Before I could tell you why your horse’s feet wear unevenly, I would want to know how long this has been going on and when the last time you saw your farrier was.
You wouldn’t be the only person who didn’t look at your horse’s feet until the snow melts enough to see them, let alone go for a ride. Your horse’s hooves could have chipped, or pieces could have broken off, causing the foot to be uneven. If that’s the case, your farrier should be able to level them out again.
If your horse’s feet wear unevenly all the time, your horse’s conformation could have something to do with it. A wider than average chest could cause your horse to toe in, putting more weight on the outer half of the hoof. The opposite applies to skinny, narrow chested horses.
Birth defects in the legs will cause your horse to walk differently, wearing that foot down unevenly. Some defects can be fixed with surgeries and some with corrective shoes with wedge pads when the foal is young. Buzz, the horse in the picture, was born with his knee like this. He’s never lame, but will never be a competitive jumper. I simply trim him so he’s comfortable, making sure I don’t bend the knee more.
An old injury may have caused your horse to compensate for so long that she’s just become used to walking that way to relieve the pain. For example, a horse with navicular will walk on his toes to take the pressure off the heels, wearing the toes down more. Hip, shoulder or stifle injuries could cause your horse to move unevenly, possibly wearing one side of the hoof down more than the other.
The Human Element
I hate to say it, but it could be that your farrier isn’t trimming the horse evenly. I’m not talking about that one time they were having a terrible day. One or two bad trims probably isn’t going to hurt anybody, but years of uneven trims will cause the bones in the hoof and leg to shift, which will cause one side of the cartilage (the rubbery tissue that separates and protects the ends of bones) to wear down faster. This will inevitably lead to arthritis later on in life. Make sure you’re using someone reputable and experienced.
The other thing to take a good look at is the riding and the rider. Does your saddle fit your horse perfectly? Is the cinch/girth tightened appropriately? Is the work you’re doing appropriate for the horse’s age and condition? Are you sitting straight on the horse?
Be aware of how your own body feels after riding. If you always have a sore hip, back or knee, then you might not be straight, and that could cause your horse to have to compensate for you shifting to get comfortable.
Balance is key. Some have it. Some don’t. Whether you have it or don’t, take a few lessons with a local instructor as a tune-up to make sure you’re as straight and balanced as you want to be.
This is our monthly feature, “Ask a Farrier,” a Q and A with farrier Karen McMann. Karen has been a full-time farrier for 17 years. She graduated in 2002 from the Canadian School of Horseshoeing, where she studied under Pat Cullen. She serves on the Advisory Board of Equi-Health Canada and Equi-First Aid USA as a Farrier/Hoof Health Support specialist. Karen lives and works outside of Okotoks, Alberta.
If you have a question you’d like to ask a farrier (about horseshoeing, farriery, hoof and horse health, blacksmith tools, working as a farrier, etc.), email or leave it in the comments below. Every month, we’ll pick one question to answer in our feature.
Feature image: Karen McMann; Image 1: Karen McMann