Your Horse Well-Shod?
A Pencil Can Help You Find Out
by Richard Klimesh
Photos by Cherry Hill and Richard Klimesh
Richard Klimesh ©
shoeing", using a horseshoe that is too small for the hoof, is one of the
most common and potentially harmful shoeing errors. Assessing support can be easily
done at the same time you check DP balance when you're viewing the horse from
the side. Hold the pencil at arm's length so it lines up with an imaginary a line
through the center of the cannon bone to the ground. Generally, the heels of the
shoe should reach this line or extend behind it. The more the heels are under-run,
the farther the shoe needs to extend behind the hoof in order to provide necessary
support. In many cases, egg-bar shoes or shoes with long extended heels (sometimes
called "open egg-bars" because the shoes are egg-shaped but the heels
of the shoe aren't joined) are used to provide support for under-run heels.
Shoes that are too short
will not provide adequate support for the limb and can result in under-run heels,
fatigue and permanent damage to the horse's limbs. Unfortunately, one of the most
common ways horses lose front shoes is by stepping on the heels of the shoes and
pulling them off. Consequently, many horseshoers are understandably reluctant
to extend the heels of the shoe (figuring it will save them a return trip to replace
a lost shoe). Speed horses, especially, are likely to be shod with little or no
shoe extending behind the heels of the hoof. Horses with well-formed upright hooves
are better able to tolerate this compromise than are horses with lower angles
or under-run heels.
Expansion" can refer to several aspects
of a hoof. Here it defines the difference in width between the shoe and the hoof
as seen when looking down at the hoof with the foot on the ground. Expansion is
the amount of shoe that extends past the sides of the hoof at the heels. The shoe
should fit flush with the hoof from the toe around to the quarters (the widest
part of the foot) and then be wider than the hoof (when the horse is freshly shod)
by at least the thickness of a dime.
You can check for expansion by running the point
of the pencil around the edge of the shoe from the quarters to the heels: if there's
no shoe edge for the pencil to ride on, there's no expansion room.
Expansion room gives the hoof somewhere to go as it changes shape. With each step
a horse takes, the heels of the hoof move outward under the horse's weight. As
the foot is lifted, the heels return to their original position. You can usually
see evidence of this repetitive heel movement in the form of grooves or shiny
areas at the heel area on the hoof surface of a shoe that's been removed.
Also, because the hoof is
cone-shaped, the base of the hoof gets wider as the hoof grows longer. But the
steel shoe nailed to the hoof remains its original width. If the shoe is fit too
close, with no expansion room at the heels, or if a properly fit shoe is left
on too long between shoeings, the hoof wall usually spreads over the edge of the
shoe as it grows. When this happens, the reduced bearing surface area of the hoof
at the heel is often crushed under the weight of the horse. Then when the hoof
is prepared for his next shoeing, the heels have to be trimmed excessively low
to get a solid bearing surface. The best shoeing job in the world is worse than
worthless if let go too long; letting the hoof grow over the shoe is a direct
route down the slippery slope to a Long Toe/Low Heel configuration.
Like extending the heels of the shoe, leaving generous expansion room carries
a certain amount of risk: a horse could step on the exposed shoe and pull it off.
Upright hooves need less expansion room and can be shod fairly close, while more
sloping, spread-out hooves need to be shod "full" with plenty of expansion.
Also, a wide foot can be shod like a flared foot (they are often one and the same),
with side clips to contain the hoof and prevent it from spreading over the shoe.
The average shoeing cycle ranges from 5 to 8 weeks. A farrier must determine by
experience how much expansion room to leave for each hoof. Just the right amount
of expansion will result in the hoof growing to the edge of the shoe but not over
it at the end of the shoeing cycle. In fact, this is one of the best ways to determine
the length of your horse's shoeing cycle: when the hoof grows flush with the edge
of the shoe, it's time for a reset, if the hoof has grown past the shoe you're
horse is overdue.
above tips are general guidelines for assessing your horse's shoeing. Every hoof
must be shod as an individual, taking into consideration the horse's conformation,
movement, habits, management and intended use. If the shoeing on your horse varies
significantly from the guidelines in this article, or if you have questions about
the way your horse is being shod, discuss them with your farrier. A good shoer
will not be offended by straightforward questions and should be able to explain
in terms you can understand why he's shoeing your horse in a particular manner.
The owner is ultimately the person responsible for providing the horse with proper
hoof care. If your shoer is unwilling or unable to provide satisfactory answers
to your questions, that may be reason enough to think about putting your horse's
feet in the hands of another farrier.