Article by Chris Morrow, DVM
To me, there are few things more functional and fascinating than a properly trimmed foot. It can be left alone or shod in a number of different ways. The foot is the only part of the horse that can be made better through its lifetime through proper stewardship.
I would like to qualify some things that I deem important. The subject of how to shoe a horse is as sensitive as the issues of religion and politics. I tend to fall back on the philosophy that Don Henecke set forth—round front feet and big shovel shaped hind feet that land flat on the ground. This is normal and corrective horseshoeing in a nutshell. I do believe that large, properly balanced feet are a huge advantage to the performance and durability of the equine athlete. The advantage lies in fact that the properly trimmed and shod foot will dissipate much of the force created by activity. If the foot is functioning properly, it will decrease the stress on joints, tendons and ligaments.
There are a number of ways to evaluate balance through the measurement of angles, with T squares, force plates and high speed photography. I tend to go back to the foot landing flat (which is in fact slightly heel-toe) evaluated either by observation of shoe wear, abrasion to unshod foot after jogging on asphalt or the tracks left on soft ground.
Balance is a very complicated concept that a horse makes simple. They tend to wear their feet in a manner that will correct for conformational abnormalities like the absence of medial and lateral flares, broken off heels and ragged frogs. There is a great deal of plasticity throughout the limb to allow for adaptation to different terrain. This was recognized by Ric Redden DVM and Gene Ovnicek with the four pillar approach. More recently the Stasser method has eliminated the shoe completely.
I believe that very few performance horses can do as well barefoot as they do shod, since there are very few symmetrical events. Barrel horses will have twice as many turns one way versus the other; therefore, they tend to shear their feet. The shoe is designed to augment support and decrease wear that allows the foot to dissipate force through various means. Without shoes, horses that are required to stop quickly tend to wear the lateral aspect of their hind feet excessively and stick when they stop. Properly selected shoes can help these issues. I believe that properly selected and applied shoes will improve the longevity and performance of the equine athlete.
For most horses, there is not a great deal of difference between aluminum and steel shoes. Toe grabs tend to increase the amount of force on the fetlock, which increases with height of the toe and seems to only assist traction in straight lines. In this matter, I feel that full rims are a better choice in regards to the concept of balance. Heel calks are by definition contrary to these, as they cause increased drag on one side of the limb. Bar shoes are helpful in my practice to encourage balance of feet, especially in sheared heels, cracks and some suspensory ligament issues. Wedged shoes will balance some feet that have under-slung heels. The shoe that makes that horse sound and allows for optimal performance is the correct choice.
The absolute most important aspect of hoof care is consistency. How often is enough? In general, 5 to 6 weeks between evaluations is appropriate. Increased moisture and activity tend to speed growth, which calls for more frequent action. I don’t use topical dressings as a rule, as they are often counterproductive over time. In theory, feed supplements with Copper, Biotin and L-Methionine will help with the overall strength of the foot and hair. This is because L-Methionine allows for increased strength through Sulfur bonds not speeding growth. Running water tanks over for the horse to stand in will make your farrier’s job easier by softening the horn, but should be used carefully. Taking a team approach, a horse owner should be able to improve the health of the hoof with the help of the farrier and the veterinarian.
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