A very common phrase which is also very appropriate is ‘Keep it Simple Stupid’ – this is known as the KISS principle.

The temptation when shoeing is to over-engineer the problem and then to keep the treatment going for too long. Results must be monitored regularly to avoid the possibility of the remedial process ultimately causing a different problem.

To even begin to diagnose a hoof related lameness issue we must first establish that the hoof is correctly balanced and is normal in shape. The major principle of a hoof in flight is that as the hoof leaves the ground, it will travel in the direction of its longest point, and when it lands it will point in the direction of its longest point. We must also understand that Mother Nature requires the frog to have some contact with the planet, to cause the hoof to expand at the heels under load and enhance blood flow within the hoof.

Another major principle is that anything we do which alters the shape of the ground bearing edges of the hoof contrary to the normal shape of the hoof, which is also the normal coronary band shape, has a detrimental effect to the horse’s normal stride.

A rolled toe/squared toe shoe has always been used effectively for the rehabilitation of bowed tendons and suspensory problems, and corns and heel pain. (Pic 1) Today the rolled toe/squared toe shoe is being used as a bandaid to control the break-over whenever the hoof is shown to be long in the toe and low in the heel, instead of simply lowering the front of the hoof and shortening it.

The double clipped shoe (Pic 2) is probably the most offensive weapon we could ever nail onto the bottom of the horse’s hoof. It was always correctly applied in the event of a major hoof injury such as fractured pedal bones or quartered heel injuries, but today it is used to prevent a shoe moving after shoeing, or because the hoof is not landing level, and also to stabilise the rolled toe shoe because there is no centre toe clip. The bottom line is that if we can’t keep a shoe in place without clips of any kind then the hoof is obviously not in symmetrical balance – so this shoe is yet another bandaid. It is clear to see that the prolonged use of the double clipped shoe causes pressure bulges in the coronary band directly above these clips and results in sensitivity in this area. (Pic 3)

When fitted correctly the frog bar shoe (Pic 4) is an excellent shoe for distributing the weight away from crushed and underrun heels and it often incorporates a rolled toe to enhance toe break over, which in turn reduces heel pressure; however when the break over is sped up, the stride is shortened, so while this system works in the short term, it will cause other problems if it is used for too long.

The heart bar shoe (Pic 5) is often considered to be the panacea of all ills, as when fitted with the correct frog pressure and length it is the ultimate support shoe, so much so that when the need for its use is no longer necessary, some horses have problems working soundly in normal shoes for quite a while, so sometimes you may need to go in steps, for example go from the heart bar shoe to a straight bar shoe to eventually be able to fit a normal shoe again.

The egg bar shoe (Pic 6) named for its shape like an egg, is supposed to be useful for spreading the weight over a larger area of shoe; however by its very design, it protrudes back past the natural heels of the hoof and thus causes a leverage pressure at that point. It also causes the hoof to land too early, resulting in a shortening of the stride.

Wedged heel shoes (Pic 7), which often incorporate a rolled toe, have a short term beneficial effect for low heel problems, but we must be careful not to use them for the wrong reason, as nearly all low heel problems are caused from the toes being too long, so do make sure the toe is correct first.

Another fact is that whenever a man-made wedge is fitted between the hoof and the shoe at the heels, it causes the heels to become even more crushed. (Pic 8)

In summary when doing anything other than correctly balanced trimming and applying a ‘normal’ shoe, we need to ask ourselves these two questions:

  1. Do I fully understand the process I am about to put in place?
  2. Do I fully understand the resulting effect this will have on the horse’s action?

If your answer is yes, then take the time to explain your reasons to the customer’s satisfaction; if you are not completely sure, seek a second opinion, as you will win a lot more respect.