Your Horse Well-Shod?
A Pencil Can Help You Find Out
by Richard Klimesh
Photos by Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh
Richard Klimesh ©
hoof care program affects your horse's immediate performance as well as his long-term
soundness. You might not think you need to pay much attention to your horse's
shoeing as long as your horse is sound and his shoes don't fall off. The good
news is that horses are very adaptable and they can often tolerate poor hoof care
for months or even years; the bad news is that by the time signs of lameness appear,
irreparable damage might already be done. Shoeing methods used to keep shoes on
at all costs often ignore critical shoeing principles and might end up putting
your horse out of commission for good.
for judging the quality of a shoeing job can include such details as how neatly
the frog is trimmed, the size of the clinches and how far the nail heads protrude
from the shoe. Details like these are important to some degree, but usually are
not critical to your horse's soundness. There are a four very important aspects
of shoeing, however, that you can readily evaluate: balance, shape, support, and
expansion. All you need is a pencil and a safe place to tie your horse on level
ground. It's best to evaluate a shoeing job within the first week or two.
Hoof balance includes many aspects of a horses conformation and
movement and has been discussed at length in many books and articles. One type
of balance, however, is relatively easy for anyone to quickly assess: it's called
Dorsal-Palmar (DP) balance.
refers to the alignment of the hoof and the pastern. DP balance can be measured
as the hoof angle at the toe. The hoof angle is the relationship between the front
(Dorsal surface) of the hoof and the ground (Palmar surface of the hoof). For
years, books cited 45 to 50 degrees as a "normal" front hoof angle and
50 to 55 for hind angle. Today, it is generally agreed that in reality these angles
are far too low. A more representative range of hoof angles is from 53 to 58 degrees
for the fronts and 55 to 60 degrees for the hinds. Keep in mind, however, that
every horse has his own "ideal" hoof angle. The hoof angle is considered
correct when the hoof and pastern are in alignment, that is, when the front surface
of the hoof is parallel to an imaginary line passing through the center of the
check the alignment of the hoof and pastern, make sure the horse is standing square
on a firm level surface with his cannons perpendicular to the ground. Move 8'
to 10' from the side of the horse and crouch down to view the feet. Hold a pencil
at arm's length and line it up with the center axis of the pastern. The front
of the hoof should be very close to parallel with the centerline of the pastern.
If the hoof angle is too
low, the center line, or axis, will be "broken back" where the lines
of the hoof and pastern meet. If the hoof angle is too high, the imaginary line
will be "broken forward". Of the two, a broken-back axix is more common,
and more harmful.
A low hoof angle usually
indicates a Long Toe/Low Heel hoof configuration. LT/LH can cause
excess tendon stress, heel soreness, cracks, bowed tendons, contracted heels,
navicular syndrome, and under-run heels. (Under-run heels refer to heels that
have an angle lower that the toe of the hoof by 5 degrees or more. Under-run heels
slope under the hoof and in severe cases can appear to approach the horizontal.)
Even when a foot is in perfect balance when shod, the angle almost always gets
lower as the weeks go by because the toe grows faster than the heels and the shoe
prevents the toe from wearing away. This is one reason to have the feet trimmed
and rebalanced on a regular schedule. A barefoot horse actually might have a better
chance of maintaining DP balance, especially if allowed to move freely over dry
ground so the hooves can wear naturally.
If the hoof can't be balanced by trimming, the heels can be built up with a hoof
repair material, or wedge heel shoes or pads can be used to elevate the heels
and align the hoof-pastern axis.
hoof is a plastic structure, that is, stress can cause it to change shape. A hoof
is strongest when the entire hoof wall from the coronary band to the ground is
straight, without flares. A flare is a concave bend, or dip, in the hoof; a flare
at the toe is called a dish.
the hoof wall and can lead to cracks. A dished toe can affect a horse's movement
and long term soundness by causing the toe of the shoe to be too far forward.
This makes it more difficult for the hoof to break over and can cause forging
(hitting of the front shoes with the hinds) and more serious problems like those
caused by Long Toe/Low Heel.
can result from hoof imbalance, poor genes, inadequate nutrition, too much moisture,
or most likely, a combination of these factors. Serious flares are easy to see,
but early flares are not as obvious. To check if a hoof is developing a flare
or dish, lay a pencil against the hoof wall. Space under the center of the pencil
indicates a flare or dish.
Most hooves tend to develop
flares and dishes to some degree but they can usually be kept in check if a shoer
takes the time to "dress" the hoof wall straight with a rasp every time
the horse is trimmed. This doesn't mean the entire wall is indiscriminately rasped
- only where a flare or dish is forming. Even neglected feet that have developed
wide flares or deep dishes can be improved dramatically with one trimming and
gradually retrained with regular care.
In order to control flares, the bottom of the hoof where the flare was located
is sometimes sculpted out, or "relieved", with the rasp so that the
hoof at that area bears no weight. This removes the bending forces on that portion
of the hoof so new hoof horn grows down straighter. Another approach is to rasp
the flares to about half the thickness of the hoof wall and apply a shoe with
side clips located at the flares. The clips prevent the hoof from flaring and
encourage the hoof wall to grow down straight.
or not flares are kept under control by careful shaping of the hoof often tells
the difference between a "good" shoer and a "fast" shoer.