A horse’s health is dependent upon a multitude of various factors such as feed/nutrition, living conditions, genetic influence, etc.., but one of the MOST important factors to consider is the care of a horse’s hooves.
The old adage, of No Hoof, No Horse! maybe an oversimplification, but it is very true. The topics gathered here are related to the most common issues concerning hoof care.
How Much Rasping Is Too Much For Your Horse’s Feet?
If your horse’s feet are in good shape and normal, then very little rasping is required providing the shoe is nailed properly in place. However, if there are flares and irregularities they should be removed with the rasp. The rasping should not alter the natural slope of the hoof wall. This is what is meant by weakening the wall through over-rasping.
Years ago, I was called into a quarter horse track to do a string of racing quarter horses from the USA. They were really nice looking horses and their hooves had been done, from what I could tell, exceptionally well, and told the trainer that he must have an excellent farrier back home. He said the guy was the “best”. By the third set, I noticed a ridge and angle change about one-third down the hoof. The trainer mentioned that he wasn’t sure why this was happening because he hadn’t changed the feed very much and couldn’t think of another reason. He did say, “I must admit you sure don’t rasp very much to finish the hoof, and the shoes are placed nicely at the toe when you’re done.” Does your farrier rasp much back home? I asked. Oh yes, all the way down from the coronet, was his reply. I couldn’t believe my ears, and I was fooled into thinking this was good work!
There is a farrier tool on the market that some fellows use to finish the hoof from the coronet down and it sands all the periople layer and any imperfections completely off, producing a very nice smooth looking hoof. In my opinion, this is overkill, because the periople layer is there to protect the hoof from drying out. Yes, those doing this will often apply a hoof dressing to prevent the hoof from drying out, but why not just leave what Mother nature has created instead of replacing it with something artificial. Each to their own, I’ll avoid overkill when it comes to rasping or polishing a hoof if it means destroying a useful part of the structure. Often the main reason for excessive rasping is the inability of the farrier to keep the shoe in place when nailing or using a size too small on the horse, necessitating the overuse of the rasp in order to make it look as though it fits.
Does The Horse’s Hoof Expand Under Pressure?
Most people are aware of the fact that the hoof expands under pressure. This can be checked out by examining the foot surface of a shoe that’s been removed, the heel area will be a little bit shiny, showing the movement at the heels that occurs. The amount of movement is determined by the size of the foot, the weight of the horse, and the way going. If he is light on his feet, the movement will usually be less than if he pounds his feet, also a stallion often moves as though he owns the ground he walks on, therefore exerting extra pressure on the ground.
People are not aware of just how much the hoof expands. The wall thickness and general shape of the hoof is also a factor regarding expansion, with the rounder the hoof, the more the expansion. The front hooves that carry most of the weight when working, usually expand more than the hinds that are pear-shaped and provide the impulsion for the horse. A normal healthy foot that is shod with a good solid steel shoe will expand no more than a quarter to three-eights of an inch maximum under heavy work. Not 2-3 inches as is often implied.
For horses that are shod with clipped shoes, the placement of these clips is very important and should not restrict or pinch the foot by being too far back towards the heels. There has been a trend in the last 10-15 years to use side or quarter clips on front feet. Providing the clips are kept towards the front toenail holes, and realizing that the expansion occurs mostly at the heels, this practice is acceptable. The farrier that uses the forge to draw his own clips will have an advantage in that the clips can be placed wherever he/she chooses and not be restricted by the manufacturers’ placement.
How To Choose Corrective Shoeing For Horses?
Corrective horseshoeing is the most interesting area of shoeing for the blacksmith/farrier. It involves a great amount of studying both in the variety of shoes involved and the intricate movements and balance of the horse in motion.
Good internal results from corrective horseshoeing can be obtained if the horse is under five years old. Preferably under three for the best results. After five years old, the correction is more of an outside restraint or cosmetic improvement, than an inside joint muscle and ligament change. An eye should be kept open for any awkward or unnatural movement in young stock, for most young horses require minor corrective work e.g. hooves turning out or in, off centered hooves, pasterns breaking forward or backward, heels slung under, hocks turned in too much etc.
Corrective horseshoeing does not always give the impression of a pretty shoeing job. An incident occurred where several men were looking at a horse to buy, and commented that the shoeing did not look right. Although they, according to themselves, were horseshoers, they missed the fact that the horse paddled had been observed, the sight of an outside lateral extension with a square toe might not have thrown them so entirely. Even a common trailer on a shoe has been known to bring comments of dismay from those that have shod their own horses. “How could anyone so misshape a shoe?” they wondered. A little bit of knowledge can be very dangerous, especially when it involves a third party, your horse. The term “Horse Whisper” has become popular these days so a warning to the wise, check out what they’re whispering.
If a shoe setting looks so obviously different than a normal setting, it’s best not to jump to conclusions, but to ask the reason why. As was mentioned at the start of this topic, corrective shoeing is the most interesting, but also the most frustrating because it’s the least understood area of horseshoeing. Your farrier will be glad to explain the why’s of what he/she is doing. Remember also, we are all still learning but the chance of those that are working in this field full time daily of knowing how to address your horse’s shortcomings is much greater than the opinions of casual observers and part-time metal hangers.