Rural Heritage Village Smithy

Fix-It Shoeing
by F. Thomas Breningstall

Sometimes you think, Does this horse need shoes? Sometimes you think, WHY does this horse need shoes? Well, I'm here to help make the answer clear.

Look at this hoof. It's worn down to the quick and bruised on the sole at the toe. This horse is dead lame. So there you have it—the number one reason we put shoes on horses. When the hoof wears away faster than it grows, the horse is lame because of the short hoof wall. Intervene with shoeing before lameness takes the horse out of work.

If the hoof looks shorter this week than it did last week, you have a problem. Check toe length—it should not be shorter than 3" in a full-grown, full-sized horse. The smaller the horse (pony), the shorter the toe can be and the larger the horse (draft), the longer the toe can be. Measure from the coronet (top of hoof wall, where it meets the hair or feathering) to the ground at the center of the toe.

If the hoof is real short, you may need to put a full pad between the shoe and hoof to add more protection to the hoof's sole. Use either a plastic or a leather pad. You may be able to work the horse as soon as the shoe and pads are nailed on.

Other reasons to consider shoes:

HorseShoe to help conformation problems (how the horse stands, structurally);
HorseShoe to improve gait (the horse's manner of walking, trotting, running, and so on);
HorseShoe to control interference problems (when hooves or legs collide with each other in any gait);
HorseShoe to help your farrier make his truck payment.

I'll explain how we shoe for some of the most common problems. But always remember there's more than one way to shoe a horse—I have shod some horses differently for the same problem. The most common conformation problems include toeing in, toeing out, and cowhocks.

Toe out—If the horse is full grown and is not lame or interfering, do nothing, or very little. Trim the side of the hoof that points shorter, and fit the shoe a little full to the inside.

Toe in—Do the same as for toe out, or trim only a little off the inside of the hoof and fit the shoe to the foot a little full on the inside heel. In both toe in and toe out you may want to square the toe of the shoe. A square-toe shoe helps the foot break over at the center of the toe, encouraging a straighter hoof flight.

Cow hocked (rear hocks too close together and toes pointing out)—Lower the outside hoof wall some and put a trailer on the outside branch of the shoe. A trailer consists of the last 1" of the shoe's heel turned to the outside of the branch of the shoe. The trailer gives lateral (outside) support to the foot as it hits the ground. A trailer should be used with caution on horses turned out with other horses, because kicking could cause injuries.

Gait problems are more common in race and show horses than in work horses. Perfect gaits do not exist. Good genetics, environment, and proper hoof care all help.

Winging in (hoof flight is to the inside of the stride)— Lower the outside of the hoof and shoe with a square-toe shoe to help break over to center.

Paddling (hoof flight is to the outside of the stride at the arc or high part of the stride)—Lower the inside hoof wall, square the toe, and put a trailer on the outside heel of the rear hoof for lateral support.

Interfering occurs when the opposite hoof strikes the other leg on the inside from the knee or hock down. The most common spot of contact is the fetlock area. Sometimes you need to trim the hoof out of balance by lowering the outside hoof wall. Often a square-toe shoe on the front will help. On the rear a square-toe shoe with an outside trailer will work.

Stumbling (interference between the hoof and the ground, most likely from the toe being too long because the hoof was not trimmed)—Sometimes stumbling is a rider's problem and requires retraining of both the horse and the rider. Many things can be done to help a stumbler. The most common include a shorter toe and a light shoe with a rocker toe (the toe of the shoe is turned up and the hoof wall is rolled up to take the shoe.)

Forging means the hind shoe strikes the bottom of the front shoe on the same side. Sometimes you can hear the shoes hit each other at a trot. Conformation is the usual cause—long legs and a short back, or long legs in the rear and short legs in front. To help stop forging, you need to speed up the front feet and slow down the rear feet. To do this, increase the angle of the front feet by shortening the toe and use a light shoe with a square toe or rocker toe. On the rear feet you can decrease the angle of the hoof by leaving the toe a little long and using a longer shoe that extends out behind the heel of the foot. A square-toe shoe with an outside trailer and heel calk on the rear will also work. If all fails with corrective shoes, the fault could again be with the rider.


F. Thomas Breningstall is a full-time farrier living in Fowlerville, Michigan. His column "Hoof & Hammer" appears regularly in Rural Heritage. This column was in Autumn 1996 issue.

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15 April 2012 last revision