In a field like horseshoeing, which has been around for thousands of years, there are bound to be stories that get told and retold, regardless of how true they actually are. Horsepeople generally like to rely on conventional wisdom, so in the spirit of keeping us wise, let’s bust some common myths around horse hooves and horseshoeing.
Some Horses “Just Have Good Feet”
No. That’s not a thing. Some horses are genetically predisposed to have stronger hoof walls and a more ideal hoof shape and size, but that’s not luck – that’s called good breeding. It happens on purpose and with foresight. Those same horses have probably also been bred with an eye to producing legs and feet that are put on straight when you look at them from the front, and that have correct conformational angles when you look at them from the side. They will then naturally wear down their feet more evenly and stay sounder. That’s not to say a person couldn’t ruin all this with poor management, but that good feet are usually the result of good decisions that somebody made somewhere along the line.
White Hooves are Softer
Actually a myth. I know, right? This is a staple of the old-timey horseperson. But science has weighed in on the debate over white vs black hooves and found that there’s no difference in structural quality or strength. The colour of a hoof is going to depend on the colour of the coat above the hoof, so horses with white leg markings will be more likely to have white feet than ones with darker colouring. There’s a genetic factor at play there that links coat and hoof wall pigmentation, but it’s not the same factor that determines how tough a horse’s feet will be. Regardless of colour, genetics will determine the overall structural strength of a horse’s foot.
The Longer a Shoe Stays On, the Better the Shoe Job
For the most part this is a myth. If the shoes regularly fly off on their own a day or two after the shoe job, a farrier might have to re-evaluate their methods, but that typically doesn’t happen. Mostly what happens is the horse facilitates the process of ripping off its own shoes, either by stepping on them with their hind feet, moving through mud that sucks them off, or having a friend step on their shoes and hold the shoes down while the horse shimmies them off. This happens to shoes that are very well put on because the outer edge of the horseshoe, when sized and applied correctly, will be slightly wider than the hoof itself at the heel. This needs to be done so the shoe can accommodate the expansion and contraction the hoof goes through as it hits the ground. That extra width in the shoe is the reason it can get pulled off. Good hoof care, however, i.e. properly fitting bell boots, well-drained pasture and regular shoeing, has as much (if not more) to do with shoes staying on than the farrier who put them on in the first place.
Horses Who Are Ridden Always Need Shoes
Not necessarily. Some horses could use extra support while doing their jobs, depending on their soundness, their conformation, their hoof quality, the level of intense work being asked of them, where they work and what’s being asked of them. Those factors will be highly individual, even unique. Just as there’s no “one size fits all” shoe, there’s no “one size fits all” trimming and shoeing program. More and more riders are experimenting with leaving the shoes off, and finding that if there’s no specific reason to leave them on, horses often go as well, or better, without them. The flip side of this, of course, is the idea that horses resting on pasture never need shoes. Terrain, conformation and hoof quality and level of exercise will play just as vital a role for unemployed horses in determining whether they need shoes to stay comfortable. Only looking at what a horse is doing to decide whether to shoe or not will only ever give part of the picture.
The Faster a Farrier Goes, the Better They Are at Their Job
Nobody likes standing in the barn in the heat/cold waiting through any kind of visit from an equine professional, but speed is never the mark of a quality farrier. Farriers will vary widely in how much time it takes to complete a job, even if they’re doing similar kinds of trimming or shoeing and working on similarly well-behaved horses. Some farriers are perfectionists in every regard and spend a lot of time creating a polished look, while others might go in more for functionality. The time that goes into a job won’t tell you as much as the finished hoof does. If the hoof is level, balanced and properly supported, the farrier has done their job, regardless of the time they took to do it.
By: Cindy McMann
image 1: Wikimedia Commons; image 2: rumpleteaser (Creative Commons BY)