HomeExpert AdviceArticleOne hoof ahead

One hoof ahead

Posted in Health and Veterinary Management

To give your horse the best chance for soundness – start with his hooves! National Farriery Champion, David P Smith explains what you need to know and how you can support your own farrier

Foot balance is essential to the welfare of your horse. If it’s wrong, the whole horse will be out of balance, which will cause unnecessary stresses on his limbs and body, and may lead to lameness.

Your farrier is responsible for trimming and shoeing the foot to obtain the correct length and angle. Doing this allows weight to travel evenly down from the limb to be distributed equally on a foot of good shape and strength, providing a base of support for the whole horse and optimum movement.

Good farriery

I like to use the term good farriery rather than ‘corrective’ or ‘remedial’ farriery because I believe it’s a farrier’s responsibility to get the trimming and shoeing correct for every horse. Anything less than this should not be acceptable.

Farriery is an art and a science. The art is in the skill of trimming the foot, the craft of forging the shoe and then applying it correctly and securely. The science is having a good sound knowledge and understanding of the horse and his anatomy and function, particularly of the limbs and feet. Mediolateral balance is critical.

Foot balance is assessed on two planes:


Viewed from the front, the hairline around the top of the foot should be horizontal to the ground. An imaginary line down through the centre of the limb to the ground should dissect the hoof equally each side.

When the horse moves, each footfall should be observed to be even – both sides of the foot coming into contact with the ground at exactly the same time.


Viewed from the side, an imaginary line running though the centre of the digital bones (below the fetlock) should run parallel to the angle of the hoof wall at the toe.

Any changes made to hoof balance must be made gradually, over a number of trimmings, so the limbs and body can adjust. If changes are made too dramatically, unnecessary stress may be placed on weight-bearing points, leading to lameness.

Shoeing terms explained

Corrective shoeing

To trim and shoe the horse to change a fault of conformation or way of going.

Pathological shoeing

To remedy a disease or injury of the limb and foot.

Specialised shoeing

To be specific in shoeing a type or a breed.

All these come within the boundary of good farriery. The aim of any farrier should be to trim and shoe a horse’s feet to make him as comfortable as possible, and allow him to do the job required of him by his owner or rider.

Inbalanced hooves

If the feet are not in balance, uneven pressures and stresses will be placed on weight bearing points – ie, long toes/low heels. This places strain on the tendons and ligaments, and any damage to the heel area will lead to bruising and corns. Strain and tearing of the laminae around the toe area can lead to a change in gait, stumbling, flare and dishing of the hoof wall, all of which can cause the foot to crack and break, ultimately leading to lameness.

The hoof wall growing over the outside edges of the shoe
This will lead to risen clenches (where the trimmed nail is bent down on the outside of the hoof wall). Once these have risen, the shoe will become loose and cause cracks. Worse still, the weight-bearing surface of the foot will no longer be the wall as it should be. Instead, it becomes the sole, which can lead to discomfort and lameness.

Thin and worn shoes

When this occurs, the shoe loses its traction and protection. Also, the shoe will move more readily or ‘spread’. If this happens, it will cause stress to the hoof walls and the nails will protrude outwards, making those on the inside of the foot at risk of striking into the horse’s other legs.

Working with a new farrier

When you first start working with a new farrier, it is important that you give him as much information about your horse as possible.

Your horse’s age, breed or type, as well as the horse’s work schedule, explaining the discipline or work you do with him and the level at which you’re working.

This is so that he can evaluate the horse’s needs and recommend a practical shoeing programme. He can also then make informed decisions as to what type or style of shoe to fit, what section and weight of shoe would be best, and how to fit the shoe to allow your horse to carry out his work safely, soundly and comfortably.

Can you shoe too often?

Yes! Nailing into a foot too much can lead to cracks because the hoof does not have enough time to grow. This forces the farrier to nail into old nail holes, and it also means the foot is at risk of becoming too short, as it is not getting the time to grow enough length.

Barefoot – good or bad?

Going barefoot can be a good thing for some horses, but it depends on the shape and strength of the foot, the underlying terrain on which the horse is kept and managed and the job the horse does. Ask your farrier’s advice on this.

If the horse is being ridden or worked unshod, the feet must be trimmed regularly. How regularly depends on natural hoof growth versus the amount of hoof wear, and is dictated by angles and hoof balance.

Short-term shoeless

I believe it can be good to give a shod horse a rest from shoes so the feet can function naturally, allowing nature to correct any faults. Also, a short period being unshod can give the old nail holes and cracks the chance to grow out, leading to the development of stronger, healthier feet.

Does my horse need hoof applications?

Whether your horse is shod or barefoot, in a natural environment, most horses can cope well without the need to apply any hoof applications.

In an unnatural environment – ie, in a stable standing on bedding that can become warm and damp and harbour fungus and bacteria, your horse’s feet may benefit from regular application of a moisturising hoof preparation.

Horses who have fungus and bacteria in their hooves will get soft soles which are prone to bruising, while the frog can become affected by thrush. This can lead to sheared heels and, eventually, cause lameness. Horses developing thrush are more likely to develop white line disease, which is difficult to treat, as it causes deterioration to the integrity of the hoof wall, which becomes less able to take the weight of the hoof. If white line disease takes a hold, it can wreak havoc with the hoof structure – I’d recommend using an anti-fungal, anti-bacterial hoof hardener, if you suspect your horses shows any of the above signs.

Sand schools are abrasive to the hoof wall and may wear the natural protective varnish – the periople – away, leaving the hoof unprotected and exposed to drying out and, therefore, splitting and cracking. If you regularly ride in a sand school, I would recommend that you apply a water-based hoof moisturiser daily.

Rough, stony surfaces could make your horse become prone to bruising of the soles. In this case, I’d advise he is shod with a good wide-web shoe to give protection to the sole and bulbs of the heal, and I would also recommend the regular application of a hoof hardener.

Horse who are turned out in the morning, after standing on a dry bed all night, may benefit from hoof moisturiser in the evening to maintain a more constant moisture balance.

Shod horses kept full-time at pasture can potentially suffer in the wet, warm conditions of spring and autumn, when the fungi and bacteria thrive in the nail holes, breaking down the hoof structure. In this case, an anti-bacterial, anti-fungal hoof hardener may help.

In very dry periods, shod feet will tend to dry and shrink, leading to lost shoes and a shortened shoeing period. This is when daily or even twice daily application of a hoof moisturiser can help.

Through a very wet period, the feet will become saturated and soft, leading to the hoof weakening and at risk of spreading out. In this instance I’d recommend the regular application of a hoof hardener.

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