Far too often the hoof does NOT suit the event and the end result is a very mediocre level of performance for the horse and a bewildered rider.
This is as much an owner/rider judgment problem as well as a farrier’s lack of attention in advising the client, but first the farrier needs to know how the client expects the horse to perform in order that he can set up the correct hoof care procedures.
The pleasure horse is about 80% of today’s horse population but probably less than 20% of their owners have grown up with horses and know how important correct hoof care can be. So many others who own and ride their horses haven’t yet seen the need to understand what is below the girth, so this puts a lot of responsibility on the farrier to educate his clients about hoof care which in turn allows them to fulfill their duty of care to the horse and also be a much more involved client for the farrier.
We need only to look at our own footwear needs in selecting a variety of footwear appropriate for us to perform our different tasks and be competitive to understand this problem for equine footwear.
The variable factor with horses of course is that the hoof is constantly growing and can change its shape in doing so. The challenge then, is for the farrier or hoof carer to fully understand the anatomy and function of the horse’s lower leg and to prepare the hoof correctly balanced to enhance its free movement and not to inhibit it, then if shoes are required, to fit the most appropriate type to further enhance performance.
The re-growth in a hoof is fairly predictable; a horse which has long sloping pasterns such as the stock horse or thoroughbred or anglo-arab will always have more toe growth than in the heel, so at the nominal six week re shoeing these horses have already been stumbling/forging/over reaching and the front of the hoof is beginning to show signs of flaring and their action is really suffering.
The correct action should be to restore the balance in the hoof by dressing the toes back and leaving the heels as they are probably already too low then to fit an appropriate shoe.
A horse with short upright pasterns will predictably re-grow a lot of heel and very little toe length, and at the six week re shoeing period these types will be very short in their action and tending to forge, so the balance needs to be restored by lowering the heels and leaving the toes.
Horses with off-set cannon bones will predictably re-grow either an inside or an outside flare because nature is trying to re-grow the hoof capsule back into a weight bearing position below the knee; in these cases the hoof still just needs to be balanced from side to side or the medial/lateral aspect to restore normal action.
All these points will be taken into account already by the true professional farrier or horseman, but in general we are a long way off getting any correct standards for the simple task of trimming and or shoeing; far too many people who are in the industry of hoof care either full time or part time including those bare footing, are still getting it wrong for the horse, and the obvious reason seems to be that they do not understand the simple basic principles which nature has given us to work with to maintain soundness in these superb athletes.
This statement may offend some people, but before you get your knickers in a twist just look behind you; IF after you have trimmed or shod a horse it is unsound for immediate work, then you must have done something wrong and all the subsequent reasons you can come up with are just excuses and are not acceptable – just read the horse’s body language, he is trying to tell you that something is not right.
So now let’s look at a horse lining up for the big three day event. I notice he is shod with heavy flat shoes with rolled toes and each shoe has stud holes in each heel;
I have been asked by the owner or rider to check the horse as she is not comfortable that his action is sound; having been shod three weeks ago he is not lame but he is moving like a heavy carthorse and plodding.
He has long sloping pasterns and low heels so the recurring toe length has always been an issue. Measuring the bottom of the hoof shows that even with the rolled toe shoe (which is intended to speed up breakover) it is 1.5 cm longer in the toe than the heel. This immediately explains the poor action, because the heavy flat shoes, supposedly for support, are not the right shoes for eventing as they have no grip on varying ground conditions; so then studded heels have been requested for grip, which is wrong again. The shoe should be as light as is possible to allow the horse to do the work and it should be a high carbon concave which will stay free of dirt build up thus will be able to grip on any surfaces, and hence doesn’t need to be fitted with studs.
The resolution of the problem was to simply remove the excess sole which allowed the toe of the hoof to be shortened and lowered. This reduced the pressure at the heels, the hoof then had a 50/50 balance with a normal round toe shape and a parallel hoof/pastern angle, then I fitted a light weight concave set of shoes; the owner then worked the horse and found the action was completely restored to better than she ever expected, with the comment that the horse was now very light on the forehand and felt like he was floating in his movement.
The lesson is quite simple: a correctly balanced hoof should have a parallel angle to the pastern, have no flares and the ground bearing edge should be a mirror image of the normal shaped coronary band. Whether the horse is shod or unshod the sole must be concave and the bars trimmed to bear no weight on the ground. If shoes are not required you must leave some hoof wall for the horse to walk on.
There are literally dozens of ways to shoe a horse, but there is only one way to get the best performance for the horse and rider – see what you are looking at and learn to recognise what is normal then keep it simple.