Printer Friendly

The horse owner's guide to shoeing & trimming horses.

The purpose of this guide is not to show you how to trim and shoe horses for yourself; it is written in the belief that many horse owners do not know exactly what is going on while they are holding their horse, and the farrier is working on their horse's feet. Even if you have a chance to watch what the farrier is doing, you may not know why things are being done. Sometimes having a farrier work on your horse's feet, especially a new farrier, is very much like taking your car to a new garage. You just never feel comfortable with what is going on, and you never know if you are being taken. But, if you had more knowledge of what was going on, you would feel more at ease.

Many very good books are available in libraries and tack shops on anatomy, physiology and basic care of your horse's feet, so this guide will not attempt to cover topics that have already been covered well.

Hopefully, this guide will enable you to enjoy your horse even more, by eliminating the unknown and giving you enough information to help your farrier keep your horse healthy and sound.

Most horses don't need shoes. It is common to hear a horse owner tell their farrier, "if I had the money I would have shoes put on." Some owners have their horse shoed when they want to do something "special" for their horse. There is really no reason to apologize to your farrier for not wanting shoes, or to feel that you are neglecting your horse's feet because you let the horse go barefoot.

Horseshoes are only necessary to prevent the hoof from wearing down faster than it can grow out, or to prevent a hoof which, has cracked or chipped badly from becoming worse. Stone bruises and abscesses may necessitate shoes only so that a protective pad can be placed over the injured area; but there is no widespread agreement that all riding horses should be shoed.

We would all like to believe that the farrier arrives with the sole intention of keeping your horse's feet healthy and sound, and that the farrier's love of horses is at least as great as your own. Reality should remind us, however, that in any situation where someone is selling you a service, the buyer should beware. There is unprofessional behavior in any trade, but you can learn enough to understand what the farrier is doing, and why, to eliminate your doubts and fears.

Growing downward from the coronary band at a rate of three-eighths of an inch every month, three-quarters of an inch every two months (a normal interval between trims), the hoofwall is able to keep up with the normal wear and tear that your horse subjects it to. You may think that it isn't possible for the hoof to grow that much, because you never see the farrier nip that much off. This is because when the horse is not shoed, the hoof wears down as it grows out, leaving maybe one month's growth, or less, to remove every two months.

Pastures, woods, trails and weekend riding are not that hard on a horse's feet here in the northeast during most of the year. This is great, for it means that your horse's feet won't grow so long between regular trims that the length will interfere with the free and easy movement of the legs. Nor will the hoofwall become so short that your horse is walking on his soles, which are not designed to support a horse's weight. The hoofwall bears the weight, for, unlike us, the last bone in the horse's leg is attached to the hoofwal]l and does not bear down on the sole like in our feet. Imagine yourself wearing a pair of boots with sides that are so stiff and ankles that are so tight, that the bottom of your foot never touches the sole of the boot. You can picture your weight would be supported by the sides, or walls, of the boot. In fact if the sides of the boot were hard enough, the boot would hold you up without any sole. This is basically how your horse's hoof works.

Fortunately, most people don't have the time to ride enough to wear down their horse's feet excessively. Riding on the road or roadside, riding on hard ground during dry months, riding on sandy soil, and strenuous daily workouts can all wear the hoof down too quickly, however.

Serious problems can also result when the feet become too long. Hoofwall sticking out too far beyond the sole can create enough leverage to snap the wall off, sometimes far up the hoof. Extra length also makes it easier for the hoofwall to split, and believe it or not, the wall that reaches out beyond the sole and the wall partway up the hoof can bend from the constant pressure. This results in a "belled" or "flared" foot, which we have all noticed on some horses. Rarely can flared feet be corrected in one trimming, because the hoofwall is usually flared for some distance up the hoof as well as below the sole, and the flare cannot be trimmed off until it grows out beyond the sole. In severe cases it may take several months before a foot returns to normal.

The natural shape of a horse's hoof varies quite a bit. All horse's feet are not supposed to look the same, nor can your farrier turn big feet into little feet just to please you or a show judge. Heart and spade shaped feet are natural for some horses, as are round feet for others. Remember that the hoofwall, on average, is only three-eighths of an inch thick (although it tends to grow thicker at the toe), and if your farrier were to reshape the hoof by rasping off too much wall, the sensitive structures inside the hoof, which have a blood supply, would be exposed or unprotected. Be happy with the feet your horse was born with, and remember that big feet absorb more concussion than small feet. A horse with small feet is at much higher risk of becoming unsound than a horse whose feet are big enough for its body weight.

When your horse's feet grow too long the growth is not always even. Sometimes the hoof will grow out more on the inside or outside, making one side look normal, while the other side looks belled or flared. The hoof may grow higher on one side than the other, tipping the foot to one side. Too much length can also cause pieces of the hoofwall to chip, or break off, leaving one side of the hoof larger than the other side. When any of these things happen your horse's foot starts to turn toward the bigger, longer, or higher side. This is how horses become turned in (pigeon toed, when both feet turn in) or turned out (splay footed, when both feet turn out). The process may go on for weeks or months before you notice that one or both feet have turned.

Why does this happen? When the hoof loses it's symmetry so that one side of the hoof has more surface area than the other, the side which has more contact with the ground will "hang up" for just a fraction of a second when the foot is lifted. This causes the foot to pivot on the bigger, longer, or higher part of the hoof. After a few weeks of the turning, your horse has lifted his feet several thousand times, and the constant, slight twisting motion has stretched out the connective tissues on the side of the leg which the foot has been turning away from. The connective tissues no longer have the ability to pull the foot back to a position where the foot is pointed forward, and the hoof stays turned in or out.

So why is this bad? Lots of people own pigeon footed and splay footed horses, and they ride whenever they want to. The horses don't care which way their feet are pointed, do they? This condition is bad for several reasons. When a horse's foot hangs up and twists toward the inside, the foot swings out away from the horse in an arc, instead of traveling forward in a straight line. When the foot twists to the outside, the foot swings inward in an arc, sometimes striking the opposite foot. When both hind feet are traveling their normal distance, but the front feet are not, then the hind feet may strike the front feet. When only one foot is turned outward or inward, then the other three feet are traveling their normal distance, and the odd foot is traveling a shortened distance. This causes the horse to be awkward and out of step, giving you a rough, uneven ride.

Not only can this awkwardness cause sprains and strains, but remember that the foot is landing pointed in or pointed out. This means that the horse's weight will come down more on one side of the hoof than the other which results in one side receiving more concussion than it should. Whether or not your horse would become lame from this, or have a shorter working life, depends on many variables. Some horses will become lame and others will not, depending on how badly the foot is turned, over how long a period of time, with how much riding, and on what type of ground. At the very least, however, if your horse's feet are going sideways half the time that they should be going forward, then the horse will have to work twice as hard to get where you want to go.

Balancing your horse's feet is something that you probably don't realize that your farrier is doing. Yet, balance is essential to prevent lameness and provide you with the smoothest ride possible. Balance is not complicated. If you wanted to balance on one leg, you would distribute your weight evenly over the entire foot, the inside, outside, toes, and heels. When you shift your weight, even slightly, to the inside or outside, you can feel your muscles strain. Also your joints are supporting your weight unevenly all the way up your leg. Likewise, being tipped too far forward on your toes or too far backward on your heels causes the same strain. This is the basic concept of balance.

To trim your horse's foot so that it is balanced, and the horse is distributing his weight evenly on the hoofwall, is not as simple as making the hoof flat. A table top is flat. With bricks under two of the legs it would still be flat, but it would no longer be level. When your farrier looks at your horse's feet the horse should be on a hard, level surface so that it is easy to see if the feet are tilted to one side or the other. Also, your horse needs to cooperate by standing squarely, without shifting his weight more on one side than the other -- which is not always easy to do. The farrier may eye the shoulders or hips to see if the horse is standing squarely, and then push gently on a shoulder or hip to make the horse balance, while watching the feet.

If a hard, level surface is not available, or when the horse will not stand squarely, the farrier can still judge whether or not the horse is unlevel by examining the bottom of the foot for uneven wear. More wear on the outside of the hoofwall, for instance, indicates that the inside of the foot is too high. The farrier corrects this by removing more hoofwall on the inside of the hoof than on the outside. How does the farrier know when the foot is level? Holding the hoof up in the air and grasping the hoof or pastern, the farrier tilts the hoof and looks at the bottom surface from heel to toe. When the trimmed surface of the hoofwall appears as a plane, the farrier can see whether both sides of the hoof are the same height. Dips or high spots will also show up easily.

Excessive wear at the toe or heel shows that the horse's weight is too far forward or backward. This tells the farrier that the angle needs to be adjusted to level the hoof from front to back. (Occasionally, excessive wear at the toe or heel after the horse has been properly trimmed several times, can indicate an arthritic or tendon problem.) Some farriers refer to angle as being separate from balance. This is fine, but it would help you to understand angle by thinking of it as balancing the weight between the heel and toe.

Angle is referred to as a number of degrees, and can be determined by eye, or by using a hoof gauge. You may have read that the proper angles for a horse are 45 to 50 degrees for the front, and 50 to 55 degrees for the hind. These are average angles, so most horses fall within this five degree range. There are some horse owners and farriers who believe that all horses should have the same angles, no matter what the slope of the pastern is. This is outright nonsense, and it is not up to anyone to arbitrarily decide what the proper angles for horses are. Only God and genetics play a part in determining hoof angle.

The pastern prevents the weight of your horse from crashing down full force on the hoof. If your horse's legs were straight, with no bend at the pastern, they could not withstand the force that is transmitted down the leg, especially when your horse runs or jumps. Because the pastern is on an angle, the force generated by your horse's weight does not travel straight downward, but is taken up by the pastern which bends at the joint and gives, absorbing force. It is an amazing invention of nature that an animal with such tremendous body size can land on feet which cover a surface area smaller than our own feet. For the pastern to perform its job the best that it can, the pastern and the front surface of the hoofwall should be in a straight line; they should be on the same angle.

When the foot is what we commonly hear of as being |broken back' (heels and angle being too low), then too much stress is put on the pastern and the pastern joint. When the foot is |broken forward' (heels and angle too high), then the pastern can't flex enough to take up the shock. When the hoof and pastern are on the same angle, then the horse's weight is evenly balanced between the toe and heel, allowing the pastern to absorb force most efficiently.

To judge your horse's angle, stand on the side of your horse and follow the line formed by the front surface of the pastern. Then extend this line down the front of the hoof to the ground. The line should be straight, and if it is then your horse is on the proper angle. Remember, it is not easy to make your horse stand squarely. One foot can't be further forward than its mate, the horse should be on a hard level surface, and your horse cannot be resting one leg. To watch the angle change, grab the mane and gently pull toward you. You will see the angle become lower as the pastern absorbs weight. Push away from you and the angle becomes higher. It is easy to see how a slight shift in weight can alter the angle, which is why the hoof or shoe needs to be examined also, for excessive wear.

One problem you will have in judging angle is that the coronary band sticks out just enough to throw your eye off and break up the straight line. In fact, if you lay a short straight stick on the hoof and pastern, the stick will rock on the coronary band. You have to pretend that the band isn't there.

The hoof gauge, or angle gauge, will not tell you or your farrier if the angle is proper for your horse. It is used so that the farrier knows how much the angle has been adjusted by nipping and rasping, and also to make sure that both front feet match, and both hind feet match. Some owners and farriers also like to write down the angle for future reference.

Angle has a very important effect on how your horse moves. The lower the angle (and heels), the longer the foot stays on the ground when the leg is lifted. This is because a foot with less angle covers more surface area and has more resistance to being lifted. When one front foot, or one hind foot, has a different angle from its mate, each foot will have a different length of stride ad line of flight, throwing the horse out of rhythm. What is line of flight? Line of flight is the arc made by each foot while it is in the air. If the foot is traveling forward two feet for instance, each time that it is lifted up and set down, then the hoof should reach its highest point off the ground at one foot, or halfway through the arc. This is important for balancing the horse's gait, and it is tied in to the pastern-hoof angle. If the angle is too steep, then the foot lifts off the ground sooner than it should, resulting in the hoof attaining its greatest height off the ground before the middle of the stride. When the angle is too low, then the hoof comes off the ground too late, resulting in the hoof attaining its greatest height off the ground at the end of its stride. When this happens and the foot is at its highest point just before it is set down, the rider feels more concussion or bounce.

The most common problem the horse owner experiences, as a result of an improper angle, is when the horse's angle is too low (low heels) and the toes are too long. While a horse with a low angle may look fine, and move around in the pasture or paddock without showing any problems, when the horse is ridden, the added weight (combined with the added exercise) may cause an unexplained lameness or unwillingness to work. Sometimes minor swelling in the pastern area may occur.

This happens because the low angle has caused the horse's tendons to become strained. Remember, the lower the angle, the longer the foot from heel to toe, and the more foot is in contact with the ground. This extra length would be like you having to wear shoes that are too big for you. The extra length would make it difficult to get your feet off the ground, because the toe |hangs up' or gets in the way. This puts increased stress on the tendons at the rear of the leg, yours or your horses. The stress is caused by the pastern joint having to bend forward much further than is normal for it to bend. You can feel what this strain is like if you extend the fingers of one hand and them pull them back forcefully with the other hand. You can feel the strain at the rear of your wrist, and see how the joint bends further than it normally would.

To adjust the angle the farrier removes excess hoofwall (not sole) from the bottom surface of the hoof with a rasp. When more heel than toe is removed, the angle decreases (the number of degrees of angle will decrease on the hoof gauge). When more toe than heel is removed, then the angle increases.

Removing hoofwall from the point of the toe (when the farrier has the hoof up on the knee or hoofstand) will increase the angle on a hoofgauge, but will not alter the actual angel of the hoof. Removing hoofwall at the point of the toe allows the hoof to slide forward further into the gauge, resulting in a higher reading. The angle was to be read before any rounding, squaring, or inletting for a toe clip is done. Using a hoof gauge on a hoof that has a shoe on it will also give a false reading.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Countryside Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Cervone, Tom
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Livestock guardian dogs.
Next Article:Raising pigs - in a swamp.

Related Articles
The horse owner's guide to shoeing & trimming horses.
Some things to consider before getting your first horse.
The horse barn: Caring for your horse's hooves.
Norwegian Fjord: the homesteader's horse.
Healer of the hoof; Expert farrier rides to the rescue.
Bog shoes.
Farrier's horse farm fares well.
Sweaty hard work, but the shoe fits.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters