I would like to thank Lindsey for inviting me to be a part of The Mane
Street and a special thanks to Darryl for managing this wonderful
place where we can get together and exchange ideas, experiences and
help one another in enjoying that most special of friends, the horse.
After graduating from
the Montana State University Horseshoeing School in Bozeman, Montana,
I worked as a full-time farrier in North Carolina and Virginia before
moving to Montana. Recently I’ve been on a temporary hiatus due to a
non-horse related injury.
I thought I would
begin this series of articles with standard quote: No Hoof No
Such a simple thought
and yet it expresses a very real fact of life. Unless your horse is
lucky enough to live a lifestyle that keeps his feet in perfect shape,
you will either learn to take care of them yourself or find someone
else to handle this job. It is that simple and that important!
Whether or not you
decide to take on the task of trimming your own horse’s feet is a
decision that only you can make. This is not a job you want to take on
halfheartedly. It is flat out too dangerous an undertaking and too
important to the well being of the horse to enter into without serious
thought. Screw it up and your horse suffers. This is equally true
whether the work is done by you or by a professional farrier. Wrong is
wrong … lame is lame.
One of the most difficult aspects to master for someone beginning
farrier work is being able to hold a foot in your lap for the amount
of time necessary to complete the job. I am not kidding. Unless you do
this on a regular basis, you are apt to find yourself with all the
necessary tools in hand; knowing exactly what you want to do, but your
wobbly knees, quivering thighs and screaming back don’t seem to want
to cooperate. This is not all due to a “leaning” horse or one with
special handling needs.
No matter how easy
the horse makes it for the farrier, when you are under a horse you
cannot relax for one second. All it takes is for a fly to take a bite,
a dog to run by, a child to shriek or something as simple as spider on
a silk thread dropping into the horse’s view, and quicker than
imaginable, the horse has forgotten you and leapt straight into a full
If you think this is
something you want to try, then by all means find a qualified
instructor and see if it works for you. Even if you decide not to do
your own farrier work, you will have a far better understanding of
what it takes to keep your horse’s feet in a safe and sound
Thousands of people
take care of their own horse’s feet. The reasons vary. Some find it
personally rewarding. They feel it brings them closer to their horse
and gives them a leg-up in recognizing potential hoof problems. Others
like the flexibility in scheduling hoof care at their convenience and
enjoy being responsible for seeing the job is done right.
Hoof care is
expensive. Doing it yourself may result in substantial savings. Some
people learn to take care of their horse’s feet because they are
either unable to find a farrier in their area or they become
dissatisfied with the level of service available. They decide it is
easier to learn to do the work themselves rather than put up with the
So how do you find a
farrier? I think the best resource is the horse owners near you who
already have established a working relationship with a farrier. More
than likely they will tell you who they use and perhaps just as
importantly, who they don’t.
The Internet has
listings for horse shoeing schools in most countries/provinces/states.
They should be happy to tell you if any of their graduates are working
near you. The same applies to contacting a regional farrier
association for a listing of who works where.
A veterinarian may be
able to recommend someone they prefer working with in treating hoof
problems. Basically, anywhere you find horses, you should be able to
find someone willing to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly about
the local farrier(s).
Once you have located a farrier, I suggest asking for the names of
satisfied customers. If someone recommends a particular individual,
ask if you could observe the next time they have the farrier over.
After all, your horse’s well being is on the line and you need to
know if this farrier is going to treat you and your horse with respect
and consideration. It takes a great deal of time and effort to train a
horse and only a single swat of a rasp to erase all this good work.
You have the final say of all things related to your horse. You seek
the advice and services of others such as the farrier and
veterinarian, but in the end, the choice of who works on your horse
rests with you.
Shoes or barefoot?
If you are able to
use your horse for whatever purpose you desire, and the horse is able
to perform these functions barefoot without causing damage to himself
or be a hazard to the rider then by all means go barefoot.
My feeling is that
you only need to shoe a horse if it is necessary to keep it sound.
There is a movement afoot to get shoes off horses thereby
bringing them back to a more “natural” way of going. This in
itself is great, but I think you should consider the individual
situation before making that decision.
The condition of the
horse and its feet, the quality of feed and pasture, the terrain it
resides on and the ground surface it will encounter as well as the
proposed use all have a bearing on whether or not your horse is up to
going barefoot. If you can … great. If what you want to do is beyond
going barefoot; then have the horse shod, or use one of the slip-on
shoe products and know that you are doing this for his and your
benefit. Once the shoes are no longer needed they can be pulled and
the horse trimmed to being barefoot again.
There are any number of names attached to the various techniques
describing how to correctly trim a horse’s feet. Whatever the name,
whatever the “special” way just recently discovered, the goal of
any trim is a safe and sound horse. Call it what you want, use
whatever tools and/or visual guides that work for you or your farrier,
but just get it right and do not hurt the horse.
If your horse is
not lame before a trim, then it certainly should not be lame after one.
The same goes for shoes. Shoeing a horse should not cause it to be
lame for days or weeks afterwards. You should be able to ride up to
your farrier, unsaddle your horse, have it trimmed and shod, and ride
off into the sunset immediately thereafter with no ill effects.
No blood, no “there will be pain before his feet come around”, no
“trim him short so he can go longer between appointments” or any
other foolishness along those lines. If your horse goes lame just
after having his feet worked on, contact your farrier immediately.
Describe the problem and ask the farrier to come back and check to see
if the lameness is related to his recent work. Your farrier will
probably be just as concerned as you are to discover why your horse is
lame and very anxious to correct the problem.
Most farriers I know
really like the work, enjoy the company of horses and they strive
continuously to improve their skills through traditional educational
opportunities and peer-to-peer contacts.
I wish everyone the
best of luck in finding a farrier who will work with them in making
this absolute necessity an experience not to be dreaded, but one that
strengthens the health of each horse and deepens your ongoing
understanding of successful hoof care for your horses.
Greetings. (January 2004)
Changes in the season present new
challenges to your hoof care program. Your adjustments depend on a
number of factors relating to the weather, your horse’s hoof and
overall physical conditioning, the availability of adequate feed
sources, in addition to your plans in the upcoming months.
First and foremost, the seasonal
changes do not mean your hoof care program can be put on hold or
forgotten until the return of warmer weather.
It is possible that during the
cooler weather your horse’s hooves will grow at a slower rate than
during the spring and summer months; but grow they will. You may be
able to adjust your trimming schedule to reflect this change. The
important thing to remember is that it is imperative to maintain a
coherent hoof care program all year round.
Trimming a horse for the winter
involves little change to your normal trim. If the horse has been
wearing shoes and is going to go barefoot you might wish to leave the
hoof a fraction longer than normal in order to provide a bit more
protection while its feet become accustomed to this new setup. At the
next trim, you should be able to go back to your normal settings with
no ill effects. When trimming a hoof that is going to be shod it is
imperative that both the horseshoe and the hoof surface be perfectly
flat. This results in the edge of the hoof being sharp and not rounded
as is found on a naturally barefoot horse. When switching from shod to
barefoot, be sure and round these edges in order to reduce the
incidences of chipping and breaking off of the hoof wall.
This is another example of why it
is so important to know exactly how your horse’s feet are trimmed.
Hoof lengths and angles are not something you look up in a textbook
and arbitrarily decide that certain numbers fit your horse. Rather
they are the results of you and your farrier determining what works
best for your horse. Once you establish this, then with a few simple
measurements, you will know how you want your horse’s feet to
measure after they have been trimmed. If your farrier does not use a
tape measure or a hoof gauge then ask him or her how you, not the
farrier, but you, can be sure your horse is trimmed the same way every
Things change. People move,
retire or are injured. If this happens to your regular hoof care
provider, how will you explain to someone else how you want your horse
How the winter season affects
your hoof care program depends a lot upon how much of a change you
In areas where the major seasonal
difference consists of slightly lower temperatures with a significant
increase in moisture levels in the form of rain, a major concern
should be that the horse has a dry place to stand. Just as your feet
show the effects of standing in water for a lengthy period of time,
your horse’s hooves will show deterioration if kept in an overly
moist environment. The best solution is a dry surface where the horse
can go to dry out its feet.
A simple test to demonstrate the
effects of the wetter environment on a horse’s hoof is to press on
the sole with your thumbs during the dry season and compare it to the
same pressure after the horse has been standing in water for a while.
Normally, the sole surface of a horse is very firm. This is a good
thing because the sole is all that stands between the sensitive parts
of the hoof and the ground surface. During the wet season you will be
able to see how much more “give” there is to the sole. This may
translate into more sensitivity on the part of your horse when
traveling over hard or rocky surfaces. A little extra caution on your
part may prevent a stone bruise from interfering with your winter
Attempting to prevent moisture
from affecting a hoof by brushing or painting a substance onto the
hoof surface may not be the best solution.
An example of what happens when a substance interferes with the
hoof’s natural condition can be seen in show horses when their
hooves are painted to improver their appearance.
In cases where the hoof paint is
not removed in a timely manner, but rather left on for extended
periods without giving the hoof a chance to recover, the deterioration
of the hoof wall manifests itself with a noticeably weakened,
abnormally dry and flaky hoof wall.
A tip for the horse buyer. Never
buy a horse with painted feet until you have the opportunity to
examine its feet without the paint. If for whatever reason the owner
won’t remove the paint, at the very least have your farrier check
out the horse before you sign the contract.
There are any number of
legitimate products available that are used to fill in hoof cracks,
rebuild hoof wall and provide support to an otherwise weak hoof. A
coat of paint renders them invisible. Anyone buying a horse should be
aware if they are being used, as it may indicate a problem that will
influence your decision to purchase a horse with known hoof problems.
In areas with much colder
temperatures where frozen ground, ice and snow are the normal winter
conditions, there are additional concerns for the horse owner.
Ice on a walking or riding
surface presents a different set of challenges to the horse owner.
Ice, by its very nature, presents a slippery surface often leading to
muscle strains caused by slips and/or serious injury to the horse and
rider should they fall.
There are a number of traction
devices available and not all of them require nail-on shoes. Some
slip-on shoes/boots have the option of attaching traction studs/calks
that can be applied as necessary and then removed once they are no
longer needed. They are a nice alternative if they fit your personal
needs and desires.
Frost/ice nails are another way
to attain traction for your horse if you will be traveling on icy
surfaces. One of their main advantages over a borium fitted shoe is
that they do not require the use of a welding torch or a forge for
When properly applied to a
horseshoe, Borium provides a virtual non-slip environment for the
horse. It is available in assorted variations for use with both
traditional nail-on horseshoes as well as with the numerous
alternative hoof protection products.
A few words of caution you may
wish to consider before attaching any device to your horse’s feet.
If your horse has a tendency to kick or step on other horses, itself
(or you!), adding any of these devices will only increase the severity
of an injury.
Additionally, traction devices
have a tendency to restrict the natural movement of a hoof in a turn.
Therefore, slow gentle turns, especially on hard unyielding surfaces,
are necessary to avoid stress injuries caused by this loss of
“Snowballs” building up
on the bottom of a horse’s feet are both painful and dangerous to
horse and rider. Aside from the obvious difficulties for a horse
trying to maintain its balance, the constant rolling motion puts
additional stress on the related joints.
There are a number of snowball
pads on the market, offering both partial and full coverage of the
hoof. Everything from cooking spray to Vaseline to pieces of split
garden hose has been tried and has their proponents.
One thing to remember about any
full pad is that it does not allow the bottom of the hoof to come into
contact with the ground thereby interfering with a natural process.
Pads are used throughout the year for a variety of reasons with little
or no adverse effect on the hoof structure. However, extra care should
be given to any horse that wears full pads in order to prevent serious
deterioration of the hoof structures. Proper hoof packing between the
pad and sole along with maintaining a regular hoof care program will
allow the pad to perform its intended function and still ensure a safe
and healthy hoof.
As with most horse situations,
the best source of information in coping with the different weather
conditions and the problems created by unfamiliar conditions are from
people in the area who have had the experience of dealing with them.
Horse people seem to have an affinity for helping those who take the
time to ask for advice. It makes for a nice community of people
sharing a common goal of happy, healthy horses.
Winter weather and the
accompanying rain, mud, snow and ice do not make it easy for the horse
owner. Yet, by providing your horse with a place to dry out its feet
and through the judicial use of available hoof care products and
utilizing your own good judgment, it is possible to enjoy riding your
horse all year round.
Good luck and many happy trails
for the New Year.
Rules … Rules
We make them … We break
them … What do they have to do with my horse’s feet?
much govern all aspects of our daily lives. When to get up, how to
brush your teeth, what you wear to work, how you drive a car as well
as how you care for your horse.
Some rules are
written out for all to see while others are simply understood to be
Rules for a horse
owner / farrier relationship provide a degree of safety, comfort and
order that makes the job easier for all.
There are usually at
least three individuals involved in a horse’s hoof care program. The
horse owner, the farrier and the horse. If you do your own farrier
work, then you get to wear two hats and make two sets of rules.
It is important that
everyone involved is aware of the rules, written or verbal, that
should be established before a single hoof is picked up.
The horse owner will
have rules. The farrier will have rules and the horse will have rules;
although sometimes horse rules are not as easy to understand as you
would like. This is not necessarily the fault of the horse …
sometimes their dialects are hard to understand.
The horse owner
decides who works on their horse. Perhaps the most important
responsibility the owner has is for the well-being of the horse. With
this in mind, it should always be understood, that in my opinion,
Horse Owner Rule #1 states that the owner may at any time instruct the
farrier to stop what they are doing and leave the premises. It is a
sad commentary on the human race that people do abuse horses. Farriers
have been known to lose their patience as well as their tempers
resulting in a physically injured horse in addition to possible
psychological damage that permanently alters the horse’s behavior.
In other words, do not accept any disciplinary corrections from a
farrier that you yourself would not make. The abuse versus discipline
line may be hard to describe … but you’ll know it when you see it
and it should never be condoned.
As difficult as it
may be to locate another farrier, it not worth risking the safety and
good nature of your horse with anyone who is not able to perform the
job in a professional manner.
The horse owner is
well within their rights in expecting the farrier to arrive on time,
prepared to work and in a civil state of mind. Just because the work
is being done in a barn does not mean that common courtesy and respect
should be left outside. A civil tongue and a willingness to listen to
the owner regarding all aspects of their horse’s hoof care program
should be requirements and not options.
The actual location
of where the work will be done is usually based on a consensus, with
the owner asking the farrier, who will probably suggest wherever the
horse is most comfortable.
The horse owner will
also have a set of rules for the horse concerning its behavior with
the farrier which are ingrained with training and more training until
the horse looks upon the farrier as nothing more than a pleasant
diversion from its normal routine.
The horse owner
decides who to ask to work on their horse. The farrier’s decision to
accept the job is going to be based on their perception of the
willingness of the owner and the horse to work within their comfort
The farrier rules
will be similar with regard to the owner being on time and having the
horse prepared for work. This means the horse should be caught, clean,
collected and in the right frame of mind for the job at hand.
Some rules are based
on common sense. Trimming feet in the rain, the snow, mud or muck is
not only difficult but also downright dangerous. Farrier tools are
generally razor sharp and/or pointed with the capability of
instantaneously causing serious injury to the horse or farrier. It may
be a beautiful sunny spring day with the temperature rising above
freezing for the first time in weeks, but dragging the horses out of
the barn to stand tied at the fence doesn’t make sense if there is
six inches of new snow on the ground.
A farrier makes money
working with horses. Generally speaking, if a horse does not willingly
pick up its feet and stand calmly, the farrier may decide not to take
on the job. After all, a farrier’s livelihood depends on being able
to work day after day and there are enough inherent dangers in the job
to make choosing the easy horses the logical choice.
Just as even the
youngest horses can be taught how to work with a farrier, sometimes
horses that have been abused will require more effort on the part of
the farrier to get the job done without anyone getting excited. This
is no big deal as long as all parties are aware of the potentially
difficult situation and resolve to work together in solving the
As with any situation
involving rules of any kind, it is most important to keep the lines of
communication open so that should any conflicts arise the opportunity
to resolve them is recognized promptly thereby preventing the
situation from getting out of hand.
The farrier is
probably going to have more hard-fast rules than anyone else simply
because the farrier is the one most likely to be incur serious injury
if things go bad. The farrier is the one with your horse’s leg in
their lap and the most likely recipient of any disciplinary action
from the horse.
Therefore, we have
the rules requesting a safe work environment. Unsupervised children,
pets or other adults put themselves as well as the farrier at
unnecessary risk. That being said, if the horse is used to the dogs
running underfoot, it is sometimes easier to leave them loose if the
only option is to pen them up and have them barking and howling which
only makes the horse nervous and inattentive to the farrier. (Besides,
they do make cleaning up easier by eating the clipped hoof trimmings.)
My personal best in
this area was discovering three Jack Russell Terriers dangling,
snarling and growling, from the lead line of a really nice Arabian
mare whose front leg I had in my lap. After the initial shock wore
off, I figured the horse must have decided she preferred them where
she could see them and we finished the job without incident.
In a nutshell, both
horse owner and farrier rules are pretty basic and simple to
understand. Horse rules on the other hand, can be a bit more
complicated to grasp. Some horses require special handling due to
injury, arthritis or conformation. If the owner is unaware of the
problem and therefore unable to pass this information along to the
farrier, it is left to the horse to convey the message. They may do
this by resisting, leaning pulling or pushing. If you fail to get the
message … they may be forced to resort to a kick. The trick is to
know when to step back and decide if the horse “just doesn’t want
to” do what you are asking or if the horse is saying, “it hurts
when I do that.”
I’ve known horses
that only liked to have their feet done in the afternoon … and then
only within a relatively short time frame. Some horses prefer to be
inside or outside, held, cross-tied, ground-tied or none of the above.
In a perfect world
all horses would stand perfectly still and all farriers would be on
The reality is I will
pretty much allow whatever it takes for the horse to be comfortable
with what I’m doing. If this means feeding it hay, horse cookies or
pulling my suspenders, as long as I have faith in the owner holding
that horse, if it makes the job go smoother it is okay with me.
Most Farriers would
rather put up with a little horse idiosyncrasy rather than stick to an
Rules are like that.
If they don’t work, then you change them. The key point to remember
is that in any horse, farrier, horse owner partnership, everyone has
to be operating on the same page.
The only rule in
farrier work that I consider to be an absolute is the one that says,
if after the farrier and owner have tried their best to convince the
horse that we really do need to trim it’s feet, the horse says,
“It’s not going to happen today” … believe it!
less time than healing.
… At last!
Winter draws to an end and our
thoughts turn to that first glorious ride of the season.
There are many chores to complete
in advance of the new grass. Fences and pastures have to be mended and
tended. Water lines and troughs need to be checked to be sure they
survived the winter’s ravages and it is never too soon to be lining
up new hay for the barn.
About that new grass … you
might wish to check out these articles on Grass Founder at the
These and many other helpful
articles can be found online using “grass founder” for your search
Now would be a good time to draw
up your plan for this year’s hoof care program. If you are planning
to attend riding events or shows, a schedule and calendar will help
you lay out a tentative schedule of farrier appointments. Once you
have this in hand, give your farrier a call and discuss your plans
with him or her. Working with your farrier in the formation of your
hoof care program allows for the formation of a strategy convenient to
A review of last year’s shoeing
records will refresh your memory of the hoof settings you used then
and whether or not they achieved the anticipated results. This way you
can avoid wasting time and money repeating a set-up that did not work.
If hoof supplements and topical
applications are part of your program, buying them now before any
seasonal price increase may offer a substantial savings over the
course of a summer.
You will have to make a decision
as to whether or not to shoe your horse. Barefoot is a horse’s
natural state. If this works for you and your horse then don’t shoe
the horse simply because everyone else shoes theirs. This would be a
waste of time and money as well as providing no additional benefits to
If you decide to go with
horseshoes, it is imperative that you have your horse’s feet in
their best possible condition prior to the appointment when the shoes
will be applied.
This makes the previous trim
extremely important. If you have been diligent throughout the winter
months and kept your horse on a regular trimming schedule, your
horse’s feet should be in fine shape when it comes time to nail on
the first horseshoes of the year. Your farrier will encounter few if
any problems because any chips or cracks will have been addressed as
they appeared, leaving the hoof better prepared to accept the
Skipping or postponing the last
trimming before shoeing the horse is not a good idea. An overly long
hoof usually becomes misshapen, increasing the possibility of chips
and/or working cracks in the hoof wall that makes it difficult to keep
a shoe on the foot. Addressing these problems when they first appear
gives your farrier the opportunity to correct the situation and
prevent further deterioration of the hoof.
Your horse’s feet should be in
the best possible condition when it comes time for nailing on
horseshoes. Anything less increases the chances of the shoe coming off
Checking last year’s shoeing
record helps in another decision that you have to make. Are you
satisfied with your farrier? Did your farrier show up on time? At all?
Call if they were going to be late? Treat you and your horse
with respect? Listen to you? Consult with you about how to trim your
horse? Was your farrier able to handle all of your hoof care needs to
If the mere thought of this puts
a knot in the pit of your stomach, then it is time to make some
adjustments. You need to find someone else to work with this year in
managing your hoof care program.
The two basic choices you have
are to hire a farrier or do the work yourself. Hire a farrier and the
least that will be expected of you is to provide a well-trained horse
and a safe working environment.
Most farriers are more than
willing to help an owner increase their understanding of proper hoof
care. At the same time, a farrier should be willing to listen to an
owner’s concerns, suggestions or questions relating to their horse.
After all, it is the owner who sees the horse every day and it is the
owner who will have the most up-to-date information concerning its
You train your horse to accept
having its feet trimmed. This is quite an accomplishment. You take
away its main line of defense and ask it to stand quietly while
someone other than you pares, nips and rasps on its feet.
So how do you train your farrier
to behave as you expect to be treated?
You start by not being the one
who is late, forgets appointments or never has the horse ready when
the farrier arrives. The shoeing area is clean, dry and free of
distractions. In other words, you do all those things that everyone
says will make your farrier happy.
Once you have done your best to
provide the farrier with all he or she could ask for, then it is up to
the farrier to provide a professional service.
The most consistent complaints
I’ve heard concerning farriers are that they are always late, never
show up on time, fail to keep appointments, won’t return calls or
are unwilling to listen to the owner. They won’t explain what they
are doing or why they are trimming a horse’s feet in a certain way.
They show up intoxicated and are disrespectful and rude. And this is
before they even touch the horse! Disciplining a horse is the job of
the owner. Striking a horse with a tool of any kind is unacceptable
behavior and is cause for immediate dismissal.
So why are so many people still
using farriers who are the cause of these complaints?
Because people still hire them.
Why? Sometimes a horse owner is
just unable to locate someone else better suited for the job.
Sometimes a long list of complaints is followed by, “at least he
doesn’t lame my horse.”
He may not lame your horse, but
what is he doing to you? He’s not making your life any easier or
improving your quality of life.
Farriers that behave in an
unprofessional manner are able to do so because no one forces them to
change. Licensing or certifying someone who wants to trim horses is
not going to solve the problem. One of the most amazing things to me
is that the complaints against farriers are the pretty much the same
the whole world over.
A farrier cannot exist without
horse owners. Horse owners have the horses and the money the farrier
needs to survive. It may not seem like it to someone living in an area
with limited farrier services, but the farrier needs you more than you
The average horse owner can and
in my opinion, probably should learn how to take care of their
horse’s feet. A horse owner can be their own farrier … but it is
neigh on impossible for the farrier to make a living trimming his own
For all the mystery concerning
how to trim a horse, look at some of the people doing it now. Like
most things in life, all it takes is learning how. The vast majority
of horses require nothing more than a flat and level trim balanced to
the conformation of the hoof and the horse. For anything else, you
would seek the advice of a professional farrier … which is what you
would do anyway, if Mr. No-Show were still trimming your horse.
Taking control of your hoof care
program puts you back in the saddle and in command over this part of
your horse’s life.
Bad behavior is not tolerated in
horses … and it shouldn’t be in horseshoers either.
Here’s to clear trails … and
not to ask your farrier!
There are a number of things that
you as a horse owner will ask of your farrier. Primarily, showing up
on time and performing the necessary work in a competent, courteous
and professional manner.
However, there are some things
that farriers should not be expected to do. These will vary according
to the individual, but generally, these “Don’ts” work to
the benefit of the horse owner, horse and farrier.
I would first suggest that you
should never ask your farrier to work on your horse if you or someone
appointed by you, with the authority to make on-the-spot-decisions
regarding emergency care, is not present.
Too many things can happen
between the time you leave your horse in the barn, paddock or pasture
and the farrier’s arrival that may affect the farrier’s ability to
perform the work.
If the horse has injured itself,
gotten loose or is in the middle of an adverse reaction to a bee sting
or snakebite, by not being there, you force the farrier to accept
responsibility for whatever the outcome and that is not fair to either
the farrier or your horse.
Additionally, in case of an
injury during the course of the farrier’s work, who calls the vet or
the emergency services if you aren’t there? Anyone who has been
around horses for any length of time knows how quickly bad things can
happen and that not all accidents relating to horses are preventable.
A fly bite, blowing debris or a ringing cell phone can all lead to
disaster. Once again, you owe it to your horse and to your farrier to
provide the safest work environment possible and that requires your
Your being there also eliminates
the situation where the farrier is asked to catch and halter the
horse. Taking care of a horse’s feet does not start with being able
to identify, locate, catch and halter a horse. You would be surprised
how often someone will leave a note saying the horse to be trimmed is
the brown one in the pasture. Nine times out of ten, by the time the
farrier arrives, there is more than one brown horse, in more than one
pasture and they all could use a trim. The result … a wasted trip
for the farrier, the horse doesn’t receive the care it needs and no
one is happy about having to reschedule. In the busy season, a farrier
may be booked as much as six to eight weeks in advance. Rescheduling
can be a serious problem.
A farrier allocates a certain
amount of time for each appointment. Most farriers determine the
amount of time to allow for an appointment based upon what the owner
wants done to the horse and the farrier’s knowledge of how long it
takes him or her to do the desired work. A big factor in this
scheduling is dependant on the farrier’s experience with the horse
or in the case of a new horse, the farrier’s perception of the
owners ability to covey exactly how well the horse is trained.
Most farriers schedule a little
extra time between appointments for the unexpected flat tire, cattle
drive on the road or horses just having a bad day. This allows them to
keep to their schedule and not be late to the next appointment and
that person waiting for them to arrive on time.
Asking the farrier to do just one
If all is going well, then it is
certainly appropriate to ask the farrier to work on a horse not on the
schedule. Maybe the horse has returned unexpectedly from a trainer or
boarding stable. I suggest telling the farrier as soon as they arrive
that there is an additional horse needing work and seeing if there is
room in the schedule for it that day. This lets you and the farrier
determine what work, on which horses, there is time for and what, if
anything, will have to wait.
This approach is much easier than
waiting until the farrier is loading up the truck and having someone
ask, “Oh, by the way, Trigger needs his feet done before the show
… and we’re leaving as soon as you’re done. So where do you want
him?” If you’re lucky, the farrier has enough of a cushion to
squeeze in one more horse. If not the farrier has to make a choice.
Stay and do this extra horse and be late to the next appointment or
leave you in a lurch. This is a no-win situation for the farrier.
Asking a farrier to change the
way your horse travels is a normal part of what a farrier does.
Toe-in, toe-out, forging, cross-firing and interfering are all common
problems people face with their horses.
However, one has to realize there
are limits to what can be done to a hoof for corrective purposes
without altering the safety and soundness of the horse. A farrier
should be willing to listen to suggestions about correcting a
perceived problem and be willing and able to explain why a certain
technique may or may not be worth trying as well as being able to
explain to the owner’s satisfaction why the farrier doesn’t
believe a correction is necessary or would be beneficial to the horse.
There are a couple of serious
reasons not to ask a farrier to do something they don’t want to do.
It could be the farrier is
reluctant to proceed because of personal experience with a similar
situation that proved this technique inappropriate and/or harmful to
On the other hand, it could be a
simple matter of the farrier being unsure of how to proceed or how to
perform certain tasks related to correcting the problem or in a worse
case scenario, just not wanting to listen to someone else’s opinion.
Whatever the reasoning behind the
farrier’s decision to not do what you want them to do, the easiest
solution is to find another farrier. Not because you are going to shop
until you find someone who will blindly do what you want, but because
asking a farrier to do something to a horse they are not comfortable
doing, just doesn’t make sense.
Corrective trimming and shoeing
is not part of every farrier’s toolbox. It is a learned skill that
comes only to those who actively seek it out. Asking someone to work
beyond his or her capabilities is a precursor to disaster. It is
better to find a farrier willing to work with you in finding a
solution rather than pushing someone beyond their skill level
resulting in possible injury to your horse.
Disciplining a horse should be
the sole responsibility of the owner. You decide if and when, what is
needed and who makes the correction in response to a particular
situation. If a farrier senses there is a problem that needs
correcting, the owner is told and the correction is decided upon and
made. It is no big deal. The important thing to remember is that any
horse can be having a bad day. At some point it is easier to
acknowledge this and reschedule the work rather than force the issue
and possibly do irreparable harm to an otherwise well trained horse.
Asking a farrier to accept
certain quirks of a horse are also part of dealing with individual
horses. My personal preference for what a horse can be doing during my
work is pretty much anything that keeps it happy and cooperative while
allowing me to complete the work.
However, asking a farrier to
accept the fact that the horse will try to bite, kick if the
opportunity presents itself and otherwise display behavior of this
nature and have the owner consider these activities unworthy of a
correction is not going to help establish a long-term relationship.
The same way a horse being
allowed to rear and strike at the owner with no correction being made
because, “He’s just a little upset about having his feet trimmed
and he probably won’t bother you,” is not going to convince any
farrier it’ll be worth it to try a to pick up its feet.
Most farriers enjoy working with
horses. They enjoy working for themselves and the freedom it allows
them in how they conduct their business. And it is a business.
Therefore, if you are experiencing a temporary interruption in your
cash flow situation, a simple non-intrusive explanation goes a long
way toward getting your horse taken care of and a payment schedule
Waiting until the job is done to
ask the farrier if they don’t mind waiting for their money leaves
the farrier with very few options. It’s hard to un-trim a horse and
while shoes can be pulled, most farriers would rather make a deal than
be hard to deal with. After all, it is to the owner and farrier’s
benefit to work something out. The owner needs the horse trimmed and
the farrier needs the owner’s business to stay in business.
Asking before the work is done,
allows the farrier the opportunity to be part of the decision and not
just the recipient of bad news.
Asking is a very important part
of the horse owner/farrier relationship. The owner asks the farrier
for help in maintaining their horse’s feet. The farrier asks the
owner for their business. The horse asks to be treated well and for
maybe a little treat now and then.
ask that everyone enjoy a wonderfully safe riding season.
the Road Again!
You have been preparing for this event
for months. All your hard earned efforts have paid off and you are
on your way. The truck is washed, waxed and tuned to perfection. The
horse trailer sports new floor mats inside and a fresh paint job
outside. Every item on your checklist is present and accounted for.
You are ready to have some serious fun.
Then it happens. Unloading your horse, you get
a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach as you realize that
sometime between loading-up at home and arriving at your
destination, your horse has sprung a heel, lost a shoe or wrenched a
On the other hand, maybe your horse is barefoot
and has managed to take a large chunk of hoof out of one of his feet
when it was dancing around trying to avoid the overactive cow-dog
belonging to the folks unloading next to you.
Now what? You’re in a strange town, out in
the middle of nowhere and it’s beginning to look like you are
going to go home empty-handed without even having had the chance to
There is no reason that a loose, bent or
twisted horseshoe should be allowed to ruin your day. The same thing
can be said for a nail that is wrenched loose on a rock or something
as simple as being caught on the edge of the trailer when loading or
These things happen all the time. Being
prepared reduces them to mere annoyances rather than allowing them
to become event-ending catastrophes.
If you take care of your horse’s feet
yourself, then you already have the tools and the knowledge to
handle most, if not all, of your hoof care problems. That just
leaves remembering to make sure some of your farrier tools become
part of your regular traveling kit.
A barefoot horse requires fewer tools, but they
too, must be in your traveling tack box for them to be of any use
while you are on the road.
Whether you plan to travel with your horse or
not, everyone responsible for the care of a horse should acquire the
basic knowledge enabling them to handle certain common hoof related
problems. This may be as simple as carrying a slip-on shoe to
protect and/or prevent further damage to an injured hoof while
waiting your farrier’s arrival or being able to remove or replace
or fix a damaged hoof, shoe or nail, thus eliminating the problem
Whether your horse is barefoot or wears shoes,
the best source of information for emergency care should be your
farrier. Don’t be bashful about asking questions that will help
you provide better care for your horse. A good farrier will be glad
that you are taking an interest in your horse’s hoof care program.
The simple fact of the matter is that the better hoof care a horse
receives, the easier it is for the farrier to maintain a horse’s
hooves. Planning how to handle different situations before they
happen may help you prevent a simple chipped hoof or sprung shoe
from becoming a larger problem in the long run.
Let your farrier know beforehand what you would
like to learn and then schedule a little extra time at your next
appointment to go over your questions.
I cannot begin to stress how important it is to
pay particular attention to how your farrier approaches and holds
your horse’s feet. Your safety and that of the horse is paramount
when working with a horse’s feet. Be aware that twisting or
bending a horseshoe places tremendous stresses on the hoof and leg
structures thereby increasing the potential for there to be
additional unseen injuries that require very gentle handling if you
are to avoid a “harsh correction” by the horse.
If your horse is barefoot, then knowing how to
recognize a chip in the hoof wall that goes beyond normal wear and
tear is something your farrier should be able to explain in terms
easily understood. Ask for their preferences on how to handle the
situation both for when you are at home as well as what you should
do if you are out of town.
If your horse wears horseshoes, then at the
very least you should be able to remove a loose or damaged horseshoe
nail and if necessary, pull a shoe that is so badly twisted or
partially torn loose as to be a hazard if left alone. A loose nail
may not cause any damage to the horse directly, however, once the
shoe starts to move around on the hoof, there is the potential for
more serious damage.
It has been my experience that it is not
possible to flatten a horseshoe while the shoe is attached to the
horse. Walking or trotting the horse on a hard surface in order to
flatten a sprung or bent horseshoe will not fix the problem.
It may however, cause serious and permanent damage to the horse. The
shoe has to be removed in order to be made safe to use. Anything
else is wishful thinking at best.
Here is an article (http://horsecare.stablemade.com/articles2/shoe_off.htm)
describing in general terms the tools and techniques used in
removing a horseshoe. I offer it only as a way to familiarize you
with the tools and process necessary to complete the task.
I strongly suggest having your farrier
demonstrate the actual process for you and recommend anyone wishing
to become comfortable with the task seek professional instruction.
If you have confidence in your farrier’s abilities, then by all
means explain what you wish to learn and see if this is something he
or she is willing to teach.
A check of the farrier associations in your
area should provide you with the names of schools or individuals
qualified to provide the instruction you seek.
You should always be cognizant of the law as it
relates to who is allowed to do what to a horse. This merits
mentioning because of the widely divergent rules associated with
horse care; farrier work being heavily regulated in some places,
while in others all that is required is a willing owner with a horse
and someone else with a set of tools.
Learning how to pull a shoe, remove and/or
replace a nail is not for everyone. You really have to want to learn
how to do these things and not knowing how is not the end of the
Something everyone can do before leaving on a
trip is plan ahead for any possible emergencies. Check with event
managers to see if there will be veterinary and farrier services
available. Call farrier associations for recommendations. If you
know someone in the area, you can ask for the name of his or her
Once you have a name or names, it is advisable
to call ahead, introducing yourself and inquiring if the farrier
would be willing to respond to a call should the need arise. This
also gives you a chance to determine if the farrier is familiar with
the way you have your horse trimmed. Try to talk to at least two
farriers, as this will greatly improve your chances of one being
available and besides, you can never know too many farriers. Failing
to line up an out-of-town farrier puts you in the unenviable
position of having to use whoever you can find.
You should always keep a record of your hoof
care program with the horse wherever it travels. This information is
invaluable should you face an extended stay due to unanticipated
events. Anything from a vehicle breakdown to a medical quarantine
can lengthen a horse’s stay and keep it from a scheduled farrier
appointment. While this may not be a common occurrence, it only
takes one time to prove the value of being prepared.
It does not matter what method or technique
your farrier uses; if they are not available, you need to be able to
communicate exactly how you want your horse’s feet trimmed. If
your farrier does not use hoof lengths and angles for reference,
then be sure and ask them to explain to you the exact terms you can
use to communicate to another farrier how to keep your horse sound.
This is extremely important as individual farriers use different
terms to describe how they go about achieving the desired results.
In some cases, the hoof may become damaged to
the point that the only way to replace a shoe or trim the foot to
safety, will require more than just rounding the sharp edges or
flattening the shoe and nailing it back on. Once again, the more
information you can give the farrier will undoubtedly provide better
Adding a pair of slip-on boots to your
first-aid kit, one sized for the fronts and one sized for the hinds,
may be all it takes to remedy a situation. In more serious cases,
they can provide protection to the hoof until you are able to
schedule an appointment with your farrier. Be sure and have a pair
of scissors or other cutting tool handy in case you need to trim the
boot to fit properly.
A complete set of pre-shaped shoes along with
the corresponding number of nails should also be a regular part of
your traveling gear. Ask your farrier to make you up a set of shoes,
fronts and backs, and be sure and take them with you. Even if you
have lined up an emergency farrier and they have assured you they
can handle any situation, they may be unavailable when you need them
and having your own shoes and nails assures that at least that will
not be an impediment to getting you back in the saddle. Besides,
it’s not like they’ll spoil if you don’t use them right away.
They won’t go bad over time and the tools will most likely last
you a lifetime of horses.
A set of four flat plastic pads, along with
suitable hoof packing material and a roll of duct tape, takes up
very little room and can benefit the barefoot horse as well as those
wearing shoes. Once again, your farrier should be able to supply you
with this material, or at least give you the name of the farrier
supply house in your area. The pads can be used to provide temporary
protection to a hoof in case of a puncture or damage to the sole as
well as be fitted to shoes if the terrain turns out to be more
difficult than anticipated.
Even if you never plan to pull a shoe or nail
one back on, if you have the tools and supplies needed to do the
job, carry them with you. There may well be a farrier in the crowd
who would be happy to help you with your problem.
Being prepared for unexpected hoof problems
lets you spend more time enjoying your horse rather than watching
from the bleachers.
you plan for is one less problem that will catch you by surprise.
Horse … Four Hooves
Horses come in a variety of shapes, colors and
sizes. Horses hooves do, too.
The time to think about a horse’s feet should
be well before you make the decision to bring it home. If there is
one thing about purchasing a horse that should not be compromised
during the decision making process, it is the condition of its feet.
Unless you have the expertise, time, money and
determination to see the job through, you do not want to bring a
horse home that has anything wrong with its feet that a simple trim
will not fix.
Most hoof problems are not instant overnight
affairs. They occur over a period of time that may, at best, require
the same amount of time to fix. More often than not, what looked
like a simple problem, before it becomes yours, will prove to be
more than just, “Oh, he stands like that because he’s a little
long. Your farrier can fix that right up. No problem.”
First and foremost, you have to see the hoof in
its natural state. That means no paint, no hoof coloring, dressings,
solutions or patches that in any way distort the true condition of
the hoof. There are any number of products on the market that allow
a hoof to appear to be in perfect shape, when in fact it is not.
There are many legitimate reasons to use these products, however, a
side effect of their use may result in the giving of a false
impression as to the quality of a hoof.
Committing to the care of a horse requires a
major investment, emotionally, financially and involves large blocks
of your time. If the feet aren’t right at the start, the finish
could come sooner than you think. Trust your instincts and if you
are still unsure, get a second, third or fourth opinion. This is one
avoidable mistake that can cost you dearly for the life of the
Nobody is perfect. The same can be said of
horses and their feet. It is nice when a horse has matching front
and hind hoof pairs … but it is not absolutely necessary in the
making of a great horse. Matching hooves look nice. They don’t
draw attention to themselves and they give credence to the
impression of a well-balanced horse.
All it means when you look at a horse whose
feet don’t match is that you probably ought to take a closer look.
Try to determine if the discrepancy between the feet is one that is
causing problems now, or apt to become a problem further down the
road. The problem may be man-made and something easily corrected or
it may simply be a matter of that’s just the feet this horse was
given and there is no problem. The important thing to remember is,
if there is not a problem … don’t fix it.
If a horse’s feet do not follow a perfectly
straight flight path, before you try to correct a perceived
imperfection, be sure the reason for the correction is to benefit
the horse. If a horse is not causing harm to itself or the its rider
or presenting a danger to itself or rider, then serious thought
should be given for the reason in forcing such a change. Any
decision to deviate from a balanced trim should be undertaken with
the full understanding that following this path may have dire
consequences for the horse in the long run.
Not all hooves are created equal. Large, small,
narrow, wide, long or short, there is no one size fits all when it
comes to horses and their hooves. There is a difference between a
mismatched hoof and a misshapen one. A mismatched pair of feet, with
one larger or wider or steeper for example, may indicate a failure
by the farrier, be the result of an injury or simply a reaction to a
horse’s natural conformation. It is important enough to repeat,
that unless the cause of the difference is known and/or creating a
harmful or dangerous situation to the horse or rider, any change
should be considered only when the consequences have been thoroughly
A misshapen hoof is usually the result of an
injury, neglect, or poor farrier practices. While it is possible for
a hoof to return to its original shape over time, it is equally
possible that to a certain degree, the distortion will never
entirely disappear. Serious alterations in the natural shape of the
hoof tend to indicate a structural shift by some or all of the
internal elements that make up the hoof. Understanding what changes
may have occurred usually involves x-rays and someone with the
ability to read them.
Those mysterious rings that appear on the hoof
always seem to just show up one day. The vast majority of the time
they are simply historical indicators of past events in a horse’s
life rather than harbingers of doom.
Rings that are wavy in appearance or those that
slope toward the ground at the heels may be cause for concern.
Sometimes, but not always, these rings can be associated with
founder, especially rings that slope and are widest apart at the
heels. Other causes for wavy lines can be thrush, various yeast
infections of the hoof, ring bone, side bone, abscesses of the hoof
and uneven weight distribution.
Horizontal cracks are another of those things
that seem to just magically appear out of nowhere. It has been my
experience that a horizontal crack (one running sideways on a hoof)
usually appears after the root cause of the event has reached its
peak and therefore rarely poses any further threat.
The main concern with this type of crack is
that it moves down the hoof as the hoof wall grows out and it may
pose a problem when it approaches the bottom of the hoof. In some
cases, it may interfere with the nailing on of a horseshoe, or be so
large as to cause a real weakness in the overall structure of the
hoof wall (barefoot or shod) requiring the attention of a farrier
before it chips or breaks off creating a more serious situation.
Vertical cracks in the hoof wall, whether at
the toe, quarter or heel of the hoof, are usually a pretty good
indication of an unsatisfactory hoof care program. However, it must
be noted that some injuries to the hoof may result in a weakness to
the wall itself that will easily transform into a crack should the
weakened area experience stress beyond its load bearing limitations.
The best preventive measure that can be taken
to avoid vertical cracks is a solid hoof care program. This means
regular trimmings based upon the individual horse’s needs. Not
every horse needs to be trimmed on a six-week schedule just as not
every horse can wait eight weeks before being long overdue for a
Of course, timely trimmings mean nothing if
they are not done correctly. This is where you as the horse owner
have to step in to insure the horse gets the quality care he or she
deserves and in fact, requires in order to remain healthy and sound.
Finding a farrier that keeps your horse sound may be one of the most
difficult aspects of owning a horse. Short of learning to take care
of your horse’s feet yourself, which more and more horse owners
are learning to do, choosing who to let work on your horse will have
a great influence on the quality and length of your horse’s life.
The question of whether or not to disqualify a
horse from consideration because of white feet is more a matter of
personal choice than scientific reason. There are hard white hooves
and soft black hooves. A lot of the time, either condition can be
easily attributed to climatic and/or ground surface conditions.
One thing you will see on a white hoof more
often than on a black one is those red spots (strawberries)
indicating bruises. It would seem that this disparity is more the
result of the bruises being more easily seen as red against white
versus red on a black background, rather than white hooves bruising
easier the black hooves.
White or black, the important thing is that
they be of good quality and fit the horse. Trimming a hoof to fit a
preconceived notion of what it should be rather than trimming the
hoof to a natural balance will more often than not result in a sore
horse with a shortened lifespan. Trimming a horse should be to the
benefit of the horse and no one else. Trimming a hoof strictly to
look good rarely does the horse any good.
A horse’s feet have to support him for the
rest of its life. We can make an enormous difference to the quality
and length of that life through good hoof care. It is not simple. It
is not easy. However, it is necessary. Moreover, the rewards are
a horse to do?
The heels of a hoof seem to be one of the most
problem prone areas of a horse’s foot.
In order to achieve a balanced trim, proper
consideration of the heel has to be included or a true balanced
state is unattainable.
The determination of heel length, shape and
condition and their effect on the resulting hoof angle is one that
should be considered at each and every trimming. If you are unsure
of or unfamiliar with what your horse’s feet should look like, ask
your farrier to explain it to you. It’s your horse, you have the
right to know this, and your horse is depending on you to see that
the person trimming its feet knows what they are doing.
If you don’t want to ask, then wait until
he/she is gone and take a picture of the feet. Make a drawing and/or
use a tape measure to measure the toe lengths and length of heels
from the bulbs to the ground. As always, approach any horse’s feet
only if you are comfortable in doing so.
The heel of the hoof is just about the easiest
part of the hoof to clip, nip or rasp off. Consequently, it is
extremely easy to “trim” this part too short almost before you
The vast majority of horses need only be
trimmed flat and level in order to reach their optimum comfort
For those horses requiring further refinement,
a trained individual should be called to assist the horse owner in
determining how to bring the hoof into balance with the rest of the
Additionally, it should be understood that the
heel portion of a hoof is just that … a portion … no more–no
less important than the rest of the structure when it comes to a
The heel, by its very nature is susceptible to
injury and abuse from humans as well as environmental factors.
A couple of passes from a farrier’s rasp can
lame a horse to the point that it may be weeks or months before it
Trimming the heels out of balance may produce
contracted or sheared heels resulting in a seriously unbalanced
state with far-reaching effects throughout the horse.
While it is not always possible to do right by
the horse with a flat and level trim, trimming to an altered state
must be done with caution and a full understanding of the
consequences and the desired results.
Environmental factors that place the horse in
an extremely wet or dry situation can have adverse effects on the
heels. In both of these situations, it is imperative that the horse
receive regular hoof care on a timely basis. Too wet and too long
set the hoof up for run-under heels and too dry and too long may
result in a brittle heel that snaps off leaving the owner/farrier to
find a way to bring the hoof back into balance while the heel
recovers from the damage it has incurred.
The heel of a horse is usually narrower in
width than the toe yet it bears the initial impact and concussive
effect of every step.
The resulting expansion of the hoof is greatest
at the heels and is easily observed by measuring the heel width of a
non-weight bearing hoof and comparing it to the width of a
hoof-print made by the same barefoot hoof after it has been
walked-off leaving a hoof print in the dirt.
A more dramatic demonstration can be seen on a
horse wearing horseshoes by examining a shoe once it has been
removed from the hoof. Look on the hoof to shoe surface, toward the
heels of the shoe. The shoe will most likely exhibit a worn area on
both sides that is caused by the expansion of the hoof wearing off
the steel forming a grooved area.
This would seem to indicate that a tremendous
amount of force is being exerted by the expanding hoof at the heels
during the expansion phase of every step. You have to wonder how
much heel it takes to wear down that much steel. Slippering the
heels of a horseshoe is one way to relieve some of the stresses
involved and prevent the loss of heel between shoeings.
A barefoot horse is not immune from the wearing
off of its heels, as some heel must be lost during the normal
contact each hoof has with the ground surface during its expansion
phase of a step.
No matter if the horse is shod or barefoot, if
the hoof is allowed to become overly long between trimmings, the
inevitable result is almost always a long-toe—low-heel condition
that puts a great deal of stress on all of the structures making up
the hoof, leg and upper body of the entire horse.
Additionally, this easily avoided, yet commonly
occurring condition places abnormal weight-bearing stresses on the
heels resulting in their deterioration, as they are unable to cope
with the additional load placed upon them.
Trimming a horse out of its natural balance
just to alter its gait for show or the track is taking a
shortsighted view of what is best for the horse’s longevity and
placing its well-being below that of the race or ribbon.
The main cause of poor heels on a horse rests
squarely with the people entrusted with its care. It is up to the
owner to provide timely and quality hoof care. It is up to the
farrier or the person actually trimming the hoof to see that the
horse receives a proper trim. It does not matter what tools or
technique are used, the charts, templates, or psychic phenomena that
result in a plan of action, all that matters is that the horse’s
feet are trimmed to where they do the most good for the horse.
There are a number of trimming techniques being
used today that result in no one taking measurements of hoof lengths
or hoof angles. Pretty much any professional farrier can trim a
horse without using a tape measure and have all four feet trimmed to
the same lengths and angles. It comes from trimming thousands of
horses and tens of thousands of different feet.
not many horse owners are able to look at their horse’s feet and
say with the same conviction, that they are trimmed to the same
lengths and angles as the last trim or even the current one.
Not everyone has the luxury of having a
professional farrier at their disposal. Therefore, it only makes
sense to have some way of communicating to a farrier, in terms
easily understood within the profession, exactly how you want your
Asking for a Natural”, “Barefoot”, or
“Wild Horse” trim is not going to guarantee consistent results.
However, if you say you want the toe length to measure this and the
heels to be that, unless someone’s using inches and the other is
using metrics, the results should be identical no matter who wield
A foot encompasses all parts of the hoof
structure including the sole, frog and hoof wall. How each of these
parts are trimmed, pared or rasped depends not on any arbitrary set
of numbers but on how the hoof relates to the overall conformation
of the horse.
There are a number of books available written
specifically for the horse owner regarding the care of their
Online websites like The Mane Street at: http://www.themanestreet.com/
offers a wealth of information and forums where horse owners can
exchange ideas with likeminded individuals who willingly share their
knowledge and experience.
While the heel of a horse’s hoof is a very
small part of a very large animal, its importance to the overall
health of the horse cannot be underestimated. Keeping it healthy,
well-trimmed and comfortable within its environment will go a long
way toward ensuring many years of enjoyment for both the horse and
One tool universally associated with a farrier
is the forge. Whether creating a horseshoe from a piece of bar
stock, drawing clips or hot fitting a shoe, the forge can be as
important to the farrier as the horse is to the job.
Coal fired and propane gas forges are the two
basic types in use today, although, in a pinch and just to ease the
shaping process, people have been known to use a charcoal or
hardwood fire to soften a horseshoe.
The main advantage a coal fired forge has over
your basic gas forge is that it has the potential to provide higher
working temperatures. This has its advantages when working with
larger horseshoes as well as the higher heat makes some welding
operations easier to perform.
The disadvantage to a coal forge lies mainly
with its portability or lack thereof. While it is possible to bank a
fire while traveling between barns, you still have to deal with the
fact that you do have a live fire in the back of the truck.
Additionally, maintaining a supply of good usable coal is not always
possible or economically feasible.
the higher temperatures possible with a coal fire can be
advantageous, it is also possible to literally burn up a shoe in a
coal fire if one’s attention is drawn elsewhere and the shoe
Advantages of a gas fire include being more
easily adapted to travel with the farrier to a jobsite. They can be
turned on and off very quickly and their fuel supply is
self-contained and relatively safe to transport. While a gas forge
will generate high enough temperatures to perform most horseshoe
related welding operations, there is less likelihood they will burn
up a shoe.
A word of caution concerning anytime a farrier
uses either kind of a forge while working on your horse. The danger
of a fire is inherent with any forge and every effort should be made
to anticipate the unexpected. The farrier will probably have a
bucket of water to use in cooling off a hot shoe, but quick access
to a hose and/or fire extinguisher is advisable.
A forge gives the farrier flexibility in
performing his job. A forge is essential in making horseshoes from
bar stock, whether it be steel or aluminum, flat, round or
half-round sticks. In the spirit of recycling, two or more old shoes
can be combined to make one perfectly good new horseshoe.
A farrier uses a forge to make adjustments to a
shoe. Drawing clips,
rolling toes, adding traction devices such as calks (corks) or
borium and ensuring a proper fit are simpler and/or only possible
using a forge. A forge allows a farrier to make a shoe that is
tailored to the individual idiosyncrasies of a hoof. Keg shoes come
in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and types but nothing beats
taking a set of measurements and using only the amount of material
needed to do the job. No more—no less.
Corrective shoes are another situation where a
forge may prove indispensable. It is a lot easier to change the
shape of a piece of steel or aluminum if it is hot. A number of
corrective shoes require altering the shape to such a degree that a
forge not only makes it easier, but in some cases, the desired
results are not possible unless one heats the shoe.
Whatever the use, the major benefit is that a
forge makes a farrier’s life easier. Hot steel requires less force
to shape thereby reducing the severity of the concussive forces
generated by the hammer to shoe to anvil action.
Simply put, there is a whole lot less wear and
tear on the farrier’s muscles, bones and joints when shaping a hot
shoe compared to the same operation done cold.
The term hot shoeing is used to denote anytime
a farrier uses a forge when shoeing a horse. Examples include
shaping the shoe, drawing a clip, rolling the toe on a shoe or
making a shoe from bar stock.
Cold shoeing refers to the shaping of a
ready-made shoe without the benefit of a forge.
Hot fitting, on the other hand, refers to the
heating of a shoe and holding it against the prepared bottom of the
hoof in order to perform certain functions. These include seating
clips and rocker toe shoes. However, the most common use of hot
fitting is to determine if the hoof and shoe are fitted properly.
Hot fitting a shoe to a hoof involves heating a
shaped and leveled shoe to a suitable heat range. The shoe must be
hot enough to “scorch” the hoof horn (NOT THE SOLE), which will
then indicate the high/low spots in the union between the shoe and
the hoof. Hot fitting does not mean that the heat of the shoe is
used to burn the hoof to match the shoe. The process is simply used
to point out the differences between the mating surfaces of the shoe
and hoof while the actual leveling of the hoof should be done with
the nippers or rasp. Some farriers will lightly rasp off the scorch
marks before nailing on the shoe believing that you would not want
to leave the horn tubules seared shut which may interfere with the
natural process of the hoof.
Failing to heat the shoe to a hot enough
temperature results in wasted time and energy, as a cool shoe
won’t scorch the hoof or provide any indication as to the
appropriateness of the fit.
Too hot a shoe may result in serious injury to
the horse by burning the sole and/or other sensitive parts of the
hoof. Additionally, using an overheated shoe may result in your
basic flash fire erupting around the hoof followed immediately by
the inevitable blow-up and possible injury to one and all.
Which brings up the issue of safety whenever a
farrier is hot fitting a shoe to a horse. First, the horse should
never be securely tied to anything or anyone. Always allow room for
the horse to pull back without endangering itself or anyone else.
Keep in mind that the horseshoe is going to be
hot enough to cause third degree burns on contact with your skin,
the farrier’s skin or the horse’s skin. It is going to hurt and
cause a negative reaction from whoever is burned. Therefore, it goes
without saying that the horse must be trained to stand still for the
farrier. While standing still and remaining calm is a welcome
situation during the course of normal hoof care, it is an absolute
necessity during a hot fitting session.
In addition to injury to everyone involved, a
hot shoe, if dropped, most likely will start a fire whether it be
onto grass, bedding, wood floor or synthetic mats. Once again, a
bucket of water or a fire extinguisher should be a requirement for
anyone involved in a hot fitting session. “I thought you were
taking care of that!” is of little comfort as the flames lick
higher and the horse disappears over the hill.
As a rule, horses do not naturally encounter
smoke billowing from their hooves. Therefore, they need to be
trained to believe that this is not an indication of impending doom
requiring their immediate bolting from the area. A little common
sense goes a long way in this situation.
The first time a horse is hot fitted, the
farrier should explain the process to the horse owner (you know you
should be there) and together provide a calm, soothing work
environment for the horse.
Giving the horse a little whiff of smoke to
start off with, rather than just grabbing a foot and becoming
enveloped in a mushroom cloud of burning hoof horn, will show the
horse that his feet are not really being burned off at the knees and
most horses readily accept this whole smoke thing as just another in
a long line of stupid human tricks.
Speaking of tricks, no matter how many times a
horse has been hot fitted, how simple is it to adjust everyone’s
position so the smoke blows away from the horse. Usually, all it
takes is a quarter turn and the smoke is no longer a concern. In a
barn or on a non-windy day, the owner can gently guide the horse’s
head out of the way of the smoke plume.
The hot shoe is only applied to the hoof for a
few seconds at most and is not used to burn it flat. After all, the
whole hot fitting process is strictly a simple way to ensure a
proper fit between the hoof and shoe.
Whether to hot fit or cold shoe depends on the
horse’s needs, hoof condition, your desires and the experience and
choice of your farrier. Not all horses are candidates for, or need
hot fitting. Not every farrier wants to do hot fitting or is capable
of this kind of work.
Something to keep in mind is that cold shoeing
does not make for an inferior fit. All that matters is that the shoe
and hoof form a perfect match. Cold shoeing requires the farrier to
achieve this state by relying on his or her ability to gauge and
match the mating surfaces of the shoe and hoof.
In most cases, farriers who hot fit lots of
horses usually are as adept at cold shoeing as hot fitting and can
do either in about the same amount of time.
Regardless, there is no getting around the
benefits to the farrier offered through the use of a forge. Anything
that makes the job easier has got to be a good thing.
Some farriers like to make all their own shoes
while others farriers prefer to use keg shoes and some do both.
Horseshoe manufacturers are turning out more and more specialty
shoes that offer the farrier and horse owner a wider choice between
making or buying a particular type shoe.
The forge has many uses and in the hands of a
skilled artisan it becomes a tool beneficial to both man and horse.
So, the next time your farrier fires up the
forge, you can be sure things are going to get hot. Be sure to offer
him or her a cool glass of water. It’s the nice thing to do and
besides, cooler heads do usually prevail.
Buz Riley ©2004
work is many things … but it is never dull or predictable. A
farrier may know every horse on the day’s schedule intimately. He
or she may have been taking care of their feet for years, but that
is no guarantee that these very same horses have not spent the
intervening weeks between appointments thinking up some knew trick
to spring on the unsuspecting fellow who comes to play with their
And make no mistake
about it … horses have a wonderfully developed sense of humor.
They love to see a new set of suspenders. Red, blue, thick or thin,
they all are meant to be tested for “snappability.” Oh yes,
nothing like waiting until the farrier has a foot in his lap, a
mouthful of nails, and a shoe one-nailed on, before old Dobbin
ever-so-gently, using those big soft lips they all come with, lifts
them off your back, stretching them out to their maximum length
before taking a thoughtful pause. Now comes the fun part. To the
admiring gasp of the amazed onlookers, I mean who would have thought
they would stretch out that far, and as the farrier realizes the
only prayer he can remember deals with the “valley of death,”
you hear the horse sniggering. It is usually a toss-up between those
that like to hear the snap–whap and the horses who enjoy extending
the moment with an ever-so-slow gentle return. Either way, you know
they both get a kick out of seeing the farrier’s legs quiver on
the walk back to the truck.
If it isn’t the
suspenders, it’s the hat. Nothing like a good bit of horse drool
to improve the fit of one’s headgear. Plus, they do have an
affinity for adjusting the crown in such a manner that it wears
equally well frontward, backwards or inside out and sideways.
And for all those
folks who think a horse doesn’t know where his feet are, that he
accidentally stepped on your toes, that he really didn’t mean it.
Well, this is the same rascal who follows you across a stream
stepping on the same rocks you do just so his feet don’t get wet.
This with a horse who was too “clumsy for words.” Right! Then
comes the day the horse just cannot seem to pick up his hind hoof
and hold it above the ground more than a few inches. While the
farrier and owner try to figure out what could have happened to
cause this restriction in a very flexible horse, Mr. Ed has a senior
moment and uses this same hoof to scratch his ear. A miracle cure if
there ever was one.
Farriers have a
unique talent that lets them instantly draw their toes back into
their work boots almost to the heel. This allows them to hold a
calm, low-key, rational discussion with the horse who is flattening
out the front half of a two hundred dollar pair of genuine custom
made boots. Sometimes this dialog is conducted in English and
French, so don’t worry if you are unfamiliar with some of the
words. Rest assured the horse and farrier do.
Even worse than
having the horse forget who you are during the course of a trimming,
is having the horse go to sleep in the middle of a job. About the
time you are congratulating yourself on how the horse must trust you
so much to be this relaxed, he wakes up and confuses you with a
mountain lion about to gnaw on his favorite foot. Granted, he
eventually will come back and watch over you until things come back
into focus and your adrenalin flow returns to the pulse jumping,
This is the same
horse who will pick all the tools out of a toolbox and scatter them
around the work area to help speed things along. I try not to
discourage this behavior because I like to think that maybe he
really is trying to help. Also, if he ever pulls this trick on a
farrier who has used a rasp or tool on a horse in anger, can you
imagine what that idiot is going to think when he sees the horse has
grabbed a rasp and is about to do a little disciplining of his own.
This is similar to the confusion that occurs every hunting season
between the clean cut, “Right to Bear Arms” folks and the hairy
bunch on the other side of the tree advocating the “Right to Arm
In lieu of clothing
parts, a horse will just naturally gravitate to any body parts
within reach. The quick lick to the back of the neck is always good
for a chuckle and if the horse smacks his lips in the process, all
the better. After all, the idea is to make sure the farrier is
paying the proper attention to his work ... and to be sure his
adrenaline flows remain at a constant level of flux. If by chance
the farrier turns his head to admonish the horse holder or the horse
himself, there is the opportunity for a full-face wash followed up
with an ear nuzzle for good measure. Another favorite tug-along is
the belt on the farrier’s apron. If you’ve ever seen a horse
assist a farrier into a full frontal face plant using this method,
you’ll know why it is a favorite of horses everywhere.
interesting quirk of horses is their affinity for the paint and/or
parts of the farrier’s truck. They do not seem to be partial to
any one make or model and the color neither encourages nor
discourages them from this attention. Evidently, they all pretty
much taste the same (good!) no matter what the color scheme. The
windshield wipers and side mirrors seem to offend the average
horse’s sensibilities to the point they have to be removed. The
same goes for the radio antenna, although you have to be careful
with this item because if it does not break off cleanly, and
whipsaws back and forth, the horse may feel the need to retaliate
with a few well-placed kicks that require additional explaining to
the insurance company.
I make it a point to
speak with the same agent every time I have to call for replacement
parts. We’ve reached an agreement that if I lose one more antenna,
I’ll be humming for musical entertainment. This is after our
initial conversation where when I said I was a farrier, she wanted
to know what part of the boat I worked on. One of the more
interesting conversations we had concerned a dent in the rear
quarter panel that came about because I would not hit a large Ram in
the head with my anvil hammer as the lady rancher on the fence
suggested. I guess he took my reluctance as a sign of weakness and
wanted to show me how it was done. The turkey scratches on the hood
had to be documented with a picture of a horse in the background
before that story flew.
I’m a firm
believer in the food for good behavior reward program. I try to keep
a full supply of horse treats on hand in case they are needed to
smooth things over. I know some farriers don’t believe in the
horse doing anything but paying attention to them while the work is
being done, but I on the other hand, want the horse to be as
comfortable as possible while also paying attention to me. Some
horses just need to be doing something in order to remain calm.
I’ve known horses that licked their owner’s hand the entire time
I was there and others that had to have someone talk to them or else
they became all fidgety and unhappy. One horse’s owner finally
said she’d run out of things to say to her horse, so I took a
newspaper from my truck and thereafter, whenever I worked on her
horse, we all got to hear the days news read out loud.
Regarding the horse
treats on the market. I understand the apple, carrot and alfalfa
flavors, but raspberry? Since
when did horses start picking raspberries? I was given a couple bags
of raspberry flavored alfalfa treats by a manufacturer’s rep to
try on my rounds. Well, they really made the truck smell good and to
be honest, they didn’t taste all that bad, but the vast majority
of the horses were not impressed.
None of my ranch
horses cared much for the raspberry treats, but for the most part,
they would eat anything else. They were also some of the most laid
back horses to work on. One of my favorites was an old boy who
always ended up last because he was the easiest horse to do by
virtue of his perfect feet. The only problem was that he’d get
tired of standing around waiting and would wander over to the tall
grass by the fence and lie down and take a nap. He was getting a bit
hard of hearing and there I’d be, on my knees next to him in the
grass trying to wake him up and convince him it was his turn.
Yes, being a farrier
is hard work, but the upside is you get to meet some really nice
horses and people who enjoy being in their company.
Basic Tool Kit
Every horse should have a tool kit with its
name on it. That, and the name and phone numbers of the vet and
farrier responsible for helping the horse owner maintain the health
and well-being of the horse.
Some tools work for both barefoot and shod
horses, while others may be specific to the shod horse only. No one
should ever attempt to work around a horse's feet unless they are
comfortable about doing so. However, it goes without saying that
every horse should be trained to stand still while its feet are
being work on.
The most basic hoof care tool is the hoof pick.
It is a requirement for every horse, barefoot or shod. This simple
tool should not be confused with a screwdriver, large nail, claw
hammer, pocket knife or the pointed end of a fencing tool. Anytime
you hold a horse's hoof off the ground, the chance for injury to you
and/or the horse increases dramatically. Nobody has to do anything
foolish or unthinking; all it takes is for the unexpected to occur
and the screwdriver you are using to pry loose a stone wedged in a
hoof is now stuck in your hand causing you a great deal of pain ...
and the horse's stone problem has not gone away either.
Hoof picks are going to be a fact of your life
for as long as you are responsible for the care of a horse. They
come in various shapes, sizes and configurations. You want to find
one that is very strong and will hold up under a variety of
conditions. This is the first tool you are going to reach for every
time you go to ride, check out your horse or finish a ride. It is
used to clean mud, rocks, bedding and muck from the bottom of the
hoof. It is your first line of defense against thrush and other
debilitating hoof problems. Since it is used to clean out the hoof,
it will most likely be the locator of a nail, piece of wire or wood
sliver that is causing your horse to come up lame. Therefore, one
should always approach cleaning any muddy or dirt/manure encrusted
hoof with caution. You never know what you are going to find in
there and roughly dragging a hoof pick up against a nail stuck
sideways in the frog is pretty much guaranteed to garner a quick and
violent reaction from your best buddy as the nail grates against his
If you want one that will last a lifetime and
never break, ask your farrier if he or she will make you one out of
an old horseshoe. You get two per shoe, custom made for the fit of
your hand and they will outlast anything with a plastic handle and a
thin pick on the end.
Some people can clean their horse's hooves
every once in a while, sometimes if the weather is nice, if the
ground was rocky, or maybe never and their horse never has any
problems. If you feel this lucky, then I'd suggest buying a lottery
ticket and using part of the winnings to pay someone to check your
horse's feet for you. Horses need to have their feet cleaned and
checked for foreign matter because they cannot do it themselves.
Okay, what about the wild horses? Well, their medical plan is as
simple as it is unforgiving. If they get injured, they either get
better with no outside help or they don't survive. A little time
spent at the beginning of a ride, lesson or visit, can help discover
little problems before they become expensive, time-consuming,
long-term survival situations.
Using a hoof pick on a daily basis is usually
one of the first things mentioned whenever anyone gets their first
horse and it is also the first thing forgotten or put aside in the
complicated matter of everyday horse care. It really is this
important and is probably the cheapest preventative measure
A stiff nylon brush for cleaning the sole will
let you examine the sole for bruising and cracks. A softer brush can
be used to clean the area around the coronary band so that, too, can
be checked for foreign objects like cactus or porcupine quills as
well as making it easier to check for any limb to limb interference.
Having a soft, absorbent, clean white cloth
available is handy for drying off wet feet before picking them up to
clean, as a wet leg can be slippery, and slippery is not what you
want when holding a horse's leg in your hand or lap. It also comes
in handy when trying to locate the source of a drop or two of blood
around the coronet or anywhere else for that matter. A lot of
lameness cases are the result of small punctures or trauma
to the soft tissue just above the hoof wall and being able to
locate the exact location is imperative to determining the exact
cause of a problem.
Frequently, when a horse interferes, the
resulting injury is to the soft tissue areas around the bulbs and/or
coronet. Therefore, a way to trim the hair, comes in handy in these
situations when the farrier is trying to pinpoint the exact location
of the interference, to say nothing of making it easier to treat any
Now, all of these items are very simple to come
by and take up very little room in your tack box and if you wish to
leave the rest of your horse's hands-on hoof care to someone else,
then that is perfectly all right. All your horse can ask is for you
to provide the day-to-day hoof care and schedule professional hoof
care on a regular basis.
However, if you want to take your knowledge and
ability to the next level, then you may wish to consider asking your
farrier to help you reach this goal by showing you how to use a rasp
to round off any sharp edges that can occur when a barefoot horse
takes a major chip out of its hoof. This can happen stepping in or
out of a stall, while loading or unloading from a trailer or simply
stepping on a rock the wrong way. You're not trying to learn how to
trim the hoof, although I always encourage horse owners to take
their curiosity and desire for knowledge as far as their interest
carries them, but with a chipped hoof, all you want to do is reduce
the chance of further damage until your farrier arrives.
The principle is the same for the horse that
pulls a shoe. Of course, having a slip-on boot would come in handy
with either a barefoot or shod horse in this situation.
Any horse that wears horseshoes is at risk for
twisting, wrenching, bending or pulling a shoe loose or off. In the
case of a shoe coming completely off, the owner's first concern is
to be sure none of the nails punctured any part of the horse's hoof
or leg. Sometimes shoes pull off cleanly while other times a great
deal of hoof wall may be torn off. A barefoot horse's hoof should be
rounded off when it is trimmed in order to mimic a natural shape as
well as to prevent chipping that would result if the hoof was left
with sharp edges.
A hoof that is going to be shod, on the other
hand, should be flat and level without rounding the edges as the fit
between hoof and shoe require a matching fit for a variety of
reasons. Thus, when a shoe is lost, these edges should be rounded in
order to prevent further damage to the hoof. Again, ask your farrier
if this is something they would be willing to help you learn.
There are a variety of rasps available on the
market and your farrier should be able to help you pick one out. If
all you are going to do is keep one on hand for emergencies, then
they may have a used one that would suit your purpose. A new rasp is
very sharp and sometimes it is easier for someone just beginning to
learn to use a rasp, to start with a rasp that has seen some wear.
The horse owner with one or two horses who uses it only for the
occasional chipped hoof, may only ever need to own one rasp …
They main thing to remember is to get the
training before laying rasp to hoof. It is not all that difficult,
but it is not something you want to learn by the trial and error
If your horse wears shoes, then you really
should know how to remove a loose or partially stepped off shoe.
Leaving a loose shoe on is not a good thing. You have to remember
that most shoes are nailed on and if the shoe does not fly off the
hoof in one magical movement, then there is the possibility that the
horse's hoof will come back down on the upturned nails leaving you
with puncture wounds to deal with. Here again, you really need to
have your farrier walk you through the steps necessary in removing a
shoe. The following link is to a website that discusses how to
remove a horseshoe. It's pretty interesting.
If you think this is something you wish to
learn, then I wholeheartedly recommend you get together with your
farrier and I think you will see that it is not as daunting a
proposition as it may first appear.
There are only a couple of tools needed to
remove a shoe. An old rasp to rasp off the clinches and a pair of
pull-offs to remove the shoe. The rasp can be old because you are
going to use it to file off the clinches to make removing the shoe
easier and this is going to dull it faster than if it were only used
to rasp the hoof. Pull-offs come in various lengths and price
ranges. Ask your farrier to help you choose the least expensive tool
that is available to do the job. His or her tools are their
livelihood and are therefore the best they can afford while a less
expensive tool may be suitable for occasional use.
There is one other tool that makes pulling a
shoe a whole lot easier. That is the Crease Nail-puller. This is one
tool I would not scrimp on as it has only one purpose and it needs
to do it well. It is used to pull the nails one nail at a time. This
is very important in a case where the horse has injured its foot and
any twisting or levering of the shoe will cause pain to the horse.
Ask your farrier to demonstrate this tool as part of your learning
how to remove a shoe.
Along with the first-aid kit for your horse,
which your vet should be able to help you stock, you might wish to
keep a roll of duct tape, vet wrap, a piece of cardboard along with
cotton and gauze pads that could be used to protect an injured hoof
from dirt and debris until your farrier arrives.
Horse's feet are amazing pieces of natural
development that require a certain amount of attention to remain in
good standing. Working together, the horse owner and farrier strive
to achieve a balanced hoof care program with the main purpose being
a safe, sound, happy horse. A few simple tools and attention to
detail will go a long way to achieving this goal.
to Square One — The Trim
The good, the bad and the ugly.
In an ideal world all horses would emulate the
wild mustangs of the open range when it comes to hoof trimming.
Their feet are things of beauty, perfectly trimmed and balanced to
the needs of each individual horse. Nary a flare, chip or crack.
Well, of course they are … those feet are
attended to every single day by an expert in the field …Mother
Nature … and she does not make mistakes (a turkey’s wattle
perhaps being the sole exception).
Take a horse off the range, change its diet,
restrict its foraging habits, take away its natural inclination to
slowly graze over large expanses of varying terrain and all of a
sudden you have taken Mother Nature out of the hoof care process and
replaced it with a human being … and not with just any old biped,
but someone who has chosen the profession of farriery to be their
The good news is that most farriers really
enjoy the work, enjoy working with horses and take satisfaction in
the fact they are able to provide a service vital to a horse’s
The bad news is that in a large part of the
world anyone can hang out a shingle and call themselves a farrier.
Schooling, mentoring, licensing and hands-on experience are no
guarantee that the individual will enjoy the work, the horses or the
profession and their work and the horses will suffer for it.
The ugly part of hoof care is in the pain and
suffering a horse may be forced to endure all because of a simple
thing like a trim gone bad. If the wild horse can keep its feet
trimmed to the correct length and hoof angle (your basic balanced
hoof) just by walking around and eating what comes naturally, why is
it then that the majority of lameness problems incurred by the
domestic horse can be traced back to the trim?
Given enough room, natural forage and a ground
surface sufficient to perform a true “natural trim,” the average
horse’s feet will pretty much take care of themselves. However, it
is truly the lucky horse that is placed in a situation like that and
fewer still that are not called upon to “work” in some fashion
or another that places abnormal conditions and stresses upon their
So, okay, the Mother Nature Trim is not an
option for most horse owners. Now, they are faced with two choices.
Learn to take care of their horse’s hoof care needs themselves or
find someone to do it for them. Personally, I encourage every horse
owner to learn as much about what I’m doing to their horse’s
feet as they can and learn to do as much of the work as they are
Ideally, horses should come with an owners
manual with a very detailed set of instructions in hoof care as well
as a hands-on training session covering your basic trimming
techniques along with a complete set of tools. However, since they
don’t and most folks selling a horse are unwilling or unable to
provide this type of instruction, the next best thing is to find a
farrier school or farrier willing to provide you with this
need-to-know information. Even if you have no plans to ever trim
your horse’s feet, the simple fact that you know how to do things
right allows you to recognize when something is being done wrong …
and that may just save you a lot of time and money as well as your
The vast majority of horses go through life
needing nothing more than having their feet trimmed flat and level
to a hoof length and hoof angle dictated by the horse’s
conformation. That’s it. It is almost as simple as it sounds. The
difficult part comes in recognizing exactly what constitutes this
state of balance. I don’t know anyone born with this knowledge.
You have to search it out. There are lots of books on the subject. I
think Dr. Doug Butler’s, The Principles of Horseshoeing II
is one of the most comprehensive and easiest to understand. It is
used as a textbook in many of the horseshoeing schools and is geared
to the student level. The Internet has numerous sites devoted to the
care of horses feet. I suggest you ignore all the hyperbolic chatter
about the name given to a particular trimming method and just
concentrate on what the final shape of the hoof is supposed to look
like. Whatever trimming method you or your farrier use, the name is
not going to mean a thing to your horse … all that matters is that
you get it right.
And once your horse has been trimmed you need
to be able to record how the horse was trimmed so that, among other
things, you will know for certain that your horse is being trimmed
the same way every time. If your farrier tells you he or she uses
hoof lengths and hoof angles to determine the proper balance, then
write this information down. Whatever method is used, you need to be
able to explain this system to a new farrier, an out-of-town
farrier, the trainer’s farrier or whoever is going to handle your
horse’s hoof care while your regular farrier is on vacation, on
their honeymoon or trying to make bail.
A decision to deviate from a flat and level
trim should not be made lightly or without knowing and appreciating
the consequences of this type trimming. Corrective trimming for a
conformation fault usually needs to be completed before the
epiphyseal plates have fused. Epiphyseal closure times for the lower
limb bones vary, with the Distal Radius being the last to close at
around twenty-four months.
Once this occurs, any attempt to alter a hoof
stance by trimming a hoof from a flat and level balanced state is
going to alter the normal points of stress and concussive forces
from their natural location. This may result in causing more
problems that a simple crooked stance.
Special trimming may be necessary to alter a
stance or flight path of a hoof
to prevent the horse from injuring itself or creating a
dangerous situation for the rider. Hooves may be trimmed to affect
certain traits in a horse’s gait or to encourage a horse to travel
in a particular way.
Horses used in competition frequently encounter
a situation where a conformational deviation from the norm becomes a
problem due to the extraordinary stresses placed upon it during
competition. Here again, the farrier must have a clear understanding
of the cause and effect of any special trimming of the hoof. Any
action to affect a change must be balanced against the negative
effects of trimming a hoof from it’s natural state.
Corrective trimming used alone or in
conjunction with a special shoe or brace is often the only way to
protect an injury while allowing the horse to affect a recovery.
Any deviation from a flat and level trim
carries with it the very real danger of causing more harm than good.
That, and the fact that what works for one horse may not work for
another. One of the basic tenets of corrective trimming is that you
use the least amount of correction to achieve the desired results.
This means that you don’t try more than one
correction at a time unless you know for a fact that it takes more
than one action to make the correction. If the farrier changes three
things in the way he trims a horse, then it becomes impossible to
know which one worked; more than likely, you end up in a situation
where either nothing worked or the result is not acceptable and you
have no idea which of the changes caused this particular problem.
Corrective trimming requires knowledge, skill
and perhaps most importantly, patience.
The really ugly side to a horse trimming is
when the farrier trims the horse and it immediately goes lame. This
is usually caused by the horse being trimmed too short. If you keep
a record of what hoof lengths will keep you horse sound and insist
upon your farrier sticking to these settings, then this should not
happen … period. There really is no excuse for trimming a horse
too short. If the horse has a thin sole and requires special
trimming instructions, then someone needs to be there to make sure
this special situation is brought to the attention of the farrier
before the horse is trimmed and then goes lame for a week. If the
horse is not sore before trimming, it really should not be sore
Anyone who suggests trimming the horse a little
short (“He may be lame but it will cure up in a couple of
days.”) in order to stretch the time between trimmings needs to be
shown the gate before they lay a hand on your horse.
Another reason a horse may be lame right after
a trim is if the horse has been trimmed far out of balance. We’re
not talking about the horse being a little tender after its shoes
have been pulled for the coming winter. That particular condition
can be easily avoided by acknowledging this possibility and leaving
a little extra hoof for additional protection. You might have to
schedule the next trim a week earlier, but that’s certainly better
than watching the horse walk on eggshells for a week.
When a horse is trimmed so far out of balance
that it becomes lame, then unless the farrier has a plausible
explanation (I’d be interested if you hear one) and is not out
fixing the horse by the time you hang up the phone, you need to find
a new farrier. No one is perfect … mistakes can be made, but this
is another reason you need to keep records of how your horse is
trimmed. A farrier may see between two to four hundred horses
between appointments. A tactful (or not) reminder that this is how
this particular horse was trimmed the last time is not an insult to
the farrier’s memory but rather an indication of how serious you
are about your horse’s hoof care program.
It is incredible the number of horses that do
not receive regular hoof care and yet remain sound year after year.
I am constantly amazed at people who shoe their horses during the
spring and summer yet, when the season is over, turn the horse out
until spring without ever removing the shoes or having the feet
trimmed for months. I mention this because for a horse to be trimmed
so far out of balance that it becomes lame, means that something is
very, very wrong.
I keep mentioning records for a reason. If you
look at the number of problems people mention on forums on the
Internet, I think you’ll see that a lot of them can be directly
attributed to misadventures in trimming. Being able to tell someone
exactly how you want your horse trimmed is the easiest way I know to
avoid these problems. Of course, this assumes the farrier will
listen to you and can/will follow your instructions. To my way of
thinking, if an owner’s level of interest in their horse’s hoof
care program includes keeping records of hoof lengths/angles or
similar instructions, it is a pretty sure bet that not only is their
horse going to be a joy to work on but my part of the job has just
been made that much easier.
There are a number of books on the market that
are written just for the horse owner who is interested in learning
more about their horse’s hoof care. From a farrier’s point of
view, I think the better informed a horse owner is, the higher the
level of hoof care the horse is going to receive. This translates to
regularly scheduled appointments as well as an increased level of
awareness of events affecting the health of the horse’s feet and
lower limb structures.
Having a horse’s feet trimmed is part of
owning a horse. It is and should be a partnership between both the
horse owner and the farrier to see that it is done in a timely
manner and done right. Skill, understanding and a willingness to do
what’s best for the horse should be the overriding concern which
should help alleviate any likelihood of a sore horse resulting from
a poorly executed trim.
back … winter once again.
Once more winter settles in bringing with it
everything from cold bits to chilly saddle seats.
Riding conditions warrant a serious change in
one’s mindset if winter riding is on the schedule. It is hard
enough to walk on winter’s slippery surfaces when you only have
two feet to worry about; imagine how hard it is to keep track of
four feet with someone on your back who may not always be perfectly
There are any number of devices available
to help a horse maintain a certain degree of traction on slippery
surfaces, however, they come with a couple of counter-weights that
the horse owner should acknowledge before saddling up.
The most common traction enhancers for
the horse to be used on ice involves some form of tungsten carbide
crystals (Borium) welded to the horseshoe, either in spots or as a
thin bead around the perimeter of the shoe. Either way it needs to
be applied judiciously by someone familiar with the proper
techniques. Borium is expensive and time consuming to apply.
Fortunately, with this product, a little bit goes a long way and
there is no need to have large gobs of the stuff plastered all over
the shoe … it is just a waste of the farrier’s time and your
There are all sorts of corks (caulks), grabs
that can be forged as part of, welded onto or screwed into nail-on
or slip-on shoes for easy attachment and/or removal. I’ve even
seen roller bearings from the locking hubs of old pickups welded to
horseshoes to be used on ranch horses that were going to be working
outdoors regardless of the weather and surface conditions. Ouch!
There are frost (ice) nails that work
fairly well on ice, but not so well on pavement where they tend to
wear off rather quickly. Borium, on the other hand, will outlast the
steel on most horseshoes.
While the benefits derived from these devices
will vary between users and applications, the one thing they all
have in common is that any increase in traction comes at the price
of restricting the mobility and flexibility of the hoof and its
supportive structures, especially during turns and stops. A shoe
with borium will not slip … period. It will gouge furrows in ice
and concrete if enough pressure is applied. Care should always be
taken to adjust one’s riding technique to minimize the adverse
effects caused by these additions to the horse’s feet.
Additionally, any time you add anything
to your horse’s feet, you have to be aware that if the horse kicks
another horse or steps on itself, the severity of the injury is
going to be magnified due to the very nature of the traction device;
to say nothing of how many octaves your voice is going to rise
should you be the recipient of an errant kick or step.
Perhaps one of the most detrimental
effects of any purported traction device is the accompanying false
sense of security that often leads one to explore the outer limits
of the laws of physics as pertaining to remaining upright while
moving at anything faster than a cautious walk across an ice covered
Riding barefoot is an option that probably
works well for the majority of winter pleasure riders, while those
horse owners that for whatever reason need/want/feel more
comfortable with (which is a very big part of enjoying a ride) to
ride in difficult conditions may find it necessary to have their
farrier winterize their horses.
And then of course, there is the all important
concept of using common sense. The hard part here is remembering to
use it before it becomes a lesson learned … the hard way.
Along with the end of the year comes a
few questions and headaches that just don’t seem to go away.
Thrush may become more of a problem as horses are brought in out of
dry pastures and spend more time indoors or in smaller wet areas.
The best way to prevent this foul smelling, potentially debilitating
destroyer of a horse’s frog is through frequent use of the hoof
pick. There is a reason thrush appears where it does. The crevices
between the bars and the frog are the logical place for everything
from sticks and stones, mud, muck and manure to become compacted and
thus trap this anaerobic bacteria so it can begin its work in the
oxygen-free environment it needs in order to develop.
Once it gains a foothold, it is important
to begin treatment immediately before it is able to cause severe
damage to the hoof. Thrush appears to know no boundary and may occur
in any horse, in any barn, at any time of the year. The best defense
against it is also one of the cheapest and simplest ... use a hoof
pick to clean out the bottom of the hoof, do it often and never
allow any part of the hoof to become packed with anything for any
length of time. Anytime material prevents air from reaching every
part of the hoof, the situation becomes ripe for a thrush invasion.
It doesn’t take long. Ask almost anyone
who has had to deal with thrush how quickly it appeared and the
answer is more often than not, “It just showed up … all of a
sudden ... there it was.” Thrush may slightly favor the plain shod
horse over the barefoot horse, probably because the shoe itself
offers more opportunities for something to get stuck in a position
that favors thrush’s growth. However, a horse that is shod with a
full pad covering its hoof for an extended period of time becomes a
prime candidate if special care is not taken to maintain a
well-managed hoof care program.
The good news is that if caught early and
treated aggressively, this scourge can usually be brought to heel in
While it may be a simple fact that the vast
majority of hoof-related problems can be traced directly back to
whoever is responsible for trimming the hooves, both horse owner and
farrier must accept that there are limitations as to how much of a
change can be made to the way a hoof looks, travels and/or lands
before the health of the horse is compromised.
The club foot seems to draw a great deal of
attention no matter what the season. To my knowledge there is no way
to “fix” a club foot. It is there for the duration of the horse.
Before buying a horse with a club foot, one needs to understand that
this foot, and quite often its diagonal counterpart, are going to
require special hoof care … and not every farrier is up to dealing
with this particular situation. There are some basic tenets that
provide guidelines for trimming and keeping a horse sound under
these conditions, but as with all things dealing with horses, one
has to keep an open mind and be willing to accept that what works
for one horse may not work for another. Consequently, the farrier
must be prepared to adapt to the individual horse’s needs as each
That being said, most horses with a club
foot lead a normal life and are active in just about every endeavor
imaginable. All it takes is the proper hoof care. That, and
an owner who is willing to recognize that the very thing that
causes the hoof to be shaped as it is, may result in heavier than
normal stress loads being placed on certain parts of the limb,
thereby requiring a possible adjustment to how the horse is going to
be used. Most problems that occur with a horse with a club foot can
be traced to poor hoof care as a result of a lack of understanding
of the what it takes to keep this type horse sound. Trimming a club
foot to make it look like the other hoof in the pair is one sure way
to lame the horse.
“Navicular” is one of those words
that causes your heart to skip a beat. The bad news is that in a lot
of cases, it really is bad news. On the other hand, sometimes it
seems to be a catch-all term for any problem that cannot be easily
identified as long as it is somewhere between the horse’s nose and
the tip of its tail. This is one diagnosis that needs to be taken
seriously and performed by professionals. This is the only way to up
the odds that you will be able to treat the problem and not just the
“Heels” is another hot button in the
world of hoof care. They are either too long, too short, crushed,
contracted or sheared and the horse is lame. It wasn’t all that
long ago that a major problem for horses concerned heels trimmed too
short. These days, there seems to be a real problem with heels being
left too long. Total opposites with the same result … lame horses.
It makes you wonder about people trying to fix things that aren’t
broken. If your horse is sound, know what it takes to keep it that
way. Keep a written record … it removes the guesswork and helps
prevent change just for the sake of change.
A professional farrier carries a wealth of
knowledge and skill with them to every barn on their schedule. What
is missing at every stop is that information concerning what has
happened to the horse in the interval between appointments. This is
where the horse owner has to pick up the slack and make the effort
to be present. It is for the horse’s benefit, your peace of mind
and the farrier’s safety and liability.
After trimming a horse for two or three
times, unless there is major work in progress, he or she will have
the feet trimmed and shaped just the way they should be. Once this
happens, and as long as a regular schedule is set up and adhered to,
this horse is now on the farrier’s preferred customer list simply
because it is just so much easier and that much more pleasant to
deal with well cared-for feet than it is to have to start over from
scratch every time. Hoof care is a lifelong affair … a farrier and
horse owner working together can keep it pleasant, keep it simple,
and most important of all, keep the horse safe, sound and traveling
as it should.
Best wishes for a happy holiday season.
High Cost of Hoof Care
Like it or not, every time someone buys a
horse, they automatically buy into the non-optional,
cradle-to-grave, extended lifetime warranty hoof care program. And,
as an added bonus, one way or the other, the owner enjoys the
benefit of being responsible for all costs associated with keeping
their horse on its feet.
The most economical hoof care program is one
where the owner is capable of providing quality hoof care that meets
all the needs of their trusty steed.
The tools are relatively inexpensive compared
to all things horse related. As with most tools, quality varies from
good to bad. You always want to buy the best tools you can afford.
The reason for this is simple. Look what you are going to be doing
and imagine all the bad things that can happen in a worst case
scenario. Now understand, if you take care of your horse’s feet
over its lifetime, at some point, it is going to snatch its foot
away due to circumstances beyond your control. Be it a fly bite, car
horn or scrap of paper floating by, it will happen so quickly that
if you are lucky, all you’ll lose is a gasp of air.
Good quality tools protect you from harm, or at
the very least, help reduce the possibility of serious injury. If
your horse is able to go barefoot, this is indeed a plus. You’ll
still need a quality leather (or Kelvar) apron, hoof pick, hoof
knife (with sharpening file), nippers, rasp and a hoof stand, plus a
tape measure and hoof gauge and a book of some sort to keep a record
of what is being done to your horse’s feet. Now I know there are
some folks who don’t think that hoof lengths and angles matter but
how else are you going to know that you are trimming your horse’s
feet the same way every time? It is so simple to do and adds only a
minute or two to the job.
When trimming a hoof, after it has been trimmed
with the hoof nippers and leveled with the rasp, but before being
rounded up, that hoof has some very, very sharp edges. If your horse
chooses this moment to jerk its foot away, if you are not wearing a
leather apron, your chances for being cut beyond just your hand, go
way up. Of course it goes without saying that open-toed sandals,
flip-flops and even sneakers have no place around a hoof care
operation. The only one barefoot should be the horse.
The best hoof pick I know of is one made from
half a horseshoe. It will not bend or break; additionally, it will
outlast the user and can be made to fit your hand. Ask your
neighborhood farrier to make you one. Most likely, he or she will
enjoy the chance to demonstrate their forging skills for a good
The hoof knife works best when it is extremely
sharp. Quality steel and a solid handle are a must. It may not sound
right, but you are more apt to cut yourself or your horse with a
dull knife than a sharp one. A sharp knife requires less effort to
use and performs its job more readily than a knife in need of a good
Hoof nippers should be handled before you lay
down your hard-earned money. Find a pair that will fit your grip
while allowing you to
take advantage of the maximum leverage that comes with the longest
handles that you are comfortable using. It is amazing how hard to
cut a dry hoof can be. A high quality set of hoof nippers may very
well last a lifetime for the owner of one or two horses. A word of
caution about trying to re-sharpen nippers … it is not as easy as
it looks. Most manufactures will offer a reconditioning service. It
is well worth it to have it done right … and too easy to ruin them
Rasps can be purchased either new or
re-sharpened. A top-of-the-line rasp will last a long time for the
barefoot horse owner if care is taken to be sure the hoof is clean
before work begins and that the rasp is not just tossed willy-nilly
into the tack box when the job is done.
A hoof stand is one of those tools that will
make the job so much easier because it takes the physical strain off
your body and allows you to concentrate on the work at hand without
the aches and pain that comes from holding a horse’s leg in your
lap in a process that you do not perform on a daily basis.
A small retractable tape measure and brass hoof
gauge are not expensive and make it possible for you to give your
horse a consistent trim time after time. While it may be hard to
believe that fractions of an inch in length one way or another or a
couple of degrees in hoof angle can cause problems for a thousand
pound horse, they can and do with disappointing frequency as
evidenced by the horse trimmed too short that is lame for a few days
Of course, the best tools in the world aren’t
of any use if the person wielding them has not taken the time to
learn how to use them properly. I advocate that every horse owner
know how to at least trim their horse in an emergency and remove
and/or replace a damaged shoe if the horse is shod. This is a lot
more important than knowing how to change a tire on your car, truck
or trailer. You can always leave the vehicle on the side of the road
but if your horse has a foot emergency, action needs to be taken
immediately or you run the risk of serious if not permanent damage,
plus a lot of hoof problems are downright painful if not corrected
right now. This includes letting the hoof get too long and out of
balance between trimmings.
On really nice side benefit associated with
horses whose owners take care of their feet is that these horses are
usually very well-behaved.
Okay, so you know how to trim a hoof in an
emergency but you really don’t want to trim your horse(s) every
six weeks or so. That’s where farriers come into the picture.
Your farrier will have all the tools, knowledge
and desire to work on your horse’s feet. While the cost of
maintaining his or her vehicle, tools and insurance will be spread
among all the customers, there are things that will drive up the
cost of an individual horse’s care. First and foremost is the
horse’s willingness to stand quietly for the work. A farrier’s
livelihood depends on being able to trim/shoe a certain number of
horses in a day. If one horse takes up too much of this time, then
the farrier may charge more or refuse to work with the horse until
it has been trained to accept the farrier’s presence. Which may
lead to the situation in the next paragraph.
Not having a horse’s feet trimmed on a
regular basis practically guarantees a horse’s hoof care is going
to result in higher costs somewhere down the road. If a hoof is
allowed to grow overly long between trimmings, if nothing else, it
is eventually going to reach a point of imbalance causing possible
damage to among other things, the tendons, joints and/or Navicular
However, perhaps the simplest, most cost
effective way to prevent unwanted costs from creeping into your hoof
care program is through the judicious and timely use of the hoof
pick. Anytime you can prevent thrush from gaining a foothold, or a
puncture from becoming infected, you will save your horse from
unwanted pain and distress and yourself, priceless time and money.
When overgrown hooves become weak due to the
excessive hoof wall, the heels may become run-under and/or
contracted in addition to the increased risk of cracks, chips and
catastrophic collapse of the hoof wall resulting in severe lameness.
The related increased costs have to take into account the loss of
the use of the horse as well as any vet and/or unscheduled farrier
appointments needed to get the horse back on sound footing. There is
also the time you are going to have to put into the whole business
of getting your horse up and running again once it has healed to the
point it was before the injury.
One very important cost that can be attributed
to insufficient hoof care comes from an injury to a rider caused by
a horse so thrown off its gait that the rider suffers from being
thrown or pinned under a horse that goes down due to poor
conditioning of it’s feet.
So, while there are any number of horses that
seem to get by without suffering any ill effects from having their
feet neglected, I can’t imagine anyone wanting to take the chance
of seeing their hoof care costs go through the roof over a simple
In this day of rising costs for everything
under the sun, one of the simplest ways to hold down the cost of
your hoof care is to ensure that your horse’s feet are trimmed on
a regular basis. Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do
the job for you, your horse will benefit from the attention and your
budget will be the better for it.
Spring is just around the corner and along with
your regular trimming, those folks who are going to have their
horses shod for the first time in a while, be sure and let your
farrier know a trim or two in advance of the shoeing date. This
heads-up gives the farrier the opportunity to address any special
problems prior to the actual nailing on of the shoes.
Happy trails to one and all.