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Is Your Horse Well-Shod?
A Pencil Can Help You Find Out
by Richard Klimesh
© 2002 Richard Klimesh © Copyright Information
Your 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.
Guidelines 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.
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 pastern.
To 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.
The 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.
Flares weaken 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.
Flares 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.
Whether 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.
© 2002 Richard Klimesh © Copyright Information
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