Your hoof care program affects your horse’s immediate performance as well as his long-term soundness. You might not think you need to pay much attention to your horse’s shoeing as long as your horse is sound and his shoes don’t fall off. The good news is that horses are very adaptable and they can often tolerate poor hoof care for months or even years; the bad news is that by the time signs of lameness appear, irreparable damage might already be done. Shoeing methods used to keep shoes on at all costs often ignore critical shoeing principles and might end up putting your horse out of commission for good.
Is Your Horse Well-Shod?
A Pencil Can Help You Find Out
by Richard Klimesh
© 2010 Richard Klimesh © Copyright Information
Guidelines for judging the quality of a shoeing job can include such details as how neatly the frog is trimmed, the size of the clinches and how far the nail heads protrude from the shoe. Details like these are important to some degree, but usually are not critical to your horse’s soundness. There are a four very important aspects of shoeing, however, that you can readily evaluate: balance, shape, support, and expansion. All you need is a pencil and a safe place to tie your horse on level ground. It’s best to evaluate a shoeing job within the first week or two.
Hoof balance includes many aspects of a horses conformation and movement and has been discussed at length in many books and articles. One type of balance, however, is relatively easy for anyone to quickly assess: it’s called Dorsal-Palmar (DP) balance.
DP balance refers to the alignment of the hoof and the pastern. DP balance can be measured as the hoof angle at the toe. The hoof angle is the relationship between the front (Dorsal surface) of the hoof and the ground (Palmar surface of the hoof). For years, books cited 45 to 50 degrees as a “normal” front hoof angle and 50 to 55 for hind angle. Today, it is generally agreed that in reality these angles are far too low. A more representative range of hoof angles is from 53 to 58 degrees for the fronts and 55 to 60 degrees for the hinds. Keep in mind, however, that every horse has his own “ideal” hoof angle. The hoof angle is considered correct when the hoof and pastern are in alignment, that is, when the front surface of the hoof is parallel to an imaginary line passing through the center of the pastern.
To check the alignment of the hoof and pastern, make sure the horse is standing square on a firm level surface with his cannons perpendicular to the ground. Move 8′ to 10′ from the side of the horse and crouch down to view the feet. Hold a pencil at arm’s length and line it up with the center axis of the pastern. The front of the hoof should be very close to parallel with the centerline of the pastern.
If the hoof angle is too low, the center line, or axis, will be “broken back” where the lines of the hoof and pastern meet. If the hoof angle is too high, the imaginary line will be “broken forward”. Of the two, a broken-back axix is more common, and more harmful.
A low hoof angle usually indicates a Long Toe/Low Heel hoof configuration. LT/LH can cause excess tendon stress, heel soreness, cracks, bowed tendons, contracted heels, navicular syndrome, and under-run heels. (Under-run heels refer to heels that have an angle lower that the toe of the hoof by 5 degrees or more. Under-run heels slope under the hoof and in severe cases can appear to approach the horizontal.) Even when a foot is in perfect balance when shod, the angle almost always gets lower as the weeks go by because the toe grows faster than the heels and the shoe prevents the toe from wearing away. This is one reason to have the feet trimmed and rebalanced on a regular schedule. A barefoot horse actually might have a better chance of maintaining DP balance, especially if allowed to move freely over dry ground so the hooves can wear naturally.
If the hoof can’t be balanced by trimming, the heels can be built up with a hoof repair material, or wedge heel shoes or pads can be used to elevate the heels and align the hoof-pastern axis.
Note from Cherry: While I am away on business, I’ve invited Richard to blog in my stead……watch for the next 3 parts to this article series.