There are six bad habits creeping into hoof preparation and the fitting of shoes.
1. Quarter clipped shoes, rolled toe and square toed shoes.
2. Deliberate spooning of the heels on work shoes and race plates.
3. Leaving bar pressure under the heels.
4. Not achieving a T-square at the heels.
5. Not eliminating flares everywhere in the hoof.
6. Using shoes that are too heavy and with nail holes set too coarse for the white line.
Now let me explain in more detail the detrimental effects of these six main problems for the horse.
The quarter clipped shoe has a clip either side of the central point of the toe, usually situated between the second and third nail hole in the shoe. They are being used in the belief that they help stabilize a shoe on horses which have a tendency to pull shoes. While this may be true in some cases, in all cases they inhibit the expansion of the hoof wall in that area of the toe quarters. To add to the problem these shoes have a tendency to be slightly squared off at the toe which alters the normal profile of the hoof. I have found that the effect of using quarter clipped shoes causes pressure points to the coronary band directly above these clips and to the bottom of the hoof by way of restricted movement. Rolled toe and square toed shoes have their place in helping to treat lower leg injuries and some abnormal gait problems, however they should not be used on every horse as a bandaid instead of taking the extra care to simply balance the hoof to correct any over-reaching or forging faults.
Spooning or arching the heels on ANY shoe is wrong. The horse must be able to bear weight evenly on the complete ground surface of the hoof wall to be comfortable and sound, so if the ground surface of the hoof is level the shoe must be level to fit it. Ask the question as to why people deliberately spoon the heels on shoes and you will be told that its to stop the horse from pulling its shoe by over-reaching or catching it in the fence, or sucking them off in the mud, or that it helps to keep the shoe tight when it is nailed and clenched; some truly believe that by fitting a perfectly flat shoe to the hoof, the process of nailing and clenching buckles the shoe and lifts the heels of the shoe off the heels of the hoof so if they spoon the shoe at the heels then nailing it on will cause the shoe to flatten and be level. My observation has been that whenever an unlevel shoe has been fitted, the horse is eventually lame; when the shoe is removed it is still very bent at the heels, there are always signs of pressure at the buttresses of the heels and these horses are not comfortable working and certainly won’t win in competition. Spooning or bending any shoe at the heels causes extreme pressure in that area and is simply a bad habit that must not be allowed to continue.
Leaving bar pressure at the heels happens if the bars are not trimmed sufficiently when preparing the sole at the time of shoeing. These bars grow 1/3 faster than the hoof wall – nature has designed it that way to support the rear part of the hoof, (which in its native environment was never meant to be fitted with a shoe, thus in that mode the bars were trimmed down naturally). With shoe fitting, these bars must be trimmed so as not to be weight bearing under the heels of the shoe for the period of wearing a shoe. Bruised heels and corns will be the result of bar pressure and the horse will not work correctly. Add to this the spooning of the shoe at the heels and you will have a disaster for the horse and a very frustrated trainer.
Failure to achieve a T-square at the heels. When viewed down the back of the pastern a correctly prepared hoof should be level across the heel buttresses – failure to achieve this causes the hoof to land unevenly and results in excessive pressure to the lateral or medial cartilages. This is evident by a swelling just above the coronary band above the high side of the un-level heel.
Failure to eliminate flares anywhere in the hoof results in pressure in that part of the hoof wall. When viewed from the bottom or sole aspect the hoof wall should be an even thickness all the way around, wherever it is thicker there will be a flare above that area and a bend in the exterior wall of the hoof. If the shoe is shaped to fit out to a flare, the hoof will remain unbalanced and the nails will always be low because they are starting off outside the white line, hence the shoe will always be unstable and move. Remember a flare anywhere in the hoof is your greatest enemy. Flares cause hoof wall separation and cracks and lameness.
Using shoes that are too heavy. The guideline for correct shoe weight is and always has been that a shoe should be as light as is possible to allow the horse to perform its task. This rule seems to have been lost with the influence of many of the European type shoes readily available in Australia. A shoe is only a protective wear plate so really it only needs to be covering the wearing surface of the hoof; however the prevalent mindset now seems to be that ‘the horse needs plenty of support’ and shoes are being used that are far too heavy and which have a nail pattern that puts the nails not only inside the white line but inside the sensitive laminae. To add to the insult to the hoof they are quarter clipped as well, just to make sure nothing moves anywhere. No wonder these poor horses don’t want to work freely.
In summary these comments are observations formed after being called to consult on horses which are not working to their owners’ expectations, and all of which have improved dramatically simply by observing and eliminating these six basic problems.