache for many – the Adelaide International Horse Trials, Sydney Three Day International Event and the Australian Championship for Jumping in Canberra were some of the first to be cancelled.

The effect of EI in Australia was very widespread, impacting on trainers, farriers, stable hands, massage therapists, saddleries, produce stores, even rural land agents who were unable to show horse properties for sale, the fodder and transport companies, and dozens of others. The NSW Mounted Police were quarantined, and agistment properties suffered a variety of problems. The Thoroughbred Yearling sales all over Australia were affected, as many mares missed the breeding season. It caused a shortage of yearlings for sale this year, as many owners retained the yearlings knowing there won’t be a foal this year, and the effects of this will continue for the next two or three years.

The Government assisted the billion dollar racing industry and allowed racehorses to be moved and trained at the racetracks and also given priority for inoculation while the pleasure horses which account for 80% of horses in Australia were totally disregarded in the inoculation programme, causing much dissent among horse owners.

At the beginning of 2008, while SA was back to normal, many areas in QLD and NSW were still zoned red and amber, so I still hadn’t done any scheduling for clinics for the year. The general opinion was that most zones would be green by March, so I scheduled courses for March and April throughout the two states, avoiding the amber and red zones. Once the courses were open for bookings, I was deluged by horse owners wanting to learn how to trim their horses so that they didn’t have to go through these problems again. But most of them were still in amber zones, plus they did not realize that I couldn’t teach in an amber zone, and that they couldn’t take their horse from an amber zone into a green zone. Many others wanted to attend but wanted me to supply a horse so that they didn’t put their horse at risk of EI by transporting it. Others rang me to say they wanted to attend but had been so financially affected by EI that they would have to leave it till next year. The end result was that this round of courses were also cancelled which was a loss of more projected income!

One realisation was the necessity of preventing passing EI on. If I as a farrier unknowingly came into contact with EI, I could have passed it on to dozens of horses within days. It is critical for farriers to keep up to date with news bulletins and requirements which may change daily, to take responsibility for disinfecting their clothes, tools and your vehicle, and not to allow any clients to persuade them to bend the rules.

EI has been a steep learning curve for all of us. If Farriery was a recognised trade with stringent conditions for anyone attending to hoof care on any horse, many of the smaller issues would not have arisen. Other than shoeing at metropolitan racetracks, there is nothing to stop anyone trimming or shoeing horses in Australia regardless of their lack of skill or qualifications. The recognised national qualification in Australia is the Certificate 3 of Farriery. I am a Level IV Trade Assessor for Farriery. However, if my next door neighbor decides tomorrow that he wants a life style change and feels like banging a set of shoes on a horse, I am totally powerless to stop him.

Furthermore, having two national farriery associations with no necessity to join either just causes division, and will add to the problems of building a national farrier register which is needed in the event of a further outbreak of EI. The so called barefoot trimmers distance themselves from anything to do with farriery, and what precautions these hoof carers took during EI is anyone’s guess, but they would certainly add to the number of unofficial hoof carers that should be brought under one umbrella.

EI should sound a warning to us all that we should not become complacent. I believe that too many farriers specialise in one breed, and it is wise to develop your business to shoe all disciplines for all seasons. It is also wise to look outside the square at what may eventuate.

Over the past decade, there have been very few young people prepared to consider farriery as a trade. The tide is turning again as many school children decide they don’t want to go to university, they don’t want to learn a trade, and they just want to leave school and earn a quick dollar today. Farriery is one of the very few trades that offer high income potential along with flexible work hours and the possibility of travel – a good farrier will always get work anywhere.

Many horse owners are now learning to trim and even shoe their own horses for a variety of reasons, and this has increased since EI. Farriers get very hostile that owners are trimming horses after a minimum of education. However this is a lot of nonsense, as trainee farriers also start trimming horses with a minimum of education as it is the only way that they can gain practice.

After teaching horse owners to trim and shoe over the past 10 years, I firmly believe that more horse owners should be learning to at least manage the hoof care for their own horses, especially in country areas where farriers are scarce. Education of horse owners enables a far better understanding of the hoof and how the correctly balanced hoof affects the performance of the horse. It gets around the problem of calling the farrier if EI should strike again; it gets around the problem of calling out the farrier for a pulled shoe plus it also saves money and adds another skill to the repertoire. Multi-skilling is a required part of all businesses today, and so it should also be for anyone associated with horses.

If the horse owners became more educated in hoof care, they would then demand a higher standard of farriery, which would then weed out the sub-standard farriers or encourage them to seek education themselves to achieve a greater understanding of farriery.

The more people there are who know how to correctly balance a hoof will also increase the chances of correct methods of hoof care being handed on to future generations. Several decades after the advent of the automobile saw a huge downturn in the standards of farriery because the correct methods had not been preserved for posterity. Far too much emphasis is placed on shoemaking and blacksmithing skills, whereas the simple basic principles of correct hoof balance are bypassed as being too hard.

The initial effects of EI are pretty obvious, but it is the hidden effects that I believe will have the most impact in the long term.


In my recently published book, I lamented that I owed two dollars to a friend from over 30 years ago. The story in brief was that I had a horrific horse accident when in my twenties, cutting short my ambition to ride my way into history. After years of recuperation, I dreamed of working with horses back in the bush. It was then in the early 1970’s that my accountant had bet me two dollars that if I put an ad in the local paper, I would find enough horses to shoe in the Adelaide Hills to keep me busy 24 hours a day. He was right, but I lost contact with him, and the two dollars that I owed him was the centrepiece of my silver belt buckle.

After the book was published, I found him again less than 100km away, and it was great to renew the friendship over the phone. I dropped in unannounced to his property one day and finding no-one at home, strolled over to the horse paddock to see what horses he had.

There in retirement was an aged Arab, and I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. It was the same Arab that I used to shoe over 30 years ago. El-Hawa was obviously thoroughly enjoying life, spoilt rotten and pampered in the home paddock, and was delighted to renew my acquaintance and nuzzle me with his toothless gums.

Kevin told me later that El-Hawa is now 36 years old. It is great to see horses happy and in good condition in these advanced years after a lifetime of love and good care.

I am often asked what can be done to keep an older horse in good condition. The greatest remedy I have found is cooked pumpkin, mashed into the feed. It puts on condition at the rate of knots.

One other tip that I often pass on for horses of all ages is to use gelatine for hoof growth. Biotin is excellent, and gives the best and fastest result. However, it can be expensive, and for owners on a budget, gelatine is an inexpensive if somewhat slower replacement. Used at the rate of about one tablespoon mixed in feed or water per day, it doesn’t break the budget and can be used continually.

As Kevin and I reminisced, he reminded me of the time all those years ago when we went for a picnic at Brownhill Creek, one of Adelaide’s premier picnic spots. We had with us an old ex-trotter called Chester, pulling a beautifully restored horse carriage. During the afternoon a child rode by on a very much in-season pony mare and Chester sprang into action, absolutely determined to rape her while still in the shafts. The end result was a shattered horse carriage that the two of us had to pull home that night. Life with horses is never predictable, and certainly never dull.