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Your Horse:
Selection Of The Horse
Conformation Of Horses
Disposition Of Horses
Saddlery And Equipment For Horses
Care Of Saddlery And Leather
Feeds And Bedding For Horses
Horse Stables
Horse Pastures
The Veterinarian
Care Of Horse Feet And Shoeing
In Or Out Of The Stable
Transporting Horses
Basic Physiology Of Horses
Genetic Considerations Of Horses

Care Of Horse Feet And Shoeing

( Originally Published 1954 )

The fact that nearly all horses in use today wear shoes makes us forget that the application of a rigid iron ring on the sole of the foot is an artificial device and at best a necessary evil. Shoes fitted and applied in the best known method are detrimental to the free functioning of the foot structures. Every nail driven into the wall of the hoof destroys a number of horn fibres and tends to weaken the main weight-bearing part of the hoof. In addition, the shoe raises the sole from the ground and interferes with the function of the horny frog and elastic structures. For hundreds of years the wild horses in America have lived and died on the plains and have managed to get along beautifully without the assistance of man in protecting the foot from excessive wear.

Several factors enter into the problem of the domesticated horse. We have eliminated the natural process of selection, and in all probability those horses who had little and weak feet in the wild state were unable to survive and reproduce their kind. They were also -able to pick the places where they -would go and the amount of use to which their hooves would be subjected. Nutrition has certainly played its part and that is one of the reasons why ;horses grazing on the rich Iimestone plains develop better bone and horny structures.

The present day saddle horse may or may not require shoes and certainly he will be better off without them if this is possible. If the walls are brittle and thin it will soon become obvious that protection is necessary. I had one Thoroughbred. who was the despair of every blacksmith because her walls were so thin that it was difficult to make any nails hold without going too deep, and if she lost a shoe a mile from home she was practically a cripple by the time she reached the barn. Interestingly enough her colts seemed to have much better feet and one of them has reached the age of six without ever wearing a shoe.

The amount of riding and the type of terrain will probably give the final answer as to the question of shoeing. If most of your riding is on woodland trails, fields, and dirt roads, shoes will probably not be necessary, and the same applies to horses who are kept at a club or riding academy and take their exercise in an enclosed ring, adjoining exercise track or polo field. Unfortunately most of us must cover a fair amount of paved or gravel road in order to reach our riding country and the abrasion of the former and the bruising of the latter will probably make shoes necessary at once.

Unshod feet should not be neglected feet. You will need four implements to assist you in this care. They are, (1) a rasp (2) a farrier's knife (3) nippers and (4) farrier's pinchers.

The feet should be picked out carefully at least once each day, taking great care to get into all the crevices to remove moisture, manure and fouled bedding. Every two or three weeks the feet should be trimmed. First take the farrier's knife and clean off the sole and cut away loose dead horn from the frog and those overlying bits which close over the deep groove on each side of the frog. This should be done carefully and should not allow the removal of a large part of the frog and the protection and support which it provides. After the sole is cleaned take the nippers and go around the rim of the hoof and level the projecting edge. Do not take it down any more than is necessary to make it smooth and firm. A barefooted horse needs as much of this rim as possible, as it works both as a protection and a source of traction. After trimming, the edges are smoothed and leveled with the rasp, with a little rounding of the sharp edges to prevent undue breakage. The pinchers are not required in the above operations, but it is an invaluable tool to have when a nail has come loose or a shoe has been pulled half off. After the foot has been trimmed and the horse is on a hard, level surface, check to see that it is level from side to side and that the line of the pastern makes a straight line with that of the hoof. If the toe is disproportionately long the foot is said to be broken back, causing an excess strain on the tendons. If the toe is shortened too much and the heel is left high, the foot will be broken forward and the gaits will be short and stilted.

If a horse is gentle, home care of the feet is comparatively simple and it should be started as early in life as possible. If a colt is regularly handled and trimmed in its first summer it will become quite easy to handle, and in later years a blacksmith will find it no trouble to apply shoes the first time they are needed.

Finding a blacksmith is no easy problem. Horseshoeing is a trade which is fast disappearing from the American scene, although I find it hard to understand why more young men are not taking up the work. The days of low wages and heavy draft horses are no more, and nearly every blacksmith I have known has made a very good living with a minimum education and a very small outlay in equipment.

If there is more than one blacksmith in your community talk to the other horsemen and, better still, try to be around and watch some of these men work. A good blacksmith is firm, quiet,. and gentle. Avoid if possible a man who seems to have trouble with, most horses and is constantly yelling and slapping them. around. If you are: particularly fortunate you may find an old timer who has had some experience with either runners, or with the trotting horse. Because of the very exacting standards required in order- to get the maximum speed, and because many slight abnormalities of gait must be corrected, by shoeing,. some of these, men have developed a skill which amounts to, almost an art.

Since most blacksmiths are elderly they are usually set in their ways and, inclined to be rather firm in their convictions as to how things should be done.. The best way to get a good job is to, be present at every shoeing and show an interest in all that goes on. Outright criticism will usually bring unpleasant argument. I have found. that a little- diplomacy will frequently accomplish just exactly what I want, particularly if I make the smith think it was his own idea in the first place. I usually, try something like this, If I see a front heel that is too long I may say, "We are going to, be- hunting this weekend and, the mud is. awfully deep. Bill, you know this horse. overreaches a- little and do you think he might be less apt to grab himself if that were just a little shorter?" Or, "That mare sure has a thin wall, doesn't she? How small a nail can a man use and still' make the shoe stay on?"' When the job is done don't. hesitate to be complimentary if it is justified.

When you do find a good blacksmith stick with him. and do not jump from one to- another. A real blacksmith is- loyal and regards the horses he shoes as his own. This is particularly helpful to: you, if you lose. a shoe the day before some important event and you require a rush trip or other special services.

The average horse requires shoeing every five to seven weeks. Unless! the wear is. excessive,. each alternate shoeing will require only removal, trimming and replacement. For ordinary riding the customary pre-made keg shoe is quite adequate. These come in various weights, number one being the lightest and the number two. a little heavier. If your horse has physically normal gaits and normal conformation you will be very fortunate, but a good blacksmith can do much to correct faults such as short stride, overreaching and traveling too wide or too close. Corrective shoeing is a field all in itself and would fill a volume or more. In this short a discussion we can only point out the many helpful corrections that can be made, although the impossible must not be expected.

Normal shoeing has three steps each of which is simple but often improperly done. First, the feet are trimmed, leveled and made equal. Second, the shoe is forged to fit the foot, and third, the shoe is fastened to the hoof. Incompetent and lazy blacksmiths are inclined to be careless in the first step and inexact in the second. It is much easier to rasp the foot the size of the shoe rather than forge the shoe to fit the foot. Another bad habit is the practice of hot shoeing, in which a red hot shoe is held to the prepared hoof. Some blacksmiths will argue that this gives a smoother and better contact, while actually it accomplishes this by drying and burning the hoof and rendering it brittle. It is a poor substitute for careful workmanship in trimming. The following check list is taken from The Horseshoer's Technical Manual 2-220 of the War Department, incidentally a very fine volume to have in your library. No old time blacksmith is going to stand around while you go through the motions of this written check list. He will probably consider any such detailed inspection an impudence or a reflection upon his workmanship. But after he is gone take this list down to the barn and go over it carefully as you look at your horse. In any case you will learn quite a lot about horse shoeing and you may find one or two things which warrant tactful suggestions the next time shoeing is necessary.

Starting the inspection from a position in front of the horse answer the following:

1. Are the corresponding feet the same size (toes same length, heels same height)?

2. Is the foot in balance in relation to the leg?

3. Is the foot directly under the leg, the axis of the foot in prolongation to the axis of the upper leg bones, the weight of the body equally distributed over the foot structures?

Now move to a position at the side of the horse:

1. Does the axis of the foot coincide with the axis of the pastern? (The slope of the wall from the coronet to the lower border should be parallel to the slope of the pastern.)

2. Has the lower outer border of the wall been rasped?

3. Do the conformation of the foot and type of shoe used warrant the amount of rasping done?

Note the height and strength of nailing:

1. Do the nails come out of the wall at the proper height and in sound horn?

2. Are the nails driven to a greater height in the wall than necessary?

3. Is the size of nail used best suited for the size and condition of the foot and weight of shoe?

4. Are the clinches of sufficient thickness where the nail comes out of the wall to insure strength?

5. Are the clinches smooth and not projecting above the surface of the wall?

Note the outline and the size of the shoe:

1. Is the toe of the shoe fitted with sufficient fullness (rounded) to give lateral support to the foot at the moment of breaking over and leaving the ground?

2. Are the branches of the shoe from the bend of the quarter to the heel fitted fuller than the outline of the wall to provide for expansion of the foot and normal growth of horn between shoeing periods?

3. Are the heels of the shoe of sufficient length and width to cover the buttresses?

4. Are the heels finished without sharp edges?

5. Does the shoe rest evenly on the bearing surface of the hoof covering the lower border of the wall, white line, and buttresses?

6. Is the shoe concaved so it does not rest upon the horny sole?

7. Are the nail heads properly seated?

8. Is the shoe the correct size for the foot?

9. Will the weight of the shoe provide reasonable wear and protection to the foot?

10. Have ragged particles of the horny frog been removed?

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