It’s not regulated. It’s not standardized. Is there a right way to shoe horses? There definitely seem to be ways to do it wrong, but answers about how to do things right seem to depend on the farrier you ask, where s/he went to school, when s/he went there, who s/he’s worked with and what kinds of horses s/he does for a living. There are a lot of roads to Rome, but there are also a few basic signposts that every farrier who knows what they’re doing agrees you need to pass to get there.
Likewise, every horse is an individual. They will each have their own angles, asymmetrical quirks and unique problems. Sometimes really unique. What works on one to keep it sound might be disastrous on another. Nevertheless, there are a few basics that all horses need in a trim. Here’s a quick checklist that each trim and shoe job should tick off to ensure the safe-and-soundness of every horse.
Farriers will agree that to be sound, a horse’s foot needs to be balanced and level. What that means is that the foot must be completely flat when it’s on the ground and that when the horse walks, its front feet must land flat, not outside then inside edge (or vice versa). It must be centered relative to the leg it’s on. The hoof should also extend from the leg at the same angle as the pastern. All of the feet should be the same length from the coronet band to the edge of the hoof wall. The heels should also be close to the same length, although it’s tough for some horses to be exact. Sometimes, you do what you can.
Leave the sole
Taking off too much sole is one way farriers can accidentally make a horse sore. Horses need a thick layer of sole to protect the sensitive inner structures of the foot from bumps, bruises and the wear and tear of concussion. They also need the weight bearing surface to make sure they land evenly and don’t wear down the walls of the hoof. A general rule is that once you’ve pared down to clean sole, that’s a good time to stop.
If the shoe fits…
…then you can put it on. Otherwise, forget it. Shoes that are too long in the back will inevitably be stepped on and ripped off in an untimely way. The shoe can be slightly wider than the hoof (to a point) if you’re trying to encourage the hoof to grow, but it can’t be smaller than the hoof. Smaller shoes can cause soreness, contracted heels and corns. They also put the horse at increased risk of having a “hot nail,” or a nail that’s driven too deep into the foot. The shoe should be fit to the hoof so that its outside circumference lines up with the outside circumference of the foot at the toe and the quarters and becomes wider than the heels to allow for the heels to expand. Nails should be high enough that they don’t split the hoof wall, but should be angled out to avoid the inner structures of the foot.
Farriers will also agree that letting the horse go too long between visits isn’t a good idea. This isn’t because you, the farrier, really need extra cash, but because letting the horse go long predisposes it to cracks, chips, flares, overgrown shoes, or the throwing of the shoe into a bush somewhere where no one will ever, ever find it. Individual horse needs will vary, of course, but four to six weeks for a shod horse and six to eight for a trim is the standard.
Location, location, don’t shoe the horse in a mud pit
Good techniques depend on a good shoeing environment. You just won’t shoe your best on a spooky horse at the edge of a cliff on a windy day. The place where you shoe will be out of your control just about all of the time, but you can at least insist on a levelish patch of dryish ground away from distractions that could upset the horse and endanger your safety.
by Cindy McMann
image 1: Pixabay; image 2: Forest Service – Northern Region (Creative Commons BY)