What does it mean to ‘Balance the Hoof’? Ask any farrier if he balances the hoof and he will say ‘Yes’. Ask him to describe how he does it and he will generally describe very convoluted ways of doing so without having any specific reference points for others to copy.
Is balancing a hoof a matter of trimming and shoeing so that it looks right?
Is there a simple, prescribed method to balance the hoof? Can it be found in textbooks?
What is the method of teaching apprentice farriers to balance the hoof?
Do farrier schools have a standard method to balance the hoof?
The answer is an emphatic NO.
Surely we need to make it simpler for young farriers to learn the simple basics if we hope to encourage them to join the trade.
I have been shoeing horses for 52 years and teaching for six years and I have greatly simplified and developed my method of teaching in that time. In the eyes of the academics and purists my teaching may not be their perfect method of shoeing, but it certainly achieves a very high degree of accuracy in a short amount of time while under the horse, and it enables the student to quickly understand what to look for and to solve the majority of problems.
I have also developed a tool called David Farmilo’s HOOF-LINE to enable the balance of the hoof to be checked quickly and simply while under the horse. For those who deride this as a money-making exercise, you can go and get a strip of timber and make your own or you can buy mine – it’s entirely your choice.
FINDING THE CENTRE
My centre of balance is 19mm behind the active tip of the frog. The measurement from there to the toe and to a line across the buttress of the heels should be equal when the hoof is trimmed in accordance with my prescribed trimming method. The medial/lateral measurement should also be equal, but not necessarily the same as the measurements from frog to toe and to the heel.
So after all, what if:
There was a simple and easy to understand method to trim the hoof.
The method could be written down in simple language that didn’t need a lawyer to translate it.
The method could be verbalised simply.
It could be understood and appreciated by farrier and horse owner alike.
The method could be easily applied while under a horse.
This simple method eliminates most of the hoof problems seen today.
HOW IT’S DONE
This is the method that I teach. I make a policy of not using technical terms. I also teach this method in conjunction with using my HOOF-LINE.
Observe the hooves and always start with the larger hoof (the dominant hoof) to avoid over-trimming the smaller hoof.
Clean out manure and dirt from the underside of the hoof with hoof pick.
Starting at the tip, clean out the edge of the frog down to the bars, which identifies the natural frog/sole junction.
From there, working out to the hoof wall/live sole junction, remove only dead flaky sole to leave the sole as concave as possible. Remove excess sole ONLY down to the bottom of the fissure cracks, no further.
Lightly trim the frog with knife or nipper to an even V shape. Then trim the tip of the frog to expose the junction at the active sole, thus exposing the active tip.
Trim the bars of excess height and clean out the seat-of-corn area.
Place the HOOF-LINE on the tip of the active frog. The graduations will show the length to the toe compared to the length to the heel (at a straight line 6mm above the critical junction of the widest part of the frog across the heel buttresses). In the finished prepared hoof these two halves must be equal distances from the base of the triangle on the HOOF-LINE.
IF the front half (to the toe) is longer than the back half (to the heel):
Leave the heels untouched and, using a rasp or nippers, trim the front half only to a level surface to suit either barefoot (+4mm) or shoe fitting preparation. DO NOT OVER RASP!
When the front half is trimmed and level, correct any thickening in the hoof capsule at the toe section only. Uneven thickness is caused by flaring of the hoof in the toe area. Bring the hoof forward on your knee or hoof stand and carefully rasp any flare away to copy the ideal or normal shape of the coronary band at the front of the hoof only, rasping no higher than the nail clinch area. Check to ensure that an even thickness of hoof wall capsule around the toe area is maintained.
DON’T RASP EITHER SIDE OF THE HOOF WALL YET!
Using the HOOF-LINE, measure the length at the finished toe. When the hoof wall capsule is prepared correctly, the measurement in the front half will then be correct; so use a marker pen to mark the same measurement to the heel (at a straight line 6mm above the critical junction of the widest part of the frog across the heel buttresses). If it is already correct – leave it alone. If it is shorter, lower the heels to the marked level NOTE: Lowering the heels increases the length of the measurement to the heel. NEVER trim a heel to less than 6mm heel height above the critical junction at the widest part of the frog.
Taking the hoof forward again, rasp the side walls and heel flares to copy the ideal or normal shape of the coronary band. DO NOT OVER RASP.
If the horse is to be left unshod, bevel the leading edges of the hoof wall slightly. If shod, shoes must finish at the heel buttress to maintain correct hoof balance.
IF the toe is already the correct length, and there are no flares in the toe, the heel buttresses will usually measure too short, so by lowering the heels, which lengthens them, a balanced measurement will be achieved.
When this balanced measurement is achieved in the bottom of the hoof, the front of the hoof wall is parallel with the pastern angle, the hoof shape is a mirror image of the coronary band, there are no flares in the hoof wall, and the hoof is stress free.
Following this method gives you the ability to consistently duplicate an efficient method of achieving a correctly balanced hoof.
In some extreme cases, it may take two or three shoeing periods to achieve balance, but that same horse may have been out of balance and in pain for years.
BENEFITS OF SYSTEM
The HOOF-LINE used in conjunction with my trimming method helps eliminate lameness by correcting long toe/low heel problems, or high heel/ short toe problems; it eliminates flares which are a major cause of instability in the hoof; it helps correct contracted heels, which are the result of minimal frog contact, and also eliminates the need for remedial shoes which often exacerbate the problems.
It even saves further time by allowing the farrier to take the HOOF-LINE measurements to the anvil and shape the shoe according to the measurements of the finished hoof.
The major advantage is that this method takes the guesswork out of hoof preparation.
The process is of course dependent on the user preparing and measuring the hoof correctly, and no responsibility or liability is taken or implied.
When I was a young jackeroo, the boss made the comment ‘If you want to find a shortcut way to do a job, give it to a lazy man – he will always take the shortcut, and finish the job with a minimum of energy output. The outcome is usually that it is done wrong or that it does not last and has to be redone.’
This philosophy is especially true when it comes to the shoeing of horses. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it seems apparent that things are getting worse.
I have always stressed the importance of trimming the hoof to achieve a symmetrical shape. This can be and must be done no matter what the size of the hoof. By doing this you will help the horse move in a natural, even and uninhibited way. If the hoof is out of balance in any way, the flight of the leg will be crooked and uneven.
Probably the most common error in hoof preparation is simply not trimming out the sole enough. This leads to what we know as the low heel/long toe type of hoof.
It is not always easy to remove the sometimes rock hard overgrowth of six week old sole, but unless you do, the hoof will end up too long in the toes and his action will change for the worse.
A couple of very predictable things happen because of this shortcut – the shoe has to be lengthened to fit the longer hoof, or the toes get dumped after the shoe is fitted.
The outcome is then predictable – the horse starts to overreach and pull off his front shoes or to scalp his heels or he starts to trip and stumble. The second shortcut remedy is then applied – squaring off the shoes in front to make his hoof take off quicker and to stop pulling off shoes. This is WRONG! Now the horse starts to feel bumble-footed.
If you want to really understand why, try this: just walk along normally until you are comfortable, then scrunch up your toes and break into a trot then a canter. Now perhaps you can see why the horse feels so uncomfortable. You found it impossible to stride out, your steps became higher and much shorter, and I guess you didn’t trot or canter very far, either.
Squared toe or rolled toe shoes have their legitimate place of application in the treatment of some lameness problems, but should not be used as a bandaid to fix over-reaching. The real cause begins back at the hoof preparation and trimming stage of shoeing.
Our ground and weather conditions here in Australia vary to the extreme. When it is dry and hard in the summer, we just have to work harder to get the correct balance in the hoof.
The horse’s hoof is really the same as it always was – do you realise that the shape of the ideal hoof capsule at the coronary band should be the same shape at the ground bearing surface of the hoof wall.
I have never seen a horse that has square shaped coronary bands in front. Even the horses that I have seen with man-made square toes and which had gait problems have been able to be corrected just by using hard work, good hand tools and good standard shaped shoes which are light enough to allow the horse to complete his task.
I hadn’t been to America until last month (February 2005), and it was a great new experience. I went for horse reasons (well why else would I go) and America certainly has plenty of horses (although I am told that Australia has more on a per capita basis). I had been running courses in Western Australia during February where the temperature in Geraldton was well over 40 degrees Celsius. My last course was at Northam in more moderate temperatures, then I had to sprint across the Nullarbor to get home in time to catch the plane to LA.
I nearly didn’t make it – water in the fuel left my Patrol hiccuping for the next few hundred kilometres, and I limped into Border Village at five kilometres per hour. There was no RAA patrol and no mechanic, but there was an angel on my shoulder in the shape of a fisherman at the local caravan park, who was a home mechanic with a Patrol of his own and he just happened to have a new fuel filter to get me mobile again on my way home, bless him. That gave me a day to unpack the caravan, pack the winter woollies and head for the USA.
From LA we flew to Boston and up to Maine (near the Canadian border) where the temperature on a nice day was 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and jolly cold. We were totally confused by the Maine locals referring to North as ‘down’. It made Australia feel ‘up over’ rather than ‘down under’ and I figured the American horses must be upside down. Evidently years ago sailors hauling cargo to the northeast of New England observed that the prevailing winds came from the southwest, pushing their schooners ‘downwind’ to the northeast.
I ran a course (they call them clinics) in New Hampshire in a heated barn, to test the water and see if any locals were interested in my Australian methods of balancing the hoof. They turned up in the snow in droves; there were 53 farriers alone, curious to hear what I had to say. The difference with American farriers is that they are so eager to learn, to improve their knowledge and their shoeing skills, and so open minded. My accent, our different terminology, and our geographic differences combined to make a day of great fun and learning for all of us. The local paper even welcomed me with the sub-heading ‘Aussie expert travels 10,000 miles to teach horse-shoeing’.
I visited the Dover Mounted Police horses the following day – beautiful placid Percherons over 18 hands, shod with ice shoes and bubble pads but with lameness problems from unbalanced shoeing – some things never change.
A picturesque red barn housed another problem horse for me, and also showed me how hard the farriers have it there in winter, as I couldn’t even feel my hands after about three minutes. Farriers don’t put nails in their mouths there while shoeing, they would freeze to their lips. I had the reverse problem in Western Australia only the week before, where the nails were too hot to put in my mouth.
From there we went south to attend the American Farriers Association Convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Chattanooga is only a little place, with a population of less than 500,000 so even little old Adelaide is twice as big. I can’t imagine holding a Farriers Convention in Adelaide – probably only ten people would turn up. But in Chattanooga at the Convention Banquet on the final night there were a staggering 1800 people comprising Farriers, spouses and sponsors. Bearing in mind that this was a farriers’ convention, not an expo for horse lovers and equestrians, it was a real eye opener.
The five day Convention consisted of lectures, workshops (‘Wet- Labs’) , demonstrations, certification testing, panel discussions and informal gatherings as well as spouse trips and lunches, plus the Banquet; and of course the Forging and Horseshoeing competitions. Anne even won the prize at the Ladies lunch for the one who had travelled the greatest distance to attend. Attendees come from everywhere – I met a competing lady farrier from Japan, a farrier from Sweden asked me to visit him there, and I met Billy Crothers who came from England to lecture. I met up with Dr Doug Butler again and bought the latest edition of his book (I call it my bible – the best book on horseshoeing available). Doug is now in partnership with his son and together they have increased the size of the book to twice the size of my last edition.
The problems with horses are the same over there as they are here and doubtless in every other country – lameness, gait problems and balance problems; but the difference was the hunger of the farriers to learn how to overcome these problems and to improve their shoeing techniques. Conventions are not cheap to attend as the huge cost of the venue has to be covered– there is a registration fee, spouse fee and banquet fee while each wet lab, forging class and competition has a hefty price tag, with travel costs, accommodation and meals on top of that. But the cost was so evidently balanced by the enthusiasm to learn. There will always be good farriers and not so good farriers, as in any trade or profession; but those that want to learn more and are open minded and willing to listen will surely improve in a shorter time.
The theme of the five day Convention was based around ‘Balancing the Hoof’ – most lectures and demonstrations I attended went into lengthy and convoluted detail to explain how they achieved balance, often using complex measurements that are almost impossible to apply in practical situations. I spoke with dozens of farriers over this time who were all interested in my method of correctly balancing the hoof.
In New Orleans for a couple of days break, we saw carriages drawn by mules – horses cant cope with the high humidity, so farriers aren’t in high demand there. We saw the mighty Mississippi, the beautiful homes on St Charles Street, the elegant live oak trees (or evergreen oak) and the above ground crypts in the cemeteries (New Orleans is below sea level).
Back in Los Angeles on business, we were privileged to be invited to stay with Ada Gates, who was the first female farrier in the States in 1976, inspiring other women to follow in her footsteps so that now there are large numbers of female farriers across America. Ada is an effervescent ex-New York socialite who now runs a horseshoeing supply company set up by her late husband, Harry Patton, the dean of farriers on the West Coast and the esteemed Santa Anita paddock farrier.
LA was wonderful. In beautiful sunshine we cruised along Rodeo Drive, walked the length of Santa Monica Boulevard, ogled the houses in Bel Air and tried out the restaurants. We passed a friendly Sheriff on horseback at Pasadena and enjoyed the temperate weather of the West Coast surrounded by the beautiful backdrop of the San Gabriel Mountains.
It took us 11 ½ hours to fly to LA and 16 ½ hours to fly back. I am still puzzling over that one.
After putting my proverbial toe into the water by checking out farriery in the United States last year, I was invited by the American Farriers Industry Association to address the Third Annual International Hoof Care Summit in Cincinnati in February 2006. Not only that, but I was invited to give both the opening and the closing lectures. I wondered if maybe I had put my whole foot in my mouth instead of in the water – was I being honoured by this invitation or perhaps being lined up for the firing squad?
The two topics I selected were my usual bandwagons – I would open with ‘Back to Basics’ and close with ‘What has happened to the K.I.S.S. Principle’. Everyone who has ever worked with me or attended one of my courses could probably just about recite by heart what I would say.
I did research some introductory comparison data for my power point presentation – Australia is similar in land area to America, however Australia has 20 million people compared to Americas 300 million. Los Angeles alone has 20 million people! Australia has 1.5 million horses compared to America’s eight million horses. But that does give Australia a ratio of one horse per 13 people compared to America’s ratio of one in 33.
We had one day in LA in beautiful 25 degree weather. Then we flew on to Cincinnati where it was four degrees. Farriers Conventions in the USA are timed for the winter months when work is slow, and good accommodation packages are available. Our room was on the 26th floor of the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, a state of the art 28 floor Art Deco Hotel built in 1930 and renovated to all its former glory, and we paid an amazingly cheap $US89 per night for this privilege.
The Convention Centre is two blocks down the road from the hotel and as first speaker, I didn’t have any time to think about getting nervous. Around 700 farriers registered for this four day Hoof Care Summit, illustrating an amazing enthusiasm and desire to learn.
Predictably, my lecture was my 12 point technique to correctly balance the hoof, and thus avoiding over 90% of all hoof problems which are totally unnecessary – I have reproduced the main thrust:
BALANCE (AND THEREBY CORRECT) THE HOOF
Start with the biggest foot (the dominant hoof).
Clean out loose and dead material.
Remove only dead, flaky sole and leave the sole concave.
Expose the active tip of the frog.
Place my HOOF-LINE marker on this active tip.
Compare the measurement of the hoof from active tip to the toe and from active tip to an imaginary line drawn 6mm above the junctions of the heel buttresses – if the front is longer than the back then leave the heels untouched.
Trim the front only, (assuming that is the longer half), ensuring that the hoof capsule is an even thickness all the way around. Uneven thickness is caused by flares.
Rasp flares away, copying the shape of the ideal coronary band.
The measurement in front will then be correct, as the hoof has been correctly prepared.
To achieve equal measurement in the back half, to a straight line across the buttress of the heel, the heel may be left alone or lowered accordingly.
Check the medial/lateral balance in the same way.
When this balanced measurement is achieved, the front of the hoof wall is parallel with the pastern angle, the hoof shape is a mirror image of the coronary band, there are no flares in the hoof wall and the hoof is stress free. (The foot will also stand squarely).
A correctly balanced hoof should be the end result of every single trim. But why isn’t it? Why are there so many hoof problems?
In Australia, horses invariably have long toes and low heels; from what I have seen in America, there are more short toes and high heels.
Neither is correct – these are farrier problems and can be eliminated simply by correctly balancing the hoof.
Farrier problems also result in
Hoof wall separation
Forging and over-reaching
Paddling and Dishing
All of which can be eliminated by correctly balancing the hoof.
After the lecture and associated question time had finished, I was still answering questions outside the hall two hours later. I spent every spare minute over the next four days talking – in the corridors, the elevators, the dining rooms, the bar and on the street. The only meals I managed to eat were delivered by room service. It was exhilarating to arouse so much attention and to talk to so many farriers about their problems. The younger farriers in particular wanted specific information – so much is said about balancing the hoof, but there is no specific documentation about achieving it. It gives me such pleasure to be able to give them the information they need.
The four days was a total learning platform of roundtable discussion groups and lectures, with some trade show slots. I talked with many of the well known names in farriery – Dr Stephen O’Grady, Gene Ovnicek and Mike Wildenstein. I also attended their lectures as well as those of Dr Ric Redden, Dr Susan Kempson, Dr Scott Morrison and Dr Bob Bowker, and appreciated how privileged I was to address this convention.
I attended a breakfast for members of the World Farriers Association. The Japanese Farriers Association had its own translator, and I was able to explain my techniques for hoof balance to them. Members from Canada, UK, Switzerland and Denmark were just some of the countries represented.
My second presentation ‘as the cleanup batter’ (to quote the Hoof Care Summit literature) was held in the Hotel in the extravagantly luxurious two storey high Hall of Mirrors. I followed on from my first presentation by reinforcing the need to keep the principles of trimming and shoeing simple, and not to get lost in the flood of new products and techniques aimed more at making money than at truly helping the horse.
After Cincinnati I ran a course (clinics as they call them) in Richmond, Virginia and then more clinics in California. I was even invited to address a select gathering at the prestigious Santa Anita Racetrack in Los Angeles (as seen in the movie ‘Sea Biscuit’). I ran a course at the notable Panorama Equine Centre in Redding, Northern California with Dr Wally Libermann, and on the way back to Los Angeles I had a productive meeting with researcher Michael Savoldi where we compared our techniques for achieving hoof balance.
Then I flew on to Omaha (even colder than Cincinnati) where I attended a second Farriers’ Convention. Emphasis here was more oriented to shoe making (forging), shoeing competition speeds and skills with Wetlabs (workshops) offering the opportunity to work alongside premier farriers.
Flying out of snowy Omaha, I flew back to Los Angeles for a final clinic in Orange County where a breeder with 20 large carriage horses had extreme ongoing lameness issues over the previous five years. I worked with his two farriers for three days and achieved soundness in all 20 horses.
It was 25 degrees when I left Los Angeles and flew home to Adelaide to 35 degrees and an appointment book of full of my very patient clients before preparing to head to outback South Western Queensland to teach courses in heavens knows what temperature.
Many years ago, in 1954 to be exact, I learnt to shoe a horse while employed as a jackeroo on a remote station. It soon became obvious while out mustering that if the shoes did not stay on, the horse soon became lame and I had to walk home leading him, regardless of the weather conditions and time of the day. This taught me very quickly to put shoes on to stay on.
Now forty-nine years later, I guess it never crossed my mind that those needs would still apply in today’s modern world with our rapid transport and communications, but they certainly do.
On a recent working tour of our far-northern areas, it was a huge reality check to find that now, perhaps more than ever before, it is so important for our working stockhorses to be shod correctly. Today’s horsemen and women, employed seasonally on stations to work cattle and horses, come from many and varied backgrounds where the instincts of survival are not as critical as they are in the bush. The regular staff do a great job to train the new recruits in preparation for the muster, together with enlisting the aid of visiting tradesmen for specific skills training.
It was with an enormous feeling of déjà vu that I now began teaching these young ringers about shoeing and hoof care, and began to realise that out here in this really isolated area it could impact on their safety and survival in a big way. Despite modern technology, Mother Nature still holds the upper hand in the vastness and heat of the outback, where a lost shoe in the midday sun could spell disaster for the rider without the ability to do an immediate and adequate repair.
The old quote ‘no hoof no horse’ was never more obvious as the fresh ones were lined up to be shod, and it was about then that I really began to get excited about the continuing need for such basic skills and the passing on of knowledge to these young ones.
Some folks think I have spent too long in the sun after making a comment like that, but the simple truth is, I like shoeing horses, and have over the years developed a system which makes the task really easy and safe, especially for the beginner, while at the same time it manages to put a big grin on the faces of the seasoned horse shoer.
My system is one hundred and fifty per cent non violent, which quickly gains the confidence of the horse, and thus allows us to calmly prepare the hoof to a balanced condition which then makes the fitting of a shoe so simple.
The resulting benefits are that we now spend much less time under the horse, reducing our risk of injury, plus we have been able to correctly balance the hoof, even the bad ones, thus allowing the horse to move freely and safely in any direction, and most important of all we have reduced the risk of losing shoes, because they fit better. All of which are further examples of survival.
I was impressed by the eagerness with which the Territorians accepted this system of teaching, and the end result of their own efforts certainly proved worthwhile.
For me, the greatest reward of all was to see that by passing on information and experiences, it had made a difference to so many people and their horses.
What if the horses could literally talk to us? They would be able to phone the farrier when the hooves needed attention (regardless of the owner’s opinion as owners sometimes want to stretch out the weeks to save money, and some often lose track of time and shoeing dates). If horses could talk they would be able to check out the expertise of the farrier/hoof trimmer before allowing them to start, and express an opinion whether they even wanted the farrier to touch their feet after that last episode.
They could tell their owner about the seasonal changes in their hoof growth and condition, then go over to the rack and select a set of nice new shoes in the correct size and weight which they would know would suit them for the coming important event. They could say “I don’t want those cheap heavy shoes like that old gelding next door is wearing; I could be a much better athlete with the right shoes, and you had better understand that.”
He could say “So what if I am harnessed to this four wheeled carriage and my job is to trot the tourists around the streets of Vienna – I have been doing it for months and every time I pass through under the arch of the historic palace near where the Vienna Lipizzaners are performing, I start to dream about being one of them, as they have beautifully manicured hooves, so obviously they are able to speak to their farrier personally and get the correct attention. They are allowed to stand in a nice soft stall to rest, then prance through the archway past all the tourists and have their photos taken, then they get to exercise in that indoor ménage on beautiful soft white sand, then showered, groomed, back to the soft stall and fed again, and they all look so happy.”
“But we are just the carriage horses you see in all the historic cities right around Europe. We are fully employed, we get fed and groomed, we wear fine harness and our carriages are kept in immaculate order and our photographs go home with you to all parts of the world; very possibly you had a ride in the carriage that I pulled and you now have a photo of me. But have a closer look and you will see that our feet are not looked after properly and we are standing on and trotting along rough cobble stone streets made of granite, some of which date back to early Roman times.”
They might even recall “Recently we met an old Australian farrier who was a tourist in Rome, Salzburg, and Vienna; he was trying very diplomatically to discuss with our drivers about the poor state of our hoof preparation and shoes. He could also see the obvious pain and discomfort we were in, even though our farrier had only just re-shod us yesterday but he had left our hooves too long in the toes. Our heels are crushed from months of poor shoeing, and consequently we stand splayed in front and cow hocked behind which HURTS us, then the same farrier welded 10mm nuts on the heels of the shoes to stop us from slipping on the granite cobble stone streets. Our leg joints are already enlarged and calloused from concussion, very few of us have had cushioning pads fitted under our shoes.”
“This old tourist farrier from Australia could see the glassy pain in our eyes, and my carriage horse partner actually snapped at him because her feet were so sore. We watched hopefully as the tourist farrier attempted to explain all this to our keepers, but we were very sad as his words fell on deaf ears and they shrugged their shoulders and said they were only the drivers of the carriages.”
“We watched as the old tourist farrier walked away, head bowed and with a tear in his eye, silently praying that one day we might be able to talk, so that our drivers or owners might understand that our hooves are their future also.”
I have heard that to tell if a person is healthy, just look at the eyes. I don’t know how true that is, but with a horse, I definitely try and encourage people to look at the hoof, and the hoof will show you 95% of what the horse is feeling. If people would look at the hooves when buying a horse, it would save a lot of heartache, and a lot of money.
I was sight-seeing in New York in November, thinking of anything but horses, when I saw a horse skeleton in a Fifth Avenue window display.(Pic 1) Fortunately the horse was dead, as its front feet had been trimmed to the shape of hind feet, so it must have had a pretty miserable life.
I continued along Fifth Avenue, and stopped to chat to two mounted policewomen, both on beautiful quiet horses, (Pic 2) but both horses were far too long in the toe (Pic 2a & 2b) and must have been most uncomfortable standing all day on concrete and bitumen.
Central Park begins at the junction of Fifth Avenue and West 59th Street where around 40 guides with their horses and carriages take tourists for rides. The horses are decked up to the nines, right down to purple glitter on the hooves (pic 3) but those same hooves were dumped at the toes and chocked up on rubber square toed platform shoes that protruded way past the heel buttresses and also lifted the frogs right off the ground (Pic 3a).
I searched hopefully for a well shod horse, but if there was one, it was not to be found. One poor horse (Pic 4) had such high heels (Pic 4a) that you had to wonder about the mindset of whoever had shod him.
Later that week in Baltimore, I came on a statue of a horse (Pic 5), firmly concreted in to a plinth. His toes were so long that maybe in real life that was the only way he could remain upright.
Gaited horses (Pic 6) are popular in the States, shod with four inch wedge platforms, nailed and clamped on to the hoof, supposedly to give the horse an animated high leg action to satisfy the ego of the person in the saddle. This is a trend that defies any logic or respect for the horse. Hopefully it is a trend that won’t reach Australia, or if it does then I do hope I will have retired by then.
Back in California, I was asked to inspect a horse perched on graduated heeled egg bar shoes (Pic 7). These shoes had been applied to overcome toed out splayed front feet, low contracted heels and long toes. The shoes weren’t helping the contracted heels at all, and I was able to correctly balance the hoof using my HOOF-LINE ruler in one shoeing, (Pic 7a) which allowed me to cut off the rolled heels, and to get the frog on the ground. The horse was still splay-footed because the legs were so bent, but it was no longer lame. This horse was in a riding school, but was totally unsuitable for the purpose because of its bent legs and poor conformation.
All this reinforces my philosophy that anything other than a standard trimming or shoeing is really only a bandaid which causes these huge problems that we see in our horse shoeing industry, not only in Australia, but around the world.
A farrier’s life is certainly full of variety. During January and February 2006, I spent five weeks in the USA, firstly speaking at the Third International Hoof Summit, lastly attending the Omaha Convention, and, in between, juggling 21 plane flight legs, speaking, teaching and learning a lot about how American farriers and horse owners work without actually seeing much of the country itself apart from airport lounges. People are so friendly and interested everywhere which is wonderful, and hoof problems are the same everywhere which is not wonderful at all but that is another story.
I spend a lot of the year travelling Australia in my 4WD, teaching the ringers (cowboys) on the cattle stations (ranches) how to trim and shoe their own horses, as there are no farriers in the Outback. The obvious benefit of running these courses is that the ringers and managers tell me that their horse-related accidents are virtually nil after five years of teaching, solely due to better hoof care. I run two day courses or clinics on approximately 40 stations, and run another 20 or so courses mainly in rural towns where horse owners want to trim their own horses due to lack of farriers. I cover around 50,000 kilometres each year.
While I am home I catch up with my local clients – the deal is that nowadays I travel most of the year so I cannot be a regular farrier to them, but they uncomplainingly book me in whenever they hear on the grapevine that I am back in town.
Leaving out the bits about horses and hoof problems, following are extracts from my diary of my Australian travels that followed over the next few months.
Arrived back from the USA
2 day Course as a fundraiser for the Coffin Bay Pony Preservation Society – these are wild ponies sourced from Eyre Peninsula that have the most wonderful placid temperament and are just wonderful for kids, but the Society has to raise $300,000 to preserve the land for these little fellas. Around 24 horse owners turned up for the course.
Stocked up on tools and equipment, caught up on website queries, caught up with shoeing clients, packed up the 4WD ready to move on again.
March 13-14 QUINYAMBIE STATION
800 Km north east from home was the first course at Quinyambie Station just inside the dog fence in South Australia (the dog fence keeps out the dingoes). Temperature was a searing 40+ degrees C, and I was dehydrated after the first day.
March 16-17 NARYILCO STATION
The next course was at Naryilco Station, another 300 Km north into the Channel Country of Queensland. It is harsh, dry and stony country
March 19-20 INNAMINCKA STATION
To reach Innamincka Station I headed 200Km back inside the South Australian border. The country is sandy and desolate. Just a few kilometres to the east a monument marks the site of the death of John O’Hara Burke, leader of the ill-fated Burke and Wills Expedition of 1861, whilst the site of Wills’ death is a few kilometres east.
March 22-23 DURHAM DOWNS STATION
I tacked 200km north east this time to Durham Downs Station. The Station was to have a wedding over the weekend, so the workers & I were despatched to the stock camp for the duration of the course to free up some kitchen space and some rooms. The road from the homestead to the camp was the worst bit of rocky road I have ever encountered. We slept in the shed on camp stretchers and I was given a swag (bedding) that hadn’t been used for several years and was inhabited by an unpleasant assortment of wildlife. The cook accompanied us in a self contained truck complete with shower, but he was not prepared to share this luxury with us. It was a relief to finally move on to the next station after I finished the course. I had to detour through Quilpie as the creeks were flooding from Cyclone Larry which had hit Innisfail (1000 Km away on the northern coast of Queensland) a few days earlier
March 25-26 KEEROONGOOLOO STATION
From one extreme to the other, I was accommodated in the two storey guest house, with all mod cons and a comfortable bed and my own shower. En-route to the next station I blew a tyre on the rocky road. I was lucky enough to find a replacement for my spare in the small township of Windora. The business owner was totally blind, having lost his sight several years ago after an illness. His workshop had no interior lights as he didn’t need them, so he directed me to go three bays back and two to the right, so that I could find the correct tyre. He then proceeded to change and fit the new tyre in expert fashion. The only time I was needed was to check the tyre was inflated to the correct pressure.
March 28-29 MORNEY PLAINS STATION
The flies had been thick on every station, but Morney Plains Station seemed to top them all. It is impossible to work in a fly veil, so they crawled in your nose, eyes and ears and you dared not open your mouth. Two year old Dusty, the manager’s daughter, was never without her fly veil or her dummy, and her pony had a matching fly veil.
March 31-April 1 GLENGYLE STATION
– the last course for this trip.
April 2 – HEADING FOR HOME
When I reached Birdsville, the Birdsville Track leading to home was straight ahead. But I spied a service station in the next street and decided to stock up on iced coffee for the trip. Then headed straight ahead, not remembering that I was on another street. The road was wide bitumen, and I wasn’t concerned when after a few km it changed to dirt, then to sand. A huge sandhill (‘Big Red’ as I later found out) was in front of me, so over I went, and only then decided that perhaps just maybe I was on the wrong track. There was no way I could get back over the Big Red to return to Birdsville, so consulted the map & decided to keep going to Alton Downs.
After being bogged several times, I realized that I would have to go back. I made it back to Big Red and contemplated what to do. The first attempt didn’t get me anywhere near the top. Plus it had an overhang, so it was like a double sand hill. The second try was not much better. Each time I had to unbog the car, digging the whole of the underneath away. It was so hot I lay in the hole under the car to recover, and realised I was listening to the noise of sand running into the hole that I had dug, and that the car would probably sink down onto me. My mobile phone was out of range just 40km from the Birdsville Police Station, my VHF radio didn’t raise a soul.
On the third try, I nearly made it to the top, and by then it was getting late in the afternoon. Each time I had to back the car several hundred metres away to gain a run up. I decided I only had one chance left. I shored up the wheels using my dismantled tool box and my leather shoeing apron, backed the car back several hundred metres, put it in low range 4WD and gunned it to its absolute limit. This time I actually got the front tyres onto the downwards slope of Big Red. I retrieved my scattered materials, and then arrived back in Birdsville totally exhausted about 6.30pm and spent the night at a motel.
April 3 – drove the 1200 Km back to Adelaide in one day, it was such a pleasure to sit in air conditioned comfort and do nothing but drive.
April 4 – Home again – two whole weeks home to catch up on office work and my very patient clients.
Easter – drove from Adelaide to Alice Springs 1500Km, went to the airport and met my friend Carl, a former farrier from Maine USA who accompanied me as an extra pair of hands for three weeks, then headed a further 700 Km north to Helen Springs Station, for my first course. Huge rains deluged this area over the previous few weeks, and I hoped that we would be able to get through. On the way I stopped to show Carl the landmark for the Tropic of Capricorn, then we stopped again at the Devils Marbles, an amazing rock formation near Tennant Creek.
April 19-20 HELEN SPRINGS STATION
Very hot weather, around 38 degrees and very humid with all the recent rain. After the first day of the course, the ringers put on an impromptu rodeo and we sat on top of the fence and predicted which way the horses would buck (part of my teaching). The country looked fantastic after all the rain, and I can’t remember even seeing a fly today which is a huge bonus in Australia. Another tropical cyclone headed over Queensland and was expected to dump a whole lot of rain over the area where I was headed.
On the course was a woman who had driven 700km from Alice Springs to participate. She had no prior experience but was really determined and worked really hard. She had hit herself in the mouth with the hoof nippers while pulling out a nail, and had a huge bruise on her mouth.
Driving up to the course, she saw a donkey with badly neglected feet at the roadhouse, so told the owners she was doing a Hoof Care course, and that she would come back and trim it on her way home. This is the email that she later sent to me:
“I stopped at Barrow Creek to do the donkey. You probably won’t think much of how I handled it, but this is how it went. I turned up and said that we’d need her halter. They all looked at me like I was strange and said that she didn’t have a halter. I told them well we’ll need to tie her up and they reckon she’s never been tied up. I asked how they get the hooves done and she’s never had her hooves done.
I’d already figured out that she’s never handled (patted and fed yes, but never handled) and things may not go too well and if I had any doubts they were soon cleared up when we found her near a group of aborigines who got up and walked away one by one when they saw me start making a halter. So I made her a halter out of a rope and I didn’t put it too tight because I didn’t want her to fight the halter. I tried picking up the feet, but that was going no where and my clippers weren’t big enough and she was getting upset so I stopped. I didn’t really know what to do, but I couldn’t leave her like that. The poor thing could hardly walk.
So, (and this is the part you may not think very much of after all that good training) I asked if they had a saw and I sawed the long bits off while she stood on the ground. Then I used the clippers to cut off the flares, all while she stood with her feet on the ground. I showed them how to pick up her legs (no ‘dog bites’ because she really reacts to that) and told them to do that a few times when they feed her and in a couple months I’ll come back and clean out the bottoms and trim up the hooves better.
It does not look pretty, but she can walk now. And she didn’t have a bad experience so she wasn’t too upset. I didn’t get bitten or kicked which was good because I already had a sore foot that had been stomped on twice, a sore hand that just got caught by the edge of a hoof when one of the horses kicked, a sore mouth and was also just sore all over anyway. They were very pleased with it. But it is an ugly job.”
Now that is one gutsy lady!
Before we left for the next station, the manager drove us out for a tour of the dams, the bores, the paddocks, the yards and the sheds. Then after smoko (morning tea) he insisted we stay a bit longer so the pilot could take us up for a flight to look at it from above (every station has a plane and a pilot). That was the first day that they could do any mustering since the rain started two weeks before. The cattle ships were already waiting in Darwin Harbour, and the managers were anxious to get them loaded.
We headed up the Stuart Highway, the highway running from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the South of Australia and I had planned to show Carl the bronze statue of a drover at Newcastle Waters before we turned off to our next port of call. However the highway was cut by water; a dinghy tethered to the side of the road offered the only means to cross the flooded road, so we backtracked.
To reach Eva Downs, we travelled for 200 Km along the Barkly Stock Route which is always an amazing sight as it is completely flat, with not a land mark in sight, not even the smallest tree. This year the one difference was the grass was green, whereas for the last four years it has been brown. Also we traveled through patches of water 18” deep which stretched up to three kilometres at a time, between which the car threw up copious clouds of bull dust as the temperatures were up around 38 degrees Celsius.
April 22-23 EVA DOWNS STATION
When we arrived at Eva Downs Station there were 3,000 cattle in the yards, so we finished our day helping with yard work. 1700 calves were weaned off their mothers, and seven bulls put in with the cows. Carl was disconcerted to find the toilet bowls full of large green tree frogs – this is pretty standard in tropical areas, and they just do not go away. You certainly need to be mindful to leave the lid down so they are not all through the house. Of greater concern to me are the snakes that come in through any available opening to look for food such as the frogs.
Finished the course at 4pm on the second day and everyone helped us pack up quickly so we could leave in daylight as the road had been washed away so deeply in places that you could lose a truck in it. We stopped and looked at some brolgas on the way. Had a great BBQ, one of the lads was 21, so the cook put on pavlova and birthday cake.
APRIL 24-25 ANTHONY LAGOON STATION
The first year I taught at Anthony Lagoon (the neighboring property to Eva Lagoon), the metal horse yards were in full sun, and the heat from the rails was blistering. I must have complained a lot, as the following year the yards had been completely covered with shade cloth, making it a pleasure to work there. This year, a few weeks after I returned home, Anthony Lagoon and Eva Downs were sold for a reported $97m. The two properties total 2.3 million acres and carry 62,000 head of cattle. These are my two favourite stations, but sadly neither of the station managers stayed on with the new owners.
APRIL 26-27 WALHALLOW STATION
Walhallow is just around the corner from Anthony Lagoon so that was easy traveling, but six days teaching in a row is pretty demanding. Had an easy time with only six people on this course – they were really switched on and interested which makes it even easier. The second day of the course was in drenching rain due to the backlash of the cyclone, which added to our uncertainty of traveling north next day. Anne emailed us a newspaper article about Arkaba Station which has opened its doors to ‘high-yield US tourists’ for $850 per day. And that is evidently cheap – El Questro Station charges $1950 per day and Wrotham Park Station in Queensland is $1400 per day- Carl was impressed with how much he was saving on those prices.
APRIL 28 – TRAVEL
After leaving Walhallow, we traveled 100Km north and had a bush pie mid morning at the legendary Heartbreak Hotel, then 300Km west to the Daly Waters Pub for a steak sandwich at lunchtime before heading to 200Km north to Katherine and then 100Km down to Willeroo. The pub (hotel) is a tourist icon and has been decorated with articles of underclothing for some reason abandoned by their owners.
APRIL 29-30 WILLEROO STATION
There were 8 on this course, including the manager’s wife Linda, who had left the manager back at the homestead babysitting their three young children. Because of all the rain it was awfully humid, but we were so lucky to find all the roads passable, as a week earlier we would have been stranded. Carl & I waddled out after dinner, which was braised steak & onions, Thai noodles, peanut beef, and other similar dishes. The cook had walked out the day before we got there (seems to be a regular occurrence, station cooks are a temperamental bunch), so the manager’s wife and a couple of the girls were doing kitchen duties.
At dinner time two pilots plus choppers arrived from Helimuster (a helicopter mustering service based at a nearby station), and the manager said that if we weren’t in a hurry to leave early next morning, we could have a ride, one in each chopper. The choppers are tiny, and have no doors so the noise is horrific, and only hold the pilot plus one passenger. So we had two hours mustering in a Helimuster chopper, which was a bonus for Carl. The pilots wouldn’t let us have breakfast before they took us up and when they came across a few stubborn animals, the pilots put us on the ground while they sorted the animals out with diving and low flying techniques.
We drove on to Tipperary Station, the first time I had been invited to run a course there, so it was quantity unknown. But it was an amazing place of around 7,300 square miles. It was formerly a wildlife park and was sold in 2003 to the current owner for $50m, and he has been rebuilding it. There are around 130 staff and 30 houses along two avenues nestled in Palm trees, so it is a community in itself with tennis courts and an indoor pool. It even has its own school as well as an airport lounge plus store and post office.
MAY 2-3 TIPPERARY STATION
Had eight girls on the course – they had just completed an Artificial Insemination programme on 1500 heifers, and management was so pleased with them that my hoof care course was arranged as a bonus to them. They had no prior experience, but they were a really switched on group. There are not a lot of horses on Tipperary, where they tend to use vehicles, but there were enough to keep the girls on the move.
Finished the course at 2pm on the second day. John the station manager decided to take us all fishing so all the girls piled in one car, & Carl & I went in my 4WD, but after about 10km we came across a station hand in a Toyota stuck in mud up to its doors. We all tried to pull the car out, but broke two tow ropes, so we gave him a lift back to the station and abandoned the idea of fishing. Found a rogue bull on the way back, so we grounded him and one of the girls donated her leather belt as hobbles, then left him to be retrieved and moved next day.
We have just finished our course with David this afternoon and have come to the conclusion that the man is brilliant. It has taught us so much, David is a fantastic teacher.
Thank you again
Well that was the next leg of the courses completed. Carl & I drove up to Darwin, and played tourists for two days. We had planned a day’s fishing for Barramundi, but the weather was against us. We went through the underground oil tunnels that were built during World War Two but never used, ate fresh Barramundi at beautiful Cullen Bay, toured the bays around Darwin, watched the tropical sunset at Fannie Bay and saw Sweetheart the 17 foot crocodile preserved at the Darwin Museum. I arranged to leave my 4WD in safe keeping with friends then we flew 3,000km home to Adelaide and our wives. I had three weeks at home ahead of me before flying back to Darwin, where the next six week leg of my teaching takes me from Darwin across to Broome, around 2000km. Australia is roughly the same size as America, and it just isn’t possible to keep driving back home.
This is my last article for the ASHJ. I am forever grateful to the ASHJ team for the opportunity given to me to provide articles of interest for readers over the past 16 years, and for the feedback I have received from readers over that time.
I retired from teaching at the end of June as I realised that if I keep going I will have been shoeing horses for 60 years next year and that sounded just too ridiculous. I decided to stop writing these articles at the same time as I stop teaching. The reason? I’m turning into a Grey Nomad and going fishing!! Fishing and golf are two things I simply never had enough time for in my life and are now high on my bucket list. One of my first plans is to go helicopter fishing for barramundi with Tony from Katherine. I caught a huge barramundi with Shane Dunn when teaching on Legune Station about ten years ago and have never forgotten it. (Pic 1) I have played one game of golf in the past 20 years, and that was about ten years ago playing a round with my brother who plays most weeks. The fact that I beat him inspired me to want to play more golf.
Thirteen years ago I decided to teach hoof care when I realised just how far the standards of farriery had fallen. My aim was to ‘make a difference’ which was probably like wanting to win x-lotto, and I certainly failed miserably at teaching farriers who stayed away in their droves; however what happened was what I didn’t expect, and I ended up teaching horse owners to learn what to look for and what to demand of their farriers; which is probably why the farriers stayed away in droves, and why my ears burn most of the time.
I also plan to spend more time making information available online. When I started writing these articles for Australian Stock Horse Journal 16 years ago, I wrote each article on paper with a biro, which Anne rewrote more legibly and posted off to ASHJ along with photos printed at the chemist shop; remember those days? As technology improved, we took the articles to a secretarial service which typed them out on a data processor. It was a huge advance when we bought our first computer 15 years ago and I could write the articles and email the article plus the photos direct to ASHJ. 12 years ago I started a website and it now has over 200 pages offering free Hoof Care information and free consultations on Hoof Care to anyone anywhere in the world.
Nowadays, technology has made a huge difference and this information highway is available 24/7. Any farrier who kids himself that he doesn’t need to be online and that he doesn’t need to keep up with what products and practices are available online and what people are discussing online has to be aware that 90% of his clients are reading about Hoof Care online.
A few weeks ago I received a photo (Pic 2) from an owner distressed at her horse being so lame after a barefoot trim. I was so incensed at this brutality that I posted the photo on my Facebook page and had 7,500 hits in 24 hours. Technology Rules!
Horse owners are becoming more and more educated about hoof care and they want to know the reasons WHY a different technique has helped or hindered their horse’s performance. It is our duty as farriers to provide that answer to them, and in a format that can be verified scientifically. It is just not acceptable to say ‘that’s just what we do’ or ‘don’t you worry about that, I’ll fix it and it isn’t a problem’. A farrier who knows and understands exactly what he is doing will be able to explain to the owner as he goes along and in a format that can be verified scientifically.
Over the last 20 years I have found one thing that hasn’t changed, and that is farriers’ inability to ask questions and to answer questions. The way around this is for all horse owners to keep asking questions of all farriers so that hopefully the farriers will get so tired of this that they might start finding out some answers. No professional person would ever consider that their education was complete when they started working or practising, but unfortunately most farriers consider when they have achieved their Certificate Three in Farriery, their education is done and dusted. Certificate Three in anything is ‘entry level’ into any trade and I believe that farriers should be tested annually to renew their Certificate Three in Farriery – this may stop a lot of the shortcuts being taken that are so detrimental to the horse.
I had a student recently, a practising farrier, who watched me remove a small amount of sole at the toe, then he asked me ‘why did you bother?’ I asked him what he meant, and he said that the amount of sole I removed was so small that he felt it wasn’t worth bothering with. My answer was one of my main principles of horseshoeing: “If you are going to do something properly, then do it every single time you do it, otherwise put your tools down and walk away from being a farrier. Every farrier has a ‘signature’ and if you don’t do something properly because you can’t be bothered, then it will become your signature.”
One problem that still continues to haunt me is the reluctance of many owners to put down a horse in extreme pain from hoof related problems, invariably because the horse ‘wants to live’ or ‘is still eating’. This is an incredibly selfish attitude and unfortunately there are far too many supposed hoof carers out there who are prepared to take money from these people for some ‘wonder treatment’ and let the horse endure months of excruciating pain instead of doing the humane thing and euthanasing the horse.
Much the same is happening with rescue horses. If a horse is given for free, it is generally for a reason, and logic dictates it is going to be a high maintenance horse for life because of that reason. I have seen people attempt to rescue horses with a broken pelvis, terrible conformation, extreme club footedness, and extremely dangerous horses – it is cruel to be kind to such horses.
Horse owners nowadays are generally much more informed than they were 20 years ago. A lot of that information is gained from the internet, and much of it is incorrect, and that is just the way with online information, which needs scientific backup. But it is important for horse owners to keep questioning WHY and not to just accept that it ‘just is’.
I have to thank all readers for putting up with my continued carping over the years on barefoot trimming, club feet, quarter clipped shoes, trimming foals, flares, excess bars, excess sole and so on.
Over the years I have been called many names, and one farrier even referred to me as a Witch Doctor. I was a bit offended by that until I thought about it and realised that the Witch Doctor was the person who did magical things and made people better, but the rest of the tribe didn’t understand what it was that he did, and I was quite chuffed in the end. But it is actually a real shame, as my mission in life is for people and farriers to easily understand how to correctly balance the hoof.
I talk a lot about the Road Map of the Hoof and the three junctions. This is not just something I have found in text books, in fact I have never found it referred to in any book, magazine, article or clinic by any other farrier. It is a process that I have gradually identified over the last 59 years after being taught exactly what to do by Old Joe who was 84 years old when I was 14; he never explained why he did what he did and being 14 I certainly didn’t think to ask.
There arethree junctions that must be identified in every hoof every time to understand the Road Map in the Hoof.
The hoof/sole junction is where the clean waxy sole meets the white line/hoof wall junction.
The active tip of the frog is where the clean tip of the frog meets the clean sole.
The critical heel/frog junction is where the widest part of the frog meets the solid hoof wall in a straight line from the active tip of the frog. Theheels must NEVER be trimmed less than six millimetres above that junction. NEVER EVER.
If you stick with this Road Map and follow my principles of balancing the hoof your finished work will be very consistent.
The centre of articulation in the hoof has always been recognised as being under the bottom most arc of the coffin joint. (Pic 3) My centre of balance on the sole (which is 19mm behind the active tip of the frog) bisects the frog precisely under the that centre of articulation provided that the sole is prepared correctly to identify the road map and there are no flares in the hoof wall and the heels are six millimetres above the critical heel junction. Also, it is worth knowing that on the bottom of the sole, the measurement from the active tip of the frog to the front of the pedal bone is 25mm, and this measurement is maintained even if the pedal bone rotates. These measurements can be seen in this photo of a dissected leg. Pic 4
The horse world is very small and gossip travels quickly and it’s amazing what comes back to me. I have heard of two part time farriers who have attended my courses and improved their technique considerably and became full time farriers who then went on to tell their clients that they didn’t agree with my centre of balance and that they had ‘improved’ on it by increasing the measurement from the active tip of the frog to the toe. In other words, they had lengthened the toe (Creeping Toe Syndrome) and lowered the heels (Long Toe/Low Heel Syndrome) to make it easier and quicker to finish the job (Can’t Be Bothered Syndrome).
By now I think every reader knows that my principles of hoof care include the following rules:
A foal should have its hooves inspected at ten days old.
Club footed horses are a result of genetic throw back and should NEVER be bred from.
All horses should be left barefoot for at least six weeks each year.
A shoe is required when the wear rate exceeds the growth rate.
Nails should be level with the shoe, not proud.
Shoes must not protrude past the buttress of the heel
A horse bears most of its weight on the hoof capsule. End of story.
The ground bearing edge of the hoof should be a mirror image of the ideal coronary band
Quarter clipped shoes restrict expansion in the hoof and the detrimental effect can be felt in the coronary band directly above the quarter clips.
A flare in the hoof is your greatest enemy
The horse’s hoof has not changed, and if the hoof is correctly balanced then there is rarely any need for bandaid shoes of any sort.
Understand the centre of balance in the hoof and correctly balance the feet every time
Read the road map in the hoof, especially the three critical junctions
Maintain the sole in a concave profile
Check for a perfect T-square every time
Check for a parallel hoof pastern angle every time
Never attempt to do anything to a horse unless you understand WHY you are doing it and what the EFFECT is going to be for the horse
BECAUSE – if a horse isn’t trimmed and balanced properly barefoot, then no-one has any business putting shoes on that horse. I believe that everyone who trims a horse’s hoof has a duty of care to balance that hoof correctly.
If you see me lazing around with a fishing rod or a golf club in my hands and you have a horse with a hoof problem, come over and say G’day, as it’s a sure bet my shoeing box will be somewhere in the A-Van.
I have never believed in expending more energy as a farrier than I absolutely have to, and this came home to me at a recent course where I had a young farrier attending one of my advanced courses over five days. The self-taught farrier knew he was working too hard and wanted to refine and improve his methods. For a career farrier, it is important to be able to increase workload and at the same time to conserve energy wherever possible without taking shortcuts; also to keep the body fit and healthy, particularly the back, and to challenge the mind so that burnout and complacency don’t finish the career prematurely. I believe that it’s OK to be lazy if it benefits the farrier, but only if it also benefits the horse.
The first morning the young farrier was scratching his head saying ‘How do you manage this at your age?’ But by the first afternoon he was already finding it easier. This farrier was going through four rasps a week – I blunt one a month. Plus he had a fine rasp, a heavy rasp, a dull rasp and a half way dull rasp for all the different jobs. That makes the tool box far too heavy for a lazy farrier to carry, so I carry only one sharp rasp, rough on one side and fine on the other and I use different pressure on the rasp for different needs. A sharp rasp is a deadly tool and most farriers take off far too much hoof in the wrong places by being over-enthusiastic with the rasp – I spend most time at courses telling students to ‘back off with that rasp’. Most times when finishing the hoof, I hold the rasp with thumb and forefinger only, and put the other three fingers in the air like a genteel lady drinking tea. (Pic 1) A better and rounder hoof shape also results when holding the rasp from hand to elbow (Pic 2a & 2b) By teaching yourself to use the rasp in either hand, it avoids problems of ‘windswept’ hooves where all the rasping is done in one direction. (Diag 3)
For a career farrier, persistence in learning to use a rasp in either hand pays huge dividends over a career span. Most farriers will not attempt to be ambidextrous, so they have to place themselves in what I call the ‘suicide position’ (Pic 4a front &4b hind) when taking the hoof forward, to rasp or hammer the outside edge of the hoof wall.
If the horse runs forward when working on the fronts in that suicide position or if it pulls back when working in that position when working on the hinds you will get injured. Again, it is easier and safer to learn to swap hands with the rasp. (Pic 5a and 5b) Note that the hoof should never be rasped above the clinch line; if the flares are removed from the bottom of the hoof wall, then rasping when taking the hoof forward is minimised.
The young farrier at my course was so open minded to change, that by day two he was rasping and hammering with both hands to avoid putting the hoof down just to change positions and use the other hand. It is harder to hammer than to rasp with the other hand, but it is worth persisting, especially for young farriers, as the time it saves over a career generates a lot of extra income. He found that by using my tool box, he didn’t have to bend down as far to reach his tools, so by the end of day two he had sworn off using his tool roll. To use a tool box it is a simple matter to place it on the outside of your body away from the horse and stop the horse from stepping on it or in it. I have a magnet in the end of my hammer handle to pick up any nail I drop, as I am far too lazy to bend down far enough to pick up that nail.
The farrier had only ever tong clinched, but by the morning of day two, he had learnt how easy it was to hammer clinch, and how much kinder it is to the hoof. I only tong clinch when a horse is hammer shy. Horses love rhythm, and the sound of a regular rhythm when hammer clinching generally relaxes them. (It is important to use the same number of hammer hits per nail when nailing and clenching on every nail – this creates the rhythm, but more importantly for the horse it means that all nails are tightened evenly in the hoof).
Most farriers don’t remove much sole, if any, making it impossible to correctly balance the hoof. In a hot dry climate like ours, the soles then become hard packed and the hoof eventually becomes sole bound, plus the frog then loses ground contact and can no longer do its job and act as a pump, and starts to shrivel up. Being a lazy farrier, I started making my own sole chisels which make the task of removing excess sole a breeze, and I am now marketing sole chisels. There are no commercially made sole chisels, because as I said before, most farriers don’t remove much sole, if any. I import nylon hammers to sell for use with the sole chisel to save concussion on the hoof, and to lessen the noise on the farrier’s ears. But if the sole is not removed to create a concavity, we cannot lower the hoof wall as it only creates a flat hoof.
Being a lazy farrier, I rarely make shoes, as the horseshoe manufacturers have very kindly made their shoes to the shape of the correctly balanced hoof. This means that if I correctly balance the hoof each time, I don’t have to adjust each shoe to fit the flares in the hoof, or to fit the distorted growth caused from excess sole. I do have to bump the heels in a little, after battling unsuccessfully for years to persuade the manufacturers to tuck the heels in, because no shoe should ever protrude past the buttress of the heels (Pic 6).
Learning to trim and shoe in The Happy Spot is one of my bandwagons and is essential for the lazy farrier. When picking up a horse’s front leg, he has what I call a Happy Spot. This is an area of about one foot square that when you hold the foot up off the ground at the fetlock joint, there is no tension at all, and the horse is standing perfectly balanced and comfortable on his other three legs. That is the spot to work on the hoof. The Happy Spot may be a lot lower than what you expect, it could be a little bit higher, or out the back a bit further, or back under the horse a little, but wherever that relaxed spot is, and where the horse is comfortable, that is where you work.
However, most people then pull the leg out another foot, and then up another six inches so they can step in and work on the leg where they are comfortable. (Pic 7) That immediately puts the horse out of his comfort zone, the hoof has been removed from its Happy Spot and the horse will not stand there for more than a few seconds before it starts to shift its weight, pull its leg back and then get branded as an ‘idiot’ or as a ‘bad horse’. Another tip – when working on the hind leg, the Happy Spot is when the hock is at a 90 degree angle. To survive a day as a lazy farrier it is much easier to relax by putting the arm over the hock and leaning into the horse (Pic 8) when bringing the foot forwards. Ditto when taking the foot back (Pic 9). It’s a mutual effort, because you lean over the hock which saves stress on your back, and at the same time you become the horse’s fourth leg, so he relaxes too.
Being a lazy farrier, I have a healthy respect for my own survival, and I have 100% respect for the power of the horse as it has the capacity to kill me. Horses are generally very reasonable, and if a horse is fearful of having shoes nailed on, or fearful of men or fearful of lifting its leg or whatever, it almost certainly indicates a previous bad experience. It takes time and patience to win back the confidence and respect and to teach him that everything is going to be OK now.
On the rare occasion that a horse is really playing up, and won’t be persuaded to be nice, I get lazy and have no hesitation in calling it quits for the day rather than persisting and spoiling a beautiful friendship. Then I go home and read a book.
Recent changes to the Australian consumer laws may very well be the catalyst for change in the trade of farriery. The new laws give the horse owner legal redress for substandard work carried out by the farrier and has far reaching impacts on our profession.
In this country as in many others, any person with even limited knowledge is allowed to provide hoof care to horses; there are no laws to prevent them doing so even when their efforts result in lameness to the horse; as a result many owners have gone for months or even years before finding a true tradesman to get satisfaction, with no redress for loss of costs.
Doubtless many people in the industry of providing hoof care will be concerned by these new laws, however we should be welcoming it as an opportunity to change. Starting from the top, farriery must be recognised as a skilled trade and profession by the Government.
It may be a real opportunity for the two farriery associations in Australia to move forwards to forming one body to represent the industry in a more powerful way to the government. It should be common sense that if one government department holds farriers accountable, the other department should soon be willing to recognise that it is a skilled trade.
Once that has happened, hopefully compulsory registration and licensing will follow, then the industry standards will be able to be raised and maintained at a much higher level, for the good of the whole horse industry.
The current problem is that farriery is a skilled trade with not enough skilled tradesmen working at it; there are not even any laws to prevent unskilled people from working as a farrier or hoof care provider. You only need to attend any race meeting or horse event to see the variable standards of work in all its glory, and to wonder why the general public thinks it can reliably bet on these horses and win.
I have always been of the opinion that an owner who is educated about correct hoof care is a valuable client, and if enough owners are savvy about correct hoof care they then have the power to decide that only a properly trained and accredited farrier should be attending to their horses hooves.
Perhaps now all farriers will also realise the need to carry professional indemnity insurance, and also to be more particular about work place safety and work practices, thereby encouraging owners to provide better facilities for hoof care work to be carried out.
I know that many horse owners and farriers already have good professional working standards and will never have to go down the path of legal accountability, but they are in the minority by comparison. Perhaps it will take a costly legal challenge to make all horse owners and those people providing hoof care to realise the importance of working professionally and being legally accountable.
As farriers, we have let the horses and the horse world down. With information technology on tap, we are still not getting it right. The over abundance of horses with long toes – low heels, flares, contracted heels and Seedy Toe are ample evidence that things are not right, and that farriers are not correcting these simple problems. And I am not just talking about Australia, as these problems are world-wide.
The reason the farriers are not correcting these problems is they don’t know how to, and the reason they don’t know how to is that they have not been taught correctly. The farriers working for the Sultan of Brunei, or for the Hong Kong Turf Club no doubt do an excellent job, as do the top few percent of any trade. But these farriers are an elite group and do not travel around shoeing kids’ ponies and enthusiasts’ pleasure horses.
This leaves the stable door open for newcomers to arrive waving their Magic Fixit Flags. So firstly in came the barefoot trimmers, with a ‘new’ invention, the barefoot horse. And the horse owners listened because their horses were lame and had so many problems. And if your horse is dead lame, anything is going to be an improvement.
Hot on their heels has followed an influx of Magic Fixit Horseshoes. There are clip on shoes, so you don’t even need to bother with tedious work such as trimming. There are plastic shoes, so thick that the frog has no chance of ever touching the ground and doing what it should.
There are also Magic Fixit horseshoes with a vastly shortened toe, so that the horse can go 10-12 weeks between shoeing. If the horse was meant to have a square toe, surely it would have a square coronary band, but it doesn’t. When square toed shoes have been on the hoof for that length of time, the actual profile of the hoof has grown out past the shoe and become round again, defying the efforts of the square toed shoe fitter to keep it blunt, supposedly to assist in breakover movement.
However, the initial application of square toed shoes to a horse suffering long toe/low heel syndrome is to give it immediate relief in the short term, giving the owner satisfaction that they have done the right thing. Again, if the farriers had been correctly balancing the hooves, the need for change would never have been necessary.
However, any method which alters the natural balance of the hoof will also alter the gait of the horse, and is merely a temporary bandaid which will have a long term cost to the soundness of the horse.
A caller asked me to see a lame pony recently. The pony had size 00 hooves and had been shod in these Magic Fixit shoes, which weighed 310 grams per shoe, compared to 130 grams per shoe for a regular shoe – 720gm more than the weight of four standard shoes. The pony had stress foundered a few days later.
I will gladly accept a challenge from anyone promoting any of these crazy Magic Fixit shoes and who are suggesting that they can remedy lameness. My experience is that 99% of hoof lameness problems can be corrected simply by correctly balancing the hoof and if necessary applying standard shoes, and I will gladly debate or demonstrate this against any Magic Fixit shoe.
But most importantly, ALL people who are working with horses hooves need to be correctly educated in the simple basic principles of hoof balance, and that includes teachers of farriers, farriers, barefoot trimmers and horseshoe promoters. The astute horse rider recognises instantly the difference between a well shod horse and a horse shod with bandaids. Surely we should listen to them and be accountable.