A horse’s life is one of the intermittent bursts of high-speed equine activity. Hoof injuries are a common problem to deal with. The horse’s hoof may also develop various conditions that are considered a disease of the hoof. The care and well-being of a horse are dependent on regular hoof care maintenance. As a responsible horse owner, what are the knowledge to know besides paying regular visits to a competent farrier?
What’s the proper angle for your horse’s hooves?
Using the cliche “mother nature knows best” we can easily understand that the angle should follow the natural slope of the pastern. This puts the least amount of strain on the legs and sets the tendons in their most flexible and natural position. We will be referring to the average, normal angle that will be found on a majority of horses, keeping in mind that there are many times when a horse needs to be tweaked in order to perform without hurting himself. Also for efficiency of movement so that your horse will be able to give maximum performance with minimum effort. The shoulder of your horse is a good place to start as to determining the angle of his hooves. The shoulder angle is duplicated at the pastern and his hooves should continue that angle. Now when we add shoes to the equation, we must take into consideration the ongoing research into balance, support, and proper loading of the hooves and boney column. Ducketts Dot is generally accepted as the center of the hoof and therefore the placement of shoes should be slightly back of the edge of the hoof. Natural Balance promotes this setting by bringing the shoe back to approximately 3/4″ ahead of the true apex of the frog. This can be misunderstood by both farrier and client and is a study all in itself. I will simply say that if done properly this will help your horse and need not look weird or ugly as some of the “duck” feet I have seen. The proof is in the pudding so that if your horse looks odd, travels poorly, and seems unstable, something is wrong. Personally, I try to follow these advancements, and my clients are not shocked by what they see, simply because the difference does not appear radically changed and their horses move better than ever.
Many race horses, gaited horses, horses with a forging tendency e.g. Arabians, Standardbreds, or horses with a special conformation, obviously cannot follow this rule. However, a vast majority of saddle horses and others agree that “mother nature does know best” and there is need for us to understand these principles of balance and support. Remember that applying a shoeing package is to be done in an individual manner not, “a one size/setting fits all”. An experienced farrier is continually learning and recognizes the individuality of the shoeing process.
The average angles for front feet are 45° — 50°, most often 48° — 50°. For the hind feet 50° — 55° with the angle usually closer to 52° — 53°. The opposing feet should be the same angles in most cases, but there are times that some horses exceed these parameters because of conformation, injuries, or the individuals’ athletic abilities. Terrain and working conditions can make one try and correct something that is really not about the setting, so be careful not to look in the wrong place for answers.
How much should be trimmed off your horse’s hooves?
Often the comment about not enough being trimmed off the foot is made without complete knowledge of the foot in question.
First consideration is the concavity of your horse’s feet. This varies greatly from horse to horse and usually determines the amount of hoof to be removed. In the event of cracks, splits or old nail holes, the amount of hoof to be removed will vary, taking into consideration a strong solid wall to be left bare foot or to nail to. The owner will not be pleased to have chips appearing, or shoes off in only a couple of weeks. If the horse is usually left longer than the normal shoeing periods, the concavity of the foot often decreases. This lowers the bloodline and therefore the foot must be trimmed with this in mind. There are several other reasons that cause the hoof to lose its concavity, and unfortunately these causes can restrict your horses usefulness. Also normal hooves vary in concavity, but this does not necessarily have any adverse effect. Your farrier will most likely be able to analyze your horses hooves as to whether they are poor, good or excellent and suggest proper care to improve or maintain their health.
If the horse is way overdue and the growth has not been worn off, then it is wise to trim the hoof back to normal in two stages — a month apart. This is to protect the tendons allowing them to settle back to normal gradually, rather than risking lameness through an abrupt change. Most overdue hooves can be pared back in one appointment, as long as the owner will allow 4-5 days of adjustment before riding them. (this doesn’t mean to go for a twenty-five mile ride, as soon as riding resumes)Common sense and in two weeks everything should be safe and normal for all.
If you feel that the hoof should be shorter, ask your blacksmith and he’ll be glad to point out the reason for the particular length he has left your horse’s hooves. The time to question the length is at the time of shoeing. Often I will point out to the owner, their horses shallow or deep hooves if they are out of the ordinary in depth. This instills confidence between client and farrier, that you are closely watching while working on their horses’ hooves even though you are probably chatting about many different topics.
What’s too rough handling by the blacksmith?
This is not a cut and dried subject, for what is too rough to some is not to others and vice versa. Here we will simply point out some common knowledge regarding handling, a task that some farriers are better at than others. The reason for this is that a horseman/woman that decides to become a farrier, is much different than one that has limited experience around horses but has decide that becoming a farrier would be an interesting occupation. To reprimand a horse, a person should first consider the age of the horse, whether it’s a mare in foal, the temperament of the horse, the horse’s background and the feelings of the owner. This has to be known before anything happens, because often a reprimand has to be instantaneous for the horse does not relate actions done ten or fifteen seconds later. They only become scared and distrusting because they do not know what you’re annoyed at. Naturally the safety of the blacksmith is also to be considered.
If the horse clearly deserves a reprimand he still should never be hit on the backbone, the face or the legs with a hard instrument. The intelligent use of a shank on his halter will usually be enough gentle persuasion. Sometimes a sedative or a twitch is necessary, but any more drastic measures should be agreed to by the owner. This is assuming that the blacksmith is also willing, for he is there to shoe, not break horses.
Force is like seasoning in a meal — a little goes a long way. Once it’s noticed that a horse is skiddish about handling his feet, then a little extra work in this area, by the owner, will usually eliminate the need for force.
Is there a proper size shoe for your horse?
Yes there is. However this can change if your horse goes into different disciplines or riding enviroments, e.g. if riding in very hilly or rough terrain, your farrier might want to set him very tight, or if your horse travels clean and is long coupled, he may be able to be set very full, without fear of loosing shoes, and so on.
Often You will hear complaints about the heels of a shoe being turned in too much. This is rarely the case if the horse has been shod hot, for heels that extend a little too long are easily cut or reshaped to size. To decide whether or not the heels of a shoe are turned in too much, there are a few considerations. First, are both feet the same size? If not the blacksmith will usually set to the larger foot, consequently the smaller foot will have the heels turned in slightly. This should not be excessive. The reason this excess is not cut off is simply to maintain equal shoe weight. Some farriers are not concerned about equal weight for both hooves of the same pair, but I do believe that it is important.The extra length of shoe past the heel on the fronts, also brings into play capping the elbows when laying down, or worse yet chipping the bone.
This applies to the hind feet as well as the fronts. However, the hind feet are usually a little smaller than the front so that the heels of your shoe may extend slightly beyond the heel of the hoof. Again this should not be excessive. The exception to this rule is when there is a need for a corrective trailer or other corrective measure to the shoe. Obviously the shoe being pulled off by being stepped on, isn’t a factor with the hind hooves, so extra length past the heels is not as critical.
The weight or thickness of a shoe should also be considered. The thin steel shoe such as the training plates for racehorses is fine if economy and protection from the rough ground is not an important consideration. In other words, light shoes wear out quickly and protect the hooves only minimally. An experienced farrier gets to see a wide variety of horses and how they fare under many different riding conditions, so he/she develops a pretty fair understanding of what shoeing package works best for various disciplines. However, most riding horses whether for pleasure, jumping, or various types of shows, should have a good solid shoe for protection. Thin or light shoes on large hooves will spread easily and provide little support, while heavy shoes on small feet will distort the action of the horse.