Category Archives: Shoeing, Shoes & Nails

shoeing, shoes & nails


The horse with a deviated pastern or cannon bone is a crooked legged horse. As part of the initial assessment, always assess if the horse is right or left handed in order to start on the biggest hoof. Next, always get the hoof in balance. It requires a correct equal balanced measurement between toe and heel and another balanced measurement between inside and outside (medial/lateral measurement). It is also necessary to achieve a T-square along the back of the pastern and the back of the heels.

In the straight legged horse, balancing the hoof will then allow the hoof to travel in a straight line from leaving the ground to where it next lands on the ground. However, on the crooked legged horse, it is interesting to note that it is still important to achieve the balanced hoof with the hoof landing square on the ground to the point where the hoof would actually travel in a straight line.

We did an experiment at one of my recent courses. After correctly balancing the hooves, I put a white dot at the centre front of the hoof above the toe clip area, and we then watched this crooked legged horse with balanced feet walk up and down the pathway towards us.

The interesting thing was that although the horse was crooked legged, the white dot that we placed on the centre of the hoof actually travelled in a straight line towards us, so that if you eyeballed the white dot, it was almost hypnotic, as the centre of the hoof travelled in a straight line, but because of the deviated cannon bone, in which the cannon bone is set either to the inside of the knee joint or the outside of the knee joint, the leg joint wobbled crazily all over the place while in flight, under the influence of the crooked leg bone structure. But the centre of the hoof stayed in a straight line.

A hoof will travel in the direction of its longest point. Flares that are the direct result of crooked leg bone structure will flare to the opposite point; that is, if the horses cannon bone is set to the inside of the knee joint, it will always flare to the outside of the hoof. If the cannon bone is set to the outside of the knee joint, it will flare on the inside, thus the horse will be pigeon toed in the latter or splay footed in the former.

In each case the heels must be kept level, the hoof must be kept level, there must be a T-square along the back of the pastern and the back of the heels; then once the leg is in flight, the bone structure and the muscle memory takes over the flight of the hoof through the air. There is nothing that can be done about this, as it is a conformation problem, it is a deformity; this is the way the horse is comfortable, and it will travel through the air according to the deviation in the bone structure. It is important also to note that we can correct lateral leg lameness in the horse by at least keeping the hoof level and flat on the ground so that even though it is a pigeon toed horse, it will still land pigeon toed and it will still take off pigeon toed, but the actual flight of the hoof is in a straight line.

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It was a very interesting experiment to demonstrate so easily to the class, and a great way for any horse owner to check the flight pattern of the hoof.


The question is often asked – When should my horse be reshod?

A simple enough request, and the standard answer is around six weeks, on the average. But the real problem is that the average timeframe for reshoeing a horse is extremely variable, for a whole lot of reasons, and we need to consider them all.

Firstly, the basic aim in shoeing a horse is to improve its performance. So we can assume that immediately after shoeing, the horse’s hooves are as close to correct as possible. A normal hoof grows at the rate of half an inch every six weeks, by which time the horse’s action has changed considerably, and his performance has deteriorated.

The fact is that in a very large number of cases six weeks is far too long, because hoof growth is dictated not only by the horse’s health, but also by conformation, age, workload, and seasonal conditions.

So let us consider the healthy horse, say three years old, with long sloping pasterns. Within three weeks this type of horse will have developed no heel growth, but maximum growth at the toe. He will be experiencing tendon strain and delayed hoof break-over. Allowed to continue for a further three weeks, the possibility of injury is too high and the situation is even more critical if he is a performance horse.

Now let us consider a similar three year old with short upright pasterns. Three weeks after shoeing he will have developed high heels with very little toe growth, his action also will be changing, becoming short and choppy, he will be experiencing excessive heel concussion and jarring up the leg. If left for another three weeks, he will be in lots of trouble.

The horse by nature is very adaptable, so given that his lot is to endure that infamous six week period between shoeing, he will change his mechanical action in order to compensate for excessive hoof growth, and still perform his daily work programme. So now we decide to reshoe the horse. His hooves will be cut back and shaped to where Mother Nature intended them to be; now because his hoof length has changed from maximum to minimum, his mechanical action has to change again.

My point is that maybe it is more desirable to shorten the periods between shoeing,

thus maintaining a more even hoof growth, and a more even work related performance pattern. Seasonal changes are also very important, as just to add to the horse’s dilemma, Mother Nature dictates that the hoof growth will speed up, harden up, spread out, and slow down with the four seasons of the year.

In conclusion I think you will all agree how vitally important it is that the horse owner, the trainer, the rider and the farrier should consider all these factors, to determine the answer to the question…..

WHEN should my horse be RESHOD……


for the want of a clinch the nail was lost,

for the want of a nail the shoe was lost,

for the want of a shoe the race was lost’

(With apologies to Benjamin Franklin)

I’m sure those thoughts run through the mind of many a competitor in all disciplines of equine sports. As a previous competitor myself in the areas of dressage, show jumping, eventing, polo, polocrosse and stock work, together with being a practicing farrier, I guess the one thing that has always been Priority Number One with clients’ horses is the need to improve the horse’s performance at ground level.

First and foremost, the hoof must be trimmed and dressed to be correctly balanced. The old-timers would say ‘Let the horse work for a day without shoes and you will see how Mother Nature prepares his hooves, and then fit the shoes to suit.’

It has been my observation over many years that the horses’ hooves DO change size with the seasons, even on permanently stabled horses; once again Mother Nature doing her work to provide the horse with the appropriate travel wear! So if we, as farriers and horse owners are not in tune with these facts, it is very easy to end up with a hoof which is the wrong size and at the wrong angle for the horse to successfully perform its function.

Communication is vital between owner or rider and the farrier, as the farrier needs to know what the horse is being used for; it is also a big help to know what ground surfaces he will encounter. The age and the bone structure of the horse should then be taken into account, as this should help determine the weight of the shoes and the style or profile of the shoes (flat or concave and so on).

Thirdly, how best to fit the shoes – most factory made shoes can be fitted quite well cold to a good, sound hoof wall. However, if the hoof wall is not in good condition, hot fitting the shoes is the only way to go – it helps reduce stress on weaker parts of the hoof-wall capsule.

Fourthly, now it’s not a bit of good going to all this care and consideration if we select the wrong nails for the task, yet so many people do just that. Too often the nails are too heavy for the shoes, in the belief that the stronger nails will hold the shoe on better. WRONG! Heavy nails on a light hoof displace too much laminae under the hoof wall, causing much damage and often cracking the hoof wall.

There are as many different types and sizes of nails as there are shoes, and I strongly believe that with our modern technology, combined with good old ‘horse sense’ we should be able to enhance the horse’s ability from the ground up.

So, in summary we must have the correct type and weight of shoe, fitted by the best method to an evenly balanced hoof using the correct size nails – a guarantee for success!


The recent Equitana Asia Pacific 2003 Expo in Melbourne was certainly an experience for me as an educator. The obvious benefit of this four day trade expo for horse enthusiasts is to observe all manner of people demonstrating everything to do with horses under one roof and to be able to collate and compare information, and to dream and fantasize.

The spectators, including me, watched the wonderful working stockhorse demonstrations, while the tireless repertoires from Steve Brady and Guy McLean really did strengthen the resolve to try and improve.

My own mission at Equitana was to demonstrate ‘Shoeing for Performance’ and to promote a greater understanding of the importance of correct hoof care. The day before my first session I went to the stables and the competition areas to look at the horses who were here for this top class expo of excellence; they were all scrubbed and polished within an inch of their lives in anticipation, but sadly at least sixty percent were having trouble just standing on their badly prepared (or unprepared) feet, let alone being capable of performing and competing in heavy sand arenas. It seems that so many horse owners, riders and trainers are still unaware of their duty of care when it involves their horses’ feet and are also unaware of the detrimental effect that badly prepared hooves have on performance. I know I carp on this theme continually, but to achieve top performance results, or even just to own a horse, hoof care MUST rank at the same level as the care and preparation of the horse.

There were educators promoting the benefits of horses going barefoot and others showing the virtues of strap on boots and stick on rim strips, all suggested as desirable alternatives to the supposed horrors of conventional shoeing. I watched them all as they spoke of hoof restriction, concussion, thrush, white line disease and moisture content etc, but not one of these educators mentioned hoof balance or how to achieve it even though they had the perfect opportunity to do so because the horses on which they were demonstrating had overgrown hooves! Without actually demonstrating anything, other than showing a cadaver hoof model to the crowd, the barefoot expert stated unequivocally that a horse can perform better without shoes but did not even attempt to trim the overgrown hoof of the live horse supplied for his demonstration.

My first demonstration was on the same coloured gelding, who was standing splayed in front and cow hocked behind, so I was able to show the audience how to measure back from the frog to see exactly how to correctly trim and balance the front hooves, then to select and fit as light a shoe as possible to enhance the horse’s performance. Session time did not permit me to do his hinds but I explained to the audience that this horse was suffering acute back pain which would only be relieved once his hind hooves were trimmed and balanced correctly at my next session the following day.

Before my next session, the same horse was then used by three other demonstrators for veterinary chiropractic, barefoot trimming and saddle fitting, none of whom made any reference to his cow hocked stance behind or his obvious discomfort even though he was continually shifting his weight behind. It was a great example of their inability to read horse body language. It was a huge relief for me and for Toby at my next session when I balanced and shod his hinds, and alleviated the pressure. It is upsetting to see an animal in pain, and I find it amazing that supposed horse lovers cannot recognise suffering in an animal.

Barefoot trimming is the latest trend, where the proponents maintain that all horses should go barefoot. However, consideration MUST be given to the breed of horse, the condition of the hoof, the health of the horse, the comparison between the terrain of the competition and the stabling at home. And if the horse is crippled from poor and unbalanced shoeing, can someone please tell me how the same farrier will miraculously be able to trim the same horse so that it is balanced? Regardless of whether it is shod or left barefoot, any horse MUST first be trimmed correctly.

At Equitana, I was asked several times about using square toed shoes – my answer is always the same: I will use a square toed shoe when I find a horse with a square coronary band. Shoeing is a simple task, and when the hoof is balanced correctly, the horse will move correctly and perform correctly. All these new inventions are, unfortunately, a bandaid to get around the ever increasing problem of poor shoeing and lack of knowledge by the farrier.

I participated in a debating session on ‘To Shoe Or Not To Shoe’, which was packed with horse owners, all desperate for knowledge. Judging from the avalanche of enquiries I received during the four days at Equitana, these owners are desperate for knowledge to resolve the problems with their horse’s feet. Unfortunately, there were very few farriers at Equitana, and until those farriers are prepared to acknowledge that they can learn more, these problems will continue, regardless of whether the horse is barefoot or shod.


BREAKOVER refers to that moment when the coronary band at the front of the hoof is perpendicular to the ground and the point at which the hoof is then able to leave the ground in its flight upwards and forwards.

Long toes delay the breakover, while short toes speed up the breakover; the correct breakover is as nature will dictate for each correctly prepared and balanced hoof.

At the moment it would seem that ‘Breakover Management’ is the latest buzzword to hit the world of farriery in Australia and probably everywhere else on the planet, and one would think that to be aware of the need to understand the importance of it, we should be able to avoid any chance of it becoming a problem. Surely if, as hoof care professionals, we truly know and practise correct hoof preparation and balance, there would be no need to ever consider it to be a problem because it could not exist.

There are so many differing opinions on what the correct breakover should be, and this is evident by the number of machine made shoes that all claim to assist in resolving the problem; in fact they are all only bandaids and if used for any length of time they do cause other problems. Because the bevelled leading edge of the ‘breakover’ shoe is set back behind the true leading edge of the hoof, this causes the hoof to leave the ground early, and to move in a higher arc, which causes the hoof to land much too early – in other words the shoe shortens the horse’s stride.

This problem has always been about the cause and effect of long toe/low heel condition of the hoof. We all know that the horse with those long sloping pasterns will always be inclined to develop the long toe/low heel condition quicker than others which have a more upright conformation, so to maintain soundness its hoof care has to be re-done perhaps every 21 days, and to do this all the team have to be on the same wave length (ie the owner, the trainer and the farrier). Invariably this doesn’t happen and the toes do get too long with the effect being delayed breakover which leads to forging, over reaching and strained tendons, and results in the end use of a shoe with built in breakover management.

There are some instances where we do need to shorten and square the toes but they are few and far between and it is usually only needed to help rehabilitate an injury. Generally short toes and high heels will cause early breakover but will also shorten the stride and result in bruised heel buttresses from concussion.

If your farrier feels the need to go down the path of fitting breakover enhanced shoes to your horse, ask him why, and consider if there is a clear understanding of the resulting effect that these shoes will have on the horse.

Here are a few basic principles about hoof care which have never changed and will never change – if you stick to applying these principles then you won’t have any problems with the current fad called ‘breakover management’.

  • Anything we do which alters the shape of the leading edge of the hoof contrary to shape of the normal coronary band will alter the stride of the horse.
  • Most hoof problems are caused by long toes.
  • Most long toes are caused from lack of proper sole preparation, from the creeping toe syndrome and from not observing the true road map in the bottom of the hoof.
  • A correctly prepared hoof, to be shod or unshod, should measure equally to the toe and heel from a centre point of balance which is 19mm behind the active tip of the frog.
  • A flare anywhere in the hoof is your greatest enemy.

The centre point of balance has always been considered as being at the lowest point of the coffin joint, which in the correctly balanced hoof will be 19mm behind the clean active tip of the frog.

It may appear to some readers that I am against change; however those who know will also know the resulting folly when we go against that which Mother Nature has so superbly designed. The correct road map and reference points in the bottom of the hoof have always been there, but sadly so many of today’s hoof care providers don’t observe these simple basic principles when setting a horse up for either unshod or shod hoof preparation.

The correct breakover is achieved when the hoof is correctly balanced and results in the hoof leaving the ground when the coronary band at the point above the toe is perpendicular to the ground.

It appears that if we are again revisiting the issue of breakover management; it is a result of developing poor habits in hoof preparation, or perhaps we just don’t understand how to balance the hoof.

If the hoof preparation is correct there is no need to fit anything except a standard shaped shoe; however if the hoof is out of balance, then fitting shoes which have squared toes, rolled toes or ‘breakover enhanced design’ is only a bandaid measure and does not solve the problem. The answer is to remember the KISS PRINCIPLE (Keep it Simple, Stupid, or if you prefer, Keep it Simple, Sweetheart) and stick to the basics.


Recently I was asked to assess a group of about 30 large, ridden horses who were all displaying ‘inexplicable’ lameness issues; the thick veterinary record folder presented to me was just about an encyclopedia of ongoing hoof problems and lameness. The common factor in every horse was that no matter what weight the horse was or how heavy or light his bone structure was, they all wore the same type of shoe – as heavy as possible with big E6 nails. There was no frog/ground contact, no sole or bar had been removed and the shoes had been shaped to fit the flare anywhere in the hoof.

The effects were predictably disastrous for these beautiful horses which were forging, over-reaching, dishing, paddling, standing splay footed and cow hocked, plus all had back soreness and about half of them had a bad attitude as well. I am sure that with that summary you will have a pretty good picture of what was going on – well nothing was going on but big heavy shoes, along with a complete lack of understanding of hoof anatomy and balance, and a lack of plain common sense by the farrier.

My solution to the situation was to offer to work with the farrier (who was not accredited) to see if collectively we could resolve a few things. The offer was not accepted and he walked away from another valuable learning experience and walked away from the job.

In his defence, I raise the point that we are led to believe that a big horse needs plenty of support under the hoof. (Pic 1) Yes, it does need support, but support does not equate with weight, and the horseshoe manufacturers need to be mindful of that fact; they are filling their shelves with shoes which are far too heavy and promoting their use with little regard for the end user – the horse. However, the bottom line is that correctly trained farriers will not make the mistake of using a shoe which is unsuitable.

For all of these 30 horses, it was apparent that the lack of hoof preparation and the use of excessively heavy shoes was causing all the interference. Then to correct that problem, the toes of most shoes were heavily rolled (Pic 2) and then a wedge was welded onto the hoof bearing surface of the shoe at the heels (Pic 3), totally crushing the heels. Not only that, but because the wedge had been welded to the inside of the shoe, it gave the hoof an un-level surface to stand on, somewhat like having a large rock inside your own shoe.

The age old rule is that a shoe should be as light as possible to allow the horse to complete the task. The old shoes were twice the weight of the new shoes I applied (Pic 4)

Now to get back to the group of lame horses, the answer was simply to discard the heavy shoes, remove all the excess sole and bars (which were cracked), dress off any flares especially in the toe area because the long toes had caused the heels to run forwards and collapse, then to fit lighter shoes (such as concave performers and eventers) with toe clips and size five slim nails.

Every horse after re-shoeing was standing even in front and straight behind. Five weeks later, there had been no recurring lameness, no interfering, no lost shoes and no uneven wear in the shoes, and there has been a marked change in attitude.

The horses are now all standing more relaxed while being shod as well as performing as they should so it becomes a win win situation for horse, rider and farrier.

Correct preparation of the sole to find nature’s road map or white line, along with a correctly balanced hoof capsule allows a simple standard shoe to be fitted. Nothing changes – The KISS principle still works.


QUESTION: What is wrong with these photos? And why is this nail pattern wrong?

ANSWER: The nails are in the wrong holes in a nail pattern that is too close.

From a practical point of view for the horse, this close nail pattern totally restricts the movement in the front quarters of the hoof. Not only is this uncomfortable for the horse, but the danger is that with the back half of the shoe unsupported, it often allows the shoe to move sideways causing a great danger of the opposing foot stepping on the shoe and pulling it off. When this happens, this close nail pattern will totally destroy that area of the hoof wall, making it very difficult to refit a shoe correctly without major repair to that hoof wall.

Studies have shown that a more spaced out nail pattern centering around the widest part of the hoof stabilises the shoe much better and eliminates distortion of the hoof wall between shoeing.

I start from the second nail hole back from the toe, then miss a hole, nail a hole, miss a hole and nail a hole. Where the hoof wall is not sound enough, there is no point in putting nails into a bad part of the hoof wall. If this wall cannot be repaired synthetically, the nails should only be put in the strongest part of the hoof wherever that may be. At times, four good nails are much better than six.

In USA, the majority of farriers I have seen use eight nails in every hoof. Perhaps this is because they are a bit haunted about using toe clipped shoes. However, this is extremely detrimental to the hoof expansion. It is almost as bad as using the modern fad of quarter clipped shoes.

As well as nailing in a good nail pattern, the nails should be selected to fit the shoe with the heads protruding no more than about two millimetres which allows for clinching to bring the heads back to be level with the shoe surface. Selecting nails simply means that if the nail fits the shoe, the shank is going to be the right thickness so that it doesn’t distort the white line any more than is absolutely necessary.

The nail pattern of most European horseshoes is set too coarsely, which brings the nails inside the white line and very often brings the nails inside the sensitive laminae at the bottom of the hoof. This is dangerous and detrimental to the horse’s safety and comfort. The nail should be right on the white line. If it is placed outside of the white line, it will crack the hoof wall. If it placed inside the white line, it will hurt the horse. It should be right ON the white line.

I had a 14 year old girl on my last two day course. She and her mother made the decision to attend after her horse sprung a shoe at a recent event; she had tried to replace the nail, but put it in back to front, and pricked the horse. Full credit to her for trying, and now she knows how to replace a shoe she won’t ever do it the wrong way again. I believe all horse owners should be able to remove a shoe and do simple maintenance – events are generally at weekends when farriers are nowhere to be found.

You will observe that the horseshoe nail is beveled on one side, and flat on the other. Hold it between thumb and forefinger with the flat side facing outwards. When nailing into the hoof, small taps tend to cancel the bevel on the end of the nail. After the first hit to lodge the nail, hit positively and drive that nail home with as few hits as possible. To imprint it into your mind remember: FLAT OUT AND GO LIKE HELL.

There is absolutely no reason for a horse to become nervous or jittery when the shoes are being nailed if it is being nailed with the correct selection of nails into the correct shoe for that size hoof after the hoof has been correctly balanced.

We must never do anything to the horse’s hoof unless we fully understand how to do it, and why we need to do it. And it must be a pleasant experience for the horse. Anything we do must enhance his performance and not inhibit it.


Some farriers often find that horses become a bit haunted around the feet when it comes to nailing the shoe on. Invariably it is nothing to do with the horse having a bad attitude to shoeing, in actual fact it is simply the result of a bad selection of nails to fit the shoe.

If you study a normal factory made shoe, you can see that the nail hole is cambered to fit the profile of the hoof capsule (ie slanted in). If the hoof is correctly balanced and shaped, and the correct size shoe is then correctly fitted to that correctly balanced and shaped hoof, you will see that on a concave or a flat shoe the nail holes actually line up dead in line with the white line where the nails have to go. There is never a question whether your nails are inside or outside the white line. If the hoof is prepared properly and if the shoe is prepared properly, then the nails are EXACTLY in the right place – this is the way the horseshoe manufacturers have designed it, and they have spent millions of dollars getting it right.

The nail should sit into that forged shoe or the flat shoe with the bevelled head of the nail just proud enough to be tensioned with the hammer and clinching block. But so often the person shoeing the horse hasn’t got a large enough selection of nails and uses the wrong nail. For example, a size four concave shoe will only take a slim five or a BH4, but too often people are using a full size five nail with a square head or a bevelled head, and the nails are sitting up to ¼” above the ground surface of the shoe.

Common sense should tell you that if the nail is too big for the shoe, the shank of the nail is going to be too thick for the hoof and cause too much distortion of the white line as it is being nailed through. This is when the horse tends to get a bit haunted or spooked, and can you blame him? As soon as you start to tap or nail, the horse starts to get very nervous and pulls the hoof back, and I make the comment ‘well why wouldn’t they?’ as you are causing it pain.

You haven’t actually pricked the horse, you have quicked it. In an x-ray, you will find that under each nail nailed in this oversize nail pattern there is a distortion in the white line lining up with every single nail that goes through that hoof. It is a tragedy of misunderstanding by the person applying the shoes. Just hand your mate your nail scissors, and ask them to trim your fingernail down to the quick – I bet you start wriggling too.

I have often heard the comment ‘OK so the nails are a bit proud – it will only take a day or two walking on hard stuff for him to wear the nail heads down’. That is not the point – the problem lies in the fact that you have used too big a nail and it has hurt the horse in applying the shoes and distorted the white line. The simple fact is that the horse needs his feet to sit flat on the ground; if the nails are protruding, it becomes like a rocker shoe under the horse’s foot and he can’t get stability, so apart from hurting him, you are ruining his confidence anyway.

If you are having trouble with the horse not wanting to stand kindly while he is having shoes nailed on, then just go back and have a look what nails you are actually using. You may find it is a whole lot better to go back down a size in nails for the sake of the horse and to achieve a successful and calm completion of the job.

There is absolutely no reason for a horse to become nervous or jittery when the shoes are being nailed if it is being nailed with the correct selection of nails into the correct shoe for that size hoof after the hoof has been correctly balanced.


It seems to happen all too often that an owner asks me for help with a problem that the horse is floundering during work or competition. That comment should alert us and lead us straight to the hooves, as ‘no hoof no horse’ is the obvious starting point.

For the moment let’s discount the barefoot philosophy, as it cannot be compared with the performance of a correctly shod horse with the right running gear.

Then let’s assume that the horses hooves have already been prepared correctly, and that the horse is not standing splayed out in front or cow hocked (toed out) behind, so that all we need to do now is to choose the appropriate normal shoes to help the performance.

This word ‘normal’ now needs to be clarified – the correctly prepared front hoof should be round or slightly oval shaped, as nature has evolved it this way in order to support the heavier front of the horse; the correctly prepared hind hoof should be more pointed at the toe and flatter along the sides, which allows for easier turning sideways and speedy propulsion to escape its predators, such as lions and tigers and bad tempered owners and farriers.

The natural hoof is of equal and symmetrical proportions and is the mirror image of the pedal bone (coffin bone) inside the hoof and also the mirror image of the white line and the normal coronary band.

Thus, shoes which have been designed with square toes, rolled toes, break over enhancement for the fronts, or square toed hinds with outside trailers and longer lateral branches, are in my opinion only bandaids to alleviate the problems which are caused by incorrect hoof preparation.

The golden rule is and always has been that anything we do which alters the ground bearing shape of the hoof from nature’s true shape, has a detrimental effect to the horse’s action by changing the stride.

So, now progressing to selecting the shoes, it should be easier to understand why we just need a normal shaped shoe.

The shoe should be as light as is possible in order to enhance the horse’s performance, and it should also be matched to the build and bone structure of the horse, for example a big bodied horse with fine leg bones doesn’t need to be shod with heavy flat shoes like a cart horse would wear.

  • Flat shoes are fine for mustering and trail riding etc.
  • Concave shoes are the best for competition work or endurance work.
  • Aluminium concave shoes are essential for racing and the high end of competitions, where it is said that an ounce on the hoof is like a pound in the saddle.

The shoes pictured are all suitable for the average horse, but are all available in heavier gauges as required, and you will also notice they are all a regular shape to fit the normal shape of the front and hind of nearly every horse IF it has been correctly prepared.

A later article will discuss the subject of orthopaedic shoes and remedial shoes, and their appropriate uses.

036-1 shoe selection for performance



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.


In performance horseshoeing, with racehorses in particular, I have noticed lately that there seems to be an ongoing problem of horses going down on their bumpers, supposedly because of bad galloping surfaces. The bandaid used in Western Australia to overcome this problem is to use a graduated aluminium race plate on the hinds. The plate is graduated around three to five degrees higher in the heel than in the toe, supposedly to lift the horse’s heels up to stop them going down on their bumpers.

This is a very misguided bandaid, because the reason that the horse is going down on its bumpers in the first place is because the hoof pastern angle is wrong. The toes are far too long in relationship to the height to the heels so instead of looking at the toe, where the problem lies, they are putting on a three to five degree graduated shoe to lift the heel up and this is attacking the problem in totally the wrong way.

What needs to be done is for the horse’s hoof to be looked at in a different way, because in all cases I have found that where the hoof has a graduated shoe on the hind feet, they have equally as much overgrowth in the toe and if that is simply removed, there is absolutely no need to use a shoe with a graduated heel.

The big problem with a graduated heel, of course, is that it alters the stride of the horse by altering the flight of the hoof. A three to five degree graduated raised heel will actually cause that leg to leave the ground much quicker, travel higher and then drop shorter, which is about the last thing that anyone needs with a galloping horse or indeed with any performance horse.

Some horses I have looked at also had long toes and low heels in the front feet, some of them have short toes and high heels in the front feet as well as the graduated shoes on the hinds, so the poor horses are going nowhere. This is a huge problem that has crept into the style of shoeing in Western Australia and it must be stopped.

These poor horses are suffering from back strain and joint strain with miserable pain in the feet, and it can be eliminated purely and simply by correcting and balancing the hoof properly, then fitting a normal, standard, flat race plate or working shoe. The horses I saw with short toes and high heels in front have absolutely no chance of any frog contact or pressure with the ground, and are jarring terribly to a point where they are sometimes being shod with an aluminium shoe with a bonded rubber pad to stop the pain.

Once again, if the hoof was trimmed and levelled properly so that the weight bearing surface is set up correctly so that it can distribute the weight on the hoof together with considered frog pressure, then the horse will rehabilitate its hoof and start working properly. If the hoof is set up and balanced properly, it will have a correct hoof / pastern angle and the whole thing will work properly, but in the cases mentioned with high heels and short toes in front together with graduated heels behind, it is totally destroying the galloping action of the horses.

The problem of low heels and long toes is also fairly evident in these country areas of Western Australia. The result of this problem can be illustrated by looking at a white footed horse where you often will see red bruising or marks halfway up the hoof wall. Owners say ‘Oh that is just where the horse kicked a wall or kicked a rock or it was kicked by another horse etc.’ The marks are the hoof capsule tearing away from the laminae underneath and it is actually bleeding. If you push your thumbnail down on a hard surface you will see a red spot about halfway down, and it hurts. That is because you have applied pressure to a long thumb nail and it causes pressure in exactly the same way underneath that horse’s hoof capsule. The way to get rid of it is simply to reduce the flares.

With a properly balanced hoof, you will get rid of those flares and end up with a correct hoof / pastern angle, with considered frog pressure most of the time, and that will also rehabilitate the hoof. It all goes back to the simple basic principles of balancing the hoof properly and trimming it properly before you even think of putting shoes on it.

If a horse is not trimmed and balanced properly barefoot, then no one has any business to put shoes on it of any kind.


As a young jackeroo working on a station in very rugged country, I learned that if my horse lost a shoe during the muster, I had to walk and lead my horse till we got back to camp; the result was that my part in the muster was not real good, the boss was not real happy, the horse was lame plus I hated walking. At 14 years of age I had a dream to be a real cowboy and believed that they always rode the horse, not led it, so reality about how this might happen came very early in my education.

Hoof preparation and balance must be correct to begin with, followed by the selection of the shoes that are the best suited for the horse to perform its task.

The selection of suitable size nails to shoes to hoof wall is vital. One size nail does not suit all types of shoes or hooves. As a guide, select a nail head that fits down into the shoe snugly so that when it is clenched the nail head is nearly level with the top of the shoe; this means that the nail head can only wear down at the same rate as the shoe. Conversely it is sometimes believed that big nails hold the shoe on longer, and that those protruding heads don’t really matter, however by the time those big heads have worn down to the shoe, there is very little left to hold the shoe on.

My guideline is that if the nail head fits the shoe correctly, the nail shank size will be comfortable for the hoof, and this is a tried and tested principle to avoid horses becoming ‘nail shy’ from shoeing.

The most stable nail pattern for most shoes seems to be 1-3-5, evenly spaced back from the toe and forward of the heel; studies have shown that this pattern is the most effective in controlling redistortion during growth between shoeings, and I have always found it to be very reliable.

Three nails placed close together anywhere in the shoe is wrong, as it places too much stress on a concentrated area of hoof and if the shoe becomes loose it usually takes that whole section of hoof wall away.

Clenching correctly puts the reliability into shoeing, as it’s no good putting the wheels on if you don’t tighten up the nuts properly.

The nails should ideally be 20 to 25mm up the hoof wall and in a straight line for clenching. Then use the head of your shoe pullers or a clenching block to turn the nails over and down, and use an even number of hammer hits to get the nail tensions even without tearing the outer wall. Clean out under the clench using a curved blade knife to make an undercut, then rasp all the ends of the clenches to an even length of three or four millimetres, then block the nail heads and hammer the clenches down flat into the recess. That is the age old traditional method.

In later years ‘hammer clenching’ has been swapped for the use of clenching tongs to fold the nails over and down, however most people using this method manage to tear the hoof wall in doing so and also the clench is formed round and weak, then they usually have to rasp them down smooth which takes all the strength out of the clench, which is a major cause of lost shoes.

The old traditional way or the modern soft method, both have their valid applications and when used properly they will enhance the reliability of the whole process of shoeing.

Both techniques have detrimental effects when not used correctly; this fact I feel has led many horse owners to go looking for more information about hoof care. The truth is that a good shoeing job is only as good as the clenches, so we have to get better at understanding the technique.

Bad hoof preparation gets bad results, regardless of it being for barefoot or shoe fitting.